Harris Grant - AV & IT systems for superyachts
by Tom Isitt
In the rarefied world of superyacht IT and AV technology, few firms have built themselves such an exclusive reputation as the UK’s Harris Grant. It is considered by experts one of the leading suppliers of IT installations and AV solutions to some of the biggest superyachts around.
‘Our background,’ explains Neil Grant, MD of the company, ‘is in TV and film broadcast. It was only through (musicians) Peter Gabriel and Dave Stewart, who introduced me to Paul Allen, who wanted a recording studio on his boat, that I became involved in superyachts. I’ve always had distaste for the term AV because we are not an AV company. If anything, we are an IT company, as there is a convergence between IT and entertainment technology.
‘We’ve been involved in large projects, from the first cinema installed on a Feadship to things like the theatre on Lady Aviva. We sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) with nearly all our clients so are unable to discuss specific projects. It’s taken for granted that we respect confidentiality.
‘The most important aspect of any yacht installation is the “backbone” the hardware sits on. It needs to be sufficiently sophisticated to deliver the bandwidth necessary for whatever is going to happen in the future. That allows an upgrade path regardless of what happens to the hardware.
‘There is a lot of pressure on us to make things disappear. Owners want functionality, but don’t want to see it. We are integrating with interior designers, and there is very little tolerance for things like cables or speakers to be visible. We take the whole series of compromises based on the owner’s preference. There are owners who are giving us specific instructions about the quality of their audio, but they are few.
‘Every owner and guest will want to watch a movie, listen to some music, watch the news, or see a streamed feed from the other side of the world, so competent network design and implementation is critical. On-board networks are increasingly sophisticated. But whether it’s a telephone or a control device, it has to roam. Wireless has become very important and complex and must be reliable.
‘The biggest shortcoming is when you’re travelling. A yacht has possibilities for accessing bandwidth, the most common being a VSAT terminal, which can deliver 1MB or 2MB speeds. There is nothing on the horizon to improve that in the near future. You have to accept quality trade-offs.
‘We are in the middle of a revolution in control systems, driven by Apple’s iOS mobile operating system. The way monitoring and control systems are implemented has become more sophisticated with the evolution and adoption of new technologies. We don’t take a particular allegiance, but if you put control devices in front of an owner, invariably they will pick up the iPad, swipe it, and away they go.
‘AV is just a small part of information technology that should not be considered in isolation. It’s an integral part of what provides the owner’s enjoyment of his yacht. It has to be embedded and work seamlessly in among all the other things that contribute to the owner’s enjoyment.’