As retailers seek to excite their customers through immersive environments, flexible audio infrastructure can help make or break the experience (and save on rewiring).

By Jesse Miller, CEO, Midtown Video, Inc. (Read the original article here:

With residential integrators taking on more light commercial/resimercial work, I want to share Midtown Video’s innovative development to improve the audio experience for a retail chain that specifically focuses on rotating through multiple immersive ‘experiences’ throughout its space.

Camp, A Family Experience Company, has eight locations from New York to California. Each toy store features standard retail offerings in the front and an 8,000-square-foot ticketed immersive experience in the back, revealed by a secret passage disguised as a bookshelf.

A single CAMP location can cycle through multiple different themes throughout the year, necessitating supporting elements, such as the audio and lighting, to change with the theme. Photo Courtesy/Midtown Video

As the retailer opened new locations, they introduced additional themes including Space Camp, Cooking Camp, and Sports Camp. To keep each location fresh, Camp would rotate the thematic experiences between their locations every six months. Imagine getting called back to the store twice per year to re-position speakers and re-run 16 AWG cable from the rack to every single pendant hanging throughout the space.

As their success grew, so did their partnerships. Soon, there was “Mickey and Friends,” allowing kids and parents to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s birthday with giant projection-mapped rooms featuring classic Disney characters.

Camp Experiences began to launch the same day as feature films, including The Little Mermaid in Atlanta and Trolls: Band Together in New York. To make way for the Trolls Experience, the Encanto Experience running in the Manhattan store was taken down, crated up, and shipped to launch the new Washington, D.C. store.

Each immersive experience is a combination of AV technology, set building, life safety, in-person camp counselors, and retail merchandising. You can guess where AV fit into the construction schedule: Last! We were given the shortest amount of time on site, and only after the carpet was laid, the sets were built, and the paint had dried.

We needed a solution to reduce the amount of AV work during hectic theme rotations, and still meet deadlines and expectations.

Digital Audio Adds Much-Needed Flexibility for Immersive Retail Experiences

Enter an idea from Camp’s Director of IT, Josh Wright. He also serves as their AV liaison (and lighting, control, building access, etc.). Having a partner with such a broad understanding of technology is critical to success. At the outset, Wright standardized a 6 x 6-foot unistrut grid suspended 13 feet above the floor at every store. From the grid, we mounted all the DMX lighting, Wi-Fi access points, IP cameras, pendant speakers, and projectors.

With each theme rotation, our busy techs moved speakers and re-ran cables to fit the new floor maps. “Mickey’s Birthday” audio zones didn’t line up precisely with the summer camp bunks. Isabella’s Flower Garden isn’t the same shape as Ariel’s grotto, and the speaker zones required precise boundaries.

“If I put a network jack at each intersection of the 6 x6 grid, can we somehow reduce the amount of time and work it takes to rotate themes?” Wright asked.

Yes, it could — if we converted the audio from analog to digital using Dante! The next three store buildouts featured network jacks in the unistrut grid, and about 20 SoundTube IP-enabled pendant speakers. We filled the rack with Netgear M4250 switches and ran shielded twisted pair to all 170 network jacks.

Dante and the network grid give us the freedom to dynamically re-draw speaker zones without having to run a bunch of new cable throughout the retail space every time they wanted to switch over to a new immersive experience.

If the new layout calls for a pendant speaker to be moved, a 10-foot patch cable guarantees that we can reach a network jack. If we overload one location with devices, we can simply add a small PoE+ switch. This is how we solved the “Sing along with the band” Concert Arena in the Trolls Experience — it features an extra set of 6x IP-enabled trapezoids and a 15-inch subwoofer with Audinate Avio Dante-to-XLR-output adapter.

Half of Camp stores have these network jacks. Once we can convert the rest, Camp will have successfully reduced the AV install times company-wide. We’re looking forward to meeting the next deadline with great enthusiasm.