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Airport Art

Nov 22, 2013 4:34 PM, By Tim Kridel and Cynthia Wisehart

New approaches to video display and content delivery seek to transform the traveler experience

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The seminal media installation at the recently renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) demonstrates just how inadequate the phrase “digital signage” can be to describe the dramatic balance of aesthetics, art, and communication.

Take the sheer scale of the video display. Consider a four-sided, 72ft.-tall LED tower, or a 120ft.-wide collage of eight LED screens that seems to float above the retail shops. LCD panels stack six high to create 10 28ft.-tall columns, which Mike Doucette, Los Angeles World Airports chief airport planner, likens to totem poles. Flight information fills a 75ft.-wide LED screen crowned with hundreds of radiating LED sticks. An 84ft. portrait videowall welcomes travelers to the city, and a companion wall bids them bon voyage.

Now imagine high-resolution video content—waterfalls, musical instruments, people, planes, and constellations—soaring playfully across each of these massive surfaces, harmonizing with the high glass walls of the light-flooded terminal, and changing interactively as travelers pass by a video structure or through a video portal.

For example, at the concourse entrances, images and sounds on the LCD “totems” cue realtime factors such as the amount of foot traffic and flight destinations: If a plane is departing for South America, the music might have a Latin theme. Built-in sensors in the columns can respond to passersby and trigger content accordingly. It’s a far cry from the airport signage staples of headline news, advertising, and flight status, and that’s the point. Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) and the companies it worked with—including MRA International and Sardi Design, and content creator Moment Factory—wanted to create a new role for environmental media. In all, the terminal has seven custom large-scale display structures designed into the architecture. The iconic displays, plus the gate information monitors, comprise an integrated media display platform driven by a single terminal-wide content management system.

“Some people have called this ‘mediature,’” says Bryan Hinckley, account manager at Electrosonic, the project’s systems integrator. “The architecture is coming alive, and it’s about creating a space and the experience for travelers.”

“The thought became, ‘Could it be a little bit more than advertising?,’” LAWA’s Doucette says. “Could it be more entertainment or a feature that’s a passenger experience, whether it’s showcasing the local culture of Los Angeles or the destinations of the world?”

For the Bradley Terminal, design goals influenced the choice of displays in favor of enormous. This gave LED manufacturer Daktronics an unprecedented opportunity to challenge its manufacturing processes and integration techniques, says Project Applications Engineer Adam Gilliland. Many of the very large LED displays required a subtle convex curve, and all required custom architectural integration or framing, such as custom stainless steel framing to blend with the architecture.

For the centerpiece Time Tower—a 72ft.-tall rectangle, so big it requires eight HD signals for coverage—Gilliland says they got a chance to test the accuracy of the company's manufacturing. “The LED wraps the tower and the corners are very sharp 90-degree angles,” he notes. “It’s a single integrated LED, so over that kind of distance and with variations in the structure, any small error would have really added up to alignment problems. There was a lot riding on the tolerances of our LED.”

Daktronics also worked with the content and control team to ensure the images would synchronize seamlessly on the four sides of the tower. For everyone, the overarching goal was pixel-for-pixel consistency throughout the process from media creation through playback, processing, and display—there was no video scaling to fall back on. A similar challenge presented for the Story Board LED collage—“a huge palette of pixels,” says Electrosonic’s Hinckley, that required a consistent image across eight separate but integrated LED screens. To maintain the integrity of the images and audio, accommodate new content, and ensure that the system continues to function smoothly alongside the airport’s critical safety and operational systems, Electrosonic maintains an onsite staff.

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