Giant Billboard on Times Square Uses AVT Camera for Interactive Advertising

Fashion retailer Forever 21’s new flagship store in New-York City features giant computer vision billboard that interacts with consumers.

The Big Apple is world famous for spectacular, giant advertising billboards illuminating New York City’s never sleeping night. Over the years, a technology that started with simple light bulbs and neon has evolved to complex, sophisticated display technology broadcasting ground breaking video content. The latest innovation in outdoor advertising premiered at the opening of youth fashion retailer Forever 21’s new flagship store this past June, 2010.

The facade of the 90,000 sq ft (8,300 m²) store features a giant 60-feet/18 m high digital billboard with up-to-the-minute interactive display technology. Developed by digital agency space150 for Forever 21, the display interacts with passing shoppers and people on the streets below by mixing larger-than-life video footage of fashion models with live images of people passing by or standing in front of the store.

Fashion Models Interact With Passers-By
Crowds stop to stare in amazement at the new Forever 21 billboard as giant models wearing Forever 21 clothes interact with them in almost near real-time, snapping a Polaroid picture of the crowd and showing the image on screen a second later, or picking up a shopper to drop them into a Forever 21 shopping bag.

“Including the audience in the billboard’s content really catches the attention of people walking in front of the store and makes them stop and watch”, explains James Squires, Director of Technology at space150. “That’s not an easy thing to do in Times Square. But the innovative technology, the sheer size of the model towering over the crowd and the real time nature of the content really capture people’s imagination and interest.”

Real-time, machine-vision-driven interaction

Times Square’s newest display highlight relies on state-of-the-art machine vision technology to capture live images of the street, identify people in the crowd and street below and merge images from the live stream with pre-defined overlaid scenarios.

Live images are captured by a Prosilica GX1910 high-definition camera from Allied Vision Technologies (AVT). The Prosilica GX is a high-performance professional camera for image-processing applications. Thanks to its double-speed Gigabit Ethernet interface, it is able to deliver high-resolution images at high frame rates. The GX1910 version is equipped with a HD-resolution Kodak sensor offering high sensitivity and image quality. With its special housing optimized for heat dissipation, the Prosilica GX is particularly suited for demanding applications such as outdoor imaging in which the camera’s operating temperature can rise up to 50°C/122°F.

The images are transmitted in real time via a Gigabit Ethernet interface to a host server in which they are processed. The live stream is displayed on the screen and analyzed by proprietary software developed by space150. The software identifies real people in the street as opposed to inanimate objects such as streetlights, banks or trashcans. Preset video scenes featuring Forever 21 fashion models are overlaid in the foreground of the live stream. When interaction scenarios are triggered, the software selects a person in the crowd and automatically cuts out the shape of this person from the background (sidewalk) to generate the pick-up effect of the model lifting the person in the air.

The billboard itself is a high-tech LED-display from D3 (Dynamic Digital Displays) a specialist in large-scale outdoor display technology who already developed several spectacular giant screens in Times Square. The screen is 1,380 sq. ft. large (ca. 128 m²) and rises up to 30’/18m high. Highlight of the display is a 21’/6.4m “21”-logo pointing out of the screen, giving the display a 3D effect.

Prosilica GX Delivers 63 HD-Images per Second

Developing this demanding application, space150 looked for a high-performance digital camera able to deliver high-quality, high-resolution images at high speed and in real time over a long distance. “We faced several challenges”, explains James Squires. “First, we needed high resolution and high data speed because of the live interactivity. Second, because the camera is placed above the screen at a 30 ft/18m height, we needed an interface supporting long cable lengths to bridge the distance between the camera and server. And finally, the camera had to be able to work reliably 24 hours a day in a tough environment with great swings in outdoor temperature.”

New to the market, the Prosilica GX1910 from Allied Vision Technologies turned out to be the perfect solution. This high-performance digital camera has been developed for demanding application such as industrial inspection, traffic monitoring, surveillance and robotics. Its Gigabit Ethernet interface complies with the industrial GigE Vision standard and allows for cable length of up to 100m/330ft, with even longer distance possible using optical fiber connections.

The key feature of the Prosilica GX, however, is its double-speed GigE Vision interface using the Link Aggregation Technology. By combining two Ethernet ports, the camera is able to double the bandwidth available with conventional Gigabit Ethernet cameras to up to 240 Mbytes/s, which makes it the fastest GigE Vision compliant camera in the world. This unique feature allows for high-resolution, HD-images to be transmitted at high frame rates of up to 63 images per second, more than twice as much as in a standard video stream.

“We could not risk technology malfunction or failure on such a high profile project. The Prosilica GX was the best choice for this application”, says Squires. “Its HD-resolution delivers the high image quality required for a giant display while its fast GigE-interface guarantees a striking real-time interactivity without delay”.

Forever 21 is delighted with the result: “We’ve created a fun and innovative program that engages our customers in a way that reflects our image. We’re pleased to launch this new custom technology on our Times Square billboard,” says Linda Chang, Marketing Director, Forever 21.