Content stream at The Hall

An upgrade to an award-winning events venue in Zurich is a clear reflection of where the AV industry is at right now. Paul Milligan reports.

Running an events venue in a large city has never been an easy task. Events planners are continually being asked by clients to find something new and fresh, and if your venue has been established for some time, they may opt to choose a newer or more fashionable location instead of yours.

Now that it has found its feet again after the pandemic, the events industry has returned to its former uber-competitive state, which means that even new venues built only a few years ago are already looking for a refresh. This was the case for The Hall, which is situated in the Dübendorf suburb of Zurich, and was only built in 2017.

Known originally as the Samsung Hall (a naming rights deal has now elapsed), the venue actually consists of three different events spaces: The 5,000-seat capacity main hall, home to rock concerts, award ceremonies and big corporate events. The Loft is suitable for smaller events, from 50 to 500 people, it has a roof terrace and can be split into two rooms. The Club, which is situated in the basement, can handle a capacity of 800 (standing) as a nightclub, or can be set up as a theatre (with seating capacity of nearly 500).

A technology refresh was decided upon despite The Hall being a three time winner (in 2019, 2021, 2022) of a Swiss Location Award. This decision was driven not only by the pandemic but by a change in client demand it had begun to observe. The Hall was barely three years old when the pandemic struck, demand for studio space and streaming capabilities grew almost overnight, something unforeseen when The Hall was first designed and built. These new demands, driven in part by one of its long-term customers, the International Christian Fellowship Church (ICF), who regularly produces live worship events at the venue, highlighted the need for a multipurpose control room and more production space.

Tasked with providing that was Swiss integrator Event AG, who had been working with the ICF since The Hall first opened, and was invited to officially tender for the project, which it then won. What aims did the client express for this project in those first few meetings? “The pandemic was the big shift into video operations so that's why it happened and also the naming part, they had a change of ownership as well and they want some new projects, with more live streaming, more video,” said Simon Bachofen, project manager and product manager video at Event AG.

What did the client want the new AV to achieve this time around? Was it to bring the venue up to date, or to make it future proof for the next five or ten years, or was it to introduce new revenue streams? “I think it's all of those factors,” admits Bachofen. During the pandemic, the ICF and digital communication agency FE Motion decided to expand into the basement to better service demand. During this planned conversion, the other production equipment was also checked and, where necessary, refreshed.
The AV installed in 2017, included a three-way divisible Samsung 120 sq m 4mm LED wall capable of 5K resolution in the main hall, with an L-Acoustics PA system. The video side of things relied heavily on Blackmagic Design AV kit, and this time around it was no different (see full details on control room further down this article), with new products added to replace or sometimes reinforce existing kit.

How did Event AG go about choosing the exact kit it did for the upgrade, did it perform any shoot-out to find the right equipment? “We did some shoot outs because we wanted to see how the moiré effect on the LED was going to turn out,” says Bachofen. “We bought the Ursa broadcast G2 cameras from Blackmagic because we wanted to have all the same cameras throughout, which helps a lot to have a consistent picture. We already had a lot of experience with them, so we knew what to expect.”

Lofty ambitions
Described as a ‘light-flooded, divisible and customisable room’, The Roof has had a tech upgrade in order for it to accommodate events covering anywhere from 50 to 500 people. A decision was made to replace projection in The Loft says Bachofen because, “Before they always had to put up a projector, and it’s quite a bright room, so it didn’t look very nice from the beginning. So now we finally have two big LED screens fixed and built-in there.” The Loft now features fully functioning sound and video technology including broadcasting and a complete lighting system. Junction boxes were installed throughout the room with all the necessary connections for quickly connecting various event systems. Two high-resolution, height-adjustable LED screens are now available in The Loft, measuring 4.2 x 2.4 m (1.5mm pixel pitch) and 5.1 x 2.9 metres (2mm pixel pitch).

New this time around in a control room, with 10 multifunctional workstations for directors, image mixers, graphic operators, producers, video players and others. Events in the adjoining room can be observed, coordinated and directly processed via 10 permanently installed and individually 55-in recordable screens. The direction is geared towards standard studio operation with up to six Blackmagic Ursa Broadcasting cameras. The customer lounge is slightly elevated and comfortable at the back of the video control room. It invites customers to follow the ongoing production up close. This idea of complete transparency in the production process for customers is also expressed in the one-sided glazing of the control room.

The ICF's multi-camera production, in particular, now uses ten Blackmagic Design URSA Broadcast G2 cameras for live production, replacing the previous URSA Mini 4.6K. The live camera feeds are routed to the venue's main gallery, which has been newly equipped with two dedicated ATEM Constellation 8K live production switchers. The main venue space also features a new 3D cable camera system, supplied by another arm of Event AG. Rigged with an URSA Broadcast G2, the EagleEye uses fibre for all video and CCU signals plus control. For large live events, such as the weekly church services, the video content is streamed and recorded, then played out on a 120 sq m 4K LED wall running from a Barco E2 Event Master processor and to various monitors installed inside and outside the multipurpose venue space. Blackmagic Universal Videohub 288x288 and Universal Videohub 72x72 handle signal management, as well as three Smart Videohub 12G 40x40 12G routers. Blackmagic DeckLink and UltraStudio capture and playback cards are used across the various computers used for fill and key signals. The ICF also produces smaller live streams throughout the week, using an ATEM Mini Extreme ISO and multiple Pocket Cinema Camera 6K cameras.

LED studio
Downstairs in the basement of The Hall is The Club, which has had the biggest tech upgrade within the venue. The Club is suitable for after-parties as well as concerts with a maximum of 800 guests, and is also capable of seating 478 in a theatre setting. Not content with just being a nightclub, The Club also has another use. Event AG and FE Studio have created a fully digital TV studio with a high-resolution curved LED screen and LED floor. Streaming, video recordings and training courses can now be recorded with any mobile content and also carried out into the world in hybrid form.

The curved 2mm pixel pitch LED screen measures 15.4 x 3.2 metres with a resolution of 7,680 x 1,600 pixels, and the 4mm pixel pitch LED floor measures 9 x 4.8 metres. To allow for the display to be curved at both ends Event AG had to specially create a steel construction to house the rear walls and side walls. Like The Club itself, the LED floor serves two purposes, it provides a bright and vibrant dancefloor for nightclub goers, but also creates a production studio within the room. Billing itself as ‘the most diverse TV studio in Switzerland’, it has already hosted a series of live and pre-recorded TV shows filmed using the facilities. The size of the room allows it to host a live audience, but it can also film hybrid events too, with some in the room and some at home. FE Studio recently hosted a sales conference there for German manufacturer Hörmann, and the curved LED screen could give the conference the backdrop of the Lauberhorn downhill ski course, but also include sales representatives from all over the world being streamed via the in-studio screens.

The LED floor represented the biggest challenge in this tech upgrade says Bachofen. “We spent a lot of time trying to master it and get it better. If you have too much light it’s a problem, and with the Plexiglass it is going to reflect some of the lights.” Once it had made its technology choices, was Event AG able to test the system on-site or did it have to do it off-site? “It was bit of both,” says Bachofen, “But I would say mainly on-site because it's all a process. We did some testing with the LED wall to see what resolution we wanted to use. We had to find out how are we going to build the LED floor and things like that? We tested that before we built it in The Hall. We did the camera testing on location, for example, which camera will generate the least amount of moiré noise with the LED wall.”

Did the budget influence the technology in any way? “If you would have to describe this project, it would be how can we get the best possible outcome with the least cost because of the pandemic. We still wanted to build something new and give a new experience. So we looked at new business cases, like the TV production (in the club), which wasn't possible before. Before it was just a small stage, some lights and a really bad 6mm LED screen, it wasn’t anything you could really use for TV production,” says Bachofen.

He describes this project as an ongoing one, and there are already plans for more upgrades, the TV studio could easily be turned into a virtual production or XR studio for example without major investment. It’s clear that the decisions that have been made in this second installation phase have been taken for practical and financial reasons ie the technology they now have in abundance – the ability to stream video and to have their own TV studio available for booking – will enable them to maximise revenue at times when the venue is less busy i.e. when conferences aren’t taking place, or during the day when the nightclub is shut. It may have been forced into looking at upgrades to cope with the issues the pandemic threw at them, but the choices they have made have ensured the venue will remain profitable until the equipment has been paid for many times over.

KIT LIST
Allen & Heath Avantis mixer
Blackmagic Design Ursa Broadcast G2 cameras, ATEM Constellation video mixer, Universal Videohub 288 and Universal Videohub 72, Smart Videohub 12G routers, ATEM Mini Extreme ISO, Pocket Cinema Camera 6K
Colorlight 4K LED controller
GrandMA2 Light lighting desk
GreenGo Digital intercom
kvm-tec KVM extender
KV2 ESR 215, 212, ESD10 loudspeakers
Qiangli 2 mm and 4mm pixel pitch LED tiles
Samsung displays
Sennheiser EW300 G3 mics
Shure ULXD wireless mics

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