How Does a Network-Based Video Wall Work?

Network-based video walls are part of the Video-Over-IP paradigm shift that has brought exciting change and new opportunities to the AV industry over the past few years. The flexibility, power, and simplicity of network video walls, in particular, has generated excitement amongst AV pros.

Video over IP or av over IP is such a compelling approach to deploying video walls because it leverages the Local Area Network and standard PCs ensuring a cost-effective infrastructure. A very simple approach, but capable of delivering high-quality content (up to 8k) and scalable (up to 100 screens) video walls.


Here are the key components:


Video Wall Diagram

1. Standard PC

This will capture the process and deliver content to the video wall displays. The advantage here is that using a standard PC, not a specialized one, drives down the price. Also, while in other PC-based approaches the physical number of PCI slots will limit the maximum number of displays supported, in network-based systems all the PCI slots in the motherboard are free.

This allows them to be used for capture cards to ensure maximum flexibility in terms of content or offloading cards to increase the power of the PC and the resolution of the content that can be deployed. In this case, the power of the PC is what determines the maximum number of displays.

2. Ethernet Switch

Network-based video walls use a standard switch and Ethernet infrastructure, and they are capable of delivering very large video walls (up to 100 screens), limited only by the bandwidth of the network, which again can be upgraded if needed. Depending on the number of screens and size of the content, either a gigabit switch is required or a switch with a 10gig uplink but gigabit ports.

3. Zero Client Devices

Zero clients are low-cost devices that are best thought of as network addressable video cards. They take the signal coming from the network and output it to the displays from an HDMI port. These don’t have operating systems, nor software, they don’t have moving parts (which make for a long lifespan of 8-10 years), but they are capable of outputting content up to 8k.

4. Video Wall Controller/Processor Software

The software is at the heart of any AV over IP solution and provides all the flexibility and power to drive pretty much any kind of content to the video wall. The software is installed on the PC which converts the computer into a video wall processor or video wall controller.

The PC will then provide all the advanced features, like video wall zones (to showcase multiple content sources simultaneously on the video wall), or non-standard configurations such as display rotation or allowing gaps in the video wall canvas (for artistic designs). It will also support a broader range of content and gives the option for interactivity beyond traditional touch-screen interaction (via tablets, smartphones or other connected devices. Also, software-based solutions have the capability of interconnecting with a wide range of external devices, via APIs.

How it All Comes Together

In a video wall scenario, a small zero client is attached to the back of each display, via HDMI. The zero clients are connected via Ethernet to one of the ports in the switch (you need to make sure you have at least equal number of available ports as displays). The switch is then connected to the PC with a single ethernet cable—and here is one of the key advantages to this approach, that you can have your displays and network switch on site, while having the PC safely located in a server room, connected to the video wall with just a single Ethernet cable.

The software installed on the PC then allows support of multiple source content—8k video, HTML5, Cloud content, Content Management Systems (CMS), interactive content (such as desktop environments and web browsers), content captured through HDMI or SDI, Network streams like RTP and RTSP, etc. The web-based advanced management tools allow the administrators to manage the content and video wall layout, zones, and more, remotely, without having to be neither on the video wall site nor in the server room with the PC.

What to Keep in Mind

Currently, software technology is advancing at a faster pace than hardware development, and for video walls, this means that a software-based solution will be able to upgrade and update more swiftly to accommodate the higher resolutions and new types of content. What’s more, APIs are now ushering video walls into the phenomenon of the Internet Of Things. A great advantage too of network-based video walls is that, should you need to grow your video wall, all you need to do is copy the software to a newer, more powerful PC.

Learn more about Userful’s video wall software.

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