BBC BigScreens

Posted on October 26, 2011


It all started, as it often does these days, with a tweet:

From Louise Angell (@louise_angell)

#bbcbigscreens are keen to hear from developers/artists interested in creating interactive games & apps for our platform. Get in touch! – (19 Oct 2011)

At that time, I was already talking with a number of interesting people about creating interactive projects and installations, so this was a well timed tweet! I emailed Louise for more details about the technical side of things, and she quickly sent back a number of documents showing the past projects, games and other interactive pieces they have already done. She elaborated further in the email, saying:

(from her email:)

We’re keen to consider proposals that will engage the public and enhance the city centre spaces in which our screens sit.

Although the screens are free to use, we have no budget to commission work.

However we do occasionally have opportunities via other BBC departments and external organisations and are keen to build the range of developers we work with.

An understanding of the platform and how audiences engage with it is essential when it comes to pitching ideas so we like to offer the opportunity for artists and developers to get to know us.

In short, a very, very exciting idea!

Lots of potential and I am interested in making it more physical (using objects, RFID’d items, Kinect-based motion/dance/pose/etc interaction) and the idea of having the people at one screen location compete against those at another, across the country, is a particularly interesting idea especially with 2012 coming up.

I’ve summarised the specs for the Bigscreens into bulletpoints below as currently they aren’t on the website, but you can get the specification PDF from Louise by contacting them through the Bigscreen’s website.

Bigscreen at Leeds in use (© 2011 BBC)

Technical Specifications:


  •  16:9 anamorphic LED screen
    • 26m to 35m “square”. (I am interpreting ‘square’ here as the diagonal measurement but basically, they are BIG screens)
    • 10m or more elevation above ground.
  • Stereo audio


  • Connected to: PC or Mac Mini (on site) at either 800×600 or 1024×768
  • PAL composite video and separate analog audio feed  (48Khz stereo is suggested).
    • (NB The screen requires PAL 720×576, but displays at a 16:9 aspect ratio rather than 4:3. For example, something that appears circular on a normal monitor will appear squashed and distorted on the LED screen if the application doesn’t factor this in.)
  • Camera (PAL signal) with pan, tilt and zoom functionality. Video input is connected to the PC via a capture card. Camera images are therefore not available through the Mac Mini as yet.
  • Bluetooth (USB dongle, range 100-200m line-of-sight). From the technical specs PDF it states: “At some sites rather than using a dongle there is a Bluetooth transceiver built into the screen.” but I am unsure what this means apart from a greater range and potentially a weird driver in the OS.
  • ASDL internet access (typically 4 to 8 Mbps down/200 to 400 Kbps up) Not private, but firewalled access to the public web.

Interactive projects can use their own equipment, provided it can output composite video. Note that this requires someone to be on site while it is in use and so not suitable for use in applications which run unattended.

Other information:

  • Any text should be at 18pt or larger to ensure it is readable, due to the nature of the LED screen and composite video.
  • From the content guidelines: “The BBC’s need to be impartial means we have to be careful about being seen to support campaigns – the BBC cannot endorse or support any personal views or campaigns. As a rule of thumb, we can give factual information rather than urging people to change their behaviour.”
  • Content must be ‘pre-watershed’ in nature – so that the content can be run at any time of day. Due to the screen’s highly visible and public nature, people will not be able to ‘switch off’ or choose not to view the content so this must be taken into consideration when creating media to be displayed.
  • Internet access is available; applications running on one screen can communicate over the public web with other screens.
Posted in: creativity, event, idea