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Bravado by the Bay: An Upgrade for the Arts

says Michael Kilgore, vice president of marketing and customer experiences for the center.

The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in Tampa, Fla., hosts a variety of performances, and its new AV system extends the experience beyond theater walls. Six exterior audio zones bring themed music to the surrounding gardens and courtyards.

The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in Tampa, Fla., hosts a variety of performances, and its new AV system extends the experience beyond theater walls. Six exterior audio zones bring themed music to the surrounding gardens and courtyards.

Credit: The Gallery Studios, Courtesy Professional Communications Systems

CHALLENGE: Incorporate zoned audio and video in a spacious venue where the new AV can't detract from the real attraction.

SOLUTION: A blend of controlled, directional speakers, digital signal processing, and digital signage.

Poised along the banks of the Hillsborough River, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center is a commanding presence. It attracts all forms of entertainment, from Broadway tours to stand-up comedians. But at 11-years old, it wasn't as state-of-the-art as its competition. "We didn't have the amenities that are commonplace at top resorts or attractions," says Michael Kilgore, vice president of marketing and customer experiences for the center.

The center put out a request for proposals to overhaul the venue. Several integrators responded, but the arts center decided Professional Communications Systems (PCS) was the best fit.

"They also seemed the most excited about the potential in the project," says Kilgore. So in spring 2007, PCS began what was intended to be a simple AV installation–but which grew into a spectacular face-lift that would take more than a year to finish.

In the beginning, there were just two specific goals: music zones outside the facility and new hold monitors that late-comers could view before being seated.

The original plan entailed six or seven zones of background audio and a few LCD screens mounted outside the orchestra doors at two of the center's theaters. But the PCS design team piqued Kilgore's interest when it demonstrated the Tannoy i7Y yoke-mount loudspeakers it wanted to specify.

LCD displays direct patrons to the day's events in the Center's five theaters and promote upcoming shows (top left). Middle Atlantic racks house gear throughout the facility (right). To prevent theft, PCS added concrete blocks to the OWI garden loudspeakers (bottom left).

LCD displays direct patrons to the day's events in the Center's five theaters and promote upcoming shows (top left). Middle Atlantic racks house gear throughout the facility (right). To prevent theft, PCS added concrete blocks to the OWI garden loudspeakers (bottom left).

Credit: The Gallery Studios, Courtesy Professional Communications Systems

"We really wanted them to get the idea of how these new speaker systems worked," says Drew Kerr, design and project manager for PCS. "That was a big turning point." The demo inspired Kilgore and his staff to rethink their initial small-scale plans and request additional funding for a larger vision.

"It's a nonprofit organization, so we knew they didn't have an endless supply of money," says Jack Taylor, account manager for PCS. "We knew that value engineering would be a central element."

Kilgore did his part by contacting Sharp directly after PCS specified its Aquos line of flat-panel LCD displays for the hold monitors. As part of a marketing agreement, Sharp provided 23 Aquos monitors of various sizes to place outside the five theaters and at ticket booths throughout the 300,000-square-foot facility. Sony EVI-HD1 PTZ video cameras hanging from Vaddio wall brackets record performances in HD for stragglers to watch on the monitors.

For its part, PCS specified high-quality systems with relatively low price tags. "We knew we couldn't afford a $42,000 line-array. It was the wrong product to recommend," says Taylor. "These were real-world performance criteria with real-world financial conditions, but we got the biggest bang for their buck and that was our primary goal."

All Around Sound

Plans for the sound system grew to 15 discreet zones. The outdoor zones begin with the walkway from the parking garage. Loudspeakers are customized to play music depending on location. For example, when "Jersey Boys" came to the arts center, the walkway's SoundTube SM590i surface-mount loudspeakers played music from the 1960s. The goal was to provide what Kilgore calls "experiential marketing" and to kick off the theater experience before patrons even reach the door.

Because the center sits on a river, near Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, PCS needed to take special precautions with the outdoor equipment. "We're an evacuation center for hurricanes, so any loudspeaker selected for service outdoors had to conform to water intrusion and meet MilSpec 810 [standards]," says Taylor. MilSpec 810, or MIL-STD-810F, is a Department of Defense test standard for determining the environmental worthiness and durability of a system's design.

In addition to fending off moisture, PCS also needed to keep wind in mind. Near the ticket office, the team used a Peerless EL42F flat-panel, fan-cooled environmental enclosure to protect a Sharp monitor, which hangs from a Peerless ECO300-SS 3-foot outdoor ceiling mount. "We went a little overboard with the mounting requirements and the rigging because it's actually free-hung out where the wind can blow right on it from beside the building," says Kerr.

In the center, 10 white Tannoy i7s hang high above the lobby outside the 2,610-seat Carol Morsani Hall, the largest of the center's five theaters. Six were installed near the 1,100-seat Ferguson Hall. The center staff was originally apprehensive about employing the loudspeakers. "The Tannoy i7 Series speakers are very directional and have a very controlled pattern to them, but it's a newer technology," says Taylor.

Taylor says his next challenge was, "How do you introduce a quality sound component without it being too obnoxious in the foreground, yet intelligible and understandable from 50 to 70 feet away?"

To pull it off, Taylor integrated a Symetrix SymNet 8x8 DSP processor with an SPL computer. Stereo audio routing is handled by an Extron CrossPoint 450 Plus 1616 ultrawideband matrix switcher. The SPL computer within the DSP processor receives a signal from a Crown PZM-11LL line-level microphone wall-mounted 18 to 20 feet above the Morsani lobby and automatically adjusts the background audio as needed. "The lobby is as tall as maybe four or five stories, so it's an enormous volume, and it's very reverberant," says Taylor. "There is an enormous sound difference when the space is empty compared to when it has nearly 2,000 people in it clamoring around .... Some of our early readings showed in excess of 74 dBA, so we had to find a way to automatically raise and lower the level of the background music in the lobby."

The entire system is controlled through an AMX NI-4100 NetLinx system with ICSNet and an AMX NXT-1200VG RGB KIT, which includes a 12-inch Modero VG series table-top touch panel that sits on one end of the campus. "Because of the distance of some of the zones from the control panel, they can't readily walk down the hall to see if audio or video is playing on a certain monitor," explains Kerr. "It's status-at-a-glance, so they never have to worry about what's going where."

While the main control panel is in the marketing office, a smaller panel is located near the rack for emergencies. Taylor felt additional panels would be overkill because the AMX system is also accessible from any browser via the center's pre-existing network. The center's IT department assigned a private IP addresses for the touch panels, so authorized staff can program the system from anywhere in the building; if they have a VPN connection, they can even program it from home.

For handling actual AV content, PCS integrated Harris Corp.'s InfoCaster schedule manager, which also allows users to schedule the monitors and audio zones to turn on and off at certain times. The digital signage platform includes the InfoCaster Creation Station, scheduling manager, and network manager, which allow the center to perform basic signage tasks, such as display calendars for upcoming performances along with videos and commercials in HD.

"We're having actually six InfoCaster players do the work of 11 or more," says Taylor.

The Sound of Success

The PCS team spent more than a year planning, designing, and installing the AV system at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, finishing up last fall, but the center's patrons reaped the benefits.

"The first time we turned on the new speakers, an employee's daughter said, 'Mommy, your building is singing,'?" Kilgore recalls. "That's exactly what we're trying to do. So that's our informal mantra: 'Our building sings!'?"

Behind the Scenes

The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center may sing, but not before the venue's audio and video traverses a challenging infrastructure. Integrator Professional Communications Systems had to pull 56,000 feet of low-skew and shielded twisted-pair cables, Cat-5e cable, and 14- and 16-gauge speaker wire–much of it from Belden–to get the building's song from points A to B. No easy task.

Pulling cable through the center's tremendous concrete superstructure was a chore. "It's built like a fortress, frankly. It took more than six weeks–and a crew of four–to pull all the cables from point to point," says PCS's Jack Taylor. The team even had to pierce through the exterior concrete wall to run cable. "[The wall] in some cases was 18 inches of solid concrete," adds Taylor. "We spent nearly $1,000 in drill bits."

After running into an issue with cable lengths, the PCS team needed to move the rack to a more centralized location. "Because of the concrete structure, the original paths we did with the site survey didn't necessarily end up being the actual path of the wire," says PCS design manager Drew Kerr. Unfortunately, the center's fortress-like construction and proximity to the airport meant wireless connectivity wasn't an option. "Sometimes there was trouble just getting walkie-talkie service," says Taylor. PCS often had to revert to cell phones, which proved unreliable themselves within the concrete enclosure.

In addition to its cabling challenges, PCS had to be careful about the building's power systems. "The power requirements for video and audio are very fine," Taylor says.

With this in mind, he specified a Tripp Lite SmartPro SMART2200RMXL2U 120-volt rack-mount UPS system. It proved to be a worthy investment because the center's many high-tech performances make it prone to brownouts. "I'm really glad we did that, because I've seen the system actually kick over to UPS for about a second," admits Kerr. "I think it has to do with their show power. You never know when they're going to turn all the lights on stage, the current drive goes up, and certain areas of the building dim with power."

A brownout may not sound like a big deal, but Taylor advises, "It's enough to destroy a fine electronic, so requiring clean technical power in the locations where you need it is paramount to doing this job well."

 


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