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Airports Tap AV to Be Less Annoying

Airport AV these days goes way beyond the mind-numbing CNN on concourse displays. Digital signage and audio opportunities proliferate from retail to restaurants even to live sound stages.

Dan Daley
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He cites the consultant-specified systems they’ve recently installed at the renovated Denver International (DEN) and Aspen (ASE) airports, which utilize JBL 321CT ceiling speakers with Bose Panaray speakers and Renkus-Heinz IC16 and IC 32 digitally steerable line arrays for a hybrid point-source and distributed-audio combination.

This kind of configuration would have been considered rather complex and costly for an airport environment even a few years ago, but the demand for better sound quality and better sound coverage makes it a more-than-reasonable solution for the modern airport.

“This is a lot more sophisticated than we would have done before,” Truong says. “And they’re also built to last — airports do not want to have to replace speakers more than every 10 years or so.”

Digital Signs of the Times

Digital signage is probably the fastest-growing media component in airports, because it’s being used in so many applications, from conventional signage such as flight-scheduling boards to new uses including advertising and digital menus in restaurants.

Brian McClimans, vice president, Global Business Development at digital signage manufacturer Peerless-AV, says airports have become a substantial part of the company’s business. Peerless-AV exhibits at trade shows such as the Airports Council International-North America conference and exhibition; at this year’s ACI-NA event, in October in Long Beach, Calif., it showed a new 2 x 2 video wall designed for airport use and presented on “The Importance of Digital Signage in Airport Transportation” at the conference.

Digital signage is addressing a major challenge for content providers in airports: the need to send personnel to change signs — as campaigns, products and menus change — through the TSA cordon around a terminal’s “airside” areas. Content can now be transmitted electronically, either by hard drive or over IP.

“That’s been a huge change, and a positive one,” McClimans says. (Although it also makes them vulnerable to unexpected Windows software updates, which can leave error messages where the burritos should be on a menu board, or, more ominously, to software hacks.) LCD kiosks are becoming popular at airports, particularly ones with charging stations built-in that cause visitors to linger, watching the message.

At the same time, signage is getting bigger as LED comes down in price, with video walls becoming more popular. McClimans points to a 64-tile wall they assembled for United Airlines terminal at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston.

“Because LED is half the weight of LCD, we can hang the signage, and that lets us go with a larger pixel pitch [because it’s further away], which also lowers costs, as does LED’s lower maintenance,” he explains. LED will also likely gain traction in airports more quickly because of its brightness, which enables it to cut through the huge amount of ambient daylight heavily windowed airports typically produce.

Airside Applications

Digital signage has also been proliferating on the operational side. In addition to large flight-status monitors, airlines are implementing dynamic LCD signage at individual gates. These are used to convey updated information to travelers of a particular flight, such as the changing status of upgrade queues and weather. In fact, airlines have been integrating digital signage into their operational strategies.

“Having that kind of information on a screen at the gate takes the burden off of the gate agent, who otherwise would be answering those questions, and lets them deal with more individual issues,” explains Chris Freeman, technology architect, Enterprise Technology Architecture for United Airlines in Chicago.

Having up-to-date radar at hand also helps airlines, which tend to come in low on customer-satisfaction surveys, deflect blame when weather causes delays (it’s hard to argue when the screen clearly shows a huge green precipitation blob).

Freeman expects digital signage to expand further in airports, with wayfinding a major application in the future. “As airports become more like luxury malls, stores and restaurants are going to want travelers to know that they’re there and how to find them,” he says.

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