All Hands On Deck

Princess Cruise Lines is among the leaders in the cruise industry in making sophisticated video entertainment services an integral part of the total onboard experience. Beginning in 2004, Princess embarked on a plan to equip its fleet of over 20 ships, including the flagship Queen Mary 2, with state-of-the-art, fully-digital video content storage, management and distribution systems to improve operating efficiency and the quality and variety of guest entertainment.

Princess' previous entertainment system was powered by banks of VCRs controlled by proprietary scheduling software and required extensive manual operation by the ships' crews. It also required a costly ground-shipping infrastructure to get the right videotapes to the right port locations and ships at the right time.

As demand for entertainment variety grew, assigned crew members became increasingly bogged down with managing and operating the entertainment system.

Princess turned to Associates in Media Engineering (AME), provider of specialized show systems solutions for Princess since 1995, to come up with a reliable solution for storage and scheduled playback of digital assets. "Princess gave us three key requirements to satisfy," said Benjamin Kidwell Lein, founding principal of AME. "They wanted reliable automation of content management and distribution, playback verification and reporting, and minimal crew involvement in system management and operation. They also wanted to be able to expand the number of programming channels they offer and also produce some of their own live content at sea."

AME configured the new system around two core components: the 360 Systems Image Server 2000 and the Leightronix TCD/IP Network Managed Video System Controller. These combined components offer broadcast-quality video recording, playback and control, at an installed cost equivalent to the existing VCR-based system, with dramatic improvements in playback reliability, automation of programming content management and distribution efficiency.

"360 Systems' commitment to open standards and compatibility was a key factor in the Image Server 2000 being selected for Princess Cruise Lines," said Greg Kregoski, business development manager for 360 Systems. "The Image Server 2000 supports industry-standard control protocols including VDCP, P2 and Odetics, making it compatible with almost every popular automation system, including the Leightronix TCD/IP."

Program scheduling and playback in the Princess onboard system is managed via the TCD/IP using Leightronix's WinTCD network-management software. WinTCD software features a system control panel for real-time control and an event editor for scheduling playback and recording.

The first seven installations have one TCD/IP controller and two Image 2000 servers, with each server capable of distributing three channels of programming. The system is also configured to support standard definition playback for two large LED panel displays on the ships' top decks for nighttime movie-viewing.

Five more installs are planned for the balance of 2005. Princess' long-range plan calls for common hardware and software across the fleet, retrofitting all existing installations with the Leightronix/360 Systems playback/management solution.

"Expandability is a key feature of this system for Princess," said Jeff Possanza, marketing director for Leightronix. "Each TCD unit can control up to 16 image servers-a total capacity of 48 channels. Princess will be able to add channels for entertainment, training and other video content as guest-demand and internal needs warrant simply by plugging in additional 360 Image Servers."

The 360 Systems/Leightronix system greatly simplifies the on-board crew's responsibilities. They simply walk into the control room with the digital source material, load it on the Image Server 2000, and patch into the video feed. This totally moves Princess away from mechanical tape and expensive routing equipment, increases program storage capacity to 100-hours, and removes substantial bulk from the shipping and storage infrastructure.