In Europe, major train stations are close to becoming as sophisticated as airports in the way that they use AV technology to target passengers with a mixture of travel and advertising messages. Holland's Utrecht station features a Lighthouse P10 10mm LED video screen suspended from its concourse ceiling, sitting alongside the station's main train information display.Whether you are making a short hop from one city to another, flying from coast to coast, or crossing international borders, there is simply no escaping many minutes-perhaps even hours-of waiting in line for security checks. It is arguable whether airport departure lounges have ever been fun places to hang out, but today, a poorly managed facility can resemble a scene from a Kafka novel, full of lines of people staring at their feet, wondering how long they will be kept waiting, and what the hell they are doing there in the first place.
While it would be foolish to regard electronic systems as a cure-all for our modern travel blues, a well-designed AV system can at least ease passengers' pain by ensuring that they are well protected, clearly informed, and even entertained while they wait. In fact, airports and other transit facilities have been among the most powerful applications when it comes to influencing new product development, in both audio and video.
Partly, this is because of the sheer size of mass transit facilities, and the volume of information that must be communicated within them, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Mark Pinske, COO of Crest Audio and Peavey's MediaMatrix division, is currently working on the new airport being built to serve the Chinese capital, Beijing, for the 2008 Olympic Games. The system has no fewer than 54 Nion DSP modules as its 'main brain', serving 274 units of Crest's new eight-channel amplifier, the Ci20x8.
"These amps use the latest generation of our NexSys software, which in this case has probably saved the contractor about $80,000 in wiring," said Pinske. "It also makes the system more robust because it is capable of doing more things by itself. The larger the project is, the more you money you can save by introducing more flexible software and firmware."
The cost of implementing flight information display systems (or FIDs) has also come down as the prices of flat-screen displays have fallen. Todd Fender, NEC's product manager for specialty products, is excited at the prospect of falling costs leading to the launch of NEC's first 65-inch LCD this year. For transit terminals, however, Fender said smaller displays may continue to dominate.
"The sweet spot is the 40-inch screen," explained Fender. "The fonts are big enough to provide very good readability, and it hits a price point that suits people's budgets. Also, as much as people will always want bigger and better, we've noticed that sometimes, having specific information in a smaller, single display unit makes for a logical way of breaking up the data. This is especially true in transportation, where passengers have specific areas of a large display that they want to go to: arrivals, departures, baggage, and so forth. In these applications, you can make a virtue of the bezel that surrounds each panel."
The cost of implementing flight information display systems in airports has come down as the prices of flat-screen displays, such as the above from NEC, have fallen.
As well as growing complexity, transportation also demands increasing integration. Historically there may has been little interaction between the audio and video components in a transit terminal, but safety and security concerns mean that a non-integrated system is now the exception rather than the rule. As Pinske explained, "In Beijing we're using our ControlMatrix product to handle the scripting and paging functions throughout the terminals. This is synchronized with the FIDS equipment, so that if there is an emergency announcement, passengers who are hearing-impaired can see that announcement on the screens. The display screens are serial devices that have control scripts which are run from ControlMatrix."
A third reason for industry watchers to keep an eye on the transit market is the commercial imperative. As uniformly affluent as they are uncommonly bored, a group of passengers trapped inside a terminal are as receptive a captive audience as any sales or marketing professional could wish for. Keep them clearly informed about the status of their flight and, despite all those long lines, they may yet find the time for that last-minute cocktail or designer necktie purchase.
In Europe, major train stations are close to becoming as sophisticated as airports in the way that they use AV technology to target passengers with a mixture of travel and advertising messages. Dutch systems integrator Hecla is working with the country's state railroad company, NS, to roll out an AV network that uses LCD screens on individual train platforms and large-screen LED walls on the concourses of the biggest stations.
Utrecht station, the busiest in Holland with over 250,000 passengers per day, now has a Lighthouse P10 10mm LED video screen suspended from its concourse ceiling, sitting alongside the station's main train information display. Installing such a system requires care, as Hecla's technical manager, Jos den Hartog, explained: "The viewing angles are very important because of the screen's position. There has to be an optimum vertical viewing angle so that people standing in front of the information board can also see the LED screen."
Regardless of technological advances, however, the old maxim "content is king" applies as strongly to transit applications as it does to any public display environment. In Utrecht, the content loop (a mixture of news-based editorial, commercials, and NS corporate messaging) is designed to last seven minutes-or exactly the amount of the time that the average passenger spends on the concourse.
Fuel For Travel booths are a collaborative effort that provide a wealth of information.
Food For Thought
While paging, signage, and advertising remain the most obvious uses for AV systems in the transit arena, other applications are just around the corner, and some are with us already.
'Fuel For Travel' is just one example. Designed as a creative alternative to airport shopping, FFT is the result of a collaboration between Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, Samsung Electronics, and content provider Talpa Digital. At each FFT booth, passengers can download videos of their intended destination, audio books, and MP3 files, as well as being able to check the latest travel and weather updates.
Dutch-based systems integrator Hecla supplied the AV hardware for each FFT booth, using Samsung 40-inch LCD panels and Dynascan 360-degree LED screens. For content browsing at each of the FFT booths, Hecla used 19-inch Commodore touchscreens.
Usage of the Fuel For Travel booths is currently being evaluated and, if successful, the platform will be rolled out across the airport's eight international terminals.