Monday, 19 November 2012

The benefits of improving your TV system

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

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.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Speaker Location; A Sound Delivery

Speaker Location; A Sound Delivery

Listen … what can you hear?  Very rarely will it be silence; there will always be a ticking clock, the rain pouring down, or the clicking of a computer keyboard.  Sound is everywhere; we are subjected to it continuously from the monument we wake up until the moment we fall asleep.

The effect of sound is often subliminal and as such, getting the audio right for your venue is a key factor in creating the ambience and mood you want to achieve for your guests. Deliver poor quality, inappropriate sound and people will always complain, get it right and it enhances the décor, service and experience of a venue, and customers will rarely remark.

So how do I deliver quality sound?
Delivering quality sound is down to what you play and how you play it.  The most carefully selected play list is useless unless the music is of the right quality, delivered through the correct hardware, which in turn needs to be expertly installed in the right position.

We have spoken about sound quality in other articles; ‘A sound decision’ and ‘Using sound to differentiate your spa’ so here we turn to sound positioning; where should the speakers go and why does this matter?

Getting the positioning right; the proximity effect
Obviously, the closer you are to a speaker, the louder any transmitted audio becomes.  However, a well designed sound system can help to balance how sound is delivered throughout a room, to minimise or completely avoid any ‘proximity effects’. 

Historically sound was delivered through speakers which were screwed onto the outside of walls in a room.  Not only was this often unsightly, but as sound was ‘squirted’ into the room, it remained loud in the immediate proximity of any speakers and quieter in the centre of the room.  In addition to this, as the sound waves converged in the centre of the room they worked against each other, and as such the quality of the sound here become ‘muddy’; unclear and undefined, creating a less than desirable experience for those in that area.

Ceiling Speakers
At CGA Integration we try, wherever possible, to use ceiling speakers in our designs and installation.  This enables us to create a grid of speakers to offer an even coverage of sound throughout a room.  As customer’s ears are always a constant distance from the ceiling and therefore from the speakers, (no matter how tall they are!), they will receive a consistent sound as they move throughout the room. In addition to this, mounting speakers on the same level within a ceiling gives you the hidden advantage of the speaker cones coupling, which gives greater efficiency and a theoretical large driver area which allows for increased bottom end sound throughout the room.

Speaker design
Although speaker technology as a whole has not evolved greatly in recent years, ceiling speaker design has been refined and it is now possible to generate a good quality, full warm sound from a ceiling speaker, without the need for a separate bass bin.  This will satisfy audio needs in most situations, but there are still areas where separate bass bins are required;

‘Party Level’ Audio
In bars and function rooms which demand ‘party level’ audio, separate bass bins are still required to deliver the sound level needed in these environments.  Bass may be ‘omni- directional, but bass bins need to be positioned to generate an even balance of sound throughout a room; otherwise they will generate the same proximity effect as badly positioned wall mounted speakers.  Ceiling mounted bass bins are now available which enables the bass to dissipate above the guests rather than be focused in one point at floor level, again minimising ‘proximity effects’.

Design led small speakers
Many designers request that we use tiny ceiling speakers which look chic and compact.  If this is the case, a ceiling mounted bass bin will also have to be factored into the audio design to ensure a full and warm sound.

Speakers need to be a certain size or diameter to enable all frequencies of sound to be projected into the room at a balanced usable volume.  If the size of the speakers is greatly reduced, separate bass bins are required to enable lower frequency sound waves to be amplified and transmitted.  Small speakers are great for personal use; one person listening to their headphones hears well balanced audio, but these same speakers can not be used to fill a room with well balanced sound, the result would be a very thin and tinny noise.

‘Invisible’ speakers
Speakers are now available to deliver sound in challenging areas.  CGA has designed and installed sound systems with invisible drive units which deliver quality sound through the following media;
  • Plaster in plasterboard ceilings
  • Wood panelling in wooden ceilings and walls
  • Glass
  • Sheet metal.
This enables superior sound to be delivered in areas such as spas, lift cars or highly design lead environments.

Again, due to the specialist nature of these units, separate bass bins will need to be factored into the audio design in these areas to generate a fully balanced audio.

Always start early
If you are refurbishing or building a new area within your venue it is always worth considering your audio needs early on within a project.  By factoring audio requirements in at the design stage, the best possible sound system can be designed for you, which will blend seamlessly with the rest of the décor within a room and create the best possible results for you and your guests.  With so many factors to consider we would be happy to advice you.  For more information or to discuss specific project requirements please contact CGA Integration; Specialist sound, light and video system integrators.

Friday, 10 February 2012

A Sound Decision

Music is everywhere; in shops, lifts, even while being placed ‘on hold’ in between being told that our call is important to the company in question. With the dawn of mobile digital music, we can listen to our own choice of tracks wherever we are; exercising, sitting on the train or just walking down the street. Music is very much part of everyone’s lives every day. So do we really want to listen to music when we go for that important business lunch or a special meal with friends or would silence be a welcome relief?

Without background music intimate restaurants can make guests feel uncomfortable as they are concerned that they will be overheard by others on adjacent tables, whereas larger open plan venues run the risk of background noise becoming too overpowering and creating the feeling of a workplace canteen.

The answer seems to lie with the quality and appropriateness of a venue’s audio. Get it wrong and people will always complain, get it right and it enhances the ambience and experience of the venue and customers will rarely remark.

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 it plays a critical part in delivering a memorable dining experience, for all the right reasons.

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 dining experience can be greatly enhanced. Venues need to ensure that sound is properly budgeted for when designing or refurbishing. Digital music formats such as MP3 files or iPods are badly compressed forms of recording and storing music. As such, although fine for personal use, these will never sound very good if used to play throughout a large space such as a restaurant. Venues need music servers which can store CD content in an un-compressed format (the same quality as the original CD). These servers allow the delivery of music in a far superior dynamics, depth and clarity which in turn delivers an overall better experience for their guests.

Sound is no longer a visual ‘blot on the landscape’ either. Speakers available today do not have to impact on the visual look of their surroundings, tiny speakers can be finished to any RAL colour to enable them to blend in or plastered in speakers which are completely invisible can be used. These can be placed in ceilings, behind wooden panelling or even behind glass or mirrors to enable quality sound in all environments. In fact technology can now allow each diner or table of diners in a restaurant to hear different music or sound effects to complement their menu choice and totally enhance the ambience of their dining experience through invisible speakers, directional speakers and sound cannons. The opportunities are endless.

So don’t eat in silence, but don’t tolerate a barrage of bad noise either. Make a sound decision and invest in a well designed quality audio system and hear the difference from your satisfied guests.