Superyacht Technology News interviews Smart Technology Advisers’ Tom Richardson to find out whether a serious re-think of the onboard cinematic experience is needed.
As it stands, who is responsible for the cinematic experience on a superyacht?
No one person is really responsible for this. The consultant – if the yacht has one, for example on a new build or refit – would usually provide the initial advice about which content solution to choose. If not, it is left to the AV system integrator to recommend a product. Then, once the yacht leaves the dock, the crew become responsible for the day to day running of the content system. Which particular member of crew this varies from vessel to vessel, generally depending upon the size of the boat. On larger yachts with a dedicated ETO or AVIT Engineer, they would take on this role, but on smaller yachts, it is left to the person who feels they have the most knowledge in the field – it can be anyone.
This lack of a dedicated responsible body is a potential problem because cinema is not an area that everyone has a great deal of experience in. It can be very difficult for the advisers to recommend the best possible solution if they are not aware of everything out there. Likewise, for crew to keep the yacht constantly up to date with fresh engaging content when they are busy with a million other tasks is a challenge.
Who is the person or entity best suited to own the task of keeping a yacht’s cinema experience up-to-date, especially content?
This is a difficult question, as although an ETO would be the best person from a technical perspective, they also need to have some passion for content in order for them to feel committed to seeking out the best possible experience for the owner and guests. If the ETO or AVIT Engineer doesn’t personally have interest in movies or television, they may be tempted to just choose the path which is easier for them, but which may not necessarily deliver the best viewing options.
Clearly, there is industry confusion surrounding who is, and who should be, responsible for a yacht’s content system. Let’s move on to looking at the available solutions out there. There seem to be a few different sources for the content watched on yachts. Could you talk us through how it all works, and the best and worst options out there?
Every yacht is different, tailored as you would expect to the individual client/owner. Some owners are very much into their movies and TV and so will invest more into it, and then there are those that are happy to simply leave it to a third party or to the AV system integrator to come up with a solution.
The main problem with most of these solutions is that they don’t actually provide any content; they are merely pieces of hardware with the capacity to play content. This can lead to boats sourcing it illegally. For example, a member of crew might be sent out to buy Blu-rays when at dock, which are often then ripped onto the system. This method (which often removes DRM protection) is often legally dubious and can put the crew and owner at risk of a lawsuit.
The DMCA prohibits the manufacture of any device, or the offering of any service, primarily designed to defeat an effective “technological protection measure.” To protect themselves from this risk, many producers of the hardware put disclaimers on their product, specifically stating that they are not responsible for any illegal content watched using it. But this does not protect those onboard who are using or managing this device.
Many also use streaming services to access live or pre-recorded content. The problem with this is that it provides a much lower quality of audio and visuals, due to the fact that the files are generally compressed. This can seem like a waste of the premium televisual equipment onboard.
Californian-based company Kaleidescape is the only one I am aware of currently providing both the hardware and actual content in one package. The company’s solutions are based around the fact that they already have provisions in place to legally source high-quality content for you. This means no one in the crew has to spend their precious time sourcing DVDs, and even more importantly avoids any lawsuits. Hollywood is cracking down more and more, and a few yachts have already been implicated. As such, it is a lot more effort to buy just the hardware solutions, especially for those planning to watch a lot of movies and TV onboard.
It seems yachts often have to compromise here. Illegal content, inconvenient sources and sub-par quality certainly doesn’t seem like the best way to utilise the luxury AV brands installed in these vessels. What is a dream solution; one that would appeal to crew, ETOs, and captains from a maintenance and operations perspective, and that would delight customers?
A product that easily delivers a wide variety of very high-quality movies and TV shows can’t go far wrong. The aforementioned Kaleidescape have secured 24 of top 25 content distributors in the US and Canada, so has a large selection of content accessible in those regions. There is currently less available on the European store due to issues with licensing, however the company is actively working to remedy this. The AV quality is also as good as or better than you would get on a Blu-ray or UHD Blu-ray, as well as lossless ‘bit-for-bit’ audio formats such as Dolby Atmos or DTS:X.
It is a shame to not make the most if the multimillion-dollar AV systems found on superyachts. The norm these days is to install eye-popping 4K Ultra HD TVs with high dynamic range. Why wouldn’t you want to have the best video stream from a local device to light up those brilliant pixels?
Budget would be an important consideration for the captain – obviously, the more that costs can be kept down the better. But not many owners would want to sacrifice a premium cinematic experience just to save a bit of money. So, a dream solution would be at the most reasonable price possible to secure this.
With 4K TVs widely installed in 2017, a solution that could offer pre-loaded 4K content would be ideal. Kaleidescape currently have two parallel lines of products; Premier is the one that most people in the industry are familiar with. This has a Blu-ray disc vault which crew can use to upload shiny discs to the system using only a few megabytes of data for metadata information. Once the Blu-ray discs are imported to the system the content can be played using no internet whatsoever. Encore is the company’s flagship system, providing content playback in 4K Ultra HD and high dynamic range. However, the movies are only available through download from the Kaleidescape Movie Store. Using around 50GB (gigabytes) of data per download, this is less viable for yachts due to restrictions on internet usage onboard.
The company then offers their ‘Co-star’ solution, which gives users the benefits of both by allowing Premier and Encore to works together as one system. This means that the owner can keep their options open, retaining Blu-ray content but not relying solely on it. However, this still requires having two systems on board. So, in a perfect world it would be nice to be able to purchase 4K movies for delivery on a protected, encrypted hard drive which could then be made available for purchase for the yacht’s Kaleidescape system, much like DCP for commercial cinemas. This would remove worries about internet speed and bandwidth restrictions that are still an issue with the Encore solution. 2019/2020 may see a change in this with 5G availability on the horizon, however as an emergent technology, the limitations are not yet fully realised.
What role do the marine A/V integrators play in your ideal solution?
I think AV integrators are already starting to move away from simply selling and installing these ‘hardware only’ solutions. This is because if they do sell these systems to a client, there will often only be disappointment further down the line when they are left with no content, and thus a system which is really no use to the client or the end user. Integrators are often also worried about supplying a system that can, in theory, be used to watch illegal content.
Services offering hardware and legitimate, fresh content are always going to make a client happy. Ultimately, this change of attitude with regards to content is what the industry needs, and integrators are gradually realising this.