Lights Illuminate the Night at Harrah's

March 31, 2010
Depending on the vantage point, the imagery can be seen from as far away as 10 miles, and from dusk until the wee hours

Harrah’s wouldn’t settle for a mere billboard for Harrah’s Resort’s Waterfront Tower in Atlantic City, NJ – nor did it get one. Instead, the gaming and entertainment giant rolled the dice and came up with a showstopper that all but halts motorists in their tracks.

If Harrah’s owns the night, it’s indebted to the inventive team of consultants that illuminated it. While the Las Vegas office of building architect Friedmutter Group was charged with accommodating the arrays, a task it accomplished by locating attachment points on the covers of curtainwall mullions, it was up to New York City-based consultant Tim Hunter Design (THD) to create content that conformed to an extremely fine horizontal resolution of 1.2 inches and a far coarser vertical resolution of 10 feet, a distance dictated by mullion spans. "Those vertical spans presented us with bizarre mapping, given what we had in mind," recalls Mike Hansen, executive vice president with THD. "The biggest problem was the potential for dead space."

To fill it in, THD studied the unique spatial relationships between image and brain recognition functions, and then translated its findings into an algorithm it later incorporated into imaging software. "The imagery is governed by the same principles as those governing what you see on television," says Hansen. "Up close, you see an array of tiny dots, but when you step back, the brain assembles an image. It’s your brain that does most of the work."

Neither the concept nor its planned execution initially registered with Harrah’s, which envisioned projecting simple, LED-based color changes across the facade, much as it had with other buildings comprising its Atlantic City resort. Hansen credits Los Angeles-based consultant John Levy Lighting Productions Inc. and New Windsor, NY-based Production Resource Group with upping the ante, owing to the growing availability of advanced LED technology.

THD continually refined content on the basis of studies it performed on air quality, misting, and other environmental conditions. "We hung arrays outside our office to study them under various climatic conditions, and from various distances and vantage points, and then demonstrated to Harrah’s how content would look," recalls THD CEO Tim Hunter. "In all, we created 30 digital models. When the system was finally complete, the client was shocked at how closely the imagery resembled our modeling. There were no surprises."

What Makes the Wonder Work
As constructed, the LED display measures 33,000 linear feet. Digital signage software not only manages and schedules files, but synchronizes playback across the four facades – a feat that required the supplier to customize its product.

Additionally, the software continually reshuffles files to avoid repetition, and can add or remove files to modify content. All told, the software harnesses 8 million pixels. The imagery itself canvasses more than 4 million square feet of contiguous LED screen.

Just as staggering, the program operates off a simple desktop PC, albeit one containing a robust graphics card, according to Hansen. "A more conventional approach involving DMX graphics would have made it costlier to generate new digital content," he says. "LEDs don’t come cheaply. We wanted to ensure that Harrah’s had the capability to create inexpensive content on its own."

Don Patai, a project manager with Friedmutter Group, says work the architect performed on previous Harrah’s projects laid the groundwork for integrating the LED array into Waterfront Tower. Recent technological advances, he adds, made the task even simpler by locating power sources for the arrays in the LED fixtures alongside drivers and data enablers rather than in hotel rooms. "As a result, we were able to hold facade penetrations to four per floor," says Patai.

Fixtures, he says, are modular, and were installed in 2-, 4-, and 8-foot-long sections. They are also sustainable (the diodes function for 30,000 to 50,000 hours before their output begins to diminish). As a result, displays could conceivably operate until 2055.

That’s not exactly a traffic stopper – but it does give one pause.

John Gregerson is a freelance writer living in Chicago.

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