AV Systems in Attractions
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Many years ago these notes were written to help those exploring the use of technology for the first times in Attractions - some years later and technology is a 'must' but the rules still apply!

Audio visual or Media technology can be used in many applications, but for many of the larger permanent installations there are some rules that should be ignored at your peril! In any installation, it is usual to call the collection of equipment used along with the design, a ‘system’, and this is because the video, audio, lighting, film and other effects must work together and use similar control techniques. Even a simple public address ‘system’ needs to be designed so that all the elements work together, and are fully compatible, and complex systems design is a distinct art for the experienced.

 Audio visual technology can be used to inform, create an atmosphere or entertain. Before getting into any details, make sure there is a proper brief - ‘What are you trying to do and why ?’ The most successful projects tend to have a technical team that fully understand the aims of the client, and has a strong story to follow.

 Regardless of the application, it is of vital importance that the audio-visual systems design follows some simple rules -

• The system must do what the producer/designer visualised and wanted.
To achieve what the client wants, it is important to work closely in the early stages to understand what is needed. It is advisable to produce a script and description of operation for any display, to make it clear how it is intended to work. The systems integrator will usually work within a design team, that includes the designer, producer, lighting designer and other specialists.

• The equipment chosen must be reliable, especially where it may be used for up to 12hrs a day, 365 days a year.
Reliability is easier to achieve these days, with solid state technology for replay of audio and show control readily available, and now economical for high quality video. Avoid tape and disk for permanent installations. Video server technology is preferred for consistent high quality video replay, and thus a happy audience.

• Never use technology for technology sake!
There is only one thing worse than a project that uses ‘the latest technology’ badly because the medium is inappropriate, and that is the project that is done cheaply with no consideration to operation! Some of the best effects actually use fairly conventional technology, but done well. Remember, in most cases the technology is the tool, and not the attraction!

• Wherever possible, use standard equipment to ensure easy maintenance in the future, and ease of replacement.
Standard equipment ensures that replacements can easily be obtained, usually for a number of years. A short term decision to use custom modules to make a particular saving, can sometimes be an expensive decision in the long term. There are times when custom equipment is needed, and then it is important that the units are to the same standard as proprietary equipment, and are suitably backed with spares.

• Use reputable and professional makes of equipment to ensure continued support and reliability.
It is an easy decision to use cheaper equipment, but not so easy to deal with the effects of unreliability or poor performance. Always used ‘tried and tested’ equipment, of an equivalent level of quality to the expected end result of the project.

• Keep the system design as simple as possible.
To keep a systems design simple may seem an obvious comment, but many clients can be too clever by coming up with a design that is unique, but difficult to put together or maintain. It is also important to avoid too many diagnostic and automatic replacement techniques, which can increase costs dramatically, but do not improve the end result. If a design is good and the equipment reliable, then some of the more complicated monitoring and built in redundancy techniques are not needed. Practical visual checks are the best monitoring methods!

• For the larger project, site control equipment away from the displays for ease of maintenance.
It is quite usual to advise on the use of central control rooms for larger projects, even with discrete interactive computer stations. This increases the level of planning and cabling, but the control equipment can be housed in the right conditions, dust free and at the right temperature, and be easily accessible.. In the event of equipment failure it is particularly bad for an engineer to have to dismantle a display, and be in view of the visitors whilst working on equipment.

• Ensure the initial budgets specify and allow for maintenance on all systems.All audio-visual systems will require regular support, and regular technician checks for trouble-free operation, and there is invariably a ‘cost of ownership’. All too often budgets are cut in the early stages with maintenance only considered when it is too late, and all the money is spent. In the long term this can be an expensive mistake!

So, when talking to a systems integrator for the first time on a project, check that they have a record of successful projects, and apply these simple rules. Get it right first time and the audio visual installation will work quietly behind the scenes delivering the required result.!

 Kevin Murphy - All Rights Reserved