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Mitsubishi's Marshall plant specializes in scoreboards

| Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008

Scores from around the league, player profiles and, of course, advertising -- fans at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center will be able to watch it all starting later this fall on an 800-foot ribbon of light high above the basketball court.

Mitsubishi Electric's Diamond Vision plant in Marshall designed and is manufacturing the board for the center in State College. It is also working on two bands of ribbon board -- lighted with light-emitting diodes -- for the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium set to open for the 2009 season.

Diamond Vision's U.S. headquarters is at the Marshall plant, and the Japanese company could move more production here in coming years.

Diamond Vision's core staff here, which comprises just 20 of the 500 or so Mitsubishi workers in the Pittsburgh region, is riding the growth of big, bright, high-resolution video boards as vital elements of sporting events, concerts and even a typical day in a major city.

"Think of the TV set at home, how the technology keeps getting better and better," said Jimmie Sacco, executive director of stadium management at Heinz Field and past president of the Stadium Managers Association.

The same goes for screens at entertainment venues, he said.

"The technology and presentation are changing as we speak -- the ribbon boards and video boards, both by Mitsubishi and Daktronics, they are such a large part of the game today," Sacco said.

Heinz Field and PNC have scoreboard screens and ribbon boards built by Daktronics, which is Mitsubishi Electric's chief rival in that business. But the Diamond Vision unit has added to its resume 21 major projects in sports arenas, and eight in New York and other major cities since relocating to the Pittsburgh area from Atlanta four years ago.

The Verizon Center in Washington, the Washington Nationals' new ball park and the MTV and ABC studios in Times Square in Manhattan, to name a few, have Diamond Vision equipment engineered and, in some cases, built in Marshall.

The technology will be in the new Yankee Stadium set to open in spring in New York, and in the Toronto Maple Leafs' Air Canada Center.

Mark Foster, general manager for Diamond Vision, said Mitsubishi will bid to supply the scoreboards and ribbon boards for the Penguins' new arena.

LED, or light-emitting diode, technology developed in the mid-1990s made scoreboards that could carry sophisticated video programming possible, and they became must-haves in new and renovated stadiums by about 2000, said Art Williams, CEO of Arena Media Networks, which places digital screens in stadium concourses.

While video screens and ribbon boards cost one-quarter of what they did when Foster joined Diamond Vision in 1996, "the sales keep getting larger in terms of total dollars," he said.

The Bryce Jordan Center project will replace an older lamp-style ribbon board with surface-mounted light equipment. That means the screens can be seen from virtually all angles, including seats below or to the side.

That board will cost more than $1 million, Foster said. A full arena project with a center-hung scoreboard and ribbon board can range from $7 million to $10 million, he said, and "there is more than one deal going for more than $30 million in new stadiums."

Mitsubishi created the first large-scale video screen for a sports stadium in 1980, when the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

While much of the engineering work for U.S. projects is done at the Marshall plant, scoreboard screens typically are made in Nagasaki, Japan. The Marshall plant in the Thorn Hill Industrial Park specializes in the ribbon fascia that is most popular in U.S. stadiums.

From hundreds of feet away, the display on a stadium ribbon board looks like a high-resolution screen meant to be viewed from much closer.

The primary difference is in the pixel density. Smaller display screens may have pixel dots 4 millimeters apart, but large outdoor boards are made of LED lights that measure 22 millimeters between like-color dots -- in red, blue or green.

"Humans only see red, blue and green. We blend all the other colors from those," said Dave Corathers, engineering manager at Diamond Vision.

The Dallas stadium will have two ribbons running along its inner bowl, each 4 feet high and stretching 1,000 feet long. The 600-ton main scoreboard will be the first center-hung installation in football, hooked to the stadium's partial roof and stretching between the 20-yard lines.

Priya Narasimhan, a Carnegie Mellon University assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering and computer science, said the Internet and growing interest in fantasy football also are behind the latest screens.

Fans at home often watch NFL games on TV, with laptop computers nearby to track their fantasy teams and pull up other details.

That multitasking now extends to the experience at a game, she said, with the ribbon boards and expanded, multiscreen scoreboards showing out-of-town scores and other details that never would have fit on a classic scoreboard.

"It is unprecedented. The reason you go to the stadium, rather than watch it at home, is for the experience," she said, adding that in years to come, fans will be able to customize the information they see right from their seats.

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