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Entertainment Systems

Satellite TV and touchscreen remotes help boat owners feel like superyacht tycoons.

August 24, 2010

Satellite TV

Marine electronics are a fine example of the trickle-down theory. As hardware, software and networking protocols advance at the top end, even recent developments are supplanted by the cutting edge. But those superseded technologies are still perfectly usable. After all, they were the best you could get not six months ago and on the largest superyachts. Such systems and components end up on smaller yachts, with owners embracing their capabilities at the resulting lower price point. Chart plotters, sounders and radar have all undergone this evolution. Features once available only at the top end find their way to larger markets at lower price points. Thirty-foot center consoles with multifunction displays showing 3-D plotting and dual-range digital radar are prime examples.

It’s the same with entertainment systems: The superyacht with multiple screens showing a satellite television feed with surround sound and iPod docking stations in every stateroom is something that the owner of a smaller boat would have seen in the pages of Yachting and drooled over not that long ago. Now entertainment systems have advanced at all levels and those articles are fodder for ideas rather than fantasy.

Speaking of fantasy, there are yachts out there that are decked out to make anyone drool: “Everything was probably about 1997 vintage when it was all purchased for the boat, so we went in and we took out all the tube TVs and put in flat-screens throughout the entire boat,” says Captain Roy Hodges, skipper of Atlantica, a 135-foot Christensen (for charter information, call International Yacht Collection, 954-522- 2323). We did a really extensive Kaleidescape system in the boat, which is a hard-drive movie system. And we have eight players, so each of the guest cabins and all of the common areas have their own players for the hard-drive system, so you can watch eight different movies on the boat at the same time, through the same hard-drive system. A lot of the boats have that system but there’s only one player so everybody has to watch the same movie.” Kaleidescape’s four-terabyte system (kaleidescape.com) will store upwards of 450 DVDs, so there’s plenty of entertainment (For information on Atlantica’s entertainment package call 866-483-6787). And that’s not counting the satellite programming the system can receive.

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“The other thing we did that a lot of [charter guests] appreciate is that we put in a separate satellite receiver for every TV on the boat,” says Hodges. “And we have to use a different satellite system when we’re in the US and the Bahamas, and when we’re down in the Caribbean, so we actually have two satellite receivers for every TV on the boat. That tends to get used a lot, especially around sporting events. We have a total of 36 satellite receivers on the boat — we can have 18 different channels on at any one time.” Remote controls are how the users connect to the system, and fortunately those advancements have made it simpler to control a complex system.

“We have the Crestron control setups,” Hodges says. “In all the common areas, we have four-inch touchpads that they can carry around with them. And then in the guest cabins we have Crestron digital remotes.” The result is one remote for each area.

“For a charter guest that’s very important,” says Hodges of the simplified remote control. “When you bring people on who aren’t familiar with it and they’re only on the boat for a week they need to be able to use it on the first day and not need a big introduction to it.”

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Flat-screen televisions are one technology — by virtue of their hang-on-the-bulkhead depth — that is a no-brainer for any boat owner. But it’s what the owner hooks up to it that creates that luxury entertainment-system experience. Those hard-drive movie systems come in scaled-down versions that make sense for smaller boats that don’t want to store DVDs aboard.

“We’ve been doing a lot of the Apple systems,” says Bobby Krell of Langer-Krell Marine Electronics in Miami (langerkrell.com). “That’s a relatively inexpensive system: We’re talking about a $500 hard-drive system. So it’s practical on the smaller boats now.” While the owner may not be able to bring his entire movie collection along, there’s space for something for everyone. The same goes for satellite television.

“We do a tremendous number of satellite TV systems,” Krell says. “And we’re putting them on boats 25 feet and up. All the manufacturers are making these satellite domes starting at about 13 inches, and it’s opened up a new market for us at the lower end, so we’re putting them on all kinds of boats.” And today, systems work in conditions that previously gave satellite systems — and their owners — fits.

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“Since I always cruise with my two sons [the KVH TracVision M3ST] gives them endless entertainment options, whether we are underway or dockside, and is especially appreciated when in port during bad weather,” says Ray Batt of Canton, Michigan, of his Meridian 408, Batt Cave. “As avid sports fans, we are always able to watch our favorite teams wherever we are and whatever the season.”

Krell noted that high-definition satellite systems are becoming more reliable in the 24-inch dish size, which means that the unit will fit boats from about 40 feet and up. These systems start at around $10,000.

“When I took delivery of my boat, it had no electronics on it: No GPS, no radio, and all it had in terms of entertainment, [was] a 42-inch flat-screen — [it] had flat-screens throughout,” says Robin Braig, owner of a Ocean Alexander 42 who bought a boatshow demonstration model in 2008. “But other than to connect at a dock, it had no entertainment system. Which I enjoyed because I wanted to rig it the way I wanted it. And I knew just by following Yachting magazine and going to boat shows that I wanted to get some really fun equipment.” Braig’s research brought him to a satellite system from Intellian Technologies (intelliantech.com) that works for his specific needs.

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“I live in Daytona Beach and I primarily run the Intracoastal from the Keys up to Jacksonville, and head to the Bahamas a couple of times a year,” says Braig. “I enjoy the Intracoastal and my family and guests like to watch sporting events while we cruise. The Intracoastal is winding and curving and the tracking on the Intellian system is excellent.”

As smaller boats take on superyacht-worthy systems, the same problems arise: Controlling the systems becomes an issue, as the number of remote controls on the salon cocktail table grows with every system. But that simplified technology is becoming accessible too.

“We have a touch-screen remote in the salon to handle all that equipment,” says Krell. “The touch-screens are making it so much easier to manage because, for lack of a better term, they speak English. Turn on the entire entertainment system with one button on the touch-screen, which people seem to have an affinity for using. They’re becoming more and more affordable for the smaller boat as well. We can put together a universal remote control touch-screen for about $1,000 programmed. Recently that was a $3,000 to $5,000 project.”

From enjoying the big screen experience to controlling it with an intuitive touchscreen remote, onboard entertainment systems take away the compromises. All that’s left is the fun.

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