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Photo slideshow on multiple screens with colour management

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Brian Tao
Photo slideshow on multiple screens with colour management
on Jan 16, 2012 at 5:06:27 pm

Hello, all! I am building a system for a client who will be running digital print competitions for a professional photographer's association. I have the hardware and OS specifics sorted out, but I am missing the software application component that will meet the requirements.

The hardware setup is a Lenovo Thinkpad T420 with a 1600x900 display running Windows 7. It will be connected via DisplayPort to an NEC PA271W wide-gamut LCD monitor, 2560x1440. It will also be connected via VGA to a number of different projectors, depending on venue. These could range from your run-of-the-mill 1024x768 office projectors, to home theatre style 1920x1080 projectors. The goal is to display static photos simultaneously to both external displays, while the application control window remains on the laptop's internal display.

The use case is very simple. The NEC display will be positioned in front of the judging panel, since they will require the highest-quality reproduction. The projected image will be for the benefit of the audience in the room. Once the judges have scored the photo, the laptop operator will display the next image. All landscape orientation photos will be displayed first. Then the monitor itself will be physically rotated into vertical position to display portrait-orientation photos.

Some notable difficulties I have encountered:

  • while plenty of software image viewers support dual displays, I have not found any that support three or more displays

  • the software must be able to handle displays of differing resolutions (e.g., 1024x768 projector vs. 2560x1440 monitor)

  • the software must be able to handle displays of differing aspect ratios (e.g., 4:3 projector vs. 16:9 or 16:10 monitor)

  • the software must be able to handle displays of differing orientations (e.g., horizontal projector vs. vertical monitor)

  • the software must be able to handle colour management of multiple displays (e.g., unprofiled sRGB projector vs. calibrated wide-gamut LCD monitor)

Some software comes close (Powerpoint, Lightroom, PhotoMechanic, etc.), but none meet all the above requirements. Programmatically, it should not be difficult, since software exists that can do everything with dual monitors. It should not be hard to extend the concept to cover three or more monitors.

As I mentioned, the hardware and OS level concerns have been addressed. I can control multiple displays from the laptop already, each with their own colour profile, and I can rotate displays as needed, etc. All I am missing now is software application support for this configuration.

Thanks in advance for any guidance or recommendations!


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Thomas Leong
Re: Photo slideshow on multiple screens with colour management
on Jan 17, 2012 at 5:54:26 am

What's the budget?

I think for about >USD3K for 4 outputs, AvStumpfl's Wings Platinum 4 Multi-display version with max 4 outputs from the Master PC will handle your requirements. If you want more outputs which are duplicates of any of the initial 4, a distribution amp or splitter can be added to any of the outputs.

However, if you want more discrete outputs, then a second licence with a second PC will have to be networked to the Master. Licences are in Single Display output, Dual output, Triple, or Quad. These refer to the full-screen outputs from the graphics card when in Presentation Mode (F5 key), and excludes the application window itself.

Download Demo available. Differing resolutions of displays, vertical orientation, etc are available. Color Management is under Options > Global Options > Color Management, where you can select the color profile to output...but this is a Global setting, not a per output setting.

A possible alternative is Dataton's Watchout 5 which can output to 6 discrete displays with one licence, provided the hardware is capable. Can handle different resolution displays, mix of horizontal and vertical displays, etc. But I have not seen the option to select color profiles. Demo download also available.



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Walter Soyka
Re: Photo slideshow on multiple screens with colour management
on Jan 17, 2012 at 10:46:28 pm

[Thomas Leong] "Color Management is under Options > Global Options > Color Management, where you can select the color profile to output...but this is a Global setting, not a per output setting."

That's cool -- I didn't know Wings did color management. Great to know!

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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Thomas Leong
Re: Photo slideshow on multiple screens with colour management
on Jan 18, 2012 at 6:24:09 am

Walter,

Wings originally began as a slideshow programmer - a'la AVL, Electrosonics and Dataton - with the added capability to output a slideshow into a digital file. The bulk of its market, if I'm not wrong, still are stills photographers who want slide projector control capabilities, digital slideshows, etc. Multi-display and Show Control features were added later, so the color management feature must have been there for a while. I'd have to load up version 1.0 to confirm, but I started with version 2.0. Might have v1 Demo somewhere in the cabinet.

Thomas



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Brian Tao
Re: Photo slideshow on multiple screens with colour management
on Jan 17, 2012 at 11:01:39 pm

Thanks for the detailed reply, Thomas!

I don't think there is much budget left now, since the original assumption was that software already owned by the organization (mostly Adobe products) that supported dual monitors would logically also support three or more monitors. For instance, Adobe Lightroom can display the thumbnail library view on one monitor, with a full-screen, colour-corrected image on a second monitor. However, it does not scale beyond two displays. Similarly, one can download freeware like FastStone Image Viewer that allows the operator to work from the laptop's main display, while showing the current image on a secondary display. But again, it has no facility for selecting a third display.

I've looked into the aforementioned presentation suites, and they are all vastly overkill for this organization's requirements. Literally, they just need to be able to hit the space bar to display the next JPEG or TIFF image in the folder. That's it. Software is plentiful that supports dual monitors, but none that I can find for three or more monitors. So close, yet so far!


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Walter Soyka
Re: Photo slideshow on multiple screens with colour management
on Jan 17, 2012 at 10:45:06 pm

Does it have to be a single machine?

What if you ran two side-by-side systems -- one for the judges, and one for the audience, with each configured appropriately for the display it's driving? You can use a D'San PerfectCue or MultiCue to advance the systems simultaneously.

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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Brian Tao
Re: Photo slideshow on multiple screens with colour management
on Jan 17, 2012 at 11:11:53 pm

Hi, Walter! Having two separate laptops could be a workaround, but this particular Thinkpad T420 has the hardware to drive two external displays in addition to its own LCD. The ideal situation would be to have everything contained in one laptop. As I mentioned in my previous post, the requirements are extremely simple. If I go the dual laptop route, I know the client would be fine with having the operator simply tap the spacebar on both laptops at the same time! ;-)

Another compromise would be to have Windows itself configured to mirror the two external displays. Since the NEC PA271W monitor is the colour-critical one, the desktop settings would be set to 2560x1440, with the appropriate colour calibration profile. It would then be up to the projector to take the 2560x1440 signal and scale it down to 1024x768 (or 1024x576 in this case). However, that may not work as not all projectors will even accept such a high-resolution signal. Nor will it work when the NEC monitor is rotated into portrait orientation, while the projector remains in landscape mode.

A third method would be to simply launch two instances of any colour-managed image viewer (e.g., XnView), drag each window to their respective monitors, toggle them to full-screen, and advance the image in each viewer separately. I could probably write something in AutoHotKey to allow the operator to control both instances entirely with single keypresses. Sort of a Macgyver chewing-gum-and-wire solution, but it would meet the client's needs...


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Walter Soyka
Re: Photo slideshow on multiple screens with colour management
on Jan 17, 2012 at 11:42:09 pm

[Brian Tao] "The ideal situation would be to have everything contained in one laptop. As I mentioned in my previous post, the requirements are extremely simple."

I'd argue that your requirements are really deceptively complex. You need high resolution, display rotation, and color management with multiple discreet outputs at different aspect ratios. Of course, no one of these requires black magic, but the combination makes your use a corner case (which is why I think you can't find suitable use off-the-shelf software).


[Brian Tao] "A third method would be to simply launch two instances of any colour-managed image viewer (e.g., XnView), drag each window to their respective monitors, toggle them to full-screen, and advance the image in each viewer separately. I could probably write something in AutoHotKey to allow the operator to control both instances entirely with single keypresses. Sort of a Macgyver chewing-gum-and-wire solution, but it would meet the client's needs..."

That's a really good idea -- and you can't beat the price!

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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Brian Tao
Re: Photo slideshow on multiple screens with colour management
on Jan 18, 2012 at 2:01:45 am

[Walter Soyka] "I'd argue that your requirements are really deceptively complex."

The frustrating part is that most of that complex work has already been solved. Figuring out how to display to a second monitor of a different size/orientation/depth/profile has been done. "N" has been solved. Now all I want is "N+1". I suspect that the combination of a triple-headed display and colour-critical photo presentation makes it a corner case. Among the general computing public, how many even run a dual-monitor setup? 10%? I imagine that three displays would be on the order of 0.1%, if you don't look into niche markets. Not enough demand for the authors of software aimed at consumers to really take note.

[Walter Soyka] "That's a really good idea -- and you can't beat the price!"

It feels ugly to me, but it might do the trick! I'll try approaching the developers of PhotoMechanic, BreezeBrowser, FastStone, XnView, Irfanview, etc. to see if they have any comments on how difficult it would be to add this functionality to their software.


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Thomas Leong
Re: Photo slideshow on multiple screens with colour management
on Jan 18, 2012 at 6:06:40 am

Re Wings Platinum 4, you could try rental since purchase budget is not there. As additional info, there is a programming method that I've just tried where I am getting 4 fullscreen outputs from a Single Output licence/single PC. Pix below shows 3 fullscreen outputs as I wanted to keep the timeline on the 4th. If I had the monitors and if my graphics card could, I think I can get up to 6 fullscreen discrete outputs from this one Single Output licence (the selection for mon 5 and mon 6 are there, but I do not have the correct monitors (DVI).



This is not documented and may be a loophole in the application. No hacking. Just configuring the multiple outputs in a different way from what is documented in the Help Files. Laptops, however, just would not have the graphics card capabilities.

Therefore, Walter's suggestion to go the 2xPC way is the the more viable solution for you, especially since absolute frame sync between PCs is not a requirement.

In this respect, try Input Director or Synergy (I prefer the former) to control >1 PC from one keyboard. They are effectively software KVMs over a simple Ethernet link, and freeware.



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Thomas Leong
Re: Photo slideshow on multiple screens with colour mgmt - extending desktop
on Jan 18, 2012 at 2:53:59 pm

Here are some alternatives to try with the software you have been using to see if those software will extend to a 3rd or 4th monitor -

1. Displaylink Technology
http://www.displaylink.com/technology/technology_overview.php

2. MaxiVista Multi-Monitor software
http://www.maxivista.com/multi-monitor-software.htm

3. VTBook Multidisplay for Notebooks
http://www.villagetronic.com/vtbook/index.html

You mentioned that the T420 can use its own LCD screen plus 2 external monitors. That is unusual for a notebook. What sort of connections does the T420 have to connect to external monitors? DVI, VGA, HDMI and/or Display port? Do these allow simultaneous connections and discrete displays - i.e. different content to each output - or are they mirrors of each other's content?



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