7 things you must do before your next AV/IT upgrade to avoid the horrors of failing systems – make sure you get it right from day one.
Despite there being such a high demand for it, the word ‘reliability’ is consistently overlooked when sourcing a new AV/IT system. Cost is a leading factor for some clients. For others, the cost is irrelevant, and they tend to go for the very best in class equipment, integrators and even mediators to carry out the management of the install, while there are others who need to be more conservative with their budget, like in all walks of life.
The ship’s crew can start with the best intentions, needing or wanting to upgrade to a modern and reliable system. That is until they hand the quotation to their management company, where all dreams of that vital upgrade can be squashed. Even though the AV system’s specification was high at the planning stages, sometimes the powers above may decide there may be a way to cut corners and achieve a middle ground. We’d add that it’s important not to confuse the issue here or think that the most expensive systems are the most reliable – the equipment needs to be designed correctly to make your AV/IT system all jive together.
With that in mind, my question is: if the concept of the upgrade starts with ‘it doesn’t seem right’, then why continue to spend vast quantities of money on a system that you aren’t totally confident in, or didn’t really want, but your management team approved the ‘half attempt’ of a system upgrade because they know best?
Below are the 7 parts that make up your new AV/IT systems and all have a very important role in the outcome of its ‘Reliability’.
- AV Integrator – IT Integrator- Mediator
This is the most important factor when deciding on a new system as the integrator will be responsible for everything for your new AV System/IT system, from design, planning, installation, commissioning, documentation and usually aftercare, through to a service contract, depending on your requirements. With a lot of AV systems using a separate IT network to act as the backbone of their systems, like the Crestron NVX for example, the AV network is now actually based on an IT network using fibre and cat cables. Some projects will like to go for separate AV and IT companies, along with a middle company that will write the specs – usually a consultancy company. This is ok, but in my opinion and from experience, communication gets lost – a lot of assumptions are made on each other’s behalf, even though you still have the mediator; also, there will be a lot of finger-pointing and companies will start to argue. The most successful projects that I have seen are when one company undertakes the entire AV/IT scope. A big factor for me is when you have one company that will take sole responsibility for the works, documentation and aftercare. Cables will be labelled in the same manner, the documentation will be in the same format, and you will have one point of contact when it comes to troubleshooting.
- AV System Controller
The story of the blog is Reliability and when you think AV Hardware the obvious and most stable choice on the market is Crestron and rightly so, it’s the most dominant player in our yachtie world however there are a couple of alternatives. When it comes to control systems there are three big players in our AV industry: Crestron, Control 4 and Savant. Crestron is by far the most popular and most customisable, Control 4 is a middle ground between Crestron and Savant. Savant offers a solid, less customisable, but very reliable AV hardware and solution, which can run on a mac server or mac mini which, as we know, offers a great AV hardware option. You also don’t have to worry about sourcing bespoke parts if it were to go wrong. Simply pop to any local store, purchase a mac mini and you’re up and running again. On most vessels, you will see Crestron as the go-to choice mainly due to how customisable and scalable the entire ecosystem is and it’s usually very robust.
- IT Network & Security
The obvious go-to company is Cisco when it comes to IT systems like Crestron for the AV. You will see many Cisco components on most vessels, however, you will come across HP, Rukus, Netgear, Peplink and Ubiquiti networks. Ubiquiti, in particular, offers a simplified networking alternative to the rest. In our experience, it is not so much about the IT hardware, but rather, it’s most important to get the design of the IT topology and IT programming of the IT System set up correctly. If you get this right, then all of the above IT hardware options should work well. Here at the YOT Store we often get asked to replace hardware but, as an added value service, we take a look at the ship’s network remotely. This lets us see if there are any misconfigurations before just selling you new hardware which will fail again with the same IT misconfiguration. As a result, we have managed to turn around many systems to the delight of both owners and crew.
IT Security should be at the forefront of every IT Architecture with an increasingly wireless and wired connected environment, information is exposed to a growing number and wider variety of risks. Threats such as malicious code, computer hacking and denial-of-service attacks are more common, ambitious and sophisticated, making implementing, maintaining and updating information security in an organisation more of a challenge. To combat this, you can install a firewall and cybersecurity, we take this very seriously at the YOT store we are fully accredited Cybersecurity engineers and Kerio accredited engineers. You can find a full range of firewalls on our store from Kerio, Fortinet, Sophos and Cisco you can find the range here on the YOT Store website. Implementing information security in an organisation can protect the technology and information assets it uses by preventing, detecting and responding to threats, both internal and external. Make sure you get this part of your install right to protect it for its lifespan.
- AV/IT System Setup
You have to decide what’s best for your yacht’s needs and how you want to interact with your AV and IT systems. A big thing to consider would be what available space you have. The next thing to ask yourself is do you require a centralised AV system where the AV and IT components are located in one location on board, distributing all sources from this central AV hub? Or, do you require a centralised rack with some of the AV equipment, i.e. TV decoders in the rack and AVR’s Players, Apple TV’s, Kaleidescape locally in each cabin? Another option is to have the players and AVR’s in one or two racks per deck. All of the above depends on space and availability, and how much new cabling you are running. With the above considered, if a problem would occur during a guest trip, the more components that aren’t in the guest room/AV zone the better as this will cause less disruption to the guests. As I previously stated above, a guest doesn’t want to see an AV guy in the room. If the decision is to go with as little AV gear in the room, then make sure your integrator gets the calculations right with cable lengths and types for the amount of data isn’t limited and can flow through those cables, so no losses or interference occurs.
- AV System Remote
This also relies on personal preference and a decision to be made in-house with your team. The usual options on how to control your systems are via the following:
- Android devices
- Crestron, RTi or equivalent
- Traditional remote control
- AV Supply Company
At the YOT Store we assist with design and advice on IT & AV system components to you and your integrator. We are not an integrator and don’t intend to be, with a layer of assistance and a go-between to integrators. We are qualified engineers in all our AV/IT product range. We offer a service where we can compete against any quote and we will offer free advice and design on your IT systems, AV systems, components and designs.
Top Tip: We recommend you find out how much warranty you have on each individual item. From the store, it can be five years, but your integrator may only give you one year.
- The last 10%
The last part of the project does always seem to be a bit of a let-down as the contractor’s job is done (in their eyes), but then along comes the snagging list within its first year of warranty. These jobs are general faults that the crew have picked up since they have been living and working with the systems onboard – it’s obvious that bits and pieces will pop up and need added attention, and these faults usually get rectified.
However, when large sums of money are involved, fingers can start to get pointed because this or that wasn’t in or out of the scope. Now comes the final payment. Here, the integrator holds the keys to the new AV system and holds the code, admin credentials and the new as-built drawings. It’s a situation that can sometimes turn into a Mexican standoff, where the integrator wants their final payment and the ship’s management wants the final bits and pieces finished off. The integrator might claim these to be extras which are billable, while the management disagrees.
Sometimes, unfortunately, the relationships turn sour and the contractor starts neglecting the vessel as they know that, even though the ship might owe them the final payment, they still hold the keys to the entire system when something goes wrong, the ship will need them as it’s their bespoke AV system that’s gone wrong.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to get these as-built drawings to be 100% and for all the documentation to be handed over correctly. As you will see on many ships, the documentation is lacking in certain areas. It is extremely important that the install doesn’t get to this stage and that you maintain a great relationship with your integrator. To the AV companies that get the last 10% correct then I believe you will have a recurring customer for life and, usually, the integrator will support their own system with a support contract to provide the yacht with assistance by phone or a visit to the vessel by their engineers for fault finding and conduct system upgrades.
So, with the above considered with what works best, don’t be that person who approves a system that doesn’t work for you, the yacht or the client (has anyone even asked the owner what they would like from their new system?). Before diving into a new upgrade, you must do your homework, most importantly thinking about who’s going to do it and what you want out of your new IT & AV system.
To conclude this the AV and IT system is at the forefront of the charter guests/owners and its operation must be 100%. This is why all of the above must be sorted out before you even think about pulling one cable on your upgrade. When you are purchasing a completely new system you really must collect all of the three R’s -Research, Reviews, Ratings.
Written by Ryan Porter, visit the YOT Store website.