Few technologies on yachts arouse more interest in owners than the entertainment system as it’s the technology that owners and guests interact with the most. They invariably demand the highest quality, but in such a fast-evolving field what is new today is likely to be obsolete tomorrow. This is especially relevant on a custom superyacht that may take three or more years to build, and makes it all the more difficult to future-proof audio-visual and home automation systems. Nor is it simply a question of choosing between standard HD and ultra-high-definition 4K TV screens at the last minute: planning in advance is essential for the integration of the systems, which should be as user-friendly as possible, and rely on software that can be updated to keep pace with emerging technology.
Tablet devices for controlling the on-board entertainment— along with the air conditioning, blinds, lighting and much more besides—have revolutionized life at sea just as they have in the home. Back in the 1970s cathode-ray TVs and chunky VCRs were being fitted on luxury yachts, now it’s all about iPads and flatscreen HD displays.
Nowadays, bespoke, experience-driven installations that merge aesthetics and technology have become de rigueur. The interactive screen built into the glass-walled corridor that runs through the engine room and into the beach club aboard the 83.5m (274ft) motor yacht Savannah enables guests to use the touch-sensitive screen to pull up information such as the location of the yacht, its speed and engine room data, construction plans or video from the underwater cameras.
With software called MyConcierge, which has been installed on several yachts, guests can download the virtual butler app on their personal tablet or smartphone and use it to watch a movie or listen to music, but also order a cocktail or a meal, view navigation charts or take in the scene from the masthead via the closed-circuit cameras. Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) is another recently utilized technology installed in the master suite aboard the 60m (197ft) motor yacht Light Holic, the system creates a soundfree bubble around the bed that blocks unwanted ambient noise completely.
Not all yacht owners are Apple aficionados. The tech-savvy owner of MySky, a 50m (164ft) motor yacht delivered in 2015, requested Bang & Olufsen screens and speakers and wanted to use the B&O remote controls to govern other functions such as the blinds and lighting, instead of the ubiquitous iPad. This created issues of compatibility for the IT integrators and the automation software was re-engineered to meet his request. He also wanted the sophisticated designer products to be on display, so the yacht builders and joiners had to find ways to integrate them tastefully into the interior decor.
MySky also features a LED video wall in the main deck lounge and bar area. Video walls are an emerging trend in yacht design and the 95m (312ft) motor yacht Kismet has an enormous video installation consisting of 42 individual monitors flanking the main staircase. Programmed to show moving artwork in high definition, the system also links to exterior video cameras so the wall can function as a virtual window onto the outside world.
Custom sound is another development. California Audio Technology (CAT), a US manufacturer of high-end audio solutions, has supplied speakers and amplifiers made out of the highest quality materials for use on superyachts. Their speakers are custom-built to any shape or size, in any colour or material, so designers can integrate them perfectly into the interior or exterior design of the yacht.
The magnificent 86m (282ft) motor yacht Seven Seas has a state-of-the-art indoor cinema, in addition and perhaps more unusual still, the glass wall of the infinity pool can also serve as a movie screen. In fact, outdoor movie theatres are increasingly popular. One of the most innovative is Maltese Falcon, the 88m (289ft) three-masted iconic sailing yacht that uses the sails of its radical Dynarig as a vast projector screen. Other yachts with open-air cinemas include two of the most sought after charter yachts on the water today, the 63m (207ft) Lady Britt, and the Nikki beach-style cinema aboard 55m (180ft) Turquoise.
Continuing the cinematic theme, Van Berge Henegouwen and CAT have collaborated with Auro Technologies in Belgium to deliver what it calls the “ultimate superyacht experience”. Surround sound systems have been around for years, but Auro-3D is a new three-dimensional sound technology that provides an immersive audio-visual experience by installing speakers at multiple levels for a wrap-around effect.
The future of entertainment systems on yachts depends to some extent on something we take for granted on dry land: bandwidth. At home we are accustomed to streaming HD video thanks to superfast, fibre optic delivery. But when not plugged into an Internet connection in the marina, yachts rely on slower satellite communications, which is why high-definition media content is stored on multiple servers in air-conditioned technical rooms.
Ten years ago, wireless networks and entertainment servers were still a novelty on yachts. As faster and more stable broadband connections at sea become available, in the next ten years streaming will become more commonplace and much of the hardware could even be housed off-site in remote locations.
The increasing availability of satellite-based communications anywhere in the world has meant that yacht owners and guests can attend to business whenever and wherever they wish without hindrance, that same bandwidth availability also means access to streaming movies and music now knows no boundaries either.
Exploring the remotest parts of the world can now be done without sacrificing any of the home comforts that guests and owners take for granted including their favourite playlists.
This article originally appeared in The Superyacht Book – an insider look into some of the most luxurious floating residences. Get your copy here.