Steerable Audio For Unconventional Attractions


More impressive, immersive attractions mean greater business success for all.

The definition of an “attraction” has expanded in the past decade. The word no longer belongs just to theme parks and carnival rides; now, it encompasses aquariums, zoos, casinos, museums, performing-arts spaces, shopping centers and public gathering spaces. Even government facilities—everything from interactive forestry centers to parks and recreation spaces—can get in on the business model of the attractions category.

What that means is that, now, we live in a world in which the natural history museum is competing for visitors with the largest amusement parks on earth. For the integrators, contractors and AV/IT professionals of the world, this shift introduces a value proposition that’s worthy of attention.

Luckily, the world of AV has evolved to help attractions of all types and sizes compete in the space. The democratization of technology has occurred in such a way that cutting-edge tech is now available at a scale that makes sense for all. And it’s not just about cost reductions, either. Innovation is taking place that’s bringing the most impressive AV technologies to more compact form factors; moreover, the technology’s being demystified with supporting tools, such as mobile applications and easier installation components. Those factors, combined with the continued ascendance of AV-over-IP, have led to integrations that continually push the boundaries of what an attraction can deliver.

This, of course, brings to light another important realization: The definition of an “AV experience” is growing more robust. Immersive experiences are increasingly in demand precisely because they can bring the “wow factor” that gets people out of their homes, away from their own (very impressive) personal AV setups and through the gates of an attraction.
There are multiple elements to consider when trying to create an immersive experience. Although most think of large, high-definition displays as the main draw, one must consider creating immersive audio environments, as well. Thus, we enter the world of precision sound placement. This article will share some of what you have to know to position yourself for maximum performance.

Positioning Sound For Performance
Although we’ll discuss the scientific advancements being made in audio, it bears mention that there are multiple components to successful immersive-AV integrations. Audio and visual elements are essential, but it’s equally important to consider environmental effects (fog machines, misters, etc.), motion and FX components, and lighting elements. Those offerings might not always make sense, but they belong in the design toolbox.

With that in mind, we must also look at audio as a cornerstone component of the overall immersive-AV experience. The draw of the audio world is that it’s a seamless, yet critical, part of any multimedia experience. It’s impressive, when required; it’s subtle, when necessary; and it should be located only where it actually belongs.

That final part of the equation—the location of sound—can be especially critical in the attractions vertical. The ability to target locations or audiences with sound and to tailor their specific, individual experiences, depending on where they stand or sit, is an incredible boon to the overall immersive quality of an AV-powered space. AV integrators are increasingly identifying this approach to sound as a way not only to offer more impressive integrations to their customers, but also to position their customers for success when it comes to attracting and retaining visitors.

Functionally speaking, this is made possible by advancements in beam-steering technologies, which digitally steer audio onto specific locations. Although this was once considered a technology available only for the largest integrations, new solutions have emerged that make this technology available in more locations than ever before. Form factors have changed, thus bringing audio clarity, intelligibility and control to small-to-medium-sized attractions. Supporting technologies for setup and maintenance have made the integration process easier. Finally, the ability to combine multiple steerable arrays allows for improved flexibility in system design.

The result? There are ever more examples of improved and creative AV installations within the growing attractions space.

Case Study: Aquarium Of The Pacific
The Aquarium of the Pacific, located near the waterfront in Long Beach CA, recently opened its “aquarium of the future,” called Pacific Visions, which features an immersive theater, multiple interactive art installations and hands-on multimedia displays. Key to making the immersiveness of the 300-person-capacity theater work is precisely positioned sound.
To provide an immersive audio experience, the theater installation features multiple speakers that leverage beam-steering technologies. By positioning audio solely on the seating within the venue, the audience’s audio experience is heightened. There is no delay or reverb. There is no echo effect. The audio is tailored specifically to you and the location where you’re sitting. That means that, when the visual component takes you underwater, so, too, does the sound. When a storm hits, you’re right there in it. And when the visuals take you on a journey, you don’t just see it—you hear it!

It’s the goal of such attractions to create a “must-attend” experience that’s worth talking about to others. Achieving that goal not only draws repeat visitors, but also builds advocates for the experience through word-of-mouth testimonials.

Brian Edwards, Owner of Edwards Technologies, the integration firm that designed and installed the theater AV and FX system at Aquarium of the Pacific, said the project is an example of the future of both the AV industry and storytelling as a whole.

Case Study: Plopsaland De Panne
As mentioned, the attractions space is growing to encompass a number of subcategories. One not yet mentioned here is the water park.

Whereas most European water parks sport soaring glass walls and palm trees, Belgium’s Plopsaqua takes a somewhat different approach. Part of the popular Plopsaland De Panne theme park on the Belgian coast, Plopsaqua offers 43,000 square feet of enclosed subtropical environment, complete with a 65-foot “Sky Drop,” an interactive “disco slide,” and a storm pool boasting waves, thunder and lightning.

As Plopsaqua Project Manager Steve van Camp explained after the installation, “We didn’t want to build a traditional indoor swimming pool. We opted for a closed construction, allowing us to implement and control special effects.”
And control the team did! The audio integration takes an absolute thematic approach to the space, even allowing for the experience of a realistic thunderstorm passing overhead. It’s an immersive experience that’s unique and that seeks to have visitors coming back for more.

Additional Considerations
Today, attractions can be massive or they can be 10 square feet in size. They can demand wrap-around displays and interactive components, or they can simply be walking tours. They can be geared toward different ages. They can create a call to action or they can simply seek to entertain. They can exist in digital signage or in multi-campus theme parks.

One of the most impressive examples might be in the “passive audio” space. As you walk along a path through a location, you might not even notice the music and sound effects changing seamlessly and effectively, crafting a sense of feel. The emotion of that experience lingers, though, and it’s created entirely by sound that’s being specifically positioned within a space. The enabling technology might be scientific, but the experience it creates is immersive art.
So, when a client from a given venue—be it a casino, festival, community gathering space, museum or any other non-traditional attraction—is looking to create a more exciting experience, think about the project as though you were constructing an attraction. What elements could be installed to entice return visits and to inspire people to tell others about the location’s story? What could you do to immerse visitors in the experience?

Accessing Enabling
Technologies Through Partnerships
As mentioned earlier, the technologies that provide impressive aural experiences on this level are now being made more accessible. The costs associated with integration are coming down as products are being designed for locations of all shapes and sizes. Moreover, supporting components are helping to demystify and streamline integration. The biggest component, however, centers on partnerships. To brainstorm creatively, integrate effectively and partner in a way that ensures long-term success, a collaborative approach to attractions is required.

End users must seek out not only manufacturers that offer enabling audio technologies, but also AV integrators and contractors that can provide them. In turn, the AV-integration channel must find the right manufacturer partners to help its members effectively pitch, design, install and support these systems.

It’s the manufacturer’s job to enable this process—from product offering to experience creation. Manufacturers must remove any barriers to installing these technologies and ensure they are there for support well into the opening of the attraction.
The result of this level of partnership—this commitment to success—is a more robust attractions space. And that means more impressive experiences, and greater business success, for all.

Previous ArticleNext Article
Send this to a friend