Dubai: With the New Year almost here, Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower in Dubai, is set for another brilliant show on its facade.
So how does the 828-metre tower pull it off?
Burj Khalifa hosts daily shows as well as special shows on occasions such as New Year’s and National Days on one side of its facade (facing Burj Lake in Downtown Dubai).
It is reasonable to imagine a big operations room, filled with technicians glued to screens, overseeing another visual treat on the Burj Khalifa facade.
Actually, none of that happens behind the scenes. Instead, the process is way simpler — and smarter.
Small lights, giant screen
A media file of the show plays on a laptop connected to a “main brain” server, which, through a network of fibre optics and smaller brains, tells tiny LED lights on the facade to display a particular colour.
Seen together from a distance, the 1.2 million lights make up a composite image of the same video playing on the laptop, turning the facade into a screen. Think of it as using your laptop to play a video on your TV through a cable.
It means Burj Khalifa is, in effect, also the world’s biggest LED screen.
The tiny LED lights run down the sides of the tower’s windows, on thin plastic strips. They blend in perfectly with the facade, with everyone, even the tower’s residents, unaware the lights are there.
Gulf News was given rare access by Emaar, Burj Khalifa’s developer, to the room housing the main brain responsible for the shows.
It is a bare-bones, ordinary room with almost no furniture. In one corner, a laptop sits on a desk, next to the main brain. A flickering of some lights on the server and the hum of the AC are pretty much the only things your senses pick up.
It’s all very quiet and uneventful, on purpose — this is the room where the show is first tested in complete secrecy.
“So basically for every show, we come and we test it here. We don’t really need to display it outside on the facade. If it appears good here, this is exactly how it will appear outside. This has saved us the time of coming overnight to make sure that no one sees what we’re preparing,” said Bashar Kassab, Director of Facility Management, Burj Khalifa — Emaar Properties.
The testing is thorough — every pixel or dot of light is “addressable”, meaning it can be individually controlled. The system, which replaced an earlier version around a year ago, is able to display billions of combinations of colours, making the show high-resolution and startling.
“Every group of LEDs is connected to a local brain, and every group of local brains is connected to a larger brain. All these larger brains are connected to our main brain, the server. So the signal goes from here [the server], which distributes the signal through the nerve system, all the way down to each and every pixel.”
This is obviously easier than manually checking if 1.2 million lights are working fine on the facade.
“We don’t have to go outside and look at the facade screen to see if anything is going wrong. The system will be able to tell us where to trace. And if it’s not 100 per cent, it’s not good enough to go on show,” Kassab said.
There has never been a signal loss of the lights during a live show, he added.
100 per cent redundancy
But what if something did go wrong with the lights?
“We have redundancy in place. Every half a metre is a strip of lights, and we have the ability to switch off half of them alternatively. So if, God forbid, there is something wrong, we will be still be able to continue the show — however, at slightly lesser in terms of resolution.
“But you will still see the show perfectly fine; you won’t be able to pick out the difference. We have 100 per cent redundancy so the show will not stop.”
The shows, which are complemented by lasers, music, and — on New Year’s — fireworks, draw huge crowds to the base of Burj Khalifa. They can also be seen from miles away because of the neck-straining height of Burj Khalifa and the brilliance of the lights.
The lights are usually set at just 40 per cent of their brightness — full power would be too much to take in. Kassab said the system has a maximum capacity of 790 kilowatt-hours.
“The beauty of the system is that it is simple, or ‘simply complicated’ as we say. It’s not much, if you think about the magnitude of the Burj Khalifa facade screen. But it’s a very smart screen,” Kassab added.
Over 1.2 million ‘pixels’ — number of LED lights on the facade
828m — tower’s height, which is essentially the height of the ‘screen’
33km — length of the LED strips put together
790 kilowatts — amount of energy the LED lights can use if on full power, per hour
Over 1,825 — number of shows since installation of the new system around a year ago
New Year’s wish on the Burj
For the first time, revellers can send a message to Emaar about their New Year’s wish for their loved ones (or for the world) and Emaar may display the message on “the largest LED panel on earth” — the facade of the Burj Khalifa — during the New Year’s Eve gala at Downtown Dubai.
People’s ‘Burj Wishes’ can be shared on Emaar’s Twitter account, @EmaarDubai, using the hashtag #2019MakeAWish, or in the comments on Emaar’s Facebook and Instagram pages -@EmaarDubai.
A number of messages will be selected for display on the LED facade of Burj Khalifa on New Year’s Eve.