A Case of Killer AV

Spanish integrators Estudio Audio Visual recently completed a €1,000,000 project to install AV equipment for a new attraction at the Loro Parque on the Canary Island of Tenerife.

In October 2005, Estudio Audio Visual were approached to design the sound and video system for the new killer whale show at Loro Parque. The Loro Parque Foundation was originally set up in 1994 by founder Wolfgang Kiessling as a reserve and study centre for endangered parrot species and has since become a major educational and tourist attraction in the Canaries. The addition of the Orca Ocean attraction marks the creation of the largest facilities for Orcas (killer whales) ever constructed, the pool is 120m in length, contains 22,000 l of water and the stadium can seat 3,000.

Sergio Gallardo owner and sole director of Estudio Audio Visual explained when his interest in the project was piqued:
“Initially the project just seemed to be very standard: a spectacle based on killer whales making pirouettes, but what made things more interesting for us (as technicians) was when we learned that Loro Parque would be co-operating with Sea World in the USA. The intention was for Loro Parque to adopt and improve upon the Sea World experience of more than 20 years in all aspects of the facility including the AV equipment.

“Our initial expectation was that it would be a nice valuable project, but technically very simple with some CCTV cameras for video capture and a basic PA system for messaging and some music, as well as a large LED screen.”

After visiting Sea World in Florida and a number of meetings with the AV facilities staff there, Estudio Audio Visual were ready to determine the needs of the system at Loro Parque. All video systems were to be based on the latest generation of SDI digital signals. First up were two studio configuration (manned) cameras, handled by operators, with long distance lenses to take close shots of the public. These would be equipped with camera controllers to compensate for variable lighting conditions.

Five robotic cameras, with a conventional movement head, were installed in the windows below the surface to obtain sub-aquatic images; and one was installed on the poor roof to take zenith images. A SDI 16 channel mixer with 2D effects would also be required, 3D effects were considered but deemed to be too expensive. A DV Cam hard disk recorder would provide slow motion images, along with DVD players for additional content. A giant 6m x 4m LED screen located on the central “stage” would provide an impressive focal point to show the footage to the audience. No other display technology is currently able to compete with the sun for brightness.

On the audio side, most of the content would be played from DVDs in the form of various messages and backing music. Digital wireless microphone systems would also be needed, but with an additional requirement – they had to be salt water proof. A digital sound effects recorder with instant shot would also be required and used as a music reproducer, combined with a conventional digital mixer with internal audio processing.

Sergio continued: “Once we had defined the show needs we proceeded to choose the elements that would bring us success. Budget was not strictly limited to any specific amount, but we always had in mind the “money factor” by trying to choose the best equipment for the best price.”

“Video equipment selection was relatively simple, since the SDI signals limit the available options with a controlled budget. We selected: Sonly DXC-D50 studio style cameras with the latest generation 3 CCD, studio adapters and CCU-D50 camera controllers. Of particular interest here are the Fujinon 400mm zoom lenses. They are just great as they are able to obtain detailed images from over 60m metres of distance. In order to avoid any “image shaking”, due to extreme zoom we built special steel pedestals where we fixed Cartoni fluid heads; the result was a stable support, which was water resistant and without the problems of a tripod.”

Motorised Sony BRC-300 series cameras were also selected, which incorporate 3 CCD and PTZ. “We chose these as a compact, up-to-date solution, to which we added SDI output cards.”

The video mixer was a Ross Synergy 100, which handles up to 16 SDI inputs and also 2D effects. Estudio Audio Visual were particularly impressed by the compact size of the control surface considering its functionality.

The video conversion/distribution equipment was all supplied by Albalá, a Spanish manufacturer including their PDS3000 Cv – SDI converter, DVM3000 SDI distributor with Cv output, DVD3000 SDI distributor and AVD3000 Cv distributor.

For video playback and recording, the choices are almost standard for this kind of application – a Pioneer DVD7300 DVD player and Sony DSR-DR1000 hard disk recorder we quickly selected.

The centre piece of the video system is a Daktronics LED screen in a 6m by 4m configuration. This was actually selected by Sea World after extensive comparisons with several different manufacturers. The model selected was a 12mm pitch modular system from Daktronic’s ProStar range and is driven by a Venus 7000 controller. The screen itself is 6 metres by 4 metres in size. The central stage also holds two video monitors from Stealth, these are specially designed for harsh, outdoor environments. Apart from being totally saltwater proof, they have a brightness of 1200 candelas/m2 to cope with reflections of the sun off the screen.

“Whilst the sound equipment requirements were relatively simple, we had to choose from an infinity of available brands and models. Of course, the final sound quality should be optimum but we had the problem of a nearby residential area to consider.

“Sea World made the wireless microphone system selection for us, they chose Lectrosonic MM440. This is a completely water proof wireless system, wonderful little machines due to their design, power and size. To this we added AKG C477 headset microphones.”

The effects and recording / reproduction equipment was also selected by Sea World. 360 System’s Instant Replay DR-554 was chosen, not a system that Estudio Audio Visual were familiar with. Sergio has some reservations about it:

“They are good, but nothing exceptional. Their compact design and easy access to tracks are remarkable. Recording is easy, but it is important to take care about the selected compression, in some cases the resulting quality becomes undesirable, so it would be preferable to have less recording time but better quality. However, the access is really instantaneous.”

A Yamaha O1V96 digital mixer completes the control system in the operators booth.

Reliability at the business end of the audio system was vitally important. It had to work constantly all year around, for many hours each day. Gallardo explained: “We knew we didn’t need a great amount of power, but the power required had to be always available. The solution was Lab Gruppen. Since the loudspeaker power was 450w RMS and the music would be pre recorded, we would only have to worry about having enough power to make the loudspeakers work easily. Having eight meters from the loudspeakers to the audience, and a loudspeaker sensibility of 100 dB/m, 65w were enough to obtain 100 dB spl. Armed with this information we determined we could use Lab Gruppen’s new C series amplifiers. We opted for the C16:4, four 400w channels and 8 ohms; with just five 2U height amplifiers we had enough power for all the speakers. The amps turned out to be simply perfect, easily adjustable, could work off 100V, bridged with several powers and their gain can be adjusted within a wide range to perfectly adapt to the equipment between the pre-amplification system and the loudspeakers. We simply had to adjust the micro-switches a little to get smooth running of the Yamaha mixer output fader and we were away!”

“Finally, loudspeaker selection became the most difficult decision; not only the choice of model, but also finding the best solution for our needs. Behind the stadium is a quiet residential neighbourhood with the houses located on a hill. A frontal array system was therefore totally out of the question; even if the sound quality was the best, the sound would come straight out directly to the houses and we would be in trouble. With the additional problem of a lack of places to mount a frontal system, we were left with the roof as the only alternative.
“We felt that this system didn’t require much bandwidth, so we decided against the use of subwoofers. Next we considered a 15” + 1” two way system would be sufficient and concluded that the best solution would be a distributed system mounted on the roof’s supporting beams.”

All the audio equipment was supplied by Pro3, Lab Gruppen’s Spanish distributor.

An EASE simulation using their preferred speakers – EAW UB-2199WP - showed Estudio Audio Visual that they’d get both satisfactory coverage and bandwidth with a single speaker per location, but in the end decided that, since they had no subwoofers, they’d opt to double up for extra bass power.

“After two months locked in Loro Parque searching for places to run cables, welding connections, protecting our equipment against dust and dismembering subversive parties of “electro-goblins” everything is now working perfectly.
“The video equipment worked at once; the SDI signals are marvellous; you just have to take care over connectors and use the appropriate cables. 50 Hz noise, synchronisation errors and most of our headaches are all done with.
“We did have some problems with the LED screen, that were solved by a pair of phone calls to the manufacturer and some configuration changes in the control computers. Also we had the company of some “electro-goblins” parties working on the fibre optic links to the stage video monitors, fibre is just like this sometimes. It doesn’t work, and no one knows why. Finally the fibre installer solved the problem but we still don’t know exactly what happened.
“We are extremely happy with the final system. The robotic cameras have professional image quality, far better than standard CCTV; their position control is toy like in its simplicity and their soft movement and rotation are simply perfect. The composite video to SDI conversion from Albalá is remarkable; using the images from the Pioneer DVD player the image even improves; we obtain a much better chrome separation image stability.

“The sound system installation was relatively simple, we had some trouble with the loudspeaker roof clamps, but nothing especially serious. We have made measurements with our MLSSA and the final results are very good. The response curve from any position on the stairs is +/-3dB between 60-15k Hz. The level differences between different seat positions are also +/- 3dB. The measured intelligibility without an audience is around 9% ALCONS, which would be improved with an audience. All of this results were achieved using only the EQ from the Yamaha mixer output parametric. The sound obtained is compact and homogeneous, considering that the signal is practically untouched. The only thing that we really miss is base reinforcement, some impact, but for this kind of show we thing the results are more than satisfactory.”

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