The five star challenge
Providing the A/V system for the tallest hotel in the world was not without its challenges. Alice Gustafson talks custom software design with Zio Technologies LLC.
Anyone that has visited Dubai will be unsurprised to learn that it is currently home to six of the world’s top 10 tallest hotel buildings. Towering above them all at number one in the Guinness Book of World Records is the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, also known as the tallest hotel in the world. Probing 355m into the sky, from its 72nd floor window Pro Audio Middle East can make out the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, next to the Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world.
Owned by Emirates Airlines, the gleaming twin-tower venture is Marriott International’s most luxurious and business-orientated brand, boasting a total of 24 meeting rooms, 2,900 sq-m of meeting space, 10 restaurants, four bars and naturally, the largest ballroom in Dubai.
‘Dubai is known for the largest, the most expensive, the most glamorous and the biggest,’ concurs Zolisa Njamela, guest relations, JW Marriott Marquis Dubai. ‘If a hotel opens in China and it’s the tallest, you open one in Dubai and make it 2m taller.’
As one might expect, nothing but the best was required when it came to the hotel’s A/V system, prompting experienced turnkey solutions company Zio Technologies LLC to successfully bid for the project to provide the installation, testing, commissioning and programming for the entire infrastructure. No stranger to projects of this scale and complexity, Zio worked closely with the consultant to select the right products for the building’s needs, with interactivity, discretion and loudspeaker zoning high on the agenda.
‘This project was very demanding,’ admits Parag A Vadodaria, CEO, Zio Technologies LLC, whilst welcoming Pro Audio Middle East into the hotel’s air-conditioned reception area. ‘However, we came into the project during the construction stages so we had a very good grip of the overall schedule and requirements. Then we gathered our hardware engineers, software engineers and install team to come up with a solution. We also had a consultant on the job that planned all the equipment lists and specified the design,’ he adds.
And quite a list is was. In total, the consultant specified over 700 colour-matched Bose ceiling speakers and subwoofers for background music throughout the entire facility, with Apart speakers covering the outside areas. Multiple Biamp wired audio control panels and digital sound processors were specified to accommodate the hotel’s 68 zones, whilst products from Crown, Electro-Voice, TOA, Tannoy and Yamaha provided further amplification and loudspeaker support across all rooms.
Encouraging interactivity, tablets were installed into each of the guest rooms to control the lights and air con, whilst those braving the mini bar will find chosen items electronically added to their bill. Meanwhile, Zio set up ‘E paper’ stations in the cafeterias and a custom ‘way-finding’ digital directions solution.
‘Everything is interactive in big hotels now,’ nods Ms Njamela gesturing to the large ‘real-time’ digital signage boards that line the JW Marriott’s plush corridors. Hosting live updates detailing the hotel’s many meetings, events and seminars, it is clear that today’s hotel guest expects a lot more than asking for information at the front desk.
‘In this day and age, people are moving away from human interaction,’ she furthers. ‘We try to provide this interaction as much as possible, but business guests tend to just leave the staff alone, preferring to figure it our for themselves. The first thing they do is to check out the many information ports, and these have been wonderful because we can market all of the various functions happening all over the hotel. It’s so innovative,’ she enthuses. ‘It’s all about keeping up with the trends, and that’s what this hotel is all about. Our guests are very accomplished and high tech is what they expect.’
No less impressive on the inside, no expense has been spared in the five star hotel’s décor department; a fact that is abundantly clear when entering the sprawling 2,000 capacity Dubai Ballroom. Home to a 5.6m LED screen from Da-Lite and almost as many chandeliers as ceiling speakers, the room’s black tie guests remain blissfully unaware of the challenges this multi-zoned space produced.
An iPad controls everything in the ballroom. Different colours and intensities of light can be controlled from the tablet, as well as sound system partitioning when the ballroom is split into three sections.
‘These days, everybody wants to use an iPad for control because it gives you a lot of flexibility, plus it reduces costs,’ adds Mr Vadodaria. ‘So we have an iPad with a CP-2 control processor from AMX and use Biamp for signal distribution – and then there’s the software. It was quite a challenge to make all the different equipment work together on a single system.’
In fact, so complex were the room’s requirements, that Zio opted to develop its own software for zoning control. The ballroom can now be divided within the software itself, and the programme will adapt to each scenario. This was a hugely complex undertaking, and had Zio working night and day to come up with the right solution.
In any typical scenario, when an auditorium or a ballroom is not being divided, the programming is fairly straightforward. But faced with so many different combinations and physical barriers when dividing a room for two different events, it is crucial that a programme adapt to those conditions.
Missing the typical rigid guidelines, the ballroom is a unique space with changing sizes and segments. The programme had to be able to emulate this in order for the audio to be controlled, so the finished software was optimised to provide each section with its own audio and volume control.
The size of the space only added to the complexity of this phase. The neighbouring ballroom divided into six segments, resulting in further possible combinations for the program to handle. It had to be adoptive logic, and there couldn’t be a fixed number of partitions in the software. It also needed to change according to how the partitions were set up. Indeed, so intricate and detailed was the finished program that upon reviewing it the team found that it was barely recognisable.
Of course, when developing bespoke software for a project, a thorough testing process is required to ensure it is working as planned. This process saw Zio make a number of enhancements to its original program as well as add in new functionality as requested by the client.
This was a highly delicate process which took time and dedication from the skilled team of Zio engineers. However, it was worth all of the hard work, the end result being a system that is praised by all involved in the project and one that entirely meets the client’s needs.
The IT factor
With more and more install technology converging into IT, being able to call upon a younger generation of IT-savvy A/V engineers was crucial. Happily, Zio’s team is a perfect blend which is easily able to handle this IT-A/V convergence.
‘IT is getting to be a daily part of life, and the younger generation are much further ahead of the senior people,’ says Mr Vadodaria. ‘This is how I am seeing the market changing, and if you don’t know IT, then you can’t do the job.’
Contributing to the future of multiple zoning software design has proved to be a valuable learning curve for the entire team. Now that Zio has developed such control software, it is free to deploy it for future applications. As with any formula in any business sector, if it is not reusable then it becomes redundant. It’s not the tools themselves; it’s how they are used to create something that is simultaneously pioneering and stable.
Hotel installs have come a long way in the three decades that have seen the wealthy city spring from the ground. And after seeing the JW Marriott project through to completion, Zio has learnt some important lessons and put itself in a strong position to continue its involvement with some of the most high-profile new developments to rise up in the UAE.
‘Overall, it was very demanding for time, deadlines and for the performance aspect of the whole system,’ reflects Mr Vadodaria. ‘The team has worked very hard; they take the initiative to work on their own and have taken the project ownership very seriously. Now we are fine-tuning the systems to the operator’s requirements. They are very specific about many things, but so far so good.’
Working on the world’s tallest hotel has been an interesting and rewarding project for the systems integrator. While no project is without its challenges – particularly one involving software development – it has provided Zio with a new offering in is toolkit and shown again exactly what the company is capable of delivering.