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In depth

Audiovisual Technology: Electrosonic and the Cold War

The Princess Royal opened the new National Cold War Exhibition at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford, on 7 February 2007. This outstanding exhibition makes intelligent use of audio-visual techniques to augment and interpret the physical exhibits. Electrosonic was the systems integrator for the principal AV based exhibits.

The £12.3million ($25million) project was initiated to solve the urgent practical problem of storing part of the Royal Air Force Museum’s inventory of historic aircraft, some of which were deteriorating as outdoor exhibits. The realization that the aircraft concerned were all of the Cold War era led to the idea of an exhibition dedicated to the Cold War, and the exhibition includes aircraft and artefacts from both NATO and Warsaw Pact countries.

The National Cold War Exhibition is in the form of two triangular spaces divided by a central walkway; from the outside the appearance is of two massive shiny “fins” leaning together, and the structure can be seen from more than 25 miles away. The concept for the whole exhibition was devised by designer Neal Potter. From his original working title of “Divided World – Connected World” a building was designed by architects Fielden Clegg Bradley to meet the need of the story and objects – as opposed to starting with some “concept” building design. The result is excellent, and it is great to see what will surely become an iconic museum building also being the ideal exhibition space.

Of course it is the aircraft, apparently floating in the air above you, that make the most immediate impact on visitors. The aircraft exhibits are augmented by displays of land vehicles, missiles and other bits of cold war apparatus. But all this needs interpretation, and this is done by imaginative exhibition “islands” located throughout the space.

The supporting exhibits were designed by Neal Potter. In addition to enhancing the experience of visitors to the museum, they are designed to meet national curriculum objectives. In keeping with the Cold War theme, the exhibition islands are presented as “Hotspots”, and each recall some aspect of the Cold War and, in particular, its impact on the everyday life of the populations that lived under its threat

Audio visual techniques are used discreetly and effectively. In the main each “Hotspot” is of cylindrical construction where the outside of the cylinder carries a series of graphic panels, and the inside forms a small show space where visitors see a mixed media show based on a combination of multi-channel video and lighting effects. The Hotspot subjects are:

  • MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction.
  • Surveillance and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Berlin and the Berlin Airlift.
  • The Far East and Global Conflict.
  • Space.  
  • Missiles – including an exhibit on submarines.

Other AV elements include a rear projection screen built into the belly of a Belfast Freighter, a 28 inch monitor built in to the bomb bay of a Vulcan Bomber and a 40 inch LCD monitor associated with a “Melting of the Cold War” exhibit.

Throughout the museum there are touch screen interactive kiosk displays sited near all the main exhibits. However, they are not exhibit specific, so while you can, indeed, find out from them the details of the exhibit near you, you can also reprise information from all the other exhibits. The screen of each kiosk is surrounded by a brightly lit red border, so they can be easily located. The kiosk units themselves are of a standard design from Datasonic

The AV Technology

The Datasonic interactive kiosk units were supplied and installed by Spiral Productions who also produced the interactive software. However, all the kiosks were on a network with network hardware and central server supplied by Electrosonic. This allows all the kiosks to be monitored and facilitates the loading of program updates.

All other AV hardware was supplied and installed as a single system by Electrosonic, with all associated content being produced by Newangle. All video content is run from Electrosonic multi-channel video servers. Audio channels are also sourced from the video servers, with the exception of the MAD show which is based on sound and lighting only and uses a hard disc player as source. Audio channels are processed by Allen & Heath DSP equipment and amplified by Electrosonic 4-channel amplifiers

Some of the shows run continuously, but those within the enclosed hotspots are triggered by PIR sensors so that visitors see the shows from the beginning. Overall show control is by an AMX NI-3000 Master Controller with a touch screen control panel. This controller is used for start-up and shut-down routines, system monitoring and for running the automated shows. It is also used to control the AV facilities within an adjacent lecture theatre.

A stand-by 4-channel video server is installed that can instantly replace any of the other servers in the event of failure. In order to facilitate the changeover, all audio and video server outputs are routed through a matrix switcher.

The Team

Client;  RAF Museum
Architects;  Fielden Clegg Bradley
M&E Consultants;  Max Fordham & Partners
Exhibition Designer;  Neal Potter
AV Production (shows);  Newangle
AV Production (kiosks) ; Spiral Productions
Exhibition lighting design;  DHA Design
Main building contractor;  Galliford Try
Aircraft preparation;  RAF Museum
Aircraft Hanging;  Unusual Rigging
Electrical contractor;  SI Electrical
Exhibition fit out contractor;   Beck Interiors
AV systems integration;  Electrosonic

About Electrosonic

Founded in 1964, Electrosonic has always been among the first to apply new technology creating state-of-the-art solutions to meet the challenges of the professional audio visual and digital media markets. Today, Electrosonic combines design with high-quality product, engineering and integration for corporate applications, control rooms, broadcast, advanced imaging, museums and exhibitions, digital signage, theme parks and visitor attractions.

Electrosonic operates across the globe with offices in Dartford, Edinburgh, Helsinki, Stockholm, Dubai, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York, and Orlando.

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