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It just had to be U2

U2, the band known for very big music decided, as usual, to go for a visual and technical extravaganza for their 1997 - 1998 tour, Popmart. Designer Willie Williams and entertainment architect Mark Fisher got together again after their previous collaboration on the ZooTV tour, deciding to pull apart a conventional LED screen, producing the world’s first very large, low resolution LED screen. The resultant 15 x 50 m (50 x 165 ft) screen was the biggest the world had ever seen, with over 100,000 pixels, each with 8 LEDs.

Abandoned, after the show, XL Video purchased the screen for a summer tour of the German rock star Marius Westernhagen, coining the “Westernhagen screen” name. Marcel DeKeyzer, founder of XL Video expands in a Live Design article from 2005; “After the [Westernhagen] tour, we had this screen collecting dust in our warehouse for years. Suddenly, with the development of media servers, use of video as lighting effects, et cetera, production designers started to use this screen more and more for its effect and not so much for IMAG, for which it was developed.”

Enter an upstart German company, G-LEC. Formed in 2001, G-LEC was specifically to “bring video into the third dimension,” in the words of Lars Wolf, the creative force behind the company. Not only low resolution, but more importantly, he desired to make the display transparent. The G-LEC screen heralded, not from the Westernhagen screen, but from work done in Tokyo’s famous Shibuya district, where neon and video is splattered across every available building. The requirement was to provide video across the complete glass façade of a nine story building. It had to be big. But, more importantly, it had to be transparent, so that the shoppers and diners inside the building could see daylight.

Extract from article “Low Res Video Screens” by Peter Ed, published in the Winter 2008 edition of Protocol, The Journal of the Entertainment Technology Industry.