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Stadium Jumbotrons can show crude animations or a single live video image, and electronic signs such as the Reuters billboard in New York City’s Times Square already post live Internet news feeds. But thanks to advances in software, huge new screens will soon weave together Web pages, Flash and Shockwave animation, and multiple video feeds of events taking place anywhere in the world.

Such gigantic displays are, in essence, the world’s largest Internet terminals. To run the 365-square-meter video wall under construction at the Fashion Show shopping center in Las Vegas, NV, therefore, engineers at R/GA, a digital studio in New York, spent nine months building a powerful new “scheduling engine” based on extensible markup language, the emerging lingua franca of the Internet. The engine handles all the disparate types of media for the wall, and unlike the software that supported the first generation of large video displays and required powerful graphics supercomputers, it runs on a cluster of off-the-shelf PCs.

The display’s ever-changing montage might show a live video feed of fashion models in Milan swooping across a background of still photos, getting bigger and then shrinking to nothing as the background dissolves to a commercial for jeans. “This level of control is very new,” says John Mayo-Smith, R/GA’s vice president of technology. And because they’re connected to the Internet, he says, “these displays can be modified from anywhere and in real time.” Talk about mass media.

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