The Best Layover in America

By Ed Wenck
Mar 06, 2017

How CEDIA® members helped a non-profit group build a cinema — in Portland’s airport.


You can find a lot of amenities at your friendly neighborhood international airport: food, drinks, duty-free booze, even shoe-shines and massages.

As of February 2017, the Portland, Oregon airport has a movie theater — built using volunteer hours and donated gear from folks in the CEDIA channel.

Doug Whyte is the Executive Director of Portland’s historic Hollywood Theater, a non-profit organization that oversees both the physical building itself (a 1926 vaudeville and movie house that’s undergone extensive restoration) and a program dedicated to providing the city with quality cinema as well as encouraging local filmmakers. Roughly three years ago, Whyte came across a story in the New York Times: the Hong Kong airport had installed a movie theater. He pitched the idea to his local airport — it was, after all, a great way to market the Hollywood (and the city of Portland) to both tourists and native travelers.

After finding the space in the airport, Whyte began writing the grant applications. The theater, says Whyte, was going to be “a modest, little non-profit thing.”

“Then Steve Colburn changed the game.”

Colburn, who handles product development and training for Portland’s own Triad Speakers, was a fan of the Hollywood — in fact, he lives in the neighborhood. He approached Whyte with an offer after news of the project began to circulate: What if his peers in the CEDIA universe lent their time, expertise, and even equipment? At no charge to Hollywood, the airport, or the city of Portland?

Colburn consulted Triad’s CEO Larry Pexton, and Pexton reached out to the CEDIA Chairperson (and President of his own firm, The Erskine Group), Dennis Erskine. “Larry called me with the offer, and I agreed: We could do great things,” says Erskine. Planar was nearby, as well — and soon many more manufacturers were on board.

The reason for the buy-in was obvious, according to Erskine: “We realized we could make this a statement piece for CEDIA manufacturers, dealers, and installers.”

Floating Floors and TSA Tribulations

As Erskine quickly discovered during his design-and-construction discovery phase, building what would eventually be a 17-seat “micro-cinema” in an airport came with a bucket of challenges.

“You have a lot of stakeholders in an airport. You have the physical plant people, you have security, you have marketing … whatever you do you, have to be sure there’s no adverse impact,” says Erskine.

One example? “There can be no sound isolation. Part of the reason is when the sirens go off and TSA wants everybody to evacuate, you have to be able to hear what’s happening and get out quickly,” says Erskine. To ease traffic flow, the room has no doors, but the design of the entries — along with a Barco projector and a Stewart Filmscreen that rejects ambient light — created an image that was outstanding.

The next problem? A bouncing projector.

Erskine explains, “Because Portland is in an earthquake zone, the concrete surface on the concourse is a floating floor. You walk down the concourse outside the theater, the floor moves.

“Obviously, that creates a problem for the projector. It was bouncing up and down as much as two inches.”

Casey Smith, a Project Engineer at the Portland-area CEDIA member integration firm Lewis AV, built the rack. He has a sense of humor about what he calls “game-day engineering.”

“Unless you were watching the Blair Witch Project, the look wasn’t desirable,” says Smith.

“We figured out a way to decouple the projector from the vibrations by suspending it from the actual structure,” Smith explains. The rest of the issue was resolved with isolation springs and brackets, including custom parts built by Triad.

Compounding the time investment further? Since this custom theater is in a secure part of the airport, every connector, every cable, every part you might think of had to be screened by the TSA. After putting the pieces from his manufacturing plant in Atlanta on trucks and shipping them to Oregon, Erskine’s work was subject to security checks: “Imagine us wheeling our pre-fabricated walls into the building — every inch of them had to be inspected by the TSA.”

Additionally, says Smith, “It’s not just getting gear in and out, it’s tough getting tools in and out. Anything that’s a run to the hardware store? That proposition became a four-hour turnaround.”

A True Oregonian Movie House

The airport version of the Hollywood Theater — which opened on February 23, 2017 with champagne toasts and stakeholder speeches — runs a constant, hour-long program of shorts. According to Whyte, those shorts — all under ten minutes long — have to be produced by filmmakers in the state. “It’s a stipulation of the grants we received,” he explains. Content runs the gamut, from short documentaries to live-action fiction and animated films.

Casey Smith is touched by the spirit of the thing: “It’s been a really fun project, to have the CEDIA channel step up and provide amazing gear and support for that gear. It’s been an incredible coordination among a lot of people to make this happen and we are really excited to be part of it.”

As for Doug Whyte, he’s certain that the filmmakers will be nothing but thrilled when they see their work on the airport Hollywood screen. “I still actually can’t quite believe it. That fateful day when Steve Colburn approached me in front of the Hollywood to talk to me about it — I didn’t know what that was going to mean. Seriously, we were looking at this thousand-dollar sound system that we might get and a big LED screen — it’s so far beyond that. I could have never imagined that it would be this nice.”

Dennis Erskine couldn’t agree more — he thinks the room turned out better than he’d thought possible. But in Erskine’s mind, that’s just an everyday part of the CEDIA mission:

“This is what our people do — we take raw technology and turn it into an experience that amazes and entertains.”

The following firms and individuals donated time and resources to the project:

Access Networks – network system
Barco – projector
Crestron – processor, amplifiers, and control system
Flir – security cameras and monitoring equipment
Erskine Group – design and interior construction
Lewis AV – installation
Middle Atlantic – rack and power Isolation
Milestone AV Technologies – projector mounting hardware
MM Innovations – security hardware and setup
Planar – digital displays and media servers
Real AV – Audio/Video calibration and QSC DSP for audio calibration, Crestron programming
Stewart Filmscreen – screen
Triad Speakers – surround system, equipment coordination
Wire World – wiring and cable

1 Comment

  1. 1 Betty Colburn 07 Mar
    Who knew, when about 50 people, including Steve Colburn and Larry Pexton, went to Las Vegas in 1989, each putting $500.00 on a table, such wonderful projects would result. CEDIA brings much joy to the world. 



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