While clubs and community associations are certainly mainstay clients, many convention centers are being renovated and expanded with enhanced technology systems to attract more up-market business.
What these groups are looking for is sophisticated communications technology. High-speed internet access, intelligible paging systems, advanced meeting room functionality and digital signage are all key components to readying convention space for the final frontier-high-tech exhibitions.
The city of Cincinnati set out to become a destination for upper-crust trade show clientele when it invested $160 million in the expansion and renovation of the Cincinnati Convention Center. Future generations will refer to this 750,000-square-foot space as the Cinergy Center, and the 200,000 square feet of exhibition space will be a showcase for communications and connectivity.
With a systems design provided by WJHW, the project went out to bid nearly two years ago. After landing the audio portion of the job in the summer of 2004, American Sound and Electronics of nearby Covington, KY, began work on what would be a 10-phase installation process for a networked audio and paging system. Utilizing the CobraNet functionality of Biamp's Audiaflex platform, all 16 zones of paging and announcement systems are run on a fiber and ethernet network. Nine DSP groups are managed by 28 Audiaflex boxes. "This is the first time we've done a project this big with CobraNet," commented Trey Arrowsmith, communications consultant with American Sound and Electronics and project manager for the Cinergy Center installation. "But so far the system is working flawlessly."
Even with this modern-day approach to audio distribution in place, the existing and new exhibit halls at the Cinergy Center posed some very traditional challenges. In these spaces, the standard characteristics of high ceilings and concrete floors wreak havoc on acoustics. To effectively deal with these problems, 240-plus Lowell iMount 12-inch ceiling speakers found a home in the facility's rafters.
The Lowell speaker systems make paging easy on the ears, and an Australian Monitor announcement system makes everything easy on the front end as well. Another first for the American Sound and Electronics team, Australian Monitor's Digipage system was introduced to the American market last year through Sennheiser USA's distribution. "It's worked out pretty well," Arrowsmith said. "There are three paging stations in the facility at this point, and the 16 buttons on the mic correspond with the 16 paging zones."
With safety and security currently among the top concerns in the design of public venues, an emergency paging override was integrated with the fire alarm system via the Biamp Audiaflex gear. As Ron Baker, principal with WJHW explained, "So as not to interfere with any special alerts or announcements, the systems are linked so that we get a contact closure into the AV, shutting the sound system off." An extra security measure was the addition of the APC Smart series UPS built in to each of the racks.
Firing straight down onto the exhibit floor, Lowell's iMount IM12P-TS100-3SW speaker systems have a physical attribute that made it the right choice for the necessity of being understood. "They've got a big back box," Arrowsmith observed, "which gives it a lot more low-end and helps with intelligibility." In addition to the 3.9 cubic foot backbox, the 12-inch 150 W compression driver is coupled with Lowell's exclusive 100 W, 70 V Audio Vision transformer, which operates between 20 Hz and 20 kHz, providing a stable load to the amplifiers as well as full audio bandwidth. The iMount speaker package is shipped ready to install with factory-mounted (but easily-removable to facilitate direct mounting) 1/4-inch x 20 forged eyebolts. A simple two-wire connection brought to a 4-inch x 4-inch cover plate accommodates termination. Wattage taps are easily made via a protected front-mounted selector switch. When compared to other loudspeaker options, the iMount system package approach saves significant field labor time during the installation process.
Feeding the speakers in the system are 45 Crown CTs series amplifiers that live in the main equipment room. The streamlined proportions of the amps, plus the diminutive profile of the digital gear installed in the Cinergy Center changed the rack layout considerably. "They originally had 10 racks full of equipment in one room that fed the entire building," Arrowsmith recalled. "That was cut down to six racks, using existing racks, and eight other equipment areas were added. So it went from one centralized system to nine different closets that are networked together over ethernet."
Of course, bringing the equipment in those closets online has been a complex process. Throughout the 10 phases of the installation, American Sound and Electronics had to work around the convention schedule, as parts of the existing facility and new construction were kept active at all times. "We had to keep the old system going as we were installing the new system," Arrowsmith described. "So we brought parts of the new system online and integrated them with the parts of the old system that were still in use. That was one of the toughest things to do."
One of the easiest things about this installation is system control. Previously, the analog system in its centralized location was manually controlled. So technical staff had to do a lot of walking to manage room combining. Now, because the Biamp system is integrated with Crestron control, adjustments can be made at any of the more than 40 in-wall touchpanels found in meeting rooms, ballroom and exhibit areas. Patching is still accomplished manually, but room combining and level control adjustments are a cinch.
The touchpanel in each meeting room provides basic functionality to users, with the more powerful controls password-protected for use by convention center personnel only. Users do have access to more sophisticated controls than merely volume and source selection, however. "We've added tone adjustments for the mic input to the options on the tounchpanel," Baker said. "So for different types of microphones, users have a chance to do a little more optimization right off of the touchpanel."
American Sound and Electronics...www.american-sound.com
Cirrus Logic... www.cirrus.com
Floored From The Ceiling
Coping With Exhibit Hall Acoustics At Cinergy
Even as the rest of the world changes, the shape of exhibit halls in convention centers remains the same. Hence, there continue to be a number of challenges associated with designing a sound system for these venues. "The blunt reality is that unless a facility is willing to invest a fairly significant amount of money to improve the acoustical characteristics of a room, they can't expect great quality sound," observed Ron Baker, principal with WJHW.
In the design stages of the Cinergy Center project, it was determined that the exhibit hall paging systems-which are used mostly for opening and closing announcements-would be used in a more utilitarian manner focusing upon intelligibility. "I would call it a fairly traditional approach," Baker elaborated, "using 12-inch coaxial loudspeakers put on a spacing that was more or less done to match what the original halls had in place. Those systems were last updated in the mid-1980s, and the newer system mimics the original locations due to the limited mounting positions available."
WJHW specified two loudspeaker brands in its design for the Cinergy Center, Lowell being one of them. "We had used Lowell loudspeakers on another project, and concluded that they had pretty good value for this application, and they certainly had the coverage and the horsepower that was needed in order to deliver the sound down to the floor."
With ceiling heights approaching 40 feet, Baker said, "you've got to have a reasonable amount of power behind the loudspeakers, and you need to look for something that has coverage that's suitable. In a convention center application, there is also a need for a speaker that can stay up there for a significant period of time, and there is some expectation of it working dependably for years to come."
The Lowell iMount loudspeakers installed at the Cinergy Center meet that description, with some added bonus. "Lowell works a little harder on the enclosure to make it more than just a basic metal box," Baker said. "They've added some additional dampening inside in order to give the side walls more rigidity, and that is something that we would consider a desirable commodity and an attractive feature."