Hotel development within the South East Asia region is expected to reach around USD20 billion in 2016. This should not really be surprising news as increased tourism arrivals as well as the ever-growing MICE events and festivals in the region are contributing for the need to have more accommodation. Obviously to cater to the different type of guests, the hotels in development are also spread from budget to high-end hotels.

Many hotel developers from the four-star level are intent on creating an unique experience for guests be it the deco, f&b and even technology. Meeting rooms, ballrooms, guest-rooms have become key spaces where AV technologies can play a key role in creating the seamless experience for guests. There are of course many challenges as any consultant to integrator will attest to when it comes to implementing AV technologies in hotel.

Ian D.Harris, C.Eng, BSc.Eng (Hons), MIET, CTS-D, Principal Consultant and Managing Director of ihD Ltd brings us through some of the principal challenges in implementing AV technologies in hotels specifically in relation to the APAC region.

Ian D.Harris, C.Eng, BSc.Eng (Hons), MIET, CTS-D, Principal Consultant and Managing Director of ihD Ltd
Ian D.Harris, C.Eng, BSc.Eng (Hons), MIET, CTS-D, Principal Consultant and Managing Director of ihD Ltd

The Asian hotel tends to be beautifully-finished and solidly-built, no drop-tile ceilings in Front-of-House (the guest areas), but gypsum and even in the Ballrooms, ornate fibrous plaster to create the multi-level, coffered ceilings. Walls very often are concrete, although partition walls may be cement block or similar.

Gypsum IS found, however, in most guestrooms as the partition wall structure – 4 layers of it as well as Rokwool (fiberglass) infill, for the very practical acoustic reason that the most controllable and predictable STC (Sound Isolation) is achieved in this way. Finishes are almost entirely hard – marble from Italy, beautiful woods, mirror and glass – hard-wearing and resistant to the humidity and temperature swings that abound.

Budgets are tight, however, especially that Audio-Visual is not seen as a direct ROI (Return-on-Investment) vehicle, and there is a constant pressure to reduce costs and Value-Engineer.

Bear in mind that very very few Hotel Operators (Hilton, Hyatt, Four Seasons, Starwood Group, Shangri-La, Marriott etc) actually CONSTRUCT hotels; they OPERATE hotels which are built by the OWNERS, i.e. Investors and property developers who fund and manage the whole 4-7year construction process, and continue as Owners – they are of course looking for fastest ROI on their investment. Every Dollar counts.

What has all this to do with our beloved Audio-Visual Technology?

Lots! As AV technologists, we of course study and become skilled in Audio, Video, Control, IT, and Power Supply, as well as the soft skills of successfully working alongside, and often negotiating with, Architects, MEP (Mechanical & Electrical), Lighting, and other Designers. But consider the following challenges enjoyed during the design and also installation process:

Ceilings

Where the drop-tile ceiling allows simple cable-access, equipment installation, and maintenance later on, the painted or even gold-leafed gypsum/plaster ceiling does not.

Planning correctly and having cable containment and mechanical first-fix, as well as secondary-safety fixings, all completed ahead of the ceiling construction, is crucial to project success.

Imagine coming to the installation of the Video Projector and lift, only to discover that there’s no cable or even conduit there, 8-9 metres above the concrete floor. Or that its first-fix is somehow not correctly-located:

Typical Ballroom Ceiling; the “JBO” are loudspeakers for achieving 105dBA at ear level from a 9metre-high ceiling. Projectors/lifts; 6-8 metre-wide projection screens; 1,000Kg hanging points; PTZ Cameras and perimeter hanging rail all have to be co-ordinated with the sprinklers, lights, Air-conditioning, etc.
Typical Ballroom Ceiling; the “JBO” are loudspeakers for achieving 105dBA at ear level from a 9metre-high ceiling. Projectors/lifts; 6-8 metre-wide projection screens; 1,000Kg hanging points; PTZ Cameras and perimeter hanging rail all have to be co-ordinated with the sprinklers, lights, Air-conditioning, etc.

Another challenge is simple loudspeaker-placement. A white-painted gypsum ceiling doesn’t sound that difficult, and once finished, doesn’t LOOK difficult either. But the sweat and tears that go into co-ordinating these ceilings is immense.

The initial “its too big, you can only use 50mm diameter” response from the Interior Designer has to be negotiated (we CAN use small loudspeakers and then supplement with sub-woofers, but this costs more and still takes up ceiling real-estate). Having agreed upon more-affordable full-range loudspeakers, of a size which can reproduce lower frequencies (~50Hz for Ballroom, Restaurants, Spa, ~80Hz for most other areas), next comes the co-ordination with the fire sprinklers, Air-conditioning ducts and vents, lighting fittings, hanging systems (Ballroom), and projectors.

Calculating the ideal loudspeaker-spacing for that +-3dB coverage will give a different spacing to these other services, and there is a high pressure to align the ceiling services. All this takes time and effort – we need to reach a consensus with the Owner and Design team and yet maintain our Sound Quality.

Budgets

Before we continue with other technical challenges, note in the Ballroom layout above, the lowest Projector Lift. It has a note “Nice to Have”. This is an example of the budget-challenge in almost every one of 150+ Ballrooms that we have designed – it will be tendered-out, but it may not be finally-awarded, as the owner may not agree to this (5th) projector in the Ballroom.

And so, a significant challenge is how to design to meet the stringent Design Standards of the Hotel Operator, and yet satisfy the Owner. Another tightrope for all of us designing hotel AV!

We need to stand firm to explain and reject substitution of our 80Hz -3dB loudspeakers with nicer-looking (smaller) and cheaper 160Hz ones. At times, software-equalising a well-known music track to sound like it would through the two loudspeaker types and distributing to the Design team helps no end, as everyone immediately understands their ears much better than talk of Decibels and Hertz.

Acoustics

Many areas of the hotel are highly-reverberant due to the hard finishes employed. The Acoustic Consultant works hard to specify absorbent materials, but generally, it’s an uphill battle (costs and appearance, as well as fire-rating and durability, of the materials needed).

In the lobbies, corridors, and restaurants, this doesn’t affect the AV too much, as speech-intelligibility is only important on a regular basis in the meeting spaces, and possibly the Lobby Lounge of some hotels.

The Ballroom IS a big challenge here, how to achieve clear speech in a space with 2 seconds Reverberation time? (A typical Asian Ballroom may be 60metres long x 40m wide x 8m high). The Operable walls can’t accept significant absorber as then they can’t stack away without much longer storage pockets. Here, the AV System CAN help. Use of beam-steered linear loudspeakers can save the day by reducing the wasted sound energy, i.e. by aiming to the audience rather than also the ceiling and (always reflective) back walls.

Their lower-attenuation with distance also means that they can operate at lower Sound Pressure Level than conventional loudspeakers. Of course, budget suddenly becomes an issue again, and so the AV Consultant needs again to work on negotiation and persuasion to sell the design!

Acoustics matters too, in the Guestroom. The party walls are designed with unbelievably great effort as the floor area of a guestroom is critical to the Hotel specification and rating, making the thickness of the walls a highly-sensitive issue. And so, the walls are designed for typically STC55 sound reduction, BUT this standard applies only down to 125Hz.

As such, the AV design needs to take care with sub-woofers for the TV/sound system in the room, and needs to use HOSPITALITY-grade AV equipment, which allows the hotel to set upper-volume limits and so reduce neighbouring guest complaints.

Ian3

Data communication (IT)

Every Audio-Visual designer naturally has studied and is proficient in IT including Networking techniques, and is able to co-ordinate with the client IT Group, or the IT Consultant for our Network needs, both for wired- and wireless-(WiFi) communication. However in the Hotel, it’s not quite as simple as this.

Pretty much every Hotel in the World uses the classical Fibre backbone/Copper Horizontal Data architecture, with Layer-3 Core switches in the Server Room, and Layer-2 Edge switches at each floor serving the UTP cable plant.

Layer-2 is sufficient for all of 2016’s Hotel data needs, except for us, and is significantly lower in cost than Layer-3 switches. For a DANTE-based audio system its no problem as Dante runs Layer-2 just fine.

However, enter AVB, QLAN, and other protocols, with their ability to carry audio and video provided the switches are Layer-3…We have a new challenge!

The IT Group is NOT going to pay for upgrading all the Hotel switches, nor consider different switches dotted around the Network. And so, despite the ideal of using this in-Hotel redundantly-reliable, UPS-powered, rugged network, we can’t. We therefore have to design and have built a separate AV Network.

Now the next challenge, the wireless connectivity; the Hotel wireless network is highly-controlled using managed Wireless Access Points (WAP’s) in order to pass the Guests and Staff device connections from WAP to WAP as they move around the Hotel and its grounds, as well as handle the security, VLANs, and so on.

The last thing needed is a competing set of WAP’s operating on behalf of the AV System for wireless-control, with consequent increased co-channel interference. This, we CAN resolve by carefully working with the IT Team for an AV Control VLAN both wired & wireless.

Guestroom TV

There’s a need to enable the guest and also Meeting Room/Ballroom user to wirelessly-connect their device to the Display System. The Meeting space has good solutions via the commercial device-streaming solutions, but Guestroom is…a challenge! Budget for a wireless presentation system is definitely not there (multiply even a USD1,000 equipment cost by say, 500 rooms…).

Ian4So how to provide the guest with even today’s Miracast and Airplay options, let alone new ones which might appear during Hotel-operation?

Currently, the Hospitality TV manufacturers DO incorporate Miracast connectivity, but NOT Airplay. One solution is installing the dedicated Apple TV hardware in a dumb-mode out of sight near the TV, and creating a VLAN per guestroom to provide private-access to the interface, and another is to specify into the Hotel IPTV specifications into this connectivity. Legislation however in certain areas of Asia means that those countries cannot sell and in principle HAVE dedicated interface unit, which makes it difficult to have IPTV.

This concludes our quick look at some selected challenges that we enjoy in the course of designing Hotels, the solving of which is of course achieved, and a part of the tremendous satisfaction in being an Audio-Visual designer.

* All pictures and graphics in this article are supplied by Ian D. Harris.

This article was first published in Systems Integration Asia June – July 2016 issue.