Avoiding the Pitfalls of an AV Refit
When owners look at the latest technology on the market it is sometimes at odds with the technology on their yacht. It is natural that they would want to upgrade their pride and joy, and so it is common practice to include AV as part of any refit works programme.
One of the major challenges in an AV refit is understanding that changing one piece of equipment may have a knock-on effect to, or may be dependent upon, other parts of the system. This can mean a seemingly simple upgrade actually involves a number of changes, which if not considered early enough in the process can result in unpleasant surprises.
At Electric String we pride ourselves on having sufficient expertise to understand the underlying mechanisms of any AV system. This gives us the ability to anticipate all aspects of an AV refit, regardless of how complex the hidden workings may be.
As an example, take the case of an owner wanting new 4K TVs. It is a reasonable request and probably something which has already been swapped out in the owners’ home. But on their yacht with a centralised system it opens up a potential can of worms. Is the infrastructure suitable? Is the distribution system capable? Are there sources available? How do we control it?
Infrastructure is a key aspect and potential game-breaker. From the backbone cabling to the interconnects there is a reliance on the infrastructure to deliver the content from source to TV. If the backbone is Cat5e for example, then transmission of uncompressed 4K at 60Hz and full 4:4:4 colour space sampling is extremely difficult to say the least, especially for longer distances. So, an alternative strategy may need to be deployed which could involve re-cabling work, compressed or encoded transmission or an IP solution. At the other end of the scale, everything down to the humble HDMI cable needs consideration to as new tech means new standards and if the existing cabling isn’t able to achieve HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 then it could cause issues; “issues” being that the owner gets a blank screen and is not happy!
Once an infrastructure plan is in place there needs to be consideration of the distribution technology. Typically, there will be some sort of matrix implemented on-board and you can be sure that the existing equipment will not usually be fit for purpose for the new requirements. This can be an expensive operation as matrices, input/output blades and room receivers are not cheap. If it is factored into the refit from the start it can be handled but this can be a nasty shock if not anticipated.
It may also be the case that the opportunity is taken to overhaul the distribution as a whole. Point to point transmission such as HDBaseT systems are still valid but people are moving towards the flexibility that IPbased technology offers, such as Crestron NVX. The underlying infrastructure is the same and so in theory these systems are interchangeable, however the IP transmission naturally incurs a much higher reliance on the networking side of things. So, the implementation and future maintenance of changing the technology must be considered.
If the infrastructure is verified, distribution technology sorted and the design is taking shape, then thoughts must turn to the source components. It is no real benefit having a 4K TV displaying HD content; the owner may just as well still have a HD TV – so devices such as UHD Blu-Ray or Kaleidescape Strato need to be factored into the design and costing to give the true experience desired.
Finally with all of the new equipment required to achieve the design, the question is how to control it all. Source code and graphics can sometimes be closely protected from an incumbent AV company, and if they are not available to the refit integrators then it results in starting from scratch. In reality, this is not always a major issue as unpicking old code can be more time consuming than writing new. Electric String understand that future changes may need to be undertaken and as a matter of course we supply all source code and graphics to a yacht on the completion of any job we do.
So the simple task of changing a TV can involve a lot more than initially thought!
In general, one of the key aspects of undertaking a refit is to know the existing system in as much detail as possible. If you were involved in the initial fit-out then you have an obvious advantage, but if this is not the case then it is important to have the experience to carry out some investigative engineering.
System drawings are a key source of information but even armed with these the accurateness needs to be verified before schematics can be relied upon. Often drawings are inaccurate, incomplete or not available at all.
It is almost always necessary to undertake a full system survey prior to embarking on any refit work. As we have seen even simple jobs may have underlying puzzles which need to be solved and anticipated prior to the start of works to avoid problems later on.
Even if you are not currently considering a refit, it is good practice to identify areas of information which are lacking to simplify the process moving forwards. At Electric String we have completed a number of jobs where we have undertaken highly detailed surveys in order to produce system drawing that will allow future works to be planned.
Refits should not be painful
Refits and upgrades are a natural part of a yacht life-cycle. If done correctly then they should not be painful. The difficulties come when planning and expertise are lacking leading to surprises being unearthed during the process, as opposed to anticipated beforehand.