Installation Profile: Into the Tunnel
Jun 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley
It wasn't exactly working in a coal mine, but installing the complex digital signage in the connecting tunnel at JFK's new Terminal 8 was a logistical challenge.
Digital signage runs the gamut from prosaic to artful. The digital-signage installation at American Airlines' new Terminal 8 at JFK International Airport in Queens, N.Y. — done by the Diversified Media Group (DMG) — adds yet another dimension: immersive. Travelers are first greeted with banners hanging above the escalators as they descend into the 300ft.-long passage. Once underground, their attention is drawn to the 70in. CI Lumen CIL-700-MV-BE80 screens lining the walls on both sides of the moving walkways. There are 40 screens total: 20 on each wall, divided into four banks of five screens each.
Visually, it's impossible to ignore. However, signage this in your face requires that its creative element be carefully tailored to the environment. (Most viewers are on the moving sidewalks less than 12in. away from the screens, which poses scaling limitations.) And it is tailored, thanks to a scaled-down version of the installation that was sent in road cases to advertising agencies so they could test their concepts. The immersiveness is further enhanced with a sound source that is synchronized with the moving digital content on the screens. In addition to the screens, all walls, end caps, and escalator wells are blanketed with the clients' static creative elements to completely envelop passengers and promote the company's message.
“The goal was complete immersion for the time period that the traveler is in the tunnel,” says Mitch Mittler, senior applications engineer at DMG and designer of the JFK project. This was the largest of several design and integration projects DMG has done for JCDecaux North America, a leading out-of-home media advertising systems manager. DMG's portfolio includes two-screen and four-screen installations at Minneapolis-St. Paul; John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif.; Orlando International Airport; Love Field in Dallas; and LAX. “But this is by far the largest we've ever done and probably the most immersive commercial digital-signage environment in any airport in the world,” he says.
Because the sides of the 300ft.-long tunnel are concrete, the 70in. LCD displays are attached to the walls using concrete-anchor bolts drilled 3in. deep. The walls behind the displays are furred out to allow the installed screens to be flush with the wall. Removable stainless-steel panels above and below the screens provide cooling and service access. These particular displays — like several other components in the signage system, including the computer that runs the content — were manufactured to either DMG's or JCDecaux's specifications. The displays have 1920x1080-pixel resolution, were designed around a digital-signage-specific LCD display panel built by Samsung, and are assertedly the industry's first 70in. LCD monitors for digital-signage applications. And in an area where security means everything, the screens have no user controls and are tamper-proof. “Considering the degree of immersivness and the way the screens operate together, you can't just use off-the-shelf components,” Mittler says.
BRINGING THE NARRATIVE TO THE SCREEN
The way the screens are integrated is key to achieving total immersion. The system has no distribution amps; each of the 40 screens is a discrete playback device capable of displaying unique content. Thus, they are capable of not only displaying information but doing so in a narrative manner. To a traveler on the moving walkway, distributed messages in which the same message is on each screen might become just so much noise in the 3 to 4 minutes it takes to traverse the tunnel that it just becomes a nuisance and is easily ingnored. To combat that risk, DMG's server-based content-distribution system — and the C-nario software on it — can allow programming of an object that can travel the length of 20 screens in one direction and then make a return trip on the 20 screens on the opposite side of the tunnel.
“Each object or message that runs across any of the screens is doing so in a discreet manner,” Mittler says. “The screens are outputting 40 channels of synchronous high-definition 1080p MPEG playback.”
The creative departments of the signage client's advertising agency do the content programming. When the tunnel signage was introduced last year, Microsoft was its sole sponsor. Microsoft used the signage system as part of the launch of its new Vista operating system, with the content created by the McCann Erickson agency. DMG's programming engineers literally had to write the book on the content-creation process. Tim Hunter Design (THD) collaborated with JCDecaux and DMG to develop the screen layouts, technical aspects of the installation, and programming of the screen system.
“We developed a manual of production guidelines for creatives for this environment,” Mittler says. The manual includes information about pixel maps, void files, how far apart pixels must be, and other documentation about putting together the content. The final content can be configured for any synchronous combination of five to 40 screens. The current Vista advertising is configured to run linearly on five screens at a time, so the average viewer will see it four times per side during the journey through the tunnel. “They give us back video and audio files that conform to the programming guidelines, and we enter that into the server, which is in an IDF [Intermediate Distribution Frame] closet located off the tunnel,” Mittler says. “That then is transmitted on Berk-Tek armored fiber via Gefen DVI fiber extenders to the screens and on copper to the [loud]speakers.”
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