Floating innovation: On board 300m cruise ship AIDAprima
The largest ship in the cruise liner AIDA’s portfolio required the technology to match guests’ expectations. Charlotte Ashley explores the 300-metre-long AIDAprima.
From the initial design through to installation, it’s taken around seven and a half years to complete this project,” explains Jens Kelch, video engineer, Elchconsult, discussing the origins of his work on AIDAprima. This was no surprise to Kelch however, who has worked as a consultant for AIDA for the past 14 years. As the flagship vessel of the fleet, measuring 300 metres and accommodating 3,300 passengers as well as crew of 900 across 18 decks, the installation at hand was to be the most comprehensive yet. Amenities on board for guests to enjoy include a Beach Club pool/disco area, 12 dining areas and host of shops, cafes and bars, all of which benefit from an extensive entertainment and information system.
“The AIDA brand prides itself on the quality, variety and creativity of its on-board shows and productions, so the live production equipment has to not only be broadcast quality, but also has to fit into an extremely flexible and robust AV infrastructure,” says Kelch, who worked closely with AIDA’s manager for broadcast and media technics, Steffen Bachmann, and his staff on the design of the system, alongside integrator FUNA. With versions of popular television formats in cooperation with license holders for on-board entertainment, such as Talpa Media’s “The Voice” or Sony Pictures Television’s ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ recreated on board for guests, it was imperative for the integration and AIDA Broadcast team that production quality match the experience of watching such programmes at home.
“The system also had to be easy to operate,” continues Kelch. “The ship only has a small on-board production team for managing live broadcasts in the evening, so it was imperative that we made the vision mixing and audio management as simple as possible.” The team also monetises video by producing cruise “highlight” videos for guests to buy after their holiday from the onboard post-production suite, meaning the system had to work as smoothly as possible for each trip, with minimal need for performing complex set ups.
At the heart of the AV infrastructure on board both AIDAprima and 300-metre sister ship AIDAperla (delivered in April 2017) is a Broadcast Control Centre (BCC). From here the content team work to create a variety of content (e.g. on-board shows, cruise itineraries and event schedules) to be broadcast across the ship’s 1,643 cabins and public spaces daily – including a grand multipurpose three-tier Theaterium featuring a huge moveable LED stage backdrop and central LED sphere suspended above the stage.
“We’ve specified Blackmagic Design kit across many of the AIDA fleet – not only for live video production, but also for standalone visual displays,” states Kelch. AIDAprima’s broadcast gallery is built around an ATEM 2 M/E Production Studio 4K and ATEM 2 M/E Broadcast Panel where a live programme feed is mixed and fed through to the ship’s playout system. Blackmagic’s Teranex Express (in addition to Blackmagic Mini Converters) is also on hand for standardising show material into the ship’s 1080i50 format should guest performers bring their own videos to accompany their stage show. “The Teranex converters are very much our AV ‘Swiss army knife’ as whatever format we need to switch to, the units allow us to up, down and cross convert signals with very low latency,” notes Kelch.
“Video technology develops at such a fast rate that cruise integrators face a constant challenge of having to compromise the latest technology with the long-term nature of shipbuilding.”
“Video technology develops at such a fast rate that cruise integrators face a constant challenge of having to compromise the latest technology with the long-term nature of shipbuilding,” reflects Kelch. He continues: “Futureproofing on-board systems is an essential element of AV planning in this industry, as once the ships are in service, the cruise companies need them to be out on voyages. Therefore AV systems need to be as flexible as possible at the initial design stage, so that any future upgrade work can be done quickly.”
“When we started to plan the AIDAprima, UHD and 4K delivery was already being discussed in the industry, but the products that would actually enable us to do this on-board hadn’t yet been developed, or were very much in their infancy,” recalls Kelch. “So we had to make a decision on what format to have as the standard for the ship, knowing that the AV landscape would look quite different when the ship was actually built.” With this in mind, the installation team chose to maintain a 1080i50 standard for video, with the ability to upgrade to UHD/4K delivery via a complete fibre infrastructure.
In addition to receiving signals from three Panasonic PTZ cameras in the Theatrium, the gallery is connected to a smaller onboard television studio set, as well as 125 public screens and 28 optical fibre connection points located throughout the ship’s public decks. “These connection points afford the production team all the flexibility they need to shoot content from practically anywhere onboard during a cruise,” notes Kelch. Digital signage promoting news and events on board AIDAprima is also managed via the BCC, with 32 Scala playout systems connected to the video infrastructure. BlackMagic MultiView is deployed to allow the team to daisy chain several units together across the ship’s entertainment, information and digital signage channels.
The ship’s full fibre infrastructure and a pair of Universal Videohub 288 routers handle ship-wide signal distribution for audio and video on both AIDAprima and its sister vessel. The five-person onboard production team uses a custom-built control app (designed by integrator FUNA using the Videohub’s SDK) to access an interactive map of all connected fibre points and displays on the ship. It also can be configured to certain presets and to offer different levels of user access, as well as automate some of the signal distribution on board. The software can be operated on land at the Hamburg HQ of the AIDA technical team if further assistance for production is needed during cruises.
An AV installation on board a cruise has numerous stages to ensure everything will function once at sea. “First, we have an initial factory testing stage where we do a pre-install in racks to make sure that everything is working,” says Kelch. “Once, we’re happy with that, when the kit is packed into containers and shipped to the shipyard where everything is wired into the fibre infrastructure.” In total, this process involved several months of collaboration between Kelch, Bachmann, FUNA and the shipyards involved.
AIDAprima officially entered service in early May 2016. As with other AIDA vessels, Kelch will also continue to consult on the future AV refurbishment on board AIDAprima and AIDAperla.
Allen & Heath ZED-R16 automixer
Neumann KH loudspeakers and KK 105S and SK 5212-II + HSP4 microphones
Sennheiser SL Headmic 1 microphones
Avid Media Composer
Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Studio Pro and ATEM 2 M/E 4K switcher
Panasonic AW-RP120, AW-HE60, AW-PH360, AW-HE 870E cameras
Sony PXW-X400 and PXW-X200 cameras
Vislink L1700 and L2174 wireless camera transmitters