National Geographic Video Wall Encapsulates ‘Everything That’s Beautiful’

Published: January 9, 2014

Here’s a good problem to have.

The National Geographic Society, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary, enjoys seemingly limitless high-definition video content of the natural world. It wanted to celebrate that universe of content with displays at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.

The task, in a nutshell, for the video editor? “We said to her, ‘Show us everything that’s beautiful in the world,'” says Thomas Oelberger, one of the museum’s exhibit designers.

Even with access to a ton of great content, there still remains the creative and technological challenge of how best to present it. A video wall that visitors encounter almost immediately upon entering the exhibit space seems to meet that challenge.

An unconventionally shaped Planar video wall designed by Sterling, Va.-based integration firm Avitecture, seems to meet that challenge.

The oddly configured video wall displays an animal-themed tribute to the work of the society’s explorers, photographers and scientists. Much of the six-minute long content loop that greets visitors upon arrival at the exhibit is culled from the seven-episode “Great Migrations” nature miniseries that was originally broadcast on the National Geographic cable channel.

“We knew we had a huge range of content in-house to choose from, so very early on the issue became what form it would take,” recalls Oelberger.

One existing shape offered a direction: The society’s flag, whose three stripes represent earth, sky and sea, which would lend itself to a video wall that could portray some of that vast content. But the idea of a typically rectangular flag shape seemed too static to the design team.

“We’re presenting nature, which never really happens in a square box. So it’s about having the ability to present it in these more organic shapes,” says Oelberger.

That led to the idea of a 12-panel video wall configured in a 4 X 3 arrangement but with the three horizontal “stripes” staggered rather than uniform.

“Everyone is used to seeing a rectangle, but when you take that,” says Bill Apter, senior consultant for special projects for Avitecture, pointing as displays illuminate strategically to capture the movement of an animal, “you give the editor an incredible canvas to work with because she could develop this building block look.” 

The team chose a Planar Clarity Matrix MX46HD LCD video wall display whose mounts offered the ability to set each display in the video wall at the exact right position in relation to the others, so that the video would flow properly. “Accurate placement was exceedingly important but thanks to the well-designed mounts it ended up being quite simple,” Oelberger notes.

National Geographic Museum exhibit designer Thomas Oelberger discusses the uniquely shaped video wall.

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