AV entertainment systems for superyachts

21 January 2015By Kelly Sanford, Tom Isitt
Whether you need a TV, audio or PC system, an AV/IT company will provide everything from planning to after-sales service.

Shakespeare was right in saying that music stirs the soul and lifts the spirit. From the soaring strings of a Puccini aria to the thundering bass riff of a dub-step floor-filler, music has the power to move us. Similarly, watching Raging Bull or Blade Runner on a theatre-quality audio-visual (AV) system can be a breathtaking and immersive experience.

AV has undergone a major change in the last five years. With super-fast broadband and wireless routers in our homes, the digital revolution in AV allows us to stream music wirelessly, to view movies from the internet, show photos from our computers on our TVs, and surf on our tablets. Systems too expensive five years ago are affordable today and reward our thirst for instant gratification. Yet the ability to enjoy this instantaneous and unlimited access to digital programming is still in its infancy for yachts.

It’s all about bandwidth

Steve Segall, president of AV Concepts and Design in the US, explains that bandwidth is a big hurdle for an owner who wants to take entertainment technology in their home and bring it to their yacht.

‘Bandwidth is everything, because bandwidth equals speed,’ he says. ‘Though VSAT (very small aperture terminal) access to bandwidth on yachts is getting faster, this speed is expensive and is still going to feel slow compared to what an owner might experience at home.’

For yacht owners hoping to do away with an on-board server for digital entertainment and switch to live streaming from a source like Netflix or the cloud, experts agree this is a few years away.

‘Live streaming is great because there is instant access to just about anything. Trying to duplicate this experience will be neither instant nor gratifying if you are expecting fibre-optic quality and speed from data over a VSAT. Achieving comparable speeds from satellite data is not feasible today. Can you get close? There are boats that have tried, but hardware and service costs are astronomical and the result won’t be equivalent – for now, anyway,’ says Segall.

Most in the industry agree, and most prefer hardware and hard-copy media archives of digital music and movies on board, because the quality from CDs and DVDs is currently better than compressed files streamed from the internet.

A screening room is common on superyachts these days, such as this one on Lady Christine.

Get the network right

In today’s market, there are things an owner needs for the AV system to be highly functional, high-performance and make the best use of the options available. Segall says it starts with VSAT and both a wired and wireless network on the boat. He also recommends every owner hire at least one tech-savvy crew member who can troubleshoot the technology.

According to Paul Cook of ANT, a British company that specialises in AV and IT for yachts of 60 metres and over, ‘The absolute key to a future-proof installation is the “backbone”, a network of fibre-optic or more traditional cabling that runs throughout the boat and from which all the elements of the AV and IT systems run.

‘We advise clients to “spend-to-save”, whereby they have an upgrade path installed long before they will need it. It’s cheaper in the long run, and avoids having to pull parts of the boat apart to install upgrades.’

This is echoed by Neil Grant, of Harris Grant Associates, one of the leaders in this field: ‘A quality “backbone” allows you a potential upgrade path regardless of what happens with the hardware.’

Hardware

Hardware is usually specified as late as possible in the build process due to the time taken with most builds – there’s not much point in speccing today’s must-have kit for a yacht that won’t be delivered for another four years.

Many options are available for the AV display. You should start with a high-definition (HD) native 1,080p resolution, multi-standard, network-connected smart TV to make best use of what is available now, or coming soon. The current largest off-the-shelf displays are nearly 50 per cent larger than they were five years ago, maxing out at 153 inches.

Then there are the OLED panels, with ultra-thin screens, blisteringly fast refresh speeds, and exceptionally crisp images, at exceptionally high prices. Until recently, OLED screens have been limited to smaller sizes, but at CES (the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas) this year, both Samsung and LG unveiled their new 55-inch OLED TVs.

Something else to consider is 3D TV, which the home entertainment industry is trying to convince us is the Next Big Thing. The problems with 3D include limited content in programming, and how the 3D imagery is achieved. The viewer must wear glasses and must sit in a ‘sweet spot’ in front of the screen to get the best effect. When contemplating 3D, evaluate the room’s layout and the viewing angles for people seated in that space before committing to that technology.

But other technologies are coming that will make today’s 1080 HD look like a Movietone newsreel. Today’s HD (1920 x 1080 pixel resolution) is known a ‘2K technology’. That standard is about to double with the next generation of HD will be 4K. Pixel counts will double and resolution and colour will be exceptional.

DVD players remain a necessary extension of a yacht’s entertainment base, and Blu-ray is now the standard. Prices are on par with standard DVD players, disc prices are only slightly higher and their picture quality is far superior.

For now, the ultimate in on-board access to movies and music is still through a central server. There are many options for servers, and a budding trend is comprehensive, custom, multifunction systems that have been designed to suit an owner’s preferences and can be controlled by off-the-shelf devices like an iPad. Once the problems with limited bandwidth are overcome, expect the central server to be a thing of the past and the Cloud to take over.

Until the release of large OLED displays, a projector was the only way to recreate a cinema on a yacht.

Audio

Sound is the final ingredient of an AV recipe for which ‘season to taste’ is an appropriate metaphor. Sound is a much more diversified medium and personal preference will play a major role in weighing up sound options. You might even consider different systems for different functions.

For viewing movies and TV, a surround sound system of some sort is desirable, whereas audio purists often prefer their music to come from a more specific source, rather like sitting in front of a band or orchestra. For that reason many audiophiles will have one sound-system for the on-board movie theatre, and another for their music.

Finding an installer

Choosing a company to supply and install your system is not easy, but there are companies that specialise in varying levels of installations. Generally, you should expect it to have extensive experience in the superyacht market, and a long list of satisfied customers.

PSP in Germany, for instance, has been in the superyacht AV market for 15 years and worked on 20 yachts from 18 to 160 metres, with nine Lürssens including the 92m EOS and the 60m Vive La Vie.

‘The philosophy of PSP-AV,’ explains managing director Rudi Benedikt, ‘is that entertainment needs to be fun, it needs a high-quality network, with quality AoD [audio-on-demand] and VoD [video-on-demand] solutions, live TV, Blu-ray and 3D, and on-board cinemas of any size.

‘Our business includes consultation, planning, CAD, development, installation, programming, set-up, and after-sales service. Client liaison is vital, and when an owner spends €1.5 million for an entertainment system it is important they be handled like a financier, not as beta-tester.

‘We recommend hardware like Kaleidescape for VoD and AoD, RTI controller components, Crestron control systems, and Apple products – they have revolutionised portable entertainment, and most owners are Apple users already.’

Indeed, the iPad is now almost the default choice for remote controls, such is its ease of use and intuitive interface.

Home & Marine Electronic Systems (H&M), in Bremen, Germany, boasts a similarly impressive portfolio of yacht installations that includes Lady Moura, Octopus, Pelorus, Rising Sun, Al Shalamar and Le Grand Bleu, to name just a few. ‘For H&M it is paramount to take the customer’s wishes into consideration,’ explains MD Günter Trempnau. ‘This means that customers are allowed to dream, and we will turn their dreams into reality.

‘The devices we recommend are the best on the market. Customers can choose between leading brand names or exclusive small manufacturers that offer a truly impressive level of quality. We simply make our customers happy.’

Look and style

When it comes to the interior styling of a yacht, owners don’t necessarily want to stare at AV hardware all day. Firms like Lantic Entertainment Systems concentrate on developing the highly sophisticated networks that allow owners and guests to access an array of information and entertainment, without any of it being visible.

‘For all the expense and cutting-edge technology,’ explains Peter Bouman from Lantic, ‘the only clue for the owners and his guests that they are using a Lantic system will come from the apps on their tablet or smartphone to choose their next music track or movie, or view the state of financial markets.’

It’s hard to imagine that less than 10 years ago today’s essentials like on-board wireless networks and entertainment servers were ground-breaking technology. Today, these features are commonplace and yachts are able to stay connected and entertained like never before.

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