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Miraikan Museum Visualizes Global Issues

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Miraikan Museum Visualizes Global Issues
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A range of global issues are surging, including rising temperatures, extreme weather, oceanic pollution, poverty, the rich-poor gap, and war and conflicts, among others. To help the public understand these global issues, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) in Tokyo recently renovated its Geo-Cosmos exhibition, in collaboration with Dentsu, Mitsubishi Electric, GK Tech, and Go and Partners. The latest renovation instantly draws patrons to the digital, spherical Earth installation, which now features 1,500 nit display brightness, high dynamic range (HDR), wide color gamut (WCG), and smooth high frame rate (HFR) visuals. Miraikan Manager of the Office of Science Communication Makoto Seguchi, and Go and Partners Executive Producer and Chief Technical Producer Tsuyoshi Go Hotta sat down with us to talk about the renovation, which included the deployment of AJA gear.

How is Miraikan unique, and what is your role at the museum? 

Seguchi: Miraikan opened in 2001 and showcases science and technology through a cultural lens. It's a future-oriented museum that bridges science experts and the public to promote a mutual understanding of scientific progress; all patrons are encouraged to consider and discuss science's societal role. The facility also acts as a training hub for science communicators. I am the Manager of the Science Communications Office, which produces museum exhibitions and events, develops exhibition systems and content, implements experiments, and more. We update exhibits and video content, like Geo-Cosmos, regularly.

Tell us more about the latest Geo-Cosmos renovation.

Seguchi: The latest Geo-Cosmos renovation showcases Earth in a more realistic light, with vibrant HDR imagery and video designed to remind museum visitors of modern environmental challenges. It also brings new cloud imagery to patrons via photo data supplied by weather satellites to visualize Earth's changing appearance. A division of base map background images illustrates seasonal color changes, including polar ice and vegetation fluctuations. 

To complete the project, we enlisted more than 70 experts through a joint venture from companies including Miraikan, Dentsu, Mitsubishi Electric, GK Tech, and Go and Partners. The team replaced 10,362 LED display device panels, installed all the equipment inside the sphere and wiring, and completed the electrical work. The team also renovated the video, audio, graphics, and control system to support richer, deeper colors, a wider luminance contrast, and smoother video. This renovation involved installing technologies like the AJA FS-HDR converter to enable HDR, WCG, and HFR content. 

How did Go and Partners, Inc. get involved with Miraikan?

Go Hotta: All of Miraikan's projects are open to the public through competition. At the time of the first Geo-Cosmos (2001) competition, I was a technical producer. We were awarded the contract after proposing a 3 mm pitch SMD LED panel from NICHIA with a four-company joint venture between Dentsu, Dentsu Tec, GK Teck, and Hibino Corporation. GOES New York Inc. was founded in 2002, followed by Go and Partners in 2003, after which I rejoined the team. Both provided technical production and direction, project management, and operational support for the installation. 

Ten years later, Miraikan wanted to replace aging display devices and equipment and held a competition for Geo-Cosmos 2. Four companies, including Dentsu, Mitsubishi Electric, GK Tech, and GOES, won the bid with proposals for OLED panels, aluminum frames, and a resolution of over 10 million pixels. However, just before completion, the OLED panels were damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake, and it took several months to restore them.

By 2021, the OLED panels had deteriorated significantly over time, and Miraikan initiated a new renovation competition for the Geo-Cosmos.

What attracted your team to the project?

Go Hotta: Geo-Cosmos is more than just a visual terrestrial globe; it is a unique project that marries art with science. The Earth is reaching a breaking point, and the Geo-Cosmos update depicts these challenges visually for Miraikan-goers. Naturally, we were thrilled to be a part of the design and subsequent upgrades. Our services are a natural fit and include production, direction, project management, large-scale system design, and out-of-the-box projects. Since requests from our clients vary, we have a flexible team structure to ensure that the right person is in the right place at the right time.

What challenges did you encounter while working on the Geo-Cosmos renovation? 

Go Hotta: The Geo-Cosmos project required a deep understanding of the latest video specifications for content production and system technology, as well as an understanding of how they work together. Conventional SDR, Rec709 technology won’t cut it for a project like this, so we adopted the latest technical specifications. At the same time, today's technology has become even more complex, and very few products perform as expected, so we looked to AJA gear for an assist. AJA's technology is stable, reliable, easy to set up, and efficient. AJA's equipment helped us save time, as did the documentation and SDK provided. Aside from those technical challenges, we also faced severe issues with tight timelines and product shortages due to the global supply chain disruption.

How did you overcome those technical challenges? 

Go Hotta: We already knew that we needed to replace the OLED panels, so our team started the new Geo-Cosmos concept early on. We examined the possible system configuration, installation schedule, estimated costs, computer simulations to verify visitors' viewpoints, participation in SMPTE and other latest technology workshops, and the cooperation of AJA and other vendors. By reviewing all project variables in advance, we were able to proceed smoothly.

What technologies now power Geo-Cosmos?

Go Hotta: First, the Geo-Cosmos content is produced as OpenEXR still image files at 6,204 x 3,102 resolution, HDR (HLG or PQ), Rec 2020, 59.94 Hz. The image files are then converted on an HP workstation to a Geo-Cosmos panel layout using the top half of the 8K resolution and converted to HEVC (H.265) 8K video. Finally, up to 8 channels of audio are added to the HEVC (H.265) .mp4 file using computer application software, and the .mp4 file is transferred to an 8K recorder/player that we developed with ASTRODESIGN.

For playback, two 4K single-link SDI [2 sample interleave (2SI)] outputs from the 8K player are input to an AJA KUMO 1616-12G router. The KUMO outputs are input to two AJA FS-HDRs equipped with SFP modules (HDBNC-2TX-12G). The FS-HDRs then output four Quad Link 3G-SDI signals, totaling eight signals that are converted to fiber and transmitted to the Geo-Cosmos sphere. The audio embedded in the SDI signal is output from a separate channel in KUMO and sent to a de-multiplexer. The 4K UHD monitors connected to the KUMO are used for video quality control.

Geo-Cosmos supports real-time video playback from external connections, such as a high-spec laptop PC. HDMI signals from an external PC are input to an AJA KONA HDMI capture card on an HP workstation, converted to panel placement within the workstation, and output via an AJA KONA 5 I/O card in 2 channels of 4K SDI (2SI) and input to KUMO.

Why was HDR technology a key consideration for the upgrade?  

Go Hotta: Accurately depicting the clouds that hover above Earth and ice fields that blanket the Arctic and Antarctic requires high dynamic range visuals. HDR is also essential for representing cloud luminance, as it varies depending on altitude. Display devices used in brightly lit places such as museums are becoming brighter every year. Hence, a wide dynamic range is essential to presenting those images beautifully using displays in luminous environments.

That said, working with HDR can be challenging because content often doesn’t look as expected due to differences in creator intent and production environments. An artist's work may require subtle corrections in the projection environment. AJA FS-HDR is a powerful tool in this respect. It provides fine correction and preset functions, allowing us to easily switch images for content as needed. FS-HDR also makes it possible to adjust imagery on a case-by-case basis, as ambient brightness varies in the museum.

What advice would you offer to museums embarking on similar projects? 

Go Hotta: The world is changing rapidly, and new technology is emerging daily. Agility and flexibility are crucial in this line of work, so it’s important to keep pace with advancements as they break. Installations like Geo-Cosmos will soon be commonplace in museums worldwide, so start thinking about how to adopt technologies that will take the museum-goer experience to new heights.

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