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Canucks vs Blackhawks, Sunday at 6:30PM - Tickets available

Show Time

Thursday, 26.10.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
Vancouver Canucks
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Show Time

By Jeremy Lanaway

Tuesday afternoon, three days before the Alexander Ovechkin show rolls into town, and the floor of GM Place is covered strewn with guts.

They don't belong to this season's batch of hardhats. No, the guts scattered around the rink are comprised - quite literally - of the wires, fibres, and synapses of the stadium's new central nervous system.

Meet the NHL's latest ProStar® centre-hung video display system -most of us would call it a score clock, albeit a fancy one.

Hovering above the wood-covered ice-surface is the new half-installed brain of GM Place - an integrated super-system developed by Daktronics.

Suspended from metal cables as thick as your forearm, the cutting-edge score clock looks as formidable as the specs. It makes the forklift idling in its shadow look like a Tonka toy.

It weighs 49,000 pounds and its four large HD-ready light emitting diode (LED) screens (13.5 feet by 24 feet) display 4.4 trillion colours. Up close at full power it's like standing on a Tahitian beach.

"It's not so bad up here," says Daktronics project manager Jacob Frein, the engineer in charge of lighting the behemoth. "Down south in Texas they need air conditioning for each panel just to keep it cool."

But could you cook an egg on it if you dropped one on it midway through the third?

"No, probably not that hot," says the lanky Frein, screwdriver in hand.

Still, it's an impressive beast. And no, don't try the egg test. A 12 by 12 inch panel costs about $1,000.

In all, the eight computers and 1.2 million pixels spread over eight screens draw as much power as your average house - which isn't too bad considering it's roughly equivalent to 80 big-screen televisions.

It's the absolute largest clock they could get.

"We figured out our limitation was how high it could be," says Harvey Jones, Vice President and General Manager of Arena Operations. "Then we calculated the largest possible screen we could fit in the building."

The four large main displays are 3.3 times larger than the old screens, but that's just the start. Four medium-sized screen (13.5 feet by 5.5 feet) hang at the corners, and a ring of ribbon displays wrap around the entire top of the clock. All told, it costs upwards of $5 million.

It'll rival English Bay fireworks for sheer eye candy once the switch is flipped Friday.

When accounting for size and spacing between pixels, Frein says it's comparable to an LCD television when viewed from lower-bowl seats behind the benches.

"It's pretty much like TV I guess," says Frein. The lanky engineer with the slow American drawl takes a few strides back and has another look up at the black screen. "I suppose it depends on how far away you are."

Frein has a 56-incher wedged into his living room back in Sioux South Dakota, so he knows a bit about screens and resolution, though he says he doesn't get a whole lot of time to sit around and drink it in.

With everyone from US high school football stadiums to NFL arenas clamouring for high-resolution video screens, there's not a whole lot of down time.

In fact, the GM Place screen had to wait until the 25th to get installed because there weren't enough LED (tiny light bulbs) in production to build the massive panels.

"Texas Instruments makes the lights," says Frein. "They can't produce them fast enough because we've sold so many. Basically we have more work than we can handle."

Daktronics had enough to install the new 360-degree ProAd® ribbon board that wraps around the face of the 300 seating level for the home opener, but had to wait for the factory to churn out a million more lights to assemble the clock itself.

In order to get it hung and flashing in time for the Washington Capitals on the 27th, engineers have had to press just as hard.

"We're trying to put it together in a week," says Frein, who spent 17 hours on Tuesday hunched over a binder of schematics. "Usually this would take about three weeks."

Simply put, it's the best in North America.

"No other NHL rink will have the video screen size and clarity that we have," says Jones. "Some will have the same 10-millimetre pixel-spacing, but their screens won't be as big. The combination of size and clarity will be the best in the NHL."

"We're going to be able to motivate and excite the crowd like never before. We're going to be able to make them feel like they're part of the game."

"It'll help us to pump up the crowd at key moments in the game, and the team tells us that this really helps to motivate them."

The smaller screens will provide real-time stats, like hit totals, face-off percentages, and blocked shots, while the larger screens will display the score, shots on net, penalty times, and play-by-play recaps - all in 4.4 trillion colours.

 

The ceremony for the old clock was a private affair, cut gently from the rafters with blow torches after more than 10 years of solid service.

The old clock's reign came to an end on Tuesday, October 17th, less than a day after the Canucks defeated the Oilers 2-1.

Maintaining the Mark IV's outdated cathode ray tube (CRT) system had become a burden - to say the least. Orca Bay engineers have scoured the technological dust-piles of North America and Asia for the past three years in search of extra light-cubes.

"We bought up all the spares in the world," explains Jones. "We basically had a scavenger hunt through North America and Japan, and we acquired all the spares that were available. We were running out and we weren't going to be able to keep all the little cubes lit through this year."

Simply put, it was time for all 50,000 pounds of the old scoreclock to go unceremoniously the way of Betamax and Laser Video Discs - to the scrapheap. It took ten workers two full days to lower and dismantle.

Once the Canucks hit the ice for pre-game skate, nobody's going to care much about the diode's, the tight time frames, or power. It's all about the show, and this one's going to go on.