Digital Signage

Sign Age: A Sense Of Place

Working with the environment enriches the user experience.

Bright lights, tight spaces, tighter schedules, dynamic content requirements and heady heights can challenge even experienced AV teams. The best rise to the challenge, and even use the extreme conditions to produce something uniquely appropriate and effective.
When new ownership took charge of the Novotel Times Square in New York City, they decided to completely renovate the property. Digital media took center stage in the lobby lounge and the Supernova Restaurant, which has a spectacular view of Times Square. With this visual connection to the Big Apple, the new owners were looking for a matching “wow factor” from the digital displays. They also wanted the new AVL system to be hassle-free, with low operational and maintenance costs.

Two-story-high video columns “wow” viewers, touchscreen tables engage visitors, programmable LED lighting provides a dramatic element, and the “virtual concierge” app for smartphones offers informative and fun opportunities while leveraging the company’s brand.

Two NJ-based firms worked on the project: consulting firm Michael Raiser Associates (teammra.com) designed the system and Dru Whitacre MEDIA SERVICES ltd. (mediaworldwide.com) integrated the AV solution and continues to provide content creation and remote management for the video columns.

“The Novotel was an existing structure. Therefore, there were some limitations as to where we could place the digital displays,” said Garry Darvin, Director of Technology at  MEDIA SERVICES. “It was decided to create two video structures around existing columns.” Several challenges came up while they were spec’ing the project. “For starters,” noted Darvin, “although some of the sections we were working on were blocked off, the hotel itself remained open during the renovations.” IMG_7320_signOct14

Consequently, the integration team had to deal with a complex work schedule. “During this time, we installed the sound system for the two lobbies, restaurant and patio, a special ‘Clock’ projector in the outer lobby, as well as interactive video tables and hospitality lobby TVs,” reported Darvin. The monitors and mounts in the columns had to be
ultra-thin because the cavity space was limited. “The space also had to be accessible for servicing. Additionally, there was no room for scaffolding, so the entire two-story videowall had to be installed using a small bucket lift,” he explained.

Custom mounts were made by CDS (cds4av.com), and the Samsung UE55 displays were installed in portrait mode. “Using the internal videowall processing of the Samsung monitors, we created two 2×2 arrays that covered two sides of a column, and mirrored the image on the opposite side of the column,” Darvin said. Each column consists of 16 monitors, and each array is connected via video extenders over Cat6 cabling to the media player, located in the IT closet 100 feet way.

The heart of the system is a custom-built media player using C-nario Universal Player software. The system was designed to allow each column to run content, either synchronized with or independent of the other. “MEDIA SERVICES manages and monitors Novotel’s audio and video systems from our NOC in North Bergen NJ,” said Darvin. “We’ve programmed regularly scheduled ‘artwork’ to appear on the columns, and can run special videos or images as requested from the hotel for special events and weekly private parties.”

The system has the capability of playing separate audio with the video. Other optional features include live video streams and special interactive content. “For the opening party,” reported Darvin, “there was a professional photographer taking pictures as the guests walked in the front door and, by the time a guest came off the elevator to enter the upper lobby, his or her picture was up on the column.”

Versatility and high-impact content are hallmarks of any first-rate signage system, but hospitality solutions also have to be particularly reliable and easy to run. Joe Kurian, Director of Engineering, Novotel New York Times Square, noted that the system has been working really well with minimal maintenance. “The audio system is very user friendly when it comes to switching music sources in the different zones,” Kurian reported. “Additionally, the DJ connection is very handy because they do not need to set up speakers. They just plug their device into an RCA connection and play music over the house speakers.”

Besides reflecting the environment and the events-du-jour, a superior signage deployment also has to personally involve customers/viewers in the electronic flux. Common techniques involve games, texting, contests, VoD, social media and other networked interactions. At the Novotel, this takes the form of touchscreen tables using Samsung 40-inch Surface SUR40s, providing access to games and interactive apps, such as coloring and drawing. A touchscreen kiosk in the lobby also helps guests access local information.

In addition, Novotel Virtual Concierge by Monscierge, a mobile app, helps the hotel share its local expertise with guests and enhance their experience. It provides tools to help guests navigate the hotel and the local area, providing information about restaurants and attractions, as well as local maps, plus real-time flight and weather information. It also provides information related to the hotel’s services, including contact details and hours of operation. And, just for fun, social electronic postcards allow guests to communicate with friends and family via email or Facebook.

One takeaway from this deployment is simple: Involve the viewer in the environment and the system. Reflecting and amplifying the venue’s unique aesthetic in the system design and content can achieve this.

Most of the successful signage solutions I’ve seen have benefitted from an exceptionally receptive attitude during the needs analysis phase of the project, and from a little imagination applied to creating a unique experience for every customer.

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