What Are Media Servers and Why Does Your Event Need Them?

Photo by David Solm for Novatech Creative Event Technology
Photo: David Solm for Novatech Creative Event Technology (source)

In the past couple of years events have been undergoing a constant, incredible evolution thanks to massive advancements in audiovisual technology. As a part of that evolution, media servers have expanded opportunities for show designers all around the world by enabling seamless incorporation of video content into event production.

Events of all kinds, from concerts to festivals to fashion shows, have become ubiquitous these days. Anyone who has ever been captivated by a concert with an array of giant screens showing the artist, attended a corporate event where the visuals enhanced the speaker’s message, or visited an immersive exhibition, etc. has already seen media servers in action.  

In this first article of a future series we shall dive into what media servers are, how they work, and why they have become indispensable for successful professional events. We will explore how media servers blend audio, visuals, and effects to transform your event from ordinary to extraordinary.

What is a Media Server and How Does it Work?

First of all, let’s talk about the basics. When we talk about a media server in digital media and entertainment, it refers to a physical server paired with dedicated software. The primary purpose of a media server is to provide audio and video to clients on demand. Video On Demand (VOD) is where media servers find their most common application: they retrieve a video from a storage and deliver it to end users. 

Besides VOD, media servers are also used for live streaming in real-time, ensuring that users experience minimal delay. They are mostly used for live-streaming sports events, concerts, and festivals, like live television, where the broadcaster schedules the streaming.

Photo: Disguise

The Role of Media Servers in Projections and 3D Mapping 

Media servers have changed how we do projections and 3D mappings by doing the heavy lifting of content management and display. They are reliable storage for all your videos and animations designed for project mapping. Moreover, they are powerful enough to handle large videos and animation for smooth playback and transitions.

Traditional projectors fall flat when it comes to complex surfaces. On the other hand, AV media servers are ideal in such situations, thanks to their capability of warping and adjusting the visuals pixel by pixel to fit specific contours. They also have special software that creates a digital replica of the projection surface, whether a stage, building or any other object. 

Media servers also process real-time data and adjust factors like projector resolution. They can blend multiple sources to create dynamic effects, responding to the speaker’s message or music. Some features that make Disguise media servers capable of high-end mapping are FBX import, marker calibration, and the u/v perspective effects.

Projector Databases 

Media servers allow you to simulate real-life environments by selecting a suitable projector model through a simple drag-and-drop. You’ll find several details there, such as the field of view, making it easier to prepare soft-edge panoramas. The inclusion of calibration technology allows cameras to observe the complete projection surface and analyze calibration patterns. After finishing calibration, the output is projected onto the surface. 

Layer Mapping Effects 

Layer mapping effects have changed how you interact with the content on the screen. Usually, the content is linked to the screen’s perspective, something that layer mapping effects bypass entirely. Modern media servers don’t rely on perspective much. Instead, they add a layer that fills the texture size of the screen object. Let’s discuss some of the most crucial layer mapping effects below:

1. Driving Effect 

This effect helps users interact with driving programs using videos shot from different angles. The angles surround the vehicle clockwise from all sides, with the last angle providing the view from the sky.

2. Planar Mapping Effect 

The planar mapping effect uses parallel beams to project content into the space. One of the major advantages of planar mapping is that it doesn’t cause any perspective distortion between content on objects in the forefront of the room and objects in the background of the room. 

3. Perspective Mapping Effect 

This method uses perspective rays to project content into the space. It results in pixels hitting the object further back in space appearing larger than those that hit it forward in space. 

4. Equirectangular Mapping Effect 

This method is the way to go if you want the content to be broadcasted spherically into space. It gives the appearance of an environmental map. You can change the position of the center point in space through the X, Y, and Z parameters. This effect has been explicitly designed with the Equirectangular Map Projection formula for 360 video content or Latlongs. 

Media Servers for LED 

Media servers are also a powerful AV source for LED screens in cinemas and other venues. Modern LED technology has advanced significantly, resulting in displays with impressive colors, contrast, and resolution, especially compared to traditional cinema projectors. However, they can reach their true potential only with high-quality media servers. 

With significant R&D in the industry in the last few decades, companies have customized high-end media servers for LEDs. With these media servers, cinema owners can provide an unmatched movie experience to the viewers. Similarly, people attending festivals or concerts can get a crystal clear view of their favorite artists on a large screen. 

Here, it is essential to mention video walls, which you must have seen in theme parks, sporting venues, malls, and whatnot. Since the price of LEDs has reduced drastically in the last few years, companies have sought to install more for enhanced customer engagement. 

What are Video Walls and How Do They Work? 

Video walls (or LED walls) are pretty flexible, meaning they can be used in everything from educational institutions to commercial settings. Their flexibility in size and shape is due to them being built from connecting LED panels, which then create a cohesive, seamless picture.

Besides other pieces of hardware, the AV media server runs the show. It sends a signal to a processor that decodes it for the LEDs so that the latter can understand it. The LEDs then understand the message and scale it accordingly. That’s a wonderful way of enriching festivities or professional events.

Media Servers by Disguise

Our Platinum technology partner Disguise offers an industry-leading platform at the heart of the new era of visual experiences. One powerful integrated system to create the next generation of real-time spectacle from the world’s biggest live shows and most immersive xR broadcasts to the most ambitious virtual productions in one end-to-end workflow. The Disguise software is a real-time 3D simulator & media server that integrates traditional lighting fixtures, LED screens and projection surfaces into one easy to use package.

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Creating Immersive Environments with Media Servers 

Modern media servers also can create immersive environments for movies. They have multiple 4k outputs and can link multiple servers to scale it up. 

Media servers align audio-visual elements to create a unified sensory experience. They can be combined with interactive technologies to create a life-like, immersive environment. For instance, they can respond to a participant’s touch at a trade show to reveal additional product information. 

Media servers can help create immersive AR and VR environments through virtual productions. Today, media servers have a compositing feature that lets companies create 3D worlds with which users can interact. Users can dive into full-fledged 3D spaces that enhance the video content and enable the implementation of textured 3D objects. 

Some elements in this creation scheme must be discussed in detail, which we’ll do below.

1. Content Plugins 

Using the companion software’s compositing feature, you can display scenes from an environment like Unreal through a media server. Many media servers offer special plugins, allowing you to edit the scenes by adjusting lighting or moving the objects. Disguise Media servers provide a robust and integrated editing environment that helps companies create something guaranteed to engage customers. 

2. Color Correction 

The main interface of the media server software shows the color correction options where users can perform in-depth color management. It has several sub-options, allowing users to tweak every little detail. Moreover, the ACES workflow makes the colors available on timeline layers or outputs. 

Media Servers and XR Production 

Extended Reality (XR) is an umbrella term that encompasses several concepts, including Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Mixed Reality (MR), and more. XR has significantly impacted many industries, from industrial manufacturing to retail to education. 

Its production has come a long way, mainly because of the advancements in media server technology. Today, the creative space in XR has expanded significantly with better image quality, shooting creativity, and specialized XR toolsets.

Reliable media servers are an essential component of modern XR production. Given the high quality of content being played these days, the media server must be powerful enough to handle it. Moreover, the server should have optimal performance throughout because you wouldn’t want it to throttle in the middle of the action. 

How to Choose the Right Media Server for Your AV Needs? 

Choosing a high-quality media server is indispensable in this day and age when video quality has improved significantly. Following are some of the key factors to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a media server.

1. Storage Capacity 

High-quality AV production means bigger storage requirements, and that’s a major factor when choosing a media server. However, it’s not just about how much storage you need right now; you need to be predictive here and determine how much of it you’ll need in the future. 

Here, you must adopt long-term thinking and invest in a media server that will serve you for years. It also helps you avoid the hassle of adding storage later, which can be even more expensive than just buying a higher storage media server in the first place.

2. Device Compatibility 

Another thing to consider when shopping for a media server is that it should work perfectly with the devices at your event. After all, you wouldn’t want it to stop working in a packed concert or a room full of executives. To ensure compatibility, check the streaming protocols of the media server. 

3. Ease of Use 

Ease of use is a critical consideration when choosing a media server. Nobody wants to spend hours just to set up their media server and access the content. It is especially crucial during live and fast-paced events where quick access to content is indispensable.

Choose a media server with an app or web-based support from which you can easily control it. Similarly, the manufacturer should clearly describe the setup process so that you get to work quickly.

Illuminate Adelaide 2022 - Wisdom of AI Light

For the Illuminate Adelaide winter festival in South Australia, our local member Novatech Creative Event Technology installed and calibrated the video and audio for a massive and spectacular projection mapping show, in which they utilized four Disguise 4x4pro media servers with another as backup. The servers fed 14 Barco UDM-4K22 projectors beaming along the length of the structure, with two Barco UDX-4K32 projectors covering the end walls.

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Media servers are the lifeline of modern event production and AV technology. Without them, you won’t be able to stream high-quality content at important events. Stay tuned for a more in-depth look into the topic in the coming weeks!

Our global network has a massive inventory of class-leading media servers at various price points with all the necessary features, and is ready to power your events in over 50 countries from Asia to Latin America. 

To learn more about the technical aspects of media servers, as well as the related costs, we invite you to get in touch with us and find out what our AV Alliance members can do for you and your event!