Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Have Marks and Spencer made a sound decision?

So Marks and Spencer have decided to switch off background music in all their UK stores.  The news has certainly received some high profile coverage across the press and an overwhelming level of customer response.

I would agree that removing badly delivered, ill thought out music can only be a good thing, but is removing all music from retail and leisure spaces really the best or most proportional response?

Unless sound systems are carefully designed, delivered with the correct audio equipment and the most appropriate music content, they can indeed have a destructive effect on the very environment they are meant to be enhancing. Does this mean however that background music should be removed from all retail and leisure spaces, or do we just need to get smarter about how and what we play to those customers we are trying to attract?

What we can't argue with is the growing body of evidence that supports the fact that audio affects your mood and emotions and as such can change the way you react and behave. Our brains receive so many subtle cues from what our ears pick up, that a great deal of our conscious and unconscious moods and behaviour are attributable to what we hear. Even recent medical research has proved that playing appropriate music during operations can have a positive effect on both surgeons and those that they treat; those patients who listen to music during and after an operation will feel less pain and have a speedier recovery, even if they had been under general anaesthetic! That’s quite amazing.

I think much of the issue is not with having music per se, but with the fact that many retail and restaurant chains have just commoditised it. The delivery of ‘background music’ during many store roll out processes, has become yet another bulk purchase to be sourced and delivered within or under budget, just like any other fixture or fitting.  Any focus on the sound system quality, appropriateness of the music or the impact it has on the target customers has all but become lost along the way.

So is a space without any music really the right way forward? Very often CGA Integration are called to add sound to a space that is suffering from what we call “the library effect.” This is where our client’s guests cannot relax, they feel uncomfortable and find themselves whispering to each other; everyone is very conscious of each and every sound they make and can hear. This in turn creates the wrong kind of atmosphere, it certainly does not help to bring our client’s Brand to life, which by contrast is what well chosen, expertly delivered audio can do.

Above all, what all this really indicates to me is the need to review how we use music. We need to stop, think and take ownership of the soundscape within our space. We need to think about what sounds we currently have and what sounds we want to add, to deliver where we want to be.  

So how can you best use music and audio to help you successfully deliver your Brand?

Getting this right may involve a large investment in hardware as you move away from cheap speakers, as however good the playlist, unless you have quality speakers the music will just sound like it is coming from a 1970’s phone handset.  It may also require you to appoint a quality music profiler to ensure that you get the right music for your venues. There are some great music profilers out there, but as with everything, you will need to find the one who can best understand your Brand, so they can interpret your Brand personality and personify it into a music playlist. It may also mean you investing in sound system design. Many interiors are now designed with a minimalist or industrial look which creates a very harsh acoustic environment. If the sound system is not designed in the right way, even with well selected musical content, this can mean that the end result can be uncomfortable for your guests and staff alike, which Julian Treasure discusses here in ‘a quiet coffee.’

Most of all, what I find really interesting about this news story is the sheer volume of coverage it received and the level of consumer response it generated across all forms of the media. If audio does not affect people so strongly would we really have witnessed  such a response?

Friday, 15 April 2016

Delivering Brand consistency across very different venues

One of the most important issues when dealing with AV is to understand the requirements of a Brand; what experience is the Brand trying to deliver to its customers and how in turn can quality sound help to engage the senses in achieving this experience.  It is then essential that this is delivered across the whole estate, such that wherever a customer is in the world, they know they are experiencing a particular Brand.

Walking across a gravel path, breaking a pane of glass, puffing up a feather pillow, sound is so evocative and can conjuring up such vivid imagery. Blended correctly with creative interior design, superior customer service and exceptional cuisine, sound plays a critical part in delivering the total Brand experience in the hospitality sector.

Audio Brand consistency is not just about using the same musical tracks in every venue.  Undeniably, a carefully selected music playlist combined with a quality sound system is vital in delivering a brand experience, but the physical structure of a venue impacts on the acoustics and subsequently on how that playlist will sound.  As such, audio Brand consistency is more challenging to achieve if venues within a Brand are very different acoustically.  CGA Integration have recently designed and installed the audio for two very acoustically different Dishoom Restaurants; Dishoom King’s Cross and Dishoom Carnaby.  

Although the antithesis of each other acoustically, both of these restaurants need to deliver the same unique buzz and vibe of Dishoom.  Dishoom King’s Cross is a listed building with very high ceilings, multiple levels and hard surfaces, which creates a very harsh acoustic environment.  Dishoom Carnaby however has low ceilings, smaller rooms and more soft furnishings.  Sound behaves very differently in these contrasting environments, but by using carefully placed ceiling speakers and the same brand of digital sound processor, each Dishoom restaurant feels and sounds fantastic, delivering a great Brand experience across both venues.

Using the same wall mounted controls in each venue, programmed using a similar configuration, has the additional benefit of staff familiarisation; making it easier for staff to transition between venues in a Brand with multiple sites.

There is so much we can do with sound. By investing in carefully placed speakers, a good quality music source and good quality audio content, the whole hospitality experience can be greatly enhanced and Brand values can be delivered through a common audio footprint whatever the venue.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Because AV is not IT!

Would you ask your window cleaner to reprogram your central heating? Sounds a ridiculous question doesn’t it and we all know how we’d answer it, yet many non specialists are constantly being asked to operate outside of their areas of expertise or in some cases outside even their basic knowledge and understanding.

Whilst every second electrician will tell you that AV is simple and that they can sort out your system for you, this does not mean that they can deliver the quality of the AV system you require.  Can your electrician, for example, tell you if a system is en-54 compliant?  Or can they map out a speaker layout and resulting sound fields to deliver an even, phase coherent speaker system? If either of these questions is met with a confused look or enhanced bravado then the answer is probably NO.

We regularly see CCTV vans stating "audio visual systems" accompanied by the slogan "your security is our business."  These companies might well be an excellent choice to install the right security system for you, but does this make them experts in AV?  Do they understand how music systems can help you to deliver your brand values to your customers in your venue?  Or how meeting room technology can be installed to maximise the growing trend in BYOD?  

Often we find electricians fitting sound systems based on cheap components from electrical wholesalers.  These might well be suited to a warehouse or store paging system, but are wholly unsuitable for music playback in leisure spaces.  Similarly many contractors think that domestic solutions such as Bose or Sonos are suitable for commercial use, but then find that they lack consistency and control. These products although good in a residential environment, are designed for one user to use and to be controlled locally. There is no overall system control and no way to disable or limit front panel buttons which leads to issues in a hospitality environment.

Aha! It travels down a cable so it must be IT! Well yes and NO.  Much AV overlaps with IT, but IT is a discipline in itself.  The involvement of IT will help to facilitate the inputs and distribution of your AV system, but your IT team have specialist skills in other areas and most likely not in AV.

So how do AV and IT differ?  Well IT is predominantly digital; either a unit or system is connected or it's not.  But audio, whilst it has digital elements, has a varied and subjective output which can lead to a huge range of potential problems, resulting causes and a possible range of solutions as a result.  AV is also dictated by the physical attributes of a room; not only the floor area but the height and structure of the walls and ceiling and their finishes.

So before you choose who you engage to install your audio visual or music systems, first ask yourself;
  • Is this their core business?
  • Have they installed AV in other venues similar to mine, and what do they sound like?
  • Do they have a portfolio of other venues where they have designed and fitted music and AV systems?
  • and can they give me appropriate references?

If you are really not sure of their AV pedigree after pondering on these key questions, why not consider speaking to a company who specialise in sound? You and your guests really will hear the difference.

Monday, 4 November 2013

How Pharmaceutical Technology can deliver a most Memorable Customer Experience

Likening your hotel guests to animals in pharmaceutical drugs trials might be the furthest analogy from your mind and yet systems originally designed to monitor exactly this have now been developed to help hospitality venues offer both a memorable customer experience and provide unrivalled security for their guests.

Imagine if you had the ability to monitor how guest’s behaviour changed if you changed room layout, d├ęcor or elements of customer service?  Imagine if a returning customer could be welcomed back by name without any visible technology? Imagine if the path of a bag snatch thief could be tracked throughout your venue and beyond to aid their capture?  All of these and more are now possible using image analysis.

CGA Integration are currently working with i-Abra, a high performance computing company, who have developed image analysis systems to deliver the next generation in guest behaviour monitoring and security.

At its simplest, image analysis, when integrated into existing CCTV systems, can count guests by recognising unique faces, assess dwell time and monitor activity such that you can look at how guest behaviour alters when you change; room layouts, decor, or elements of customer service, or when you tweak promotional materials and displays.  

With more detailed analysis, this tool allows you to identify and zone guest demographics within different areas of your venue, recognise individual guests and spot behaviour patterns, enabling you to gain a fuller understanding of your customers and see how environmental changes affect behaviour within different groups.  

Taken to its full potential, this system recognises individual faces and allows you to match them to your known client base, this is done in real time with matching achieved in a fraction of one second, enabling you to welcome back a returning guest and also monitor less welcome individuals!

From a security perspective, facial recognition from image analysis allows the tracking of a person of interest throughout a venue to see where they have been and where they are now.  This aids both staff to apprehend the individual and the identification of areas where security upgrades are needed to reduce any problem hot spots.

Suddenly your guest’s faces become like Internet cookies and you are able to identify where they are, where they have been, how long they stayed where and if they returned.  If information is power, image analysis systems give you the power to understand your guests and reward them with a most memorable customer experience, every time they visit. 

For more information on how Facial Recognition systems could work in your venue please contact CGA Integration on (0845) 058 46 50 or email info@cga-integration.co.uk

Monday, 29 April 2013

CGA Integration; ensuring a sound Brand Fit for you


Technology can be a minefield. The pace of development is fast and the breadth of choice on the market can be staggering. What brands should you choose to ensure the best quality sound or lighting systems in your venue? The task can be daunting.

That’s where CGA Integration can help. We pride ourselves on our objectivity; we are not tied into using one specific brand and do not hold any items in stock, giving us maximum flexibility to choose the best products for you.

When we design a sound, light or video system, we spec each piece of technological equipment based on the individual needs of a customer for that specific project, so you know you will be getting the best possible solution for your venue.

The suitability of equipment has many variables; price, functionality, size, colour and shape, to name but a few, but possibly even more important in the longer term are; reliability, ability to support and a clear road map to illustrate how upgrades and future features can be added to your systems when they are needed. CGA will consider all of these factors before recommending what we believe will be the best possible solution for you and your venue.

Here at CGA Integration we can help to steer you through this technological maze. We will always specify quality products but are open to installing and supporting new technology as well as tried and tested options. We have a well established successful relationship across the pro audio, lighting, video and automation supply markets and are proud to have access to most major brands. We are proud to be approved
installers of the following Brands;

  • Amina invisible speakers
  • EV/Bosch sound processing, amplifiers and speakers
  • Iris Net sound processing software
  • Future automation product
  • Sennheiser radio microphones
  • Media Matrix digital sound processing system
  • Systemline
  • Cloud electronics

and are happy to specify, install and support others such as; JBL, Crown, Crestron, Hantarex, Mitsubishi, Crest Audio, Robe Lighting, Annolis LED, Samsung, Phillips, Formula Sound, Somfy, Kramer, Signet, Apart, Klein & Hummel, BSS, QSC, Sure and many more

Contact CGA Integration and let us ensure that your new sound and lighting systems don’t cause you a headache but are music to your ears.

For more information on how CGA Integration can help you with a specific project please contact us on: 0845 058 4650 or e mail us on info@cga-integration.co.uk

We know exceptional venues require exceptional partners.

Monday, 19 November 2012

The benefits of improving your TV system


Background
With the digital switchover, the way in which we receive and process TV signals has changed. This means that changes have to be made to hotel TV systems in order to continue watching terrestrial television.
Different options are available and which you choose will depend on the needs of your guests and how you want to use technology to position and help deliver your Brand.

So what has changed?
The TV signals now travel through the airways in a digital rather than analogue format which means that they either need to be ‘decoded’ back to analogue information using a ‘digi box’ to view them on existing TVs or new digital TVs need to be purchased which can read digital code.
RF (radio frequency) is the normal way of wiring and distributing TV signals within most buildings; signals travel through the airways and are detected by an aerial and pass via coaxial cable through amplifiers and splitters to your TVs.
With the digital change over, RF distribution can still be used to carry the new digital signals, but as stated above, either free view boxes or decoders are required for each television set, or new digital televisions need to be purchased which can interpret the digital information directly.
The digital signal carries more information than the old analogue system so it passes down the coax in groups or ‘muxes’, typically you would have five to six muxes to receive all the standard UK free view signals, but again no cabling changes are required to enable this to happen.
The other option for delivering TV to guest rooms is via IPTV (internet protocol). Here the signal travels over very cheap CAT5 cable in the style of a computer network. This in turn creates a platform from which you can deliver all previous forms of television and radio through one coherent TV channel list, (analogue, digital, free view, satellite, international, FM DAB & internet), whilst still supporting on demand films to your guests. IP technology can be customised by room and also enables you to market to your guests through the television and can be linked to your hotel’s website, PMS and booking facilities.
Hybrids of IPTV and RF distribution are also available where IPTV can either be delivered over coaxial cable or your guests can use their wi fi to deliver the interactive content and the coaxial cable can be used to deliver basic channels and terrestrial TV.

What about Satellite TV?
Satellite TV and Sky is normally just an input into an RF or IPTV system, it is not a system in its own right unless you budget to wire and place a sky decoder in every guestroom. The use of Sky+ boxes in each guestroom also has to be considered very carefully as Sky+ does not delete content between guest stays so this system can breech copyright laws.

What kind of TV system do I need?
In order to answer this question you will need to understand who your customers are and what they want from your technology offering.
Each hotel has different customers with different requirements and it is very hard to design a TV system until these are quantified and the management have agreed what they want to supply to their customers to satisfy, exceed or change their technology expectations.
The requirements of a venue with predominantly single male business clients will be very different from a family hotel with lots of child guests, which will in turn differ from a gastro hotel where the main attraction is the restaurant and food, where little time is spent in the rooms.
In a recent online survey carried out by CGA Integration, guests said they would expect to have more TV channels on their hotel TV than they have at home and many had in excess of 100 there. Having said this, it is probably better to offer less (say 20) well picked channels targeted at your specific customers, rather than expected them to wade through reams of irrelevant channels to find something suitable to watch.
If you want to offer your customers movies on demand (adult or otherwise), you will probably need CAT5 cabling or wi fi to stream or supply the movies to the guest rooms and provide a mechanism for billing these. This will in turn determine which kind of TV system you will require as either IPTV or a hybrid system will be needed to enable this to happen. However, if your customers do not require this kind of service, you may be able to improve your current TV offering by just to tidying up your TV systems rack or ‘Head End’.

Refurbishment vs. Refit
If you are managing a new build or a complete refurbishment of a venue it is advisable to take this opportunity to run CAT5 and good quality coaxial cable to each TV location. By doing this, all options are open to you and if you wish to change your offering moving forward all the hardware is in place to enable you to do this easily.
If, however you are refitting a trading venue you are more likely to be limited to TV options you can deliver over existing coaxial cable, either with or without the inclusion of wi fi. However it is prudent to include the addition of CAT5 cabling to all TV locations as part of your room refit programme, as this will open up future options for your venue.

What are the benefits of tidying up my Head End?
The ‘Head End’ is the term used to describe your TV system rack where your aerials, sky boxes, amplifiers and controllers all join up and then send signals out to your rooms or to sub distribution points in certain wings, floors or areas of your hotel.
A well designed head end will take in all of the inputs from these different sources and set them up so that you can define what is visible to your customers in their rooms and what will not be available e.g. you may choose to remove adult or shopping channels that might not be appropriate for your customer profile. It should also allow you to group and rename inputs such that similar channels can appear together e.g. all sport channels or all news channels appear in one location.
If the Head End has been set up properly all you will need to do in your guest rooms is put your TV into ‘auto tune’ and the TV will put all the channels exactly where you want them.
You may also want to add your own channels to your TV system; this might be a promotional video of your venue’s facilities or a marketing video to promote a sister hotel. This is very easy to do with IPTV as most will allow you to record or transfer footage onto the hard drives for playback. Even with an RF and Free view system you can still insert channels created on video playback devices or DVD players and fed them into your Head End.

Do I need a special TV?

Generally the answer to this question is no. IPTV generally uses your in room TV as a monitor so no special functionality is required if you decide on this route and equally if you carry out all the channel selection and tuning in the Head End of your RF and free view system, this in turn can be played through your existing guest room TVs as well.
If you are choosing new TVs it is always prudent to choose models with hospitality functionality; a special remote or button press sequence which will allow you to:
  1. Lock out the setup menus,
  2. Set the maximum volume
  3. Preset the ‘turn on ‘ channel
Models that carry this feature do not need to be expensive; most Samsung TVs for example have this
functionality built in, even if you buy them on the high street. You may just need to ask the engineer who sets up your Head End to show you how to operate this function or purchase a remote from them to enable you to carry this out for yourself.

Next Steps
Once you have identified what you want to offer your customers, contact CGA Integration and we can discuss how we can best deliver the options available for your venue and your budget.

Phone: (0845) 058 4650
info@cga-integration.co.uk
www.cga-integration.co.uk

Monday, 22 October 2012

Why buy a Radio Microphone licence?



Act now to prevent ‘Silent Nights’ this Christmas

With the deadline for operating UHF wireless microphones using channel 69 swiftly approaching, users need to think quickly about obtaining a microphone licence and check that they have all the compatible hardware they need by the end of 2012.

Do I need a microphone licence? 
The answer to this frequently raised question is generally yes!  Anyone who is using a microphone be it for a company presentation in a hotel function room or a sermon in a Sunday morning church service, needs a microphone licence to safe guard the quality and reliability of their broadcasts.

Why should I buy a radio microphone licence?
Holding a microphone licence guarantees your use of a designated frequency to broadcast on without the concern of others being able to legally utilise that channel and interrupt any presentations or broadcasts you may be making.

Why the change now?
Recently the government sold off may frequencies which people were broadcasting on, including channel 69.  As many users were broadcasting illegally or without licences, the number of active users was masked and it appeared that the sale would affect far less people than it actually has.  Subsequently many users have had to replace their hardware to continue to broadcast as these channels will no longer be available after 31st December 2012.  Moving forward, if all users hold a licence this will clearly demonstrate the number of active users and help to prevent this from happening again in the future.

What about other users in my venue?
Hotel function rooms and church halls are often used by DJs for corporate or private functions.  DJs can broadcast on licence free channels and these will not interfere with the licensed frequencies you want to broadcast on.

What about the hardware?
Generally the equipment needed to operate on licensed channels is of a higher quality, with more accessories, which in turn provides superior performance.  Typically licensed hardware includes;
  • A rechargeable battery system so you know your microphone is always ready for use and you do not have to constantly buy new batteries.
  • External and specialist aerials to ensure that you have a perfect reception in all areas.
  • Rack mountable accessories to ensure that you equipment can be stored neatly to improve its longevity and give good ROI, (return on investment).
  • A good range of interchangeable microphones and heads for all types of voice and sound reinforcement applications.

What do I need to do?
If you are unsure about how to proceed to ensure that you are ready for the switch over at the end of 2012, please contact us at CGA Integration and we can talk you through all your requirements and the steps you need to take to make sure that the transition is seamless.