Dell’s the Brains Behind U2′s Concert Technology. The Edge is Still Cool, Though

U2 goes all out for its concerts, which is certainly one reason why last weekend’s performance at Angels Stadium in Anaheim sold out in four minutes. The other reason, of course, is that U2 has achieved the rank of rock demigods — an image built in large part by its awe-inspiring, technologically innovative staging.

At Angels Stadium, it was clear U2 was at it again: The stage looked like a giant, four legged robot dropped in the middle of the field. Its legs were filled with cameras, lights and cords jumbled together, with a circular screen at the core. But the brain of the beast was housed in a small, discreet tent  a short ways away.

The brain turned out to be hardwired by Dell, powered by three Precision R5400 rack-mounted workstations and controlled by Precision M6500 laptops. Each laptop was one of those ultra-powerful devices stuffed with Intel Core i7 processors and Nvidia’s Quadro 2000M graphics cards with 2 GB of graphics memory. Usually used by engineers, software developers, computer graphics and animation specialists. For the concert these powerful computers were used by directors to not only stream live video but to overlay 120 GB of total visual content over the images. The racks also contained powerful Intel Xeon processors and Nvidia dual graphics chips.

“Throwing video on the screen is easy,” observes Christopher Ratcliffe, director of global messaging and marketing programs for Dell.  “But when you’re taking video and mixing it in real time with pre-rendered content, then putting it on a screen that’s seven stories tall and has gaps in it, you have to work out where the gaps are in the video and create those gaps so the image holds it format. That’s a challenge.”

The 500,000 pixel screen weighs more than 54 tons and stretches over 14,000 square feet. Dell claims it is the world’s largest video screen, primarily because it extends to what looks like a massive honeycomb. The images of the band overlayed with other images created a crazy visual experience. Even though I had front row seats, I sometimes found myself looking at the screen more than Bono and the Edge.

While the concerts are a profitable venture for Dell, they’ve also enabled the  company to modify its equipment to be more rugged. With laptops and workstations being thrown around by roadies, Ratcliffe says Dell has had to improv its designs to hold up in extreme environments.

Years from now the technology used at the concert may seem paltry, but for now it’s awesome.

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