3 things to keep in mind during cruise ship audiovisual design
Cruise ships are bigger than ever, filled with more restaurant choices than patrons know what to do with, numerous entertainment options and water attractions rivaling those of stationary theme parks.
Entertainment is a crucial part of the cruising experience, so much so that Cruise Directors craft entertainment schedules for every venue every day of the cruise. Entertainment technology is not just reserved for the lounges, casino, and showrooms; every space has an entertainment aspect. Staterooms have interactive TVs where guests can watch movies on demand. Giant LED screens entertain crowds poolside, art auctions are held in the main atrium, even the elevators and hallways have carefully selected background music.
The AV infrastructure to support all this distributed audio, video, lighting, and control for background music, announcements, live bands, Bingo games, production shows, poolside movies, and in-room TV contributes significantly to the cost of building or retrofitting a ship. Here are a few thing AV designers should take into consideration when planning an install for a cruise ship:
- Weight: Every piece of equipment and cabling contributes to the overall weight of the vessel, and thus also contributes to how much it costs to move the ship. Heavy ships use more energy to move, so controlling the weight of AV and lighting installations is important. Wherever possible, use fiber optic cables instead of copper. Not only does it weigh less, it has a higher bandwidth capacity, and can be run much longer distances. The backbone of the AV network should be built on fiber optic cables interconnecting local switches, with copper Ethernet runs to the local equipment. Consider transporting audio using Dante or AVB to be able to take advantage of being able to transport hundreds of channels of audio over a single pair of fiber optic cables rather than running separate twisted pair cables for each channel of audio.
- Space: Like it or not, there is a fixed amount of space available for amplifiers, dimmers, audio processing, lighting controllers, and similar equipment. If the cruise line has the choice between using space for an AV equipment room and using it for a revenue generating stateroom, you can bet the amplifiers will get the boot. Use high capacity audio DSPs for signal distribution and powered speakers wherever possible to reduce the amount of racked equipment necessary throughout the ship. It is possible to combine multiple controllers into the same hardware by using server virtualization and running the show control systems and lighting control software on virtual machines within shared server hardware. By combining multiple systems into a single server, rack space can be drastically reduced (and that reduces cabling and the space and weight of that as well). Spare equipment is kept to a minimum due to space and weight limitations as well.Planning to use similar equipment shipwide helps to cut down on the different types of spares that need to be kept on board.
- Energy Use: Cruise ships have to generate their own electricity, so every power hungry piece of hardware in the AV system can be seen as an ongoing expense to keep it powered up. Using virtualized servers cuts down on the amount of power needed to run the show controllers and lighting controllers, and the show control system can be set up to turn down the volume of audio at night, or in areas that are not occupied. Just by turning down the volume by 3 decibels, power consumption is halved. A cruise ship can save thousands of kilowatt hours per month, just by turning down the volume when appropriate, and that translates to saved fuel.
- Weather: As cruise ships travel from terminal to terminal, the weather can change without warning. AV equipment that is exposed to the elements, such as 4K LED video screens at poolside, and the accompanying lighting and speakers should be prepared to survive the elements and satisfy guest expectations. Any equipment rooms that are regularly used for storage of instruments (such as what you might find near the poolside stage) will need to have the equipment replaced or repaired more often, due to exposure of salty sea air. Connectors corrode, as do the faders and potentiometers of audio mixers. Plan to use cheaper, easily replaceable equipment in areas that are not protected from the elements. Replacing the gear is a matter of when, not if, so make sure ongoing maintenance won’t cost a fortune.
Medialon control systems and audio servers can be found on cruise ships sailing worldwide, including the Queen Mary II, Carnival Cruise Lines, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, and Color Line Cruises, just to name a few.