How versatility defines The Forum, Groningen

At a state-of-the-art modern facility in Groningen, integrator Avex combined stunning visuals, all-encompassing audio and a flexible control system to create a versatile venue bristling with cutting edge technology. Reece Webb reports.

A project several years in the making, Forum Groningen in the Netherlands stands bold in the historic city centre as a 45 metre high monolith, with two towers, ten floors and a modern rooftop terrace, offering a meeting and cultural space with galleries, a cinema, library, museum and more.

The venue required an intricate, interconnected system that provided instant flexibility and a ‘wow factor’. Kees Enneking, account manager, Avex, explained: “There was an open European tender put out by the city of Groningen. It is a famous project which has taken 10 years to build. It was a big and complex tender, which was partly AV and also a cinema system. This isn’t a common combination as they are different specialities.”
Avex worked with cinema specialist CinemaNext as a partner on the project, harnessing its expertise in cinema projects to deliver a world class integrated system that demonstrates the best of AV and cinema systems working hand in hand. 
Going into the ‘modern’ monolith’ in the centre of Groningen, visitors are greeted by a large reception atrium, leading on to five cinema rooms, a large auditorium area and a breathtaking rooftop cinema for use in the summer months.

Enneking: “The cinema rooms had to be flexible as they are used for cinema screenings, which requires a special license, but they also used for presentations. The rooms can be combined and there is also a comprehensive AV control system through the entire building. With one push of a button you can stream a presentation to any room in the building.”

Forum Groningen (Dutch spoken, English sub) from AVEX on Vimeo.

For a long running project such as the Forum, kit requirements were constantly changing, with Avex taking the lead to specify the latest equipment to improve the user experience. Enneking: “Because of the time that the build took, the requirements were quite old so we put together a new design and requirements, putting in a Crestron AVoIP streaming system which wasn’t what the client asked for, but it was the newest way of doing things. We gave them something better than they'd asked for.”

Walking in to the Forum, visitors find themselves in a large reception area dominated by a Samsung LED videowall and frame, supported by Samsung mounts which proved a challenge to fit to the wall as Enneking clarified: “There’s a big main hall with the LED wall which is the main exhibit. There is a big stage where people can sit down and see the 5 metres tall and 10 metres wide LED videowall which is used for presentations, commercials and information. Visitors can see what’s going on in the building and what they can do. This is the main attraction in the building. Staff can also plugin a laptop to use the videowall for presentations.

“The LED wall was installed quite high up on Samsung mounts, but the wall was not entirely straight. We were on a tight schedule and we didn’t have time to make a custom mount or wait for the builders to straighten the wall. The installers managed to [install the videowall] with standard Samsung mounts and a lot of fine tuning.”
The screen is also connected to the main system, allowing content from any room to be streamed to the large LED display. Content can also be shared to all rooms in the building simultaneously for large presentations. 

The Forum’s quirky approach to venue design added five unique cinema rooms to the mix, each colour coded and made to different sizes to cater for different audience sizes. Like other spaces in the venue, the cinema rooms are made to adhere to a flexible, multi-purpose design, capable of hosting audiences for the latest cinema screenings or for flexible corporate presentations.
Enneking: “All the cinema rooms are built differently. There are small rooms, medium size rooms and large rooms which are colour coded. In the front, each cinema room has a desk which can be used to control the audio and lighting for presentations. All five rooms can share their content with each other via the Crestron NVX system.”

Each cinema room is equipped with Barco projectors, including the DP2K-15C with 0.98-in lenses for most rooms with a larger DP2K-20C used for the largest cinema room. Each room is equipped with a Q-Sys system, harnessing either a QSC SC-322XC two way speaker system with a SB-7118 single subwoofer system for smaller rooms or a SC-323C three way speaker system and SB-7218 dual subwoofer system, with each projector firing onto Harkness cinema screens ranging in size from 22 metres to 46 metres.

Additional requirements usually outside the scope of an integrator’s day-to-day work had to be considered for the theatres’ sound systems as Enneking explained: “The QSC system we chose is a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound system because if you don’t have a Dolby digital system, you cannot get accreditation to show movies because there are certain rules in Europe.
Forum Groningen NL 2020 (9)
“We didn’t know everything about cinemas, but this is why we worked with CinemaNext to carry out the movie theatre systems while we worked on the rooms’ presentation systems. We combined the two, so it was a shared job for us.”
This ‘hybrid’ setup was not without its challenges, with Avex and CinemaNext working closely together to ensure that the systems were inter-operable for any given scenario.

Enneking said: “The biggest problem was combining the two programming systems together. The cinema systems are pre-programmed, so when you start a movie, it automatically dims the lights, puts on the commercials then dims the lights again before the movie starts. There are a lot of cue points so we had to figure out how we start a movie with our Crestron system or how they can use the microphones with the movie system. That was the most intelligent work of the project.”

A comprehensive AVoIP system forms the backbone of the Forum, providing the ability to stream content to any part of the building simultaneously with ease from in-room touchpanels. Enneking commented: “Crestron [NVX] is at the heart of the system that can be used to route everything to everywhere using a core switch with each room having its own smaller switch.” 

The auditorium, used for cinema showings, live music and more, features 270 degrees of projection on the walls, using nine Epson EB-L1105U WUXGA projectors and ultra-short throw lenses. A Sennheiser wireless microphone system was installed alongside 12 Shure SM58 wireless microphones.
Six Axion AX12C PRL portable line array speakers bring much needed flexibility to the space, with the portable line arrays able to be moved around the room to cater for stages or speciality event arrangements.

The story of the Forum’s construction came to a close with a successful opening and a comprehensive AVoIP system and stunning LED wall that brings the wow factor to the adaptable space at the heart of Groningen. Avex is tasked with supplying the maintenance and technical support for the facility alongside preparations to carryout additional AV work on the building.

Enneking reflected on the project: “The LED wall is the highlight of this complete project. It was a challenging project for us as we were on a tight schedule and we had to manage everyone including the cable installers, building installers, cinema guys, our installers, programmers and our ICT programmers. There were lots of people needed to complete the system and everyone worked very hard. We really became friends with the customer, and they think the project is exceptional. 

Kit List
Axiom AX12C PRL portable line arrays, SW2100 APRL subwoofers, KPTAX12C flying bar
Biamp audio processor
Dolby IMS server
Fohhn DLI-130 steerable line arrays, Dante input
QSC Q-Sys system
Sennheiser wireless system, SKM300 handheld transmitter
Shure CVG18-B/Cgooseneck microphones, SM58 cardioid microphones

Barco DP2K series projectors, 0.98-in lens
Epson EB-L1105UWUXGA projectors
Harkness cinema screens
Samsung DIV LED wall and frame, mounting brackets

Control and distribution
Atlona dual HDMI audio switcher
Cisco Ethernet router
Crestron NVX system, touchscreens
Kramer HDMI cable
Yamaha Danteinterface

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