A departure from the norm

Turnkey digital signage specialist Pixel Inspiration has completed the final phase of an extensive and unique digital signage role-out at Manchester Airport in the UK.

In a project that has spanned almost two years in total, Pixel Inspiration have now completed the installation of 200 projection screens across Manchester Airport’s three terminals. The digital signage network encompasses the check-in areas within each terminal as well as providing passenger information at key locations throughout the site.

Back in 2007, Pixel Inspiration managing director Frank Emerson, won the contract with his old firm NMT to replace the information display systems at Terminal 1 constructing a successful and original bid to replace the existing, conventional hard signage and CRT displays with a more flexible solution. Since the displays themselves are not intended by the airport as a revenue generating solution, prime considerations were initial outlay costs and the long term cost of ownership.

“We kicked off doing various pilots and trials, before it went out to tender, The view was that it would be rolled out to the whole airport eventually – the original intention was to give the operators flexible branding opportunities,” remarked Emerson.

Pixel Inspiration installed a total of 79 84” rear projection displays in Terminal 1, in a mixture of 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios, the screens themselves were dnp’s New Wide Angle supplied in the UK by Paradigm AV. These were matched with Panasonic’s PT-D3500 single chip DLP projectors.

The rationale behind such a system was that by investing in a flexible display solution, passengers would be presented with clear flight and check-in information, while the airport operators would be handed significant flexibility, enabling them to maximise the use of check-in desks by rapidly swapping them between carriers. That’s a significant benefit when you consider there are 90 carriers bringing 22 million passengers a year through the airport.

The nuts and bolts of the system is a VGA-over-Cat 5 based distribution network. Groups of four projectors are each controlled by a single PC equipped with Matrox Quad-headed graphics cards. These PCs are dialled in to the Airports FID (flight information and departures) computer, which determines which airline’s branding is displayed above each check-in desk.

“The ability to squirt content centrally to any of the PCs means that a carrier can be rapidly moved from one desk to another, even in a different terminal,” added Emerson.

Video signals from the PCs are output via VGA at SXGA resolution, before being converted on to the Cat-5 network using Sy Electronics CatX Mini VP modules. These also transmit RS-232 to the projectors allowing them to be powered on and off remotely as well.

Following a successful roll-out at Terminal 1, Pixel Inspiration then began work on Terminal 2. In this case, 72 screens are installed in a single continuous run of 116 metres creating a unique display.

Here the company settled on Panasonic’s PTD 5700 dual bulb projectors to do the job. The dual bulb technology means a lower total cost of ownership as each bulb is less worn than would be the case in a single bulb solution – an important benefit in a high usage application such as digital signage.

Screens that are not in use at any point can be employed to display the airport’s own content. This was developed for them by Pixel Inspiration along with the material that the airlines use. For airlines, Pixel Inspiration offered two content packages. The bronze package is simply a static logo, whilst the Gold allows for more animated content.

For the airport, the company developed a number of informative pieces of content, these include giving passengers information about what to do after checking in, and also what to expect at security. This could range from the animated character Danny Deodorant who reminds passengers that liquids over 100ml must be kept in hold luggage, to advising people that wrapped Christmas presents cannot be taken on-board un-inspected (i.e. unwrapped…).

The terminal two installation was a more demanding engineering challenge, since rather than simply mounting projectors on the ceiling, Pixel Inspiration had to arrange for the fabrication of a completely bespoke structure. The cantilever solution was built by a local contractor from stainless steel, and had to be completely rigid in order to make sure the projected image quality was sufficient. In the other two terminals, the projectors were installed on customised mountings from Unicol.

Following that installation, Jackie Neville, head of Product Development for Manchester Airport commented: “The results are excellent and the system of branding flexibly is proving very popular with the airline community. The scale and quality of airline content has created a new navigational tool, making the process of finding check in desks far simpler.
“The screens also provide a great opportunity to target passengers whilst they are queuing with essential airport information.”

The project culminated in summer 2008, with the completion of the roll-out in Terminal 3. In contrast to the other two terminals, the solution here consists of a mixture of front and rear projected displays. Due to space constraints, 11 of the screens are front-projected using dnp’s 84” Supernova, designed for us in high ambient light conditions. These are paired with dual-lamp Panasonic PTD 4000 projectors.

The remainder, in groupings of 23 and 15 units, are rear-projected using Panasonic’s new PTD 5700 projector.

Paradigm AV’s managing director, Paul Wood noted: “A major element of this project has been the size of each screen – it would have been virtually impossible to have achieved this using other technologies. Information access helps the flow of traffic, removes the stress on arrival at the airport, and enables passengers to locate the appropriate check-in from a fair distance away.”

Installing systems in a busy airport is always a challenge as there is little to no downtime. “The way we worked really depended on the individual terminal managers. In Terminal 3 we worked all through the night, because it’s a small terminal with not much spare capacity. In the other terminals we were able to board up a few check- ins at a time, and refit them, before moving onto the next batch.

All the infrastructure was installed completely new. We had to put in new Cat 5 and patch panels, as well as new power end points.”

And what about the equipment selection? Well when the project began, in Emerson’s opinion there was really only one contender for projection – the Panasonic units. “We’ve had zero problems, they are a really good bit of kit.” When the second phase rolled around, the company had just introduced the PTD5700 and Pixel Inspiration were the recipients of one of the first batches of shipped product.

On the screen front, the deciding factor was the excellent viewing angle offered by dnp’s NWA screen, which is as near to 180 degrees as is possible.

Overall, Frank Emerson is extremely satisfied with his company’s delivery of the project:

“This latest installation is the final stage in Pixel’s multiphase contract with Manchester Airport. During this time Pixel has fulfilled the contract across a broad range of disciplines, including project management, technology provisioning, design and creative delivery.

“Manchester Airport now boasts a unique digital signage network, which is already delivering real benefits to the airport, airlines and passengers.”

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