how AMD opens new doors to players in the cultural world

For several months, the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans have been hosting a new interactive exhibition to highlight UNESCO world heritage. A project which would undoubtedly not have seen the light of day, at least in this form, without the assistance of AMD and its technical teams.

Create a media installation based on interactive virtual tours in a place steeped in history. This is the challenge that faced the French company VS-Factory, whose role was to realize the vision of the ICONEM agency at the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans.

VS-Factory quickly encountered complex questions: how to naturally integrate digital technology into the heart of a classified place? How to respond simply to complex technical issues? How to respect budgetary constraints without degrading the final user experience?

As surprising as it may seem, it is a technical choice which made it possible to provide a satisfactory answer to many of these questions. This choice ? Build the hardware device around AMD CPUs and GPUs. A decision carefully considered by the teams responsible for the project, and which can be explained by the advantages of the Pro architectures developed by AMD.

“We had to pay attention to everything”: the Royal Saltworks, a project under constraints

Setting up a large-scale cultural project is never easy, as Martin Dorai, president of the VS-Factory group, points out:

In the cultural world, we do not have the same budget as in the corporate sector [ndlr : le privé]. It must be efficient, affordable, but without losing performance.

And the Royal Saltworks project of Arc-et-Senans is no exception to the rule. Installed in a major French heritage site, it aims to promote UNESCO world heritage through a series of audiovisual and digital devices. Between gigantic projections, 3D immersion and digital tour routes, this project designed by the ICONEM agency takes multiple forms, which were all challenges to overcome.

To achieve ICONEM’s vision, the VS-Factory teams worked for nearly two years on the creation and implementation of the facilities. A long-term task, with multiple constraints, which had to be tamed:

There was a lot of thought that went into it, because it is a UNESCO world heritage site, so we had to pay attention to everything. Each element of the project, each standard imposed by the place, which are nevertheless very specific, the way of integrating the system into the place, etc., the specifications were complex.

If certain devices, such as video projection on stretched canvases, have been relatively “simple» to adapt to the specificities of the place (namely a height of 18 meters and a century-old framework), others gave VS-Factory more trouble. This is the case of the digital tour imagined by ICONEM, a suite of 3D content broadcast in 4K and in real time on a triptych of 86-inch screens, one of which is entirely touchscreen.

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A technically demanding device for which VS-Factory called on one of its privileged partners: Carri Systems. Its goal ? Imagine and design a machine that meets the needs of the project, namely:

  • calculate 3D images in real time and broadcast them on a triptych of screen;
  • be simple to maintain, install and integrate into the heart of the Royal Saltworks;
  • be both long-lasting (the exhibition lasts 5 years) and flexible (the exhibition will evolve over time);
  • respect the limits of the established budget without compromising on the final user experience.

A complex equation, which however has a simple solution for Franck Darmon, director of Carri Systems:

We have been working with VS-Factory for several years. And we know it well now: it’s the user experience that matters more than anything. The budgetary constraint is one thing, but it must not have an impact on the public’s feelings. Our job is therefore to find the alchemy and the components necessary to achieve this result. AMD’s support in this context is ideal.

“We ended up with support from AMD who came to our premises”: more than a collaboration, a real partnership

You may not know it, but to function, many projects of this type rely on graphics cards (GPU) similar to those that equip any gaming PC. High-performance graphics cards, equipped with a large computing power and capable of displaying sumptuous visuals. But these graphics cards have a flaw: they severely lack flexibility. They are very good for displaying video game graphics, but not very effective when it comes to driving one or more screens, and even more so when these displays have heterogeneous dimensions or functionalities.

In this case, the need identified by Carri engineers focused on the management of EDIDs (Extended Display Identification Data). Behind this acronym hides a set of data which makes it possible to communicate to the GPU all the information relating to the display device: its size, its brightness, its model, but also its position in relation to other monitors. Crucial data in the case of a multi-screen configuration.

We found ourselves with this need to stop EDIDs, that is to say, to know, when we start, which screen we are on or to know if we are on all three at the same time. Won’t screen number one end up in place of screen three? As soon as you rely on a gamer card, it’s impossible.

This first technical imperative acted as a trigger for Carri Systems which then turned to professional GPUs, capable of managing these famous EDIDs. But why did you choose AMD’s proposal rather than that of the competition?

Franck Darmon expresses this choice quite simply:

With AMD, for the price of a gaming graphics card like you find with many brands, you will end up with a professional card. A card that not only has this ability to set EDIDs, something that absolutely does not exist on gaming cards, but also effective technical and human support.

Beyond any financial consideration, it was the support argument that tipped the scales. The qualifier “Pro» attached to AMD’s professional GPUs is not an empty word. For example, the manufacturer has dedicated technical teams capable of assisting professionals on large-scale projects.

We met with support from AMD, who came to the Carri Systems premises. To anticipate the delivery of the final project, we prepared an internal model, on which the AMD and VS Factory teams worked collaboratively to find the best possible settings.

Support which also extends to the software part. On its professional side, AMD works closely with the most well-known software publishers to ensure the compatibility and performance of its GPUs. A saving of time and peace of mind, much appreciated by Franck Darmon:

Another advantage of having support for AMD professionals is that the drivers for creation or distribution software are certified. When we encounter a problem with software, we can afford to go see our publisher to say: be careful, we have a problem. And there is a real study file that has been put together to meet our needs.

For VS-Factory as for Carri Systems, AMD was not just a simple hardware supplier, but indeed a partner. A full-fledged actor who made his contribution and allowed the Royal Saltworks project to exist as it was initially imagined.

Quality and performance: “We’re going to look for the little beast for performance”

To meet the many constraints of this project, namely processing content in real time and dynamically displaying it on three 86-inch 4K touch screens, Carri Systems imagined a device which is based on two components in particular:

  • an AMD Ryzen Threadripper PRO 5955WX CPU, which has 16 cores and 32 threads and a high frequency. An ideal combination to withstand the workload necessary for the distribution of 3D content. Its 128 PCIe lines are also an asset in accelerating the transfer of data between components, whether the GPU or the storage medium;
  • an AMD RADEON PRO W6800 GPU whose main advantages, in addition to the power obtained thanks to the 32 GB of DDR6 VRAM, is to have no less than six video outputs. Enough to manage the device in its first version with three screens, but also to open the door to future developments.

A carefully considered choice to ensure the longevity and scalability of the installation.

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Because the Royal Saltworks exhibition is not frozen in time. Scheduled to last five years, its scenography will evolve over the years. For Martin Dorai, it was imperative to be able to simply modify the device, whether to modify the order of the screens, their number, or to add new functionalities:

This project, in a year, we will make it evolve. On the triptych, we will add a tracking system making it possible to manage the reversal and gestures via a camera to control the files without having to use a touch screen. This mechanism is already ready, and we will be able to implement it without affecting the installation or the content.

Longevity is also a strong argument for Franck Darmon:

On this specific model, this is also the advantage of the Pro, the card is maintained and supported for a longer time compared to gaming components. We know we’re relaxed for a while. In 4 or 5 years, if we have a driver problem for example, we will be able to report the information because we are dealing with things known to AMD.

Ultimately, for Martin Dorai, this project and the choice of AMD were a real revelation. A paradigm shift for VS-Factory which has already switched many of its projects, current or future, to AMD Professional solutions. This is the case of the Interlab project, a 150 m² work space and showroom located in the heart of Paris. An ambitious, complex project, which evolved following the Salines Royales project to adopt a technical infrastructure entirely based on AMD. The reason ? Greater flexibility and excellent value for money which allows you to consider all possibilities.

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