Johannesburg is home to some of Africa’s tallest buildings and the city’s skyline with its many impressive skyscrapers has become universally identifiable. One of these noteworthy buildings, the Absa Towers, recently installed the largest Light Emitting Diode (LED) display of its kind in the world above its 29-storey building, writes Simba Nyamukachi.

This colossal LED installation, which covers all four sides of the office block, is not only Absa Tower’s new crowning glory but it is also a beacon in Jozi’s cityscape similar to that of London’s Piccadilly Circus or Times Square in New York.
Absa’s humdinger of an LED display, collectively known as Lumen, was switched on and unveiled in Johannesburg during a spectacular event at Carlton Centre on 19 March. As the tallest building in Africa, Carlton Centre provided an unmatched viewing angle for the gargantuan display, which is an integral part of Absa’s wider 10-year inner city rejuvenation project.

Size counts

Designed by US-based Herring Media Group, Absa Lumen has been billed by Barco LiveDots as its largest LED solution to date, featuring a 2 650 square metre LED display composed of 2 880 TF-20 tiles. It contains almost 20 million LEDs, this amazing display is used for branding and marketing purposes. It was chosen on account of its reliability and impressive image quality, achieved through the combination of Barco LiveDots’ TF-20 LED display system and unique image processing technology.

To put the sheer magnitude and scale of Lumen display into perspective one has to understand that each of the four giant LED screens is almost twice the size of a basketball court at 38 metres long and 17 metres high. The LED display can be seen from 1.5 kilometres away on the ground and 2.5 kilometres in the air. The Lumen screens are bigger than those at Piccadilly Circus in London and New York’s Times Square.

The installation, which commenced in October 2012 and completed in a record four-month period, embraced the skills and talent from local Barco distributor – Questek Advanced Technologies. The company is responsible for many ground-breaking displays and visual solutions in South Africa including those at Green Point, Royal Bafokeng and Orlando Stadia.

Speaking about the Lumen project CEO of Questek, George van Gils, says that the installation had been one of his company’s most challenging and exciting projects to date. “The sheer magnitude of the Absa Lumen screen required some groundbreaking technology and IT integration never before attempted in the world. Questek is very pleased with the screen’s performance and quality of image, which has far surpassed our client’s expectations.’

Questek Advanced Technologies handled the configuration and integration of the 2 880 TF-20 tiles that make up the screen, ensuring that the unit is run, controlled and monitored as one single image by one single operator. Van Gils points out that his company’s responsibilities started with the testing of all the tiles as they arrived in the country and then to prepare them to be installed onto the steel structure.
“In addition to the entire cabling configuration and set-up undertakings, Questek also installed all the control room equipment and will be responsible for the on-going local maintenance and upgrades of Absa Lumen,’ says Van Gils.

The complete Lumen system can be monitored and controlled from anywhere in the world where there is internet access due to the intelligence of the Barco controller. The four sides of the LED display that wrap around the building form a live canvas that allows video and images to move seamlessly from side to side. The media displayed on the large screens is generated from four Coolux media servers which provide seamless video content on a timeline that is remotely uploaded and controlled.

Eco friendly, energy efficient

Apart from being the largest display installation in the world, the Johannesburg set-up is also one of the most eco-friendly displays in the world.
The TF-20 technology ensures exceptionally low power consumption due to the use of extremely efficient components and the smart driving of individual LEDs. On top of that, the ingeniously tilted LED configuration aims the light bundle of the LEDs downwards to increase the viewing experience for the audience. This significantly reduces power consumption and light pollution while, at the same time, enhancing the perceived brightness and image quality.

What’s more, thanks to the active system “agent’, the brightness of all four façades can be controlled separately and automatically, therefore ensuring the best contrast/brightness ratio at any time of day, at any viewing location. This system also allows the operator to optimise energy efficiency with a few simple steps to limit cost and impact on the environment. To offset some of the carbon emissions on Lumen, Absa is building one of the largest rooftop solar photovoltaic farms in South Africa on top of Absa Towers North.

Questek and Barco’s SA legacy

If one looks at Barco Installations at Green Point, Royal Bafokeng and Orlando Stadia and now the recently completed Lumen installation, it is easy to see why Questek is at the forefront of state-of-the-art display installations in South Africa. According to Van Gils this is because Questek supplies solutions that are high profile and mission critical.

“In any of these cases a failure could be seen by thousands of people and be an embarrassment for the operator or branding company. Imagine if the Absa project was only working half the time or there were blank spots on the screen – this would reflect on the company’s professionalism and could do more harm than good. The consumer would comment that if the company cannot even keep their sign going how good is their IT infrastructure?’ Van Gils says.

He went on to say that digital signage has now reached a breakpoint as it has become more affordable than it was in the past, putting Questek in a good place to continue to break new ground.

“We will therefore see more and more companies using this LED technology for advertising their companies, but I would like to emphasise that quality and reliability will be a key factor in this regard. Having an iconic screen such as Lumen installed demonstrates Questek’s competence and will lead to more major installations,’ he concludes.

Tech box:

• 2880 X Barco TF 20 tiles
• 5 X Barco DX 700 processors one for each wall plus one hot standby
• 5 X Coolux servers
• 2 X Coolux managers
• 1 X Barco 8X8 DVI Matrix
• 1 X Barco 8X* HD/SDI Martrix
• 2 X Barco ImagePro II
• 2 X Dual Screen Marshall 10.4′ displays