The Sam M. Walton Auditorium, located inside the Walmart Home Office in Bentonville, Arkansas, has a lot of history. Not only does it regularly host Walmart’s investor relations and hundreds of all-hands employee meetings, but the company’s founder himself was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom there by then-president George H. Bush in 1992. So every event they produce there is about high quality and the company’s low-cost mantra.
When it came time to upgrade its audio-visual systems supporting the room, the technology had to be high quality, but it also had to adhere to Walmart’s mission: Everyday low prices. Last Fall they chose a full complement of robotic camera control products from Telemetrics and new Hitachi cameras. Four Hitachi DK-200 HD cameras on Telemetrics PT-HP-S5 pan/tilt heads were mounted on the walls throughout the room, with another two Hitachi SK-HD1300 HD cameras mounted on pedestals in the back of the room.
The robotic P/T heads were combined with an existing Telemetrics RCCP-1A robotics and camera control panel that was previously being used with existing pan/tilt heads. They’ve also purchased Telemetrics’ Studio (STS) and Legislative (LGS) software, which helps streamline the production of events.
Dave Magnia, Chief Engineer of Event Solutions at Walmart, said the new equipment has made an immediate difference. During each event, one person serves as the TD and robotic camera operator.
“We’ll look at a particular meeting and say, ‘does this require a dedicated operator or can we double up roles and put a technical director that can punch and run the cameras at the same time?’,” he said. “We run all of our auditoriums that way. We have an audio operator to ensure good sound and we have a TD running a robotics panel. It’s a bit different than what other corporations do, but we’re leaner because of our everyday low price model.”
The AV staff likes the natural motion of the Telemetrics pan/tilt heads, which include Advanced Servo technology that provides smooth motion and quiet operation, which has improved Walmart’s production values. The control panel gives the operator the ability to easily save visual presets and recall them quickly with a simple button push. They have a touchscreen interface that they use to preview what the shots are going to look like before taking them during a production. Operators can also switch back and forth between the STS and LGS software, but at Walmart, the STS Studio software is used most often.
“We bought both the LGS and STS software for the panel,” said Magnia. “We’ve used LGS some, but STS is more useful for our application, as we’re using camera pre-sets and reFrame auto-tracking software. However, if we have a more structured meeting where we are blocking shots and we know the seating locations are going to stay the same, like in an investor relations meeting, the LGS software works great.”
The LGS software includes a feature called “Seating Map” which allows the user to load a 3D map of their particular auditorium and the software can track who is sitting in a particular seat. Camera pre-sets can then be created to focus on each speaker or guest.
“During an investor relations meeting, we know what’s going to happen, so LGS works better there,” he said. “The Seating Map is a great feature because we can load a custom map of our particular room and then select camera shots based on the seating chart. It’s very helpful.”
Magnia also speaks highly of the Hitachi cameras, stating that image quality is outstanding.
“From setup to day-to-day operation, we find the controller to be a natural fit for the operator with a logical user interface,” he said. “From a setup and maintenance perspective, being able to jump into the menus on the cameras using Ross Dashboard to paint the cameras and copy those settings quickly to other cameras is a time-saving feature.
“The Hitachi DK-200 cameras and the Telemetrics Pan/Tilt heads work in concert together, allowing for smooth motion control coupled with a high-quality image,” Magnia said. “The ability for the camera and robotic head to respond quickly to the touch screen interface on the controller allows our operators to serve the audience in the auditorium as well as those watching online.”
Overall, the system is working well. So well, that Walmart plans to purchase four more cameras and a Telemetrics RCCP-2A control panel and related Pan/Tilt Heads in the Fall for the David Glass Auditorium, which is networked to all of the company’s meeting spaces. It’s also the largest auditorium in the Bentonville, Ark. Area.
The Telemetrics robotic camera control systems, Magnia said, help them keep a tight schedule and operate as lean as possible across three auditoriums and two studio operations in the Bentonville area, along with locations in Hoboken NJ and San Bruno, Calif.
“At Walmart, our founder said there are no cash registers at the home office, so we’re an expense to the company,” he said. “That’s why we operate as lean as we do. Our productivity is very high across all of our production spaces.”
With Walmart being an everyday low-cost operator, Magnia and his team have made it their goal to operate at a low cost. Camera robotics is a big part of that.