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AV Takes Flight In Busy Terminal

Few airports have rivaled Chicago's O'Hare Airport as a traveler's nightmare. But in a bid to repair that reputation, the city-owned airport, in concert with its largest tenant, United Airlines, has deployed a sophisticated high-definition digital video electronic messaging and display system in the airline's bustling Terminal 1 lobby.

Indeed, the scale issue is most evident in the project's most eye-popping component: a ribbon display stretching 510 feet horizontally over the lobby's automated check-in kiosks. Comprised of 138 Clarity Visual Systems Margay 50-inch DLP, 16:9 displays suspended side-by-side, the lobby-spanning ribbon now chiefly carries information directing travelers to open self check-in kiosks and the security check-in areas.

But the display, thought to be among the longest ever assembled, has been configured to do much more. While each of the 138 displays is served by a single, dedicated rack-mounted Electrosonic MS-9100p MPEG-2 player, and one backup MS-9100p is available for every seven Margays, the functions of each have been synchronized using a genlocking feature that had to be programmed into the system. The result is a ribbon capable of acting as one large display, permitting frame-accurate playback of video or graphics, such as an image of a plane flying across the length of the ribbon.

“Getting the displays to stay in sequence was a major undertaking,” Zink says. “The MPEG-2 players aren't designed to be genlocked, so getting 138 displays all hooked together and running in sequence was a challenge.”

Working with such a large ribbon display concept also posed viewability issues. Numerous display technology options, including LED and LCD, were evaluated and tested for functionality in a space where sight lines, viewer proximity, and ambient light were challenges.

Real-time flight information from United Airlines’ computers is fed to Flight Information Display Systems (FIDS) in the airline’s Chicago O’Hare terminal. Comprised of eight Clarity Margay displays in two areas, the new FIDS is vastly superior to outdated CRT displays that had been used.

Real-time flight information from United Airlines’ computers is fed to Flight Information Display Systems (FIDS) in the airline’s Chicago O’Hare terminal. Comprised of eight Clarity Margay displays in two areas, the new FIDS is vastly superior to outdated CRT displays that had been used.

To address the unique viewability issues in different parts of the lobby, Sako utilized two types of acrylic screens for the Margay cubes, depending on the challenge. To allow the cubes in the ribbon and security displays to combat ambient light conditions presented by a large window wall, Sako specified Clarity's two-element Fresnel/lenticular, high-gain light output acrylic screen. For the Flight Information Display System (FIDS) and grand marquee cubes, which presented viewing angle challenges, Sako selected two-element Fresnel/lenticular, high-contrast screens, which allow for optimal viewing from a large target area. And because security check-in lines pose a major bottleneck problem in the terminal, a separate display area is devoted to transmitting information related to the security check-in process. Positioned perpendicular to the ribbon display, three displays comprised of four Margay 50-inch cubes and controlled by Electrosonic VN-2400 network display processors display information such as expected wait times, detailed check-in procedures, and the shortest cues.

While displays devoted to security are a new phenomenon in the modern air terminal, displays showing flight information are hardly new. But the United project incorporates technology to improve the user-friendliness of the standard FIDS.

Flight arrival and departure and gate information, conveyed from United's secure network and displayed as constantly updated Flash-animated content, is displayed on two FIDS displays in the lobby. Each is made up of eight Margay displays in a 2x4 configuration, and is powered by the VN-2400 processor. Replacing old CRT displays, the Margays don't suffer from the burn-in that's typical in these types of static-image applications, and deliver vastly improved readability to travelers on the go.

The focal point of the lobby's new video system is the Grand Marquee. A double-sided 11- by 18-foot videowall consisting of 40 50-inch Margays (20 per side), the marquee is a busy mix of video and graphics aimed at satisfying the basic information cravings of travelers. Controlled by an Electrosonic Vector large-screen display image processor, the ceiling-suspended wall relays information ranging from national weather and travel delays to live video and news delivered via a ticker at the foot of the marquee. Corralling content from multiple sources and delivering it from a central control room was a major logistical challenge in developing the marquee. With the ability to gather and route two video and two RGB high-resolution/HD inputs from a control room in the lobby, the Vector was the solution's linchpin, Zink says.

With so extensive and complex a system in place, Sako's design also had to incorporate tools to allow the airline to control, manage, and monitor the system. A main lobby control room puts content creation, previewing, editing, and scheduling tools at operators' fingertips. Electrosonic developed a custom graphical user interface to simplify system control. While much of the content is created at United headquarters in nearby Elk Grove, it's distributed to the control room over a WAN or in the form of a compiled DVD, which is then loaded in the system and its content stored for replay as needed.

System monitoring is accomplished with 16 Panasonic WV-NS324 PTZ Network IP CCTV cameras. Several are installed at strategic points in the lobby, allowing a content manager to get a real-time view of the display blocks and check to see that they're operating correctly. There are also plans to use cameras to monitor lobby activity for the purpose of further automating traveler messaging functions.

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