Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Using Sound to Differentiate your spa

Magazine article by Chris Gunton on the subject of "Using Sound to Differentiate Your Spa".
To be published in january's Hotel Magazine
http://www.cga-integration.co.uk/downloads/HotelMagazineJan2012CGAArticle.pdf

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

New CGA November Newsletter

New CGA Integration Newsletter now available: http://app.bigresponse.com/display.php?M=16935610&C=5699bd27c178b2b8d09db5e71fa694e5&S=32499&L=15055&N=23339

Please subscribe to our newsletter on the contacts page of the CGA website: http://www.cga-integration.co.uk/contacts.htm

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Using Sound to Differentiate Your Spa


The Importance of Sound
Generating an environment of relaxation and calm is essential to delivering the ultimate spa experience.  When guests step foot into a spa, designers work hard to deliver a visual sense of tranquillity, staff are trained to deliver physically soothing treatments and specially selected products help to relax or stimulate through aromatherapy.  But what can our guest hear?

Sound can often be overlooked, but during treatments when lights are dimmed and guests often close their eyes, other senses including hearing become heightened, so audio replaces colour and becomes a key factor in generating the most appropriate mood.

Quality is Key
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 spa experience can be greatly enhanced.  Ensuring that there are sufficient speakers within treatment rooms will allow true stereo sound to be delivered, which will enable a truly immersing audio experience using some of the spatial qualities of stereo to move sound around the room.

Speakers available today do not have to impact on the visual look of treatment rooms, plastered in speakers are completely invisible and as such can be placed in the ceiling or even in walls, which is nearer to the ears of your guests during treatments, without being seen.  Technology even allows speakers to be placed behind wooden panelling or glass and mirrors to enable quality sound in all environments.

Un-Compressed Music is Quality Music
To further enhance a speaker’s delivery, sound needs to be generated from a quality source in a good quality format.  MP3 or other computer formats are badly compressed forms of recording and storing music, which is illustrated when these music formats are played out on a good quality system.  Often music dynamics and fine musical details are lost when tracks are compressed and we hear this as ‘poorer quality sound’.  12" vinyl hi fi pressing produces the best quality sound followed by
a 7" record, a 12 LP album, a CD, an MP3/4 file and then an ipod.  As such, to ensure the best quality sound experience for your guests, sound should ideally be delivered in an un-compressed format.

Commercial Music Servers
Music servers which can store CD content in an un-compressed format (the same quality as the original CD) are now available on the domestic market.  These servers allow the delivery of music in a far superior depth and clarity to that delivered by MP3 files or ipods which in turn delivers an over all better spa experience for your guests.

Discussions with a number of suppliers now allows CGA Integration to offer the supply of these music servers to the commercial sector with a full warranty providing music licensing laws are adhered to. 

Music Licensing Laws
All music subscription companies and hard drive companies deal with the music licensing for their customers, so you know that the music you have is legitimate and ready for use. When you move away from these companies, it is essential that the same rules are applied as if you were using ipod or other music storage device in a commercial application, they are as follows;

1. Ensure that you own an original copy of the music on CD
2. Ensure that your CD has not been duplicated or is being played on any other site/location
3. Catalogue and record all the tracks that you are to use and ensure that this catalogue is updated as you add tracks.
4. Store your original media in a secure place on site (preferably locked) where you can show at any point that you own it and it is not is use in any other location.

Once the above is in place there is no reason why you cannot build up a huge library of CD sourced music and develop play lists for different treatments at different times of day to ensure a truly memorable experience for your guests.

Time to Change
True stereo sound works by generating a sound stage which makes instruments appear to be located in different places between and outside of the speaker locations.  This delivers a rich audio tapestry which creates an environment for you guests to mentally escape their world as you soothe the aches and pains from their bodies.  Differentiate your spa experience through quality sound and hear your guests tell you about the difference.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Are you a slave to technology or is your AV working for you?

I have recently had the pleasure of meeting many hoteliers and hotel developers at Hotel Summit; a meet the buyer event and I came away with the feeling that your AV is a burden and an expense and that the technology has not been set up to serve you, it is almost as if you are working for the technology.

In the internet/cat5/network age we have the ability to look at all areas of AV either remotely or across the network so that we can monitor it or it can be integrated with our other systems and then report to us when we need to interact or attend to it!

What is happening without network/remote support?
If you don’t have network / remote support you are unaware of the status of your hardware until if fails or worse still until a guest/delegate complains - leading to (avoidable) equipment failures and breakdowns causing disruption to events, your budgets and leaving your guests/delegates with a bad experience of your facility

What could happen if we added network/remote support?
With remote support or basic network settings your system could email you, you technical people or an external AV company to notify them that a unit is faulty, overheating or needs attention - thus ensuring issues are dealt with before the become a crisis.  With a little more investment systems can be centrally controlled and monitored by you, your technicians an external company - or all three. Customers can be supported, systems monitored in real time and usage & faults logged against each piece of hardware to give you useful metrics.

So what are the benefits?
Maximum up time - avoid preventable problems; lamps reaching the end of their life can be changed before they fail and new lamps ordered in good time. Works can be planned when rooms not in use or out of hours.
Minimise Carbon - minimum site visits as engineers can remotely check parts required. You’ll also have the ability to cross reference room usage/equipment status and bookings to turn off remotely/centrally equipment left on in unused rooms
Maximum Reliability - as faults are monitored and logged against hardware poorly performing hardware or software settings can be changed and evolved to get the best reliability and lowest running cost of all hardware
Improved Customer Experience - as all equipment will perform as expected within a brand standard and your guests will receive a better experience and go away happy!

What areas can be controlled this way?
TV systems - IPTV systems can be remotely diagnosed and supported down to each room's set top box - giving fully support.
IPTV video on demand content - this is now normally delivered and updated remotely - thus ensuring regular secure updates to your on site film and media library
Digital signage - each sign can be remotely managed and supported to ensure maximum up time
Background music systems - many basic amplifiers now have the ability to support Network cards to enable remote support or more advanced systems can support and report to sound processors that give AV support companies full visibility of all sound system hardware.
Hard drive music systems - all hard drive music systems can be supported remotely enabling music update and changes to be made at any time and hardware issues diagnosed and resolved
Video projectors - many video projectors are now capable of reporting back to you over a network to flag problems or with some more interactive systems full remote possibility is possible to allow customer support, fault finding and fault logging
Lighting systems - many of the larger lighting systems now have remote support ability to allow for programming tweaks and fault finding

What is possible?
Video projectors that email or report to you when overheating, filters blocked or the lamp is reaching the end of it's life cycle and will be needing replacement shortly
Sound equipment that can be monitored remotely or linked to your BMS so that its functionality can be monitored
Usage statistics on TV systems so you can increase or reduce certain typed of channel or change you charging structure
Engineers and support staff are able to remotely diagnose faults, restart units showing errors and help users on site for minimum down time.
Engineers who are able to diagnose faults remotely are able to order parts and attend site with the correct part first time to resolve problems in one efficient visit - minimum delay, down time and carbon footprint.
Faults can be logged against certain pieces of hardware so that the items that are not reliable or take a lot of support can be identified and either replaced or reconfigured to reduce cost and reduce the maintenance burden

All of these do affect you initial purchase cost – BUT all will help with your running costs and in turn keep your total cost of ownership lower by reducing calls and increasing the life span of products.  So get your AV working for you.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Refurbishing your events room? How can I maximise the effectiveness of this critical space?

Background
Much consideration is placed on the look and ambience of events spaces and ballrooms in our hotels, these rooms are a key part of the hotel armoury, as a successful conference or function booking secures sales in so many other areas.  It is therefore vital that their role, and the technology required to deliver this, is carefully considered as part of any refurbishment cycle.
Design vs. Functionality  Design vs. Functionality
You should not have to trade off design for functionality.  With careful planning the functionality of a space can be delivered alongside beautiful design.  To create a successful ‘events space’ it is vital that the technological aspects are considered alongside the visual appearance of the room as part of the planning process; not just what you need the technology to do, but what hardware is required in order to make this a reality.  Where carefully designed together, a holistic approach to lighting, audio and video needs can be seamlessly integrated into the design of a room to deliver the functionality required in an unobtrusive, even invisible manor.  When done effectively, this actually enhances the overall ambience of the space, as sound and lighting are critical in creating the optimum guest experience,

What Hardware do I need?
Before this question can be answered, it is vital that the key usage of the room is understood.  Requirements for conference delegates may be very different from wedding guests and may differ again for those attending a charity fundraiser or gala dinner.  Understanding how you wish to position your ‘events space’ is key in delivering the best technology to suit your guests.  Many hotels may find that they require facilities which are flexible, to meet the needs of all these kinds of events.  In addition ‘types’ of customers also need to be considered.  Sometimes spaces are hired out directly to ‘the end user’ who will need the venue to provide all of the facilities and at other times they are hired to an ‘events’ or ‘production’ company who will provide their own technology and room dressing, each have very different requirements of the events space.  
  
Designing the most flexible events space
Flexibility is often the answer, as many venues need to be able to adapt to suit many different requirements.  As such, it is important to own a certain level of hardware to allow ‘in house’ events and conferences, as well as to have the ability to provide an adaptable and technologically compatible venue for events companies to hire.  As a basic requirement, every venue needs its own PA and Projector system to allow for background music, speeches, announcements, and presentations.  The specification of these will depend on the acoustics and size of the venue.  It is always worth discussing your customer’s needs with your lighting, audio and video integrator during the planning of your refurbishment.  They will be able to suggest the best solutions for your particular events space.

How do I make my facility appealing to events companies?
Increasingly, large companies are employing events organisers to deliver important events in their corporate calendars.  In turn, events organisers need reliable venues to work in partnership with, as they strive to be as professional as possible.  They need interesting and unique rooms to hold events within or the ability to easily create a unique environment within an existing space.  This relies on three key attributes;
1. Accessibility 
2. Power 
3. Compatible technology 
These in turn need to be designed into the structure of the room to ensure that they are as seamless as possible.  This will subsequently free up more space and therefore enable maximum occupancy within the room. 
  
Accessibility
Dressing a room, building a stage or bringing in lighting & PA equipment requires a large team, lots of boxes and often odd shaped things! If you have the opportunity to consider the loading route for a venue, it is helpful to allow vehicles as close as possible to the events room and if possible, allow the main loading path to be on a level route or one with ramps rather than steps. If this is not possible, lifts are an option, but these need to be goods lifts with a good internal volume and load rating and not guest lifts, as even the best handles of a flight case can bang, scuff or dent a lift interior. 

Power
All events need power, and lots of it!  It is vital that events rooms have a good number of 13amp sockets in a suitable number of circuits, spread around every wall and between multiple doorways. If you have a venue large enough to justify a stage or a flown lighting rig it will be worth fitting what is called hard Power; some large Cee Form/commando style connectors offering higher currents of single or three phase power. These are most usefully placed near the side of the stage, just outside the loading doors near back stage or behind panels in the room where the desk/amps might be or the cable runs to the lighting rig may come down and will allow the staging area to be effectively lit. 
  
Compatible Technology
Sound:  It is essential that your systems are never compromised in the desire to make your facilities as appealing as possible to events companies.  When considering sound requirements it is paramount that your ‘main racks’ and ‘controls’ are not touched by any third party as this will void your warranty with the installation company.  If your existing room sound configurations do not meet the requirements of an events company, it is always safer to allow them to provide their own systems for further specific requirements.  If however you have established a good working relationship with a particular events company it is possible to allow them to connect to the ‘front of house’ audio or video sockets to use the ‘house’ system in parallel with the ‘events’ system.  If you feel this is beneficial for you, it is always advisable to contact your installation company to ensue that relevant safeguards are in place and any training required is conducted with the relevant events company staff.   
Lighting:  There are positive benefits in allowing an events company to integrate their DMX lighting desk with your in house lighting system.  Working with your lighting system provider, it is possible through the installation of DMX sockets and a DMX merge unit to allow the events company to take control of the lighting within a designated room or area.  Your lighting system provider can ensure that this is set up such that the events company can only control the area you choose and that this will not affect any other areas of the venue or safety measures such as ‘lights to full’ in the event of a fire.  Once established, it will enable the events company to dim house lights and bring up stage lights seamlessly. 
  
Hiding the Hardware  
By their very nature, events and functions are temporary affairs and with them they bring what has become an inevitable number of cables, rubber mats and gaffer tape, running around your beautifully decorated venue!  To minimise the visual impact, however, the events room infrastructure can be designed to hide a large proportion of this temporary ‘hardware’.  This in turn will free up more space and therefore enable maximum ccupancy within the events room.  Some options include fitting; 
• Removable skirting board which has a void and trap doors to enable cables to be routed around the walls without being seen. 
• A trough in the floor around the perimeter of the room to allow cables to be laid in and covered.  This works well as it allows cables to cross doorways without impeding pedestrians or wheel chair access. 
• Vertical panels in walls at strategic points to allow floor to ceiling cabling to be hidden behind panels.  This allows the connection and control of lighting equipment without the need for big tripe’s of cable hanging down from trusses. 
• Video screens in the ceiling.  The use of video is becoming more and more prevalent in events for video, data and lighting projection. If screens are pre fitted in the events room ceiling, it produces a clean finish as these screens are nearly invisible once installed.  It also reduces the need for stands and rigging, allowing projection to be done swiftly and easily. 
• Rated flying points in the ceiling*.  Having properly rated flying points in the ceiling, which are compatible with the systems used by the events companies you work with, will enable a rigger to fly all of the lighting rigs and speakers from the ceiling, leaving you with the best possible space for your guests. 
* Flying points always need to be designed with your structural engineer to ensure stability.  Likewise it is always advisable to check riggers qualifications and insurance prior to their arrival on site even if they work for the events company

What else should I think about?
Your own staff or events coordinators will often know what will help to make a room work better as they experience the downfalls everyday.  This may be moving doors, changing the direction in which they hinge or the type of hinge fitted to allow silent access for minimum disruption.  It may also be prudent to fit general purpose cameras that can be accessed in back of house areas or the kitchens allow staff and events teams to have an unobtrusive view of the event room to enable them to deliver seamless timely service to guests.  It is also important to ensure that you have the relevant PPL and PRS licenses to enable music broadcasts to prevent any legal infringements.  

Conclusions
Getting both the design and functionality right will deliver a flexible and desirable events space which in turn will pay dividends for your venue.  It is vital to work with your lighting, audio and video integrator during the planning of your refurbishment to ensure that the best solutions are designed for your particular events space to maximise your return. 

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