By Tim Ruplin
Fresh air is proven to boost both employee morale and productivity, so creating an outdoor workspace seems like a no-brainer…that is, until you consider the logistics of screens, speakers, and other weather-sensitive gear. When environmental factors are guaranteed to shorten the lifespan of improperly installed or maintained AV technology systems, it’s more crucial than ever to consult professionals.
Read on for tips on designing, installing, and maintaining an outdoor workspace.
Keep An Open Mind
Installing AV technology in an outdoor space may seem daunting to companies—but to AV tech professionals, they’re actually a fantastic blank canvas. Outdoor areas are open to countless configurations and setups, which means that workplaces will need to keep an open mind as they consider the configurations and the systems themselves. Outdoor spaces provide flexibility to do things differently every time, so don’t get too locked into a setup that limits your options.
In fact, planning with the assumption that an outdoor space will only be used in one specific way will put you at a disadvantage. Take a rooftop, for example, you may want to use this for open-air working during the day, for company events and celebrations in the early evening, and the occasional mid-morning conference or presentation. Having a single, locked-in setup won’t categorically prevent all of these uses, but it will absolutely favor some while making others much harder.
Leaving the rooftop open to different configurations will make a world of difference, even by making such simple switches as changing which direction is the “front” depending on the time of day to avoid the sun’s glare. This can be quite difficult if your space is set up in a single configuration, so be sure to consult the experts to plan a truly multi-use outdoor workspace.
Plan For Everything
Nothing kills an outdoor event like bad weather, so be sure to have plans and systems in place that will mitigate or avoid the effects of nature. Remember that rooftop space that can be used for morning events. Not only do you need to account for the sun on the screen—you also need to have a plan in place to ensure that the presenter won’t be squinting with the sun in their eyes.
That could mean turning the entire configuration sideways, or perhaps designing the space itself to have a modular roof structure that shields certain areas from the sun. The latter point is exactly why your AV partner should be involved in the design phase of any outdoor space: based on your plans, they’ll be able to tell you where that roof may need to be placed, or if it’s necessary at all.
From an acoustic standpoint, it’s essential to plan for wind and environmental noises such as road traffic. Spaces that simply need some music can benefit from the low-profile, ground-level speakers that are also popular in residential settings. For outdoor spaces geared toward events, standard conference-room speakers that would traditionally be suspended from the ceiling won’t cut it. Instead, look for wall-mounted systems that can direct sound across an area instead of down into that space.
It won’t come as a surprise that outdoor AV technology is built differently from indoor, as the former systems need to be weather-resistant. There are a myriad of options in the world of outdoor AV tech, however, so it’s important to let the specifics of your outdoor space lead your choice of tech.
What makes any given TV, speaker, or lighting unit capable of withstanding the weather? For starters, covering all the connector points. An all-weather speaker or TV is sealed up in such a way that water can’t seep in and reach electrical components. For something like all-weather lights, this means that rubber fittings are added to every connector, ensuring that everything is sealed up and adequately covered.
This doesn’t mean that you have to buy all-new equipment: manufacturers make “enclosures” that will weatherproof your existing TV, for example, if you don’t have the budget to buy a brand-new weatherproofed system.
There are different levels of weatherproofing, depending on the level of exposure. If your systems are located under a modular roof, they won’t need the same level of protection as something that’s completely exposed to the elements. They will, however, still need some level of protection from moisture that can seep in from the air.
It all comes down to the cost and availability parameters: although a fully-exposed piece of equipment would ideally be fully weatherproofed, that’s not always feasible. Sometimes a regular commercial screen and a weatherproofing enclosure will have to do, whether for cost reasons or because a fully weatherproofed piece of equipment wasn’t immediately available.
Brighter Is Better
Whether or not your outdoor space has a locked-in setup, you’ll need to think differently about screen brightness by picking and installing displays that are made specifically for outdoor use.
Why? Whereas indoor screens are only “competing” with office lights, your outdoor screens need to be bright enough to be seen against the brightest light of all: the sun. Look for high-NIT displays, which are designed for beautiful content display even in direct sunlight.
Projectors are a no-go in outdoor spaces, as it’s nearly impossible to find one bright enough to cut through daylight for a clear visual. Stick with TVs or look for an outdoor video wall for more impressive displays.
Don’t Discount Maintenance
So you’ve built a beautiful, flexible outdoor workspace. Now it’s time to think long term because outdoor AV tech systems are anything but “set it and forget it.”
Consider having a designated storage system or rack room in which to house any “loose” components like cables, microphones, amplifiers, or mixers. Even a cabinet or closet will suffice, as long as it’s protected from the elements and close enough to the outdoor area to encourage easy setup and dismantling.
Ruplin is the Director of Event Services for AV-Tech Media Solutions. He’s worked in event services for over 20 coordinating live events of every kind and type.