Riches from the East

Austrian integration firm Kraftwerk Living Technologies has carried out a huge AV project in the Russian republic of Tatarstan. British journalist Dan Goldstein reports on the Korston Hotal & Mall.

As the centre of European economic activity shifts eastward, the international business community is having to deal with place names it may not even be familiar with, let alone be capable of pointing out on a map. One such place is T atarstan, an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation that lies 500 miles east of Moscow.

Tatarstan is not huge. It has an area of less than 100,000 square kilometres and a population of less than 4 million. But it’s one of the wealthiest regions in Russia, boasting huge reserves of oil, a sophisticated transport infrastructure and a highly skilled, commercially orientated workforce. More than a quarter of the population live in the capital, Kazan, which has a fairytale Kremlin second only to Moscow’s in grandeur, and is rapidly becoming one of Russia’s most vibrant cities.

Helping to put Kazan – and Tatarstan – on the map is the Korston Hotel & Mall. Earlier this year, this impressive new-build complex hosted the annual conference of the European Bank of Reconstruction & Development (EBRD), a huge undertaking that drew 2,500 people and necessitated special flights to be laid on between Frankfurt and Kazan. Over 150 delegates came from London alone. Preparation for the two-day event lasted two weeks, and among the on-site AV team was Christian Hofer, Technical Director of Kraftwerk Living Technologies. Hofer was no stranger to the Korston project, having overseen the installation of a completely integrated AV, lighting and control network at the venue. In fact, Kraftwerk’s involvement dates back to the spring of 2006, when the integration firm, based in the Austrian town of Wels, was first approached to design the system.

“It was our first project in Russia and we were up against a very tough deadline,” Hofer recalls. “In the hotel alone, there were to be 188 guest rooms, a ballroom, five conference rooms, a casino bar and a nightclub, and in addition there was a six-screen multiplex cinema, a bowling alley and a shopping mall right next-door. There were a lot of issues to overcome such as language and logistics, and we knew that the ballroom, at the very least, had to be finished on time – because the deadline was the owner’s 50th birthday and he wanted to hold his party there.”

Working with R S Mubarakzyanov (Managing Director of Korston Kazan), Lisandro Platzer (Executive VP of the Korston Group) and John O’Brien (the hotel’s Operations Director), Hofer and his design team in Wels devised a system that would not only meet Korston’s current requirements, but also be as future-proof as possible.

“We spent the first three or four months doing detailed planning, discussing the customers’ needs to ensure that we understood what they would be using our systems for,” Hofer recalls. “The solution we came up with involved constructing three separate but connected networks: a CobraNet network for audio transport, an ArtNet network for lighting control, and a Crestron media control network that sits on top of everything.”

The Korston Kazan’s ballroom is the centrepiece of the hotel’s hospitality facilities, with a capacity of 1,100 people seated theatre-style. “It’s a multipurpose venue that the customer wanted to use for a wide range of activities, from corporate presentations and meetings to wedding parties,” says Hofer. “So our first thought was that we needed complete flexibility in terms of how the room would be laid out and where equipment could be placed within that layout. We installed a total of 14 floor and wall panels, each containing a full range of data, AV and power connectors, so that you can put audio, cameras, follow spots or whatever you need, exactly where you need it.”

This flexibility even extends to the ballroom’s two Yamaha M7CL 48-channel digital mixing consoles, which act as the centrepiece of the audio system. Kraftwerk has used fibre-optics to connect the stage with three different positions, any of which can be used for FOH or monitoring using an Optocore LX4 stage box and two of the same company’s DD32 digital I/O units to act as receivers. “We built special flightcases for the M7CLs so that the Optocore receivers are actually built into the case, and linked to the desks via AES/EBU input cards,” Hofer explains. “To change your desk position, all you need to do is disconnect and then reconnect mains power and Neutrik XLRs. It’s something the in-house technical team can do quickly and easily.”

Like all the Korston Kazan’s congress spaces and much of the rest of the venue, the ballroom uses a Meyer Sound self-powered loudspeaker system. The main left-right setup comprises eight boxes per side of Meyer’s M’elodie ultra-compact, high-power line array range, supported by four 700-HP subwoofers. Other speakers include a pair of CQ2s for the centre channel, four UPA-1Ps as side fills, and eight UPJ-1Ps as delays. Sophisticated processing is afforded by two Meyer Sound Galileo 616 units.

“We worked with Mike Cooper [Meyer Sound’s International Sales Director for Russia and the CIS countries] and originally we looked at the M1D for the main line array,” says Hofer. “But we decided that the room was too big and that we needed something with more headroom. M’elodie was the perfect choice. We knew the system would be used for parties – not discotheque SPLs, but certainly live music and DJ applications. The Russians like it loud! But the beauty of M’elodie is that it’s also crystal-clear.”

For video, Kraftwerk has equipped the ballroom with a Barco DP90 3-chip DLP projector and four of the same company’s iCon H600 LCD projectors – again reflecting the need to configure the room in different ways and have images projected onto different walls. Like the projectors, the Barco Folsom ScreenPro II and ImagePro switchers and processors are all HD-compatible. As Hofer says: “At the moment not so much of the content is likely to be HD, but that will change in time and we don’t want the equipment to be obsolete then.”

The whole of the ballroom’s AV system, together with house and stage lighting, can be brought under centralised control thanks to a Crestron PRO-2 dual-bus processor and accompanying TPMC-10 touchpanel. Identical panels are also installed in the venue’s five other conference spaces, which include the large ‘Pushkin’ hall that can be divided into two.

“We programmed a completely customised GUI for the touchpanels, in both English and Russian languages,” Hofer reveals. “Most of the time the hotel uses Russian, but it was important for them to have an alternative that could be used by international customers – at the EBRD event, for example.”

The conference rooms all have Meyer Sound’s discreet yet powerful MM4 loudspeakers backed up by UMS-1P subs, with Biamp Audia Flex (for the larger rooms) and Biamp Nexia DSP boxes handling room division. Once a different room configuration has been selected via the Crestron system, the Biamp boxes automatically change their own settings to match the new usage. As well as varying room sizes and layouts, the Biamp units are also used to get the best from the Beyerdynamic SIS simultaneous interpretation system that Kraftwerk has supplied to the Korston Kazan.

“We supplied a Beyerdynamic SIS 1202 double interpreter console which has the capacity to deal with up to 12 foreign languages, plus an SIS 121 controller,” says Hofer. “Rather than install the system in one place, we have left it mobile so that it can be used where it’s needed. There are four Audipack interpreter booths, which are also mobile. Most commonly there are two in the ballroom and two in the conference rooms, but again, it’s a flexible arrangement. You need to be able to put them where you have international meetings.”

The status of all the meeting rooms is displayed using the venue’s extensive digital signage network. Using a combination of NEC 4010 (40-inch) and 4610 (46-inch) LCD panels, Kraftwerk has constructed a highly flexible signage system that can be updated in real time in conjunction with Navori dynamic media players.

“There are about 50 players in all, which are essentially small PCs running Navori software under Windows XP,” Hofer explains. “About 80% of the players are integrated into the screens – we developed our own mounting frames so that they could sit behind the screens and be invisible to the hotel’s customers. The screens are all running 1360 x 768 resolution, and Navori’s image processing allows you to have a single server to which you upload your content and then define which areas it should go to. You link your source to each player and the content is updated automatically.

“The advantage of this approach is that you only need a short VGA cable to run from the PC player to each LCD panel, and if you want to add another screen, all you need is a network connection and AC power.”

While the screens outside the meeting rooms show simple event data, other LCDs around the facility have a richer combination of content, as Hofer explains: “We have a double NEC 4610 combination outside the conference rooms which is used to display a welcome screen. This has a news ticker running underneath it in Russian, English and German languages, which is taken from an RSS feed, and the display can also show information such as a weather forecast, exchange rates, date and time, and so on. Then outside the nightclub we have a multi-display made up of nine NEC 4010s, which the in-house team can link to video cameras inside the club.”

The nightclub, together with other areas of the Korston Kazan’s ‘entertainment’ section such as the casino and billiard bar, has also been given an extensive Meyer Sound loudspeaker system, together with Allen & Heath Xone 462 DJ mixing and two Soundcraft GB4 32-channel analogue consoles for FOH and monitoring. Because almost all the hardware Kraftwerk has installed sits on an Ethernet network, its status can be monitored remotely over IP from the company’s Austrian HQ, and Kraftwerk staff can inform personnel in Kazan of any problems that may arise.

“Communication is the most important thing in a project like this, both during and after installation,” Hofer says. “Most people in Kazan only speak Russian or Tatar, so we needed two full-time interpreters as well as two locally based technicians. We had to show the customer that we don’t stop work at 5pm and start the next day at 8am. In fact, there were days when we had three shifts working the full 24 hours – up to 15 people from Austria and another 45 hired locally. And getting the equipment to Tatarstan wasn’t easy – we had to charter a plane specially to fly two container loads from Linz to Kazan.”

Was it all worth it? “Absolutely,” says Hofer. “Korston Kazan has a really great in-house team of technical people who know their stuff, and they are really pleased with the quality and flexibility of the system we’ve installed. We weren’t well-known in Russia before this – now we’re getting more and more work there, embracing all disciplines: AV, signage, IT, lighting control and even security.”

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