Come fly with Crestron

Come fly with Crestron

First class lounges in airports are well recognised as havens of calm amongst the hectic terminals that surround them. Excellent places for business travellers to stay connected, informed and entertained the refurbishment of Virgin’s ‘Clubhouse’ Upper Class Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3, breaks new ground with its newly opened HD Multiscreen area.  The impressive fifteen screen wall was installed by Copthorne-based systems integrator Avensys, and features Crestron’s ground-breaking DigitalMedia system.   

The Clubhouse is Virgin’s worldwide flagship lounge. The lounge features six distinct different areas for relaxation and is a stylish interior designed to feel like a private members club. Amongst the many R&R facilities, there is also an observation deck, gallery, roof garden and a sofa lounge (complete with power and data ports for personal computers) as well as a 14-metre long cocktail bar. The new state-of-the-art “Multiscreen” area allows passengers to watch films, sporting events, news, and television programmes in supreme comfort. 

Avensys were bought in to upgrade the  existing Barco projection system that had become tired and out-of-date. Taking a creative approach to the client brief Avensys proposed a new 15 screen media wall to replace the projection system as well as a full upgrade of all other displays in the lounge to HD models. A Crestron Digital Media was specified to ensure seamless HD distribution to the multiple displays. 

Avensys carried out the work in a six-week fast track project One of the first challenges facing the company was that all works were to be carried out airside.  This meant getting large amounts of equipment through scanners etc.  Working in conjunction with Virgin’s facilities and maintenance team, Avensys scheduled in times and dates for equipment to be moved, as per the original GANTT (project schedule) chart.  This forward planning meant that when extra equipment needed to be moved off site, there was never a problem with short notice and things could proceed smoothly. 

After technical and building site surveys, Avensys ascertained that the wall supporting the multiscreen display would need strengthening to cope with 500kg of new equipment. The company used in-house staff to design and build a new support structure directly onto the solid concrete floor which also gives more fixing points for the new brackets. To maintain customer service levels while work was being carried out on the new area, Avensys installed a floor to ceiling draped off area, complete with 3 x 50” temporary displays.

The Digital Media system, complete with the latest 8G technology, required each display device to have a dedicated cable to supply HD video, device control and Ethernet.  This presented some logistical challenges as within Clubhouse there are no access hatches in the ceiling – a feature designed to preserve the sleek, seamless look of the interior.  Avensys ran all the cabling around the perimeters of the area where some ceiling grids were removable, while other cables ran under the floor.  Careful planning was required as 8G has a maximum allowed cable distance of 100m. One run came out at 99.7m!

Avensys also knew that it had to be easy to control following feedback from Virgin staff. Avensys specified a Crestron TPMC-V15 touchpanel and designed an easy-to-use, intuitive interface. The new programme and layout is clear and easy to follow and always gives the user as much information about the current status if the system as possible (designed as a map view of the Lounge) A wireless iPad, powered by Crestron Mobile Pro G software, complements the fixed panel to allow staff to walk to any location within the lounge and make changes to meet their customers expectations, whether it be audio or video adjustments

Each display in the lounge is fed by the blisteringly-fast 8G Crestron technology. This allows the Virgin staff to direct any of the Sky HD or Bluray players to any display device by the simple touch of a button.  The is a full HD preview panel at the reception desk so staff can make changes to devices without being directly in front of the display screen. The system utilises Digital Media’s quick switch technology to minimize blank screening when changing a source. “This was one of the draws of the Digital Media and 8G,” says Alex Williams, Project Manager for Avensys. It is powerful enough to cope with the many challenges of HD distribution and when we were drawing up the kit list we realised it was the only system powerful enough to meet the demands of the project. 8G ensures we deliver seamless HD signals across the entire lounge, albeit in an area not designed with AV distribution in mind.”

Audio for the lounge is fed predominantly by two new music servers which update with new music on a daily basis.  Scheduled mood changes complement the times of day to suit lounge ambience i.e. quiet or very busy. When in the multiscreen zone, customers can use headphone stations and tune in to any of the content that is being displayed on the fifteen screen media wall. LED lighting was also added as complement to the interior.   

For Virgin’s IT Operations Manager, Darrel Etherington, the project has been a huge success both internally amongst Virgin staff and externally amongst passengers: “Our Upper Class Lounge passengers expect a top-class service on all levels”, he says. “With the new media wall and other HD displays we have achieved that. Alongside that, feedback internally has been hugely positive as the functionality is all intuitive and allows us to respond to customer needs as they arise in a quick and efficient manner.” 

The video wall is powered by Cestron’s DMC-MD16x16 DigitalMedia Switcher. This handles all switching of sources to allow guests to enjoy a range of screen formats. A Crestron AV2 processor provides the backbone for the control functions, with 6 Sky HD boxes and 5 Blu-ray players supplying content.