By Steve Katz
Modern sportfish operations generally include every conceivable option to enhance the fishing ability of the boat and crew. When it comes to non-fishing activities, such as music, television and streaming internet content, there are cases when not as much thought and engineering have been incorporated into optimizing systems. What follows is a guide to improving those systems when building a new boat or upgrading your current platform.
Optimizing a New Boat
Building a new boat—whether custom or production—provides the ability to select from an endless list of modern components and features. While it would seem that a new build would always include everything needed for music, television and internet, this is not always the case. Components included in the final build result from the needs of the owner and crew, as well as the communication between builder and those guiding the build.
I was recently called to a new large custom sportfish. The boat was impressive and seemingly included all the options you could think of. That was until the owner tried to listen to music by connecting his iPhone’s bluetooth to the salon stereo.
Guess what? That feature wasn’t available with the original configuration – we added a simple bluetooth module to the stereo receiver, permitting him to instantly connect and play his music. While this seems like a simple omission by the builder, better communication between owner/crew and builders and contractors can help ensure that the boat’s system will meet the needs of the customer.
Music in the cockpit is another commonly occurring point of difference. There is a wide variety of opinions when it comes to playing tunes while fishing. I have heard many different opinions and points of view. These range from no music all the way to night club sound systems. Some captains want a mute button on the bridge so they can shut off the cockpit music when things get hectic. On the other hand, some owners want their own cockpit system under their control.
Designing a TV System in A New Boat
During a new boat build, you may have the option to select the entertainment equipment. If so, you can tailor the system to easily meet your needs and allow future expansion. Consider the following:
TV – The most popular televisions at the moment are the 4K smart variety. What is 4K? 4k or Ultra HD, refers to the resolution capability. Based on the cinematic standard, the horizontal screen resolution
standard is about 4,000 pixels (for those purists, a consumer 4K TV horizontal resolution is 3840 due to the 16:9 screen ratio). In general, a 4K TV is about twice the resolution of a HDTV.
While mainstream 4K content is its infancy, a 4K TV may improve the picture of your current sources by upscaling the video to a higher definition picture. In the future there will be much more 4K content and most consumers will want to be able to view that content on a compatible screen.
Satellite providers DirecTV and Dish both offer some 4K content as do many of the streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon. In the marine market, KVH and Intellian have not yet announced 4K capability with their hardware. Existing HDTV marine systems are fully compatible the new 4K TVs, though at HDTV resolution.
A Smart TV has the built-in ability to connect (wired or wirelessly) to the internet to stream content directly without the use of additional hardware. This feature is most often used to watch streaming content such as Netflix, Amazon and YouTube.
Another feature of modern TVs that is useful for sportfishing boats is the ability to view media files from a storage device. You can take that memory card from your GoPro or Virb camera and connect it into the TV to view your most recent video or still pictures.
In a new boat, quite a bit goes into designing the location and mounting method for the television. One simple best use practice is to use a popular size, commonly available television with the realization that the TV may be replaced or upgraded. TVs should be mounted using the VESA industry standard mounting method. Doing so will make the eventual replacement/upgrade much easier.
New Boat Sound Systems
There are lots of stereos, receivers, home theaters and entertainment systems available. Some are basic, others complex. Standalone options are available, others – including such as Crestron, Control4, Savant, RTI and others – may be tied into a whole boat solution. While these are all great systems, the stereo/receiver is still doing the work.
The receivers for integrated packages are packed full of features, many of which are never used on a boat. Designing a sound system on a boat can be a more intricate process than would meet the eye. Unless you have a background in speaker design and function, these differences (though easily overlooked) could have a large impact on your ability to entertain on the boat. Speakers in the back of the salon, for instance, may need full range sound and rather than rear surround sound. Something so easily overlooked could make a big difference when watching TV or a movie
Most modern receivers are made for home use and provide various surround sound features. While some of the features may not be needed on a boat, the ability to run sound through many speakers is quite useful.
Be sure to review the receiver’s features and capabilities to ensure its compatibility with your needs for speaker placement and function. (If you are unsure as to what you might need, it is much more efficient and cost effective to engage the services of a consultant at this stage – rather than having him come out to retrofit the system once it has been installed).
Some noteworthy features to look for when selecting a home receiver for use in a boat – Bluetooth, Apple Airplay, satellite radio, internet for streaming, USB storage playback, multiple independent zones, subwoofer output and lots of power (watts). If the receiver is going to control the TV video sources, be sure you have enough inputs, both HDMI and traditional analog inputs.
Often each stateroom or bunk area will have its own TV and sound system. Separate systems allow multiple people to watch and listen to multiple sources at the same time without disturbing others.
This may be best accomplished with small systems for each area, though others may desire to have a whole boat system with many zones. From my experience, it seems that multiple smaller, independent systems are easier to operate – producing a better user experience than a large single multizone system.
The flybridge is usually supplied with music from an independent system located on the bridge. This system often controls music in the outdoor spaces. Bridge stereos are often concealed and controlled through modern multifunction displays, saving helm space and keeping in the stereo system out of the weather.
New Boat Satellite TV
Both KVH and Intellian make marine satellite TV systems. Both also offer an HDTV version, capable of receiving content in high definition. Dish HDTV is available in most standard marine satellite antenna systems, though it is not trouble-free. As the antenna system automatically switches between multiple satellites dependent on the channel the user is watching, channel surfing can really give the antenna a workout!
DirecTV’s HD signals are currently broadcast on three satellites. The marine satellite antennas need to track all three at the same time, therefore requiring a larger more complex system – beginning with Intellian’s s6HD and KVH HD7 and larger. Additionally, the satellite receivers all need to be HD capable and often require the use of HDMI connection to the TV.
This is an important consideration, given that wiring can get complex if not originally incorporated into the design of the boat. Both DirectTV and Dish are working on changes to their programming and satellites, mainly involving bandwidth and technology improvements. The changes can affect the marine systems – so be sure to do some research before you purchase a system.
Upgrading the Entertainment System on Your Current Boat
There are many ways to upgrade your current system. Depending on your needs and budget, most will provide improved functionality and capability. Let the upgrade begin…
Upgrading Your TV System
Most upgrades start with the TV. There are few things to keep in mind. Most all new TVs have an aspect ratio of 16:9 aspect ratio while older TVs were 4:3. As the aspect ratio measures the width of the television to its height, you may need a smaller size television to fit a 16:9 tv in a space that once held a 4:3 older model. To avoid downsizing, you may need to redesign/remount the positioning of a new TV into a salon or stateroom.
There are many mounts and systems that can help facilitate the installation. Modern TVs confirm to VESA mounting standards, allowing you to mount the TV to a wall, pre-manufactured bracket or other structure with a known bolt pattern. The good news is that today’s TVs are lightweight. A 2017 Samsung 49” 4K TV weighs 31-pounds, less than half of what a similar size TV weighed years ago. This makes designing a mounting solution much easier.
Pro Tip — Before buying a TV, inspect the existing TV to see how the auxiliary your devices are connected. Many new TVs do not have the same audio and video inputs and outputs that old TVs had. If you need to keep legacy devices connected to your new TV, you may need adapters.
One last note on TVs – the traditional audio output that often plugs into the stereo system is missing on most modern televisions. This feature was used extensively on sportfish boats to connect the TV to the stereo system, allowing you to watch and listen to the TV while underway. If you are using a home theater type system to manage all the inputs, sound should be easy.
If you rely on the TV’s audio output, however, there are currently two popular methods to get sound out of a modern television. New TVs offer Audio Return Channel (ARC) technology within the HDMI connection. This sends the TV’s audio back to the source, such as a home theater receiver or even the newest Fusion marine stereos.
With this feature, the stereo can play the sound of the TV through its stereo speakers. The second option is to use the digital optical audio output connection, routed through a converter if needed, and run that cable to a stereo or home theater receiver auxiliary input.
Upgrading the Sound System
While much of the information listed in the new boat section holds true, there are a few points of difference. With an upgrade, running new wires for speakers and connections can get expensive. Often the headliner needs to be removed—as everyone knows, nothing to do with removing or applying headliner is either easy or cheap. Making use of or re-purposing existing wiring can allow you to keep a reasonable budget and still have a nice upgrade.
Repurposing refers to the use of existing wiring for a purpose other than that which it was originally intended. This is usually done for video or audio signal wires (not power wires)! Devices called Baluns can convert a signal from one kind of wiring to another. Using a specialized balun, for instance, allows you to use a Cat5 data cable for the transmission of audio or video signals.
Salon and Bridge Stereo systems
When it comes to music, there are many listening zones on a boat and not all users may want the same music at the same time. For instance, there could be a movie playing in the salon with the movie sound routed through salon speakers, while the anglers in the cockpit could be listing to music from an iPhone while the captain is listing to satellite radio on the bridge. This situation is actually common on larger sportfish boats and there are a few different ways to accomplish the effect.
For many boats, multiple individual systems are often the easiest to install and operate. The flybridge often has its own basic stereo system, often controlled through the multifunction display. The salon often has its own sound system, primarily used with the TV but also capable of playing music from any source. The cockpit sound system is often a separate zone from the bridge stereo. It could also have its own system or be tied to the salon as a separate zone.
While separate zones are the best way to satisfy all needs, the ability to interconnect the zones is also helpful when you want to have the same source playing through the entire boat. Playing a single source can be accomplished by sharing the source through auxiliary inputs. Some boats even have speakers in the engine room which are usually controlled as a separate zone from the salon system – a nice touch for those oil change days!
Whether it be upgrading an existing boat or putting together a new boat package, quite a bit goes into optimizing a boat’s entertainment package. While it’s hard to keep up on the available options and technology, a little research and review of your requirements can go a long way. Whether you tackle the job yourself or bring in the perspective of a professional, incorporating all the modern features can definitely improve your boat’s user experience.
· Don’t forget to incorporate your other video sources – i.e. such as engine room cameras, cockpit cameras, security systems, game systems, chartplotter MFD screen inputs/output, action cameras, Smartphone’s and other etc. – into your bridge and interior systems.
· If you are running cables, run spare cables for future use or expansion. If you are not sure what type of wire to run, use one or more Cat 5 cable (Cat5e, Cat6 etc). With the use of a balun, the wire could be used for many purposes.
· Bluetooth – Did you know not all Bluetooth is the same? There are many variations of the Bluetooth hardware standard, begging at version 1.0 and at is most current version 5, as expected the newer versions generally perform better. As most have realized Bluetooth is a great connection method for wireless devices, though limited in distance by design and suffers some incompatibility between devices. An interesting note, Fusion entertainment recently introduced a new marine stereo, the 755, and they specifically addressed and improved the Bluetooth capability by moving the internal Bluetooth circuitry closer to the front face of the stereo, allowing for longer range reception than their previous models.
Captain Steve Katz is the owner of Steve’s Marine Service Inc in Ocean City, Maryland. He is the Vice President of the National Marine Manufacturers Association and holds ABYC Master Technician certification, NMEA AMEI, NMEA2000 certificates along with factory training from many manufacturers. To contact Steve, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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