Mar 09 2021

As Events Return, Audiovisual Technology Will Bring Them to Life

Pandemic restrictions are easing, and pent-up demand for live events makes the right tech crucial.

Before the pandemic, residents in and around Niles, Ohio, would flock to the Eastwood Mall to shop for the latest fashions, dine out, watch movies or just hang out. Now, as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease in 2021, there’s another reason to head to the mall: to attend wedding banquets, business meetings and other events.

Mall owner Cafaro Company recently renovated a section of the mall and turned it into an event center to host everything from birthday parties and corporate training sessions to large-scale trade shows and conventions.

The flexible, 30,000-square foot space, which includes ballrooms, meeting rooms, pre-function areas and a dedicated kitchen, is decked out with high-end Sharp NEC Display Solutions projectors and video displays for presentations and digital signage. The Eastwood Event Centre, located halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, aims to become the venue of choice for events in northeastern Ohio.

“We have hit a home run with the technology,” says Jeff Kovacich, Cafaro’s IT director. “We are seeing traction and getting buzz. Our competition within a 90-mile radius can’t touch the audiovisual equipment we’ve deployed.”

In-Person Events Will Come Back Strong

As social distancing requirements ease this year, live events will once again be hot, with plenty of pent-up demand. Organizers will create more vibrant, engaging and memorable experiences with the right technology.

Investing in the latest audiovisual solutions can make a big difference when it comes to attracting clients and booking events, experts say. “We are in a multimedia world, and people are looking for that kind of visual impact,” argues Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research.

The 900-person-capacity Eastwood Event Centre will help the mall attract thousands of additional visitors each week, says Michael Patrone, the event center’s general manager. “This will allow us to generate more traffic to our shopping center. They can stay on property at the hotel and enjoy our amenities while they are here.”

Cafaro installed state-of-the-art audiovisual gear throughout. The facility can be used as one giant ballroom or split into smaller ballrooms and meeting spaces. In each room, the IT team deployed NEC NP-PX2000UL 20000-lumen laser projectors, which are bright enough to illuminate screens even if the room lights are on.

The company also deployed 180-inch Da-Lite projector screens in each room and three 75-inch NEC 4K LED displays. One display is in a meeting space, allowing presenters to share their computer screens or use it as a digital whiteboard; the other two are in hallways outside the meeting rooms.

Cafaro also deployed eight 24-inch NEC LED digital signage displays for the front of the rooms. The smaller ­displays are used to show welcome ­messages and event schedules.

Cafaro installed Crestron control panels in each room, allowing event organizers and speakers to easily control the projectors, displays, room lights and speaker volume. It deployed Dell EMC switches to network the audiovisual equipment together and added a new Vertiv Liebert SmartRow rack in its data center to manage the equipment. Cafaro uses ViewSonic content management software on Dell EMC servers to push content to the audiovisual equipment.

“The Crestron control panels are an easy button for presentations,” Kovacich says. “You can play all the same content on all six projectors, or, on the flip side, show something different on each. It’s versatile.”

Overall, business at the event center is going well despite the pandemic, Kovacich says. Since its opening, the facility is booking two to three events per week, including business meetings and a regional dance competition. Its first wedding is scheduled for May.

“The size of the facility accommodates social distancing, so we are going full throttle,” he says.

Preparing for a Theater to Reopen

In Hillsboro, Ore., nonprofit theater company Bag & Baggage Productions uses a dozen Samsung projectors to give audiences more visuals during its performances.

For example, when the group performed Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden, a play set at a beach house, it projected a beach in the background on three walls. During the performance, the sun slowly set, and the moon rose over the water.

“We can create entire environments out of it,” says Jim Ricks-White, Bag & Baggage’s technical director, resident lighting designer and facilities manager.

Ricks-White installed 12 Samsung projectors on the lighting grid in the theater’s ceiling. They can project multiple images or videos on various surfaces, including set pieces and the theater’s walls. He uses a computer and mapping software to shape images and video to any surface he needs.

Bag & Baggage, which averages about four plays a year, shut down during the pandemic, but it hopes to reopen by September not only to produce plays but to host community events at its Vault Theater, which accommodates 165 people. The group also rents out the venue to community groups and for other events.

For these other events, the company purchased a BenQ LK970 4K laser projector, which it bolted to the middle of the lighting grid in the ceiling. It also bought two movable 150-inch cinema screens. Community groups use the projector to display presentations from their computers during meetings. The organization can also use the projector to show films.

“The BenQ projector gives us a c­inema-capable projector to show art house films or documentaries, and it’s also our primary projector for meetings,” Ricks-White says. “It’s a workhorse for us.”

MORE FROM BIZTECH: See how organizations can better serve their guests and customers in socially-distanced times.

Powering Meeting Space with Technology

PM Hotel Group takes advantage of ­digital signage displays throughout its 60 properties nationwide. In its hotels that offer meeting space, the company makes available audiovisual equipment for event organizers that need the technology.

The Chevy Chase, Md.-based company uses video displays to provide guests information, directions, virtual concierge services and in-room entertainment, says PM Hotel Group President Joseph Bojanowski.

“It’s a communication vehicle with our guests that is customizable, easily changed and visually appealing,” he says. “We can repurpose them for different needs.”

Last May, for example, the company began deploying new digital signage at the front desks of most of its properties to communicate with guests on the latest social distancing protocols and safety guidelines. The company installed 13-inch Samsung displays. General managers can easily update messages as needed using Samsung’s MagicINFO digital signage software.

The displays, which connect to each property’s network via W-Fi, share messages on local mask regulations, offer directions to hand-sanitizing stations and request that customers use mobile check-in and contactless pay.

“If we can get users on the mobile app and using digital keys, we are not handing them keys and no one is taking their credit cards out,” Bojanowski says. “There’s less chance of spreading the virus.”

When the pandemic is over, the company can repurpose those 13-inch Samsung displays for its event and meeting spaces, he says.

“When it’s all said and done, we will take it to our banquet spaces as digital signage,” he says. “You can go to a cash bar, and there will be a digital display with a menu for drinks.” 

Photography by Roger Mastroianni/BizTech Magazine