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Airports and railway stations: tech requirements and safety concerns

If there’s a combination that’s appealing to high-end advertisers, it’s locations with high footfall, extended dwell time – and people with money to spend. As Ian McMurray discovers: transport hubs fit the bill – but, for AV manufacturers and integrators, there are challenges.

If you’ve been flying over the past several years, you’ve almost certainly noticed something of a transformation. It used to be that airports were places you went to catch a plane; now, they’re vast retail complexes. In the UK, for example, Heathrow boasts 39,000sqm of retail space, while Gatwick has a mere 23,000. Yes: if you can fight your way through the armies of women offering to spray something on you, or men trying to tempt you into a sip of something alcoholic, you might just find your way to an aeroplane.

Other than ‘convenience’ stores (newsagents, chemists, food and so on) the majority of brands at these locations tend to be ‘high end’, recognising, perhaps, that if we’re going on holiday, we feel more inclined to treat ourselves. The same is true for the advertising, as those same brands capitalise on what is, in effect, a captive audience.

While airports are perhaps an extreme example, transport hubs in general have seen substantial growth in both retail and advertising. Unlike many digital signage applications, however, footfall is extremely high, dwell time is extended, ambient light is often high, operation is 24/7 – and brands are highly sensitive to their image. This makes it an unusually demanding environment – which has implications, among other things, for the characteristics of the screens that are deployed.

Tough environment

“It’s a very tough environment for display technology,” says Richard Wilks, aviation business development manager, NEC Display Solutions Europe. “There are two key challenges – reliability and impact. Reliability isn’t just about 99.9% uptime, although that’s key – it’s also about brand colour accuracy, which is critical. And: these screens are fighting for eyeballs against a mass of other signage – so impact is very important, either through extra bright screens, or by distinguishing them from other displays with the creative use of kiosks, motion or interactivity.”

Nacho Perez, senior director, advertising market at Absen Europe, agrees that reliability is a key requirement – and adds two more: “Ease of installation is also of critical importance as installation time is limited to a few hours a day – usually at night. Monitoring is also an important requirement: any downtime must be immediately detected and resolved as soon as possible.”

Agreeing with Wilks on the importance of the need to catch the eye and of being faithful to a brand’s rigorous colour accuracy requirements, David Wu, CTO at AOTO, notes other requirements.

“In a public area like a transportation hub, safety is, of course, important, and that has an impact on the structure and stability of the screen,” he says, pointing out also that the hub may well be outdoors, in which case the screen will need to be appropriately protected from the elements. “Displays must also be EMC-compliant to avoid interference with other equipment.”

Pete Egart, vice president Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America at Daktronics, picks up the emissions story. “EMI has become an issue of late,” he believes. “It is important that displays and components are tested both individually and as full displays/sections to ensure they meet standards, which have become increasingly strict over the last five to 10 years as airwave frequencies have become more congested as WiFi and cellular networks have proliferated. A display that is non-compliant to current EMI standards has the potential of interfering with both cellular signals and emergency band communications. Interference with either system could cause issues with passenger experience and, more importantly, the ability for first responders to communicate in the event of an emergency.”

Safety considerations

Brett Farley, who is director of strategic business development at NanoLumens, develops the safety theme. “Indoor advertising displays can be installed in environments which have safety considerations that far exceed outdoor displays – such as fire retardation and control,” he explains. “Subterranean displays often have to be shown to have reduced flame spread, smoke volume, toxicity of smoke and other requirements.”

Farley is, unsurprisingly, a proponent of LED technology for these demanding applications, citing their high brightness and wide angle of view as important advantages. It is certainly the case that, with substantial reductions in pixel pitches in the recent past, LED can aspire to be deployed in environments where it would previously not have been considered.

There is, he believes, another important advantage that LED technology has. “More often than not, DOOH companies favour 16:9 or 9:16 aspect ratio displays for ease of content creation by advertisers,” he says. “There are, however, situations when a central spectacular or one-off format is appropriate as a centrepiece in a terminal. It can attract additional attention with travellers and drive sales strategies, creating a competitive environment where advertisers are vying for possession of the unique display for a period of time.”

Another proponent of LED technology is Egart. LED lends itself readily to the creation of large displays in a videowall format – but for high-end advertisers, it’s imperative that the image is seamless.

“What’s needed are precision alignment blocks, which allow for precise and detailed alignment between modules/sections to remove gaps and edges that disrupt the smooth image on the video board,” he notes. “Precision alignment adjustment adds to the initial set-up time, but results in a significantly more attractive video board when adjusted properly.”

Part two

Part three