Exploring the outdoors

Outdoor AV is a growing trend showing no signs of slowing down. Amy Wallington looks at how consumer’s perceptions toward outdoor AV is changing.

Is there anything better than sitting in the garden late on a summer evening with your family and friends and a bottle of something? Maybe add some music to that or a big screen to watch a movie or a sports event. This dream is becoming a reality for more and more people, fuelled by the pandemic.

For the last two years, we have been told that gatherings outside were much safer than inside. During this time, many homeowners have realised the potential in having a more usable outdoor space to extend their living space.

Outdoor AV solutions can include anything from some weatherproof speakers to listen to music while enjoying a BBQ, to a full open-air home cinema in the garden. Consumers are even building outdoor kitchens to really make the most of their outside space.

“The investment in outdoor AV is increasing very fast,” says Massimo Magliola, international sales manager at Garvan Acoustics. “Living outdoors with all the comforts of indoors is a phenomenon and trend that has been growing for several years but has not yet reached its peak. We are seeing greater demand for quality outdoor listening. For example, subwoofers and Garvan Acoustic design products that integrate perfectly with the garden or poolside are increasingly in demand.”

Since the pandemic, one of the biggest trends is to recreate experiences at home. People are investing more in their home entertainment and want it to be higher-quality and higher-performing than anywhere else.

“We have seen clients coming through integrators who have been enjoying the party atmosphere on holiday and are now wanting to bring that experience home,” adds Nick Fichte, global business manager at L-Acoustics Creations. “As the sun goes down, the volume levels usually go up. Having a sound system that can recreate that ‘day club’ atmosphere is becoming a more frequent request. L-Acoustics’ heritage is providing the audio at some of the biggest festivals and outdoor stages, so our products are designed for delivering high-fidelity audio in outdoor environments. At the high-end of the market, it’s not uncommon for clients to hire performers for a party or reception, so sound systems such as ours, suited to live musical performances, ticks this box.”

Garvan Acoustics’ 360-degree technology allows audio to cover a wide area. Image: Garvan Acoustics

Changing needs

Expectations and needs have changed dramatically, especially over the last couple of years as we have lived through a pandemic. Consumers want the same experience, if not better, as their indoor home entertainment.

“People’s expectations are getting higher and higher,” Fichte continues. “They say, ‘If I can have a surround sound system in my TV room, why can’t I have it in my garden?’ And the answer is, you can, but you have to use the right products for the job.”

Consumers’ behaviours have changed so much that for some, outdoor AV is now one of their top performing markets. “As anticipated, consumer demands were already indicating a growing trend in the outdoor market,” Magliola shares. “In recent years, Garvan Acoustics has seen a very strong acceleration. In our case, outdoor AV has become the second most important market.”

With demand increasing so much for outdoor AV set ups, prices have dropped and accessibility has increased. Sebastien Trinque from Eclipse Cinema recognises a key change: “When we talked about outdoor AV a few years ago, we mainly spoke about sound and speakers. Now, outdoor screens are no longer niche, with big players like Samsung recognising the potential of outdoor TVs by launching ‘The Terrace’. Therefore, prices are dropping and having an outdoor TV is no longer just for millionaires.”

Sporting events are a big drive for people to invest in outdoor AV. Image: ProofVision’s Aire Plus Outdoor TV

Complex considerations

Indoor installations are very different to outdoor installations. There is a lot to think about when installing AV outside that you don’t necessarily have to think about when installing indoors.

“If you want a permanent outdoor installation, choose products that are weatherproof and waterproof so they can cope with all weather conditions, especially rain and snow,” explains William Uttley, managing director of ProofVision. “Choosing the location of your TV is the most critical step. A shaded area means you can use a TV with 700 cd/m2 brightness, whereas a space exposed to direct sunlight would benefit from a much brighter TV. It is essential to install IP-rated mains socket and cable management to eliminate the risk of electric shocks and damage to equipment.”

As well as being weatherproof and in a good position to actually view the screen, another important consideration is temperature management, as Alastair Benn, managing director of Aquavision highlights: “In very basic terms, LCD technology is based on pixels changing format to show a colour which forms part of a picture. Your TV is made up of many thousands of these pixels, dependent upon its resolution. LCD crystals invert (or turn black) when they reach 55°C. This may sound a lot, but as your TV is positioned behind a piece of glass to make it waterproof, and will be out in the midday sun, this temperature is often exceeded. At Aquavision, we use specialist, high temperature panels which allows pixels to reach 110°C before they invert.”

Benn adds: “Customers are no longer prepared to accept second best anywhere, especially not outdoors. There are plenty of manufacturers selling HD ready screens and standard IPS panels that are completely unsuitable for outdoor use in the direct sunlight. If it doesn’t have a TNI panel, it’s a waste of money.”

“As anticipated, consumer demands were already indicating a growing trend in the outdoor market.”

In terms of cabling, extra thought has to be given on how to protect them from various outdoor factors. Fichte suggests: “Cable routes are always important, as is making sure that cables are protected from any animals that may wish to chew through them. And the same as indoors, futureproofing is key. If you have ducts around then it makes life a lot easier.”

Uttley suggests partnering with a good electrician to prevent any damage occurring to cables later down the line. “We recommend using a competent electrician who will know how to use the correct ducting to protect and hide cables for a safe and visually pleasing installation,” he says. “Naturally weatherproof mains sockets are installed if we do it. Alternatively, you can run a waterproof mains cable from an internal source with the proper grommets to avoid water ingress.”

While many TVs are rated waterproof, it is always advised to look into some of the finer details to make sure you are fully protected from the weather. “Connection points are a place to look for issues,” Benn points out. “Most TVs have their connections sitting straight onto a circuit board and so offer very little protection.

“You also need to think about additional parts that will need to be installed for the TV to work. Most TVs will be connected to a set top box, balun, or signal processor of some sort. Where will this be positioned? We offer a waterproof accessory module that fits to the back of the TV to house these devices.”

When installing any audio equipment, neighbours and surrounding areas should also be considered. “Getting an acoustics specialist involved at an early stage will help clients understand how loud they can play their systems before other people start to hear it,” Fichte explains.

As demand for outdoor installations grows, it is now essential to think about extending the network outside to give whole-home controlled solutions. “We are experiencing a strong demand for standalone and networked solutions, mainly driven by budget considerations,” says Uttley. “Integrating an outdoor TV with the rest of the AV network for total home automation projects makes sense. Built-in support with platforms such as Control4 and Crestron control capabilities make this easy to do.”

Outdoor and poolside bespoke installation by Homeplay in the English countryside featuring L-Acoustics Creations speakers in custom RAL tone

Mixing expertise

While integrators bring the technology expertise, it is also advised to work with landscape architects and designers to ensure the customer is getting the best solution possible to enhance their outdoor space. Combining the different knowledge areas is the only way to create a suitable installation.

“For our systems, it is crucial to work with landscape architects, as outdoor AV projects may be declined by a customer because of a bad approach in terms of global landscape integration,” admits Trinque.

“If it doesn’t have a TNI panel, it’s a waste of money.”

While sometimes different trades working together can clash, in this situation, it can be more beneficial to work together than to not. Magliola states: “This is very important because these professionals have a different sensitivity which, when combined with that of an audio professional, can make all the difference. It is important to support them aesthetically through materials, colours and exclusive customisation.”

Fichte argues that the aesthetics and design are as important as the technology, which is also how it often is with indoor installations. “People are spending lots of money on landscape design, outdoor kitchens, etc, so the technology should blend in. If a client wants to have the L-Acoustics sonic signature but not see their speakers when not in use, then one option is the Hyde 125 speaker system from C-SEED which houses L-Acoustics speakers inside weatherproof casing and retracts into the ground at the touch of a button.”

Wide area coverage

High-end outdoor spaces are typically large and spread out across different areas. When choosing audio solutions, it is important to consider the coverage a speaker will give to ensure the audio covers the entire space if required.

“For Garvan Acoustics, the products that work best are our speakers with 360-degree technology which allows you to cover large areas without sacrificing sound quality,” Magliola reveals. “For example, last year we launched a new SN120 product with integrated LED. This speaker was considered by our dealers in Europe to be one of the best performing speakers on the market, both in terms of quality and power, and has become our bestseller.”

He adds: “Outdoor installations require homogenous sound diffusion over a wide area. For example, in a garden with a swimming pool, you need to hear well in every part of this area because the listening point is not concentrated in one place. When installing outdoors, it is very important to take this into account.”

In L-Acoustics Creations’ case, the core of its business is providing sound systems for live events where sound needs a wide dispersion, and this technology and philosophy is trickled down into their residential products too. “For L-Acoustics Creations, there is not a huge difference between indoor and outdoor as the majority of our products were designed for outdoor ‘free field’ use at music festivals, sporting events or other live events. We use different presets in our amplifiers depending on if the project is indoors or outdoors and our engineers always calibrate our systems onsite to make sure that the experience is at its best possible level for the client.”

Hiding a display in a hermetically sealed box can protect it from being damaged. Image: Tom Claeren for Eclipse VP Custom

Big screen

When it comes to outdoor video, it is hard to achieve wide coverage and is more direct in its viewing capabilities. Some installations feature a mounted display which can be hidden when not in use, but can also be used to turn the display to a different angle depending on where the viewers are in the garden. However, it is more common to have a fixed display that is for use in one area only.

If the option is there, one benefit of being able to hide the screen when not in use is to protect it from damage. “Hiding the AV equipment when off is critical as the size of an outdoor cinema screen is unsightly when not in use,” Trinque highlights. “Moreover, hiding the equipment in its hermetically sealed pit is the best solution to protect it 365 days a year in case of heavy rain or strong winds, which may cause significant damage if a flying tree branch slammed into the screen for instance.”

“We recommend using a competent electrician who will know how to use the correct ducting to protect and hide cables for a safe and visually pleasing installation.”

The main considerations for outdoor screens is that they are completely weatherproof and high brightness to be able to watch at any time during the day or night.

“In our niche market, LED modules are best to use,” says Trinque. “There is no other solution for large screens beyond 100” in the daytime. Of course, some of our customers may prefer projection but this often can’t be used during the day. It is becoming hard to find customers willing to pay for an outdoor cinema that is usable only at night, especially in the summer when night doesn’t fall until about 10pm in some regions. Now that we have LED modules in 4500-5000 nits, combined with an automated ambient light sensor, it allows customers to watch their favourite programmes anytime during the day or night. For major sporting events, which often occur during the daytime, projection is not an option.”

While high brightness is important, night-time viewing should also be considered. “High brightness televisions are great for high brightness environments, but what happens when the sun goes down?” asks Benn. “The last thing you want to be doing is staring at a TV that’s so bright, it burns your eyes. Therefore, the TV needs to have an auto brightness feature where it will automatically adjust the brightness to match the ambient light.”

Similarly, a temperature gauge to keep the TV from overheating is also advised. “If the TV is to be used in extreme (either hot or cold) conditions, it will need automatic thermal management,” Benn continues. “This will turn on heaters or fans when required and monitor internal humidity.”

Main image: Screens are not just for indoor use. Credit: Aquavision