EDITORS CHOICE 27.05.20

Sowing the AV seed

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Eclipse VP Custom. Photo: Alexandre van Battel

As we enter the spring and summer months, Amy Wallington looks at why you should be pushing outdoor AV solutions to customers, even during the lockdown period.

Recently, many of us have been spending a lot of time in our gardens due to the coronavirus lockdown. Even people who do not use a garden very much have ventured out and started realising the potential in outdoor space.

Despite outdoor AV being a growing market for the past decade, this lockdown period could be a huge growth mechanism for the sector. Clients with money to spend and time on their hands will be looking to spend more time enjoying the weather in their gardens and, as they are using it more, might be considering an outdoor set up or upgrading their current set up. 

As an integrator or manufacturer, now could be the right time to start marketing outdoor AV systems to customers in order to get them thinking about the potential their gardens hold, which could lead to higher uptake of outdoor AV installations post-lockdown. 

There is usually a general peak in these types of installations at this time of the year, especially in countries with warmer climates such as the Mediterranean coast as well as the Middle East. Major sporting events also cause a spike in outdoor AV installs.

William Uttley, owner of ProofVision says: “From around April to September, most of our business is outdoor. The summer months bring out a lot of people spending time outside and looking for new ways to spend their time outdoors. It also peaks when there is a big sporting event, like in 2018, when England were doing well in a tournament and the nation thought football was coming home.”

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Lithe Audio's Rock speaker

Expanding on indoors
As already mentioned, outdoor AV has been a growing trend for the most part of the last 10 years. Homeowners, especially those in warm climate countries are looking at ways to extend their home entertainment experiences for themselves and when entertaining guests. While before, this used to be mainly an indoor experience, the outdoors is becoming more prevalent with increasing temperatures across the globe. 

Amit Ravat, managing director of Lithe Audio thinks this is the case. “In warmer climates, the outdoor audio is as important as indoor. In the northern European sector, we see it as an add-on to indoor. This mindset in consumers is slowly shifting as the garden is becoming a more integral part of the home.”

Expanding on this, Brian Azzano, the vice president of Stealth Acoustics highlights: “Outdoor AV has been around for decades, but really in the last six to seven years, we have seen it become a booming portion of the AV industry. I think one of the reasons for this is that people are now wishing to take advantage of every ounce of their living space. With property values soaring and bare land prices pushing hundred of dollars per square foot in some high-end markets, there is no portion of one’s property that should go overlooked when it comes to usable space.”

Ben Davidson, UK sales director, Monitor Audio thinks outdoor AV trends are becoming as prevalent as indoor, and not just in the high-end market. “Exterior design is the new interior design. As climates become more favourable, consumers are looking to use their gardens more, like another room in the house. In the low/mid sector of house building where the interior rooms are small, the garden is seen as an escape.”

However, Uttley suggests that homeowners usually only focus on either the inside or outside rather than both at the same time. “As a manufacturer of both indoor and outdoor AV equipment, it is very rare that we supply equipment for both on one project.” 

New build vs. established 
Although there may be a bigger focus on this market right now, through my research, it seems this is still a sector that is more of an afterthought. Most of the people I spoke to have agreed that a lot of new build developments do not usually consider any outdoor AV in their plans, and this usually comes later when an upgrade is due. 

James Banfield from Leon Speakers agrees with this statement. “We find that outdoor audio is most often installed in existing homes because when building a new home, there are so many details to consider, and outdoor spaces are often deprioritised in favour of getting the more utilised spaces done first, like kitchens and family rooms. Once those spaces are complete, homeowners start to think about upgrading their outdoor areas.”

Eclipse Cinema, a large outdoor TV manufacturer in France, also thinks this is the case, even though it makes it more complicated to integrate. Sebastien Trinque from Eclipse Cinemas says: “We install in both new and existing homes but more projects are done in existing properties, even for our larger models that are more complicated to integrate because of landscaping and civil engineering. I think it’s because high-end customers attached to a property will decide to upgrade their outdoor facilities, sometimes quite frequently. An outdoor cinema is a nice project for them to watch live major sports events or during parties with friends, and to watch movies under the stars with their loved ones.”

Uttley adds: “Most of the time, existing home that undergo a full refit will usually incorporate an outdoor screen where there is a greater knowledge of the space available. We find most new builds will focus on the interior AV equipment initially.”

However, some systems can only be used if planned into a new build. Ravat informs: “With many new products on the market that have wireless streaming and amplifiers built-in and just need an outdoor socket, more and more existing homes are installing such systems. But, traditional wired systems with indoor amplifiers and speakers are not easy to retrofit and only practical for new build properties where the system is planned in.”

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Photo: Garvan Acoustics

Considerations
There are stark differences between indoor and outdoor equipment due to different environmental requirements. Indoor equipment doesn’t need to be as rugged for example. With outdoor AV, you need to think about the quality and aesthetics while also making it completely weatherproof for different outdoor environments. 

Massimo Magliola, the international sales manager at Garvan Acoustics explains: “Outdoor speakers must be made with robust protection to withstand various weather conditions. Traditional outdoor speakers are often made of plastic with plastic finishes but over time the colour degrades. To solve this problem, Garvan diffusers are made of Corian which is an ideal outdoor material due to its resistance to light and atmospheric agents that preserves appearance and integrity.” 

It’s not just the materials that need to be thought about. The technical side is even more complex.

Davidson highlights some of the fundamental differences between indoor and outdoor speakers set ups: “In most indoor speaker systems, the speakers are along one wall or ceiling and there’s a number of seats in which people may sit which are generally in front of the speakers or even arranged in an ideal layout to give the best listening experience.

“However, for outdoor music this is often not the case. Firstly, there are normally many more listening locations including seating, pool area, bar areas, and pathways. There are also many more possible speaker locations including ground height and above head height. In order to get a full and balanced sound, many more speakers may be required to cover the area, and this means the installer needs to take much more care when planning how many speakers they require and where to place them. If this initial work isn’t done correctly, then it won’t be possible to experience the performance of the speakers as it may not be possible to hear them properly from a given listening location.”

He continues: “Another challenging aspect for outdoor audio is bass, as outdoors there’s no room reinforcement so a lot of the bass is lost. To solve this, you often need to use larger, full range speakers or ensure good subwoofer coverage.”

Magliola adds: “The positioning of the speakers, as well as the housing of the electronics, the cable routing, the Wi-Fi coverage over the entire area concerned, and the sources of control and amplification must be defined.”

Integrators also need to consider the environment around the property. For example, will the neighbours be annoyed or affected by the noise? 

Arguably, there is often more to think about with outdoor screens. TVs often need to be bigger and brighter in order to compete with the sun and appear large in an outdoor setting. Azzano explains: “Daylight viewing conditions and wind concerns both come to mind when thinking about outdoor screens. You must ensure sunlight does not affect viewability by strategic screen placement or by skipping the traditional screen/projector combination in favour of new burgeoning technologies such as direct-fire LED displays. Modular in design and super bright, the LED display has found success in outdoor advertising and now in luxury residential applications as well.”

Many outdoor screens are protected by being hidden when not in use. As well as this being a protective tactic, many homeowners also don’t want it to be an eyesore when they are not using it. 

“The Stealth Patio Theatre products protect their displays by using motorisation to automatically retract or fold them into protective housings when not in use,” he continues. “This is critical even despite the extensive weatherisation of the screen to ensure that it always looks its best and reduces ongoing screen maintenance.”

Trinque has a similar view to this: “There are a number of things to think about with outdoor screens – brightness, waterproofing, what application you want with the screen, where to install the tech (AV amplifier, AV sources), etc. But brightness is the most important if you want to watch it in daylight. 

“We sometime see some LCD or LED ‘outdoor’ solutions offering 1500-2000 nits (or cd/sqm), but unfortunately, I think many customers would be disappointed with this. We use ultra-high brightness LEDs (5500 nits) so viewing in bright daylight is always good. We also have an automated light sensor included to adjust the screen brightness depending on the light levels. From our point of view, anything under 4500 nits, viewing in sunlight is compromised.”

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Garvan Acoustics' outdoor in-wall speaker

Future trends
Outdoor AV is clearly a growing market, and with current circumstances, there’s a good chance that post-lockdown will involve many more outdoor installations or upgrades on current outdoor systems. As the sector grows, so will the technology, with may developments already being put to the market. 

“The biggest trend we’ve noticed is speakers with integrated lighting,” says Banfield. “It’s really beneficial to have one product that can be a single solution for both. Our LuminSound products combine audio and lighting in one design and they’ve consistently been our best-selling outdoor speakers.”

Ravat thinks the transition between indoor and outdoor audio will become more seamless as wireless technologies are developing. “With 5G and new IoT chipsets on the horizon, the wireless connectivity of outdoor audio will bring new opportunities for integrators and manufacturers to develop multi-zone wireless systems with zero latency which integrates both outdoor and indoor audio.

“The design will form the key factor in buying for the outdoor space. The consumer will either choose discrete audio designed to disappear like Lithe Audio’s rock speaker or an on-wall design like Gallo’s new design and style.”

Now is the time to brush up on your outdoor AV offerings and start marketing different solutions to give customers something to think about as they are sitting in their gardens during lockdown. Make sure you’re prepared for the boom in the outdoor AV market that is bound to come.