For larger hotels, one of the biggest sources of revenue is conventions and other large events. With suitable convention space, hotels can bring in large groups of guests, driving revenue not only from the rental of the convention space itself, but also guest rooms, food purchases, incidentals and more. That’s why having the right convention space technology is so important.
We’ve been looking at the importance of convention centers and other hotel meeting spaces in a series of interviews with Michael Kurcab, Global Market Manager, Hospitality and Matt Ryan, Technology and Services Engineer, Enterprise for HARMAN Professional Solutions. So far, we’ve looked at why having good meeting room technology matters to hoteliers in the first place as well as examining the technology in hotel collaboration spaces. Today, we’re turning our attention to the technology behind ballrooms and other convention spaces.
Before we begin, we should note that not all hotels and convention centers have AV systems installed in their ballroom spaces. There are certainly pros and cons to having “house AV” systems, as I’ve discussed previously, and no one approach is the right one for every application. When convention centers do install house AV systems, the goal is generally to cover the standard 80 percent of cases that fall under “typical use,” with the understanding that larger and more custom events might require custom AV setups brought in from an AV rental company.
The issue is that the “typical use” for a convention space is still quite a large subject. Kurcab summarized the issue quite succinctly:
“Convention spaces tend to have extensive audio, video and control infrastructure that allows those spaces to be used for a wide range of use cases, whether it is a simple classroom-style meeting, a general session keynote or even a live performance or a party to kick off the event.”
In other words, there are a large variety of different events that take place in these spaces with a number of different furniture configurations. This has a significant impact on the way the AV system is designed, according to Ryan:
“Everything in the space has to be modular. It has to be portable. I can’t just leave a computer in the space permanently connected to some sort of video transport back to the headend. There are floor pockets and wall plates everywhere. There is typically either a fixed display (whether that’s a projector or some sort of large-format flat screen) as well as overhead speakers, and I need to be able to use the backend AV system to connect to the speakers and displays in the room from any of the wall and floor plates throughout the space.”
Since the furniture in the space moves, the locations of the AV sources need to be movable as well. With strategically placed wall and floor plates, AV sources can be connected anywhere in the room. The connectivity of the space should be designed with this in mind.
An additional challenge comes from the fact that not only does the furniture in the space move, but the walls move as well. Ballrooms in convention centers are typically divisible, and the AV in the space must address that. Ryan explains:
“Sources need to be able to come into each of these potentially divided up spaces. Remember, if you have a room that is divisible by three, you have to account for each of those rooms to function as a standalone room as well as any combination of them being opened up for a larger meeting space. That might be two on the left or two on the right with the third one being left over. So, you need a wall plate or a floor box back to a head end. This can be a hardwired connection, such as HDBaseT from our AMX DxLink transmitters, back to an Enova DGX switcher, or it can be distributed using networked AV.”
Convention spaces are designed from the ground up to be as flexible as possible. Because of this, the AV system must be flexible as well. Kurcab indicates that networked AV is particularly adept at providing that flexibility, saying:
“With large-format events like you find in convention centers, networked AV really gives you the flexibility you need. The video can route to a large projector or video wall, with the audio going to the overhead audio system. The same system can then send the audio and video to speakers and displays in the pre-session areas as well. That way, people outside the room can see and hear what’s going on inside the event, if that’s desired.”
Ryan agrees, adding:
“Networked AV is a more scalable solution. While a fixed ballroom space might not need to expand very much and add more floor pockets, for example, networked AV does provide some capabilities that you might not have with a connection like HDBaseT. If you had a larger hotel function, it’s possible to distribute across multiple convention areas or even throughout the entire hotel. If you leverage networked AV to distribute your digital signage throughout the building, you can take the video from the ballroom and distribute it throughout the entire hotel without extensive rewiring.”
Digital signage is a very powerful use of networked AV in hotels and convention spaces in particular. Kurcab addressed the importance of digital signage to convention spaces by saying:
“One of the first things a business traveler does when visiting a hotel for an event is ask the concierge or front desk agent where their meeting is located. However, that’s not always clear, and so it can be hard for the hotel staff to identify which event the guest is trying to find and where it is being held. Hotels can use digital signage to help guide people through these large spaces, and with networked AV, that’s a lot easier to do. It’s very easy to change the signage and target the guest or meeting that’s happening in the space. You can display event signage anywhere you need it, and any display connected to the network can display either digital signage or video from the event.”
Flexibility of distribution is not only a requirement for the video system, but also the audio system, since the audio signals need to be distributed anywhere inside or outside the space. Ryan explains:
“Distribution methods like HDBaseT and networked AV provide the ability to distribute both audio and video. This means the audio sources can be distributed just like the video sources wherever you need them. So, if you have two spaces with the wall removed, you can now send audio to both zones as one main audio source as opposed to divvying it up as discrete audio zones. You can also distribute the audio to the pre-function space outside the ballrooms or even throughout the hotel, just as you can with video. And because AMX SVSI encoders and decoders support the AES67 standard, you can actually send audio signals freely between AMX SVSI devices and networked audio devices from BSS or Crown. The system is as flexible as you need it.”
The ability to distribute to BSS devices is an important point because, as we addressed in our discussions of the AV signal chain, audio processing is an important part of any audio system. When I asked Ryan about how audio processing was handled in a convention space, he replied:
“If you use the AMX Enova DGX that has DSP capabilities built in, the audio can be properly tuned for whatever room configuration you’re using. However, you still need a DSP in the larger spaces if you are going to have speech reinforcement. That handles the mixing of the audio sources along with microphones, especially if you have multiple microphones.”
Throughout this post, we’ve mentioned how important it is that the technology in convention spaces is flexible. However, the question remains: how do you tell this flexible AV system which configuration it should use for a particular event? According to Ryan, it requires an AV control system:
“In large divisible spaces, you really need a control system. In order to get the audio and video the way you need it in any given space and configuration, you’re going to need some form of concise control, and that’s going to include a touch panel typically. If the rooms are only single rooms and aren’t divisible, then you might be able to control things with a small keypad. Once you start adding rooms together and combining the spaces, it becomes much simpler to have a touch panel interface to give the ability to mix and match the audio and video.”
With the amount of different options available, the user interface for a convention center control system can quickly get complex. That’s why Ryan says these solutions require intelligent automation as part of the system design:
“Room configuration can be greatly simplified with a bit of automation in the background. When you remove a wall, there can be contact sensors that tell the control system that the wall is open. Behind the scenes, the programmer can design the system to be pre-configured, so when the wall is open, the room functions as a single combined space. The specific operations and switching connections can be grouped together and simplified, so when the wall is open, anything that gets plugged into either space automatically goes to both sets of speakers and both displays. You can still give the AV tech an advanced mode, where they can change that configuration in any way they need for an event, but this makes the initial setup fast and easy.”
Given the technology required to make convention center AV systems flexible and powerful, proper monitoring and management is key. Kurcab explains:
“There are many different tools available to both AV and IT professionals in hotels. Software management solutions, like AMX Resource Management Suite, allow the staff to actively manage the different types of connections that happen on the property, and see usage and any failure modes that may exist on the network. From an audio standpoint, you’re looking at large distributed audio systems in these spaces. For that, there are simple tools like Netsetter, which is a standalone tool that is included as part of HARMAN Audio Architect. It allows you to actively manage all the different audio nodes that are on that network. There are a variety of software tools available, from the simple to the complex, which allow AV and IT professionals to manage the AV systems in hotel meeting spaces.”
It’s clear that the AV technology in a convention center is complex, which is necessary for spaces that are so large and adaptable. However, with the right planning—and the right technology—these solutions can bring a great financial advantage to hoteliers.
Do you have experience with installing house AV systems in convention spaces? Share your insights in the comments.