Upon entering Outernet’s Now Building, more than 2,000 square meters of 16K LED screen impress visitors with immersive video content. And while it certainly draws attention, the ears are by no means left out. The L-ISA (opens in a new tab) 200-speaker immersive audio installation immerses visitors in an immersive soundscape. The Now Building, the centerpiece of Outernet, is used both as a vast indoor/outdoor visitor space and as an enclosed venue that can accommodate art installations, live concerts, film premieres or any event the creative mind can imagine. In both configurations, Outernet is poised to deliver a magnificent real-time space experience to an expected number of over 400,000 people traversing space each day.
Outernet London’s story began when Consolidated Developments purchased a large section of Denmark Street, affectionately known as Tin Pan Alley in the UK, with the intention of converting this prime London property into an innovative mixed-use development.
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While Outernet is technologically stunning, the site has been sensitively treated, with the all-important Rue du Denmark façade fully preserved. In fact, from Denmark Street, the only clue of its existence is its entrance into an unassuming alley. Stepping inside, however, reveals the Now Arcade, lined floor-to-ceiling with LED panels and speakers, a precursor to what lies beyond.
In addition to the Now Building, Outernet includes Now Trending, product sampling, an interactive exhibit, and a broadcast program space capable of VR and XR experiences. Now Pop Up 1 and 2 are adjacent to the Now Building and can accommodate pop-up shops or merchandise outlets for performing artists.
This large-scale project was challenging but exciting due to its size and technicality. The team behind the ground-breaking audiovisual installation included Laurence Kirschel, owner of Consolidated Development, Mike Whittaker, CTO of Outernet Global, engineering consultancy Hoare Lea, audiovisual consultancy Auditoria PTY , integrator SSE Audio and L-Acoustics.
“Part of our creative brief was to provide an immersive, multi-sensory experience where visitors can see, hear, and even smell the aroma of the experience unfolding before them,” Whittaker explained. “Our technical challenge was to create a ‘technology stack’ that would work seamlessly across countless applications and event types, day in and day out. We needed to match immersive video with immersive audio. For me, sound was vitally important because it peels images off walls and makes the hairs on people’s necks stand on end.
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The LED screens that line the Now Building create a giant glass box. To complicate matters further, two of the four sides of the screen “room” can be slid aside, transforming the venue from an enclosed room into an indoor/outdoor walk-through space that faces a small plaza adjacent to one of the entrances to Tottenham Court Road. subway station. As a result, the acoustic elements had to be carefully planned to suit all layouts of the venue bearing in mind that the site is in a mixed-use residential/commercial area. “We have to be considerate neighbors,” Whittaker noted.
Working alongside L-Acoustics from the start of the project, SSE Audio, part of the Solotech Group, installed approximately 200 L-Acoustics loudspeakers across Outernet’s five ground-level performance spaces.
“With such a complex architectural structure, it’s important that L-ISA ‘knows’ what state the space is in. Ensuring that we can work with its multiple configurations acoustically is vital, both for live music and pre-recorded,” SSE said. Audio’s Senior Project Development Manager, Dan Seal, who worked alongside L-Acoustics and Auditoria consultant Scott Willsallen on the design of the audio system. “The complexity of the project also meant that many disciplines had to be coordinated; creativity was key, with speakers hidden in drains, under screens and above grilles. But throughout it all, upholding the high standards of the project was paramount.
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The centerpiece of Outernet is the Now Building, which is equipped with transom-level and ground-level speakers to achieve consistency and coverage throughout the space. Twenty-four X4i’s are positioned at the base of one of the massive LED screen walls, while another 12 X4i’s are hidden in the drainage system of the other three walls. Twelve compact SB10i subwoofers, which were developed specifically for the Outernet project to be hidden in the drain gutters, provide low-end sound reinforcement. Eleven A10i Focus, accompanied by seven Syva Low submarines, cover the top of the three walls that can be opened for interior/exterior space configuration. There are five optional cinema expansion points for deploying Syva/Syva Low portable systems.
“The introduction of the SB10i to the L-Acoustics product line has opened up many possibilities for our system integration projects,” explained Kyle Durno, Applications Engineer at SSE Audio. “Subwoofer placement options were very limited on this project; Now Trending and Now Spaces both feature SB10i in the gutter system to extend the X4i’s low-frequency performance to floor level, which is essential for on-screen audio content such as dialogue/music.
“The challenge in all of these spaces was getting consistent split coverage across the audience to make sure that no matter where you are in the space, you’re immersed in the sound,” added Durno, who played a determining role in the programming of the system. “We were facing difficult design constraints due to the video walls, so the combination of ground-level and transom-level speakers was an effective solution.”
To ensure consistent performance across near-field and far-field listening positions, the team used the new spatial fill feature of immersive L-ISA technology. Spatial Fill creates a virtual replica of the L-ISA stage system and is an effective solution where shared coverage is less optimal. By using gain/delay-based algorithms to position audio objects, Spatial Filling improves object separation, coverage, and level consistency.
“We use Spatial Fill to improve acoustic performance, especially in near-field listening positions where the difference in path length between the speakers at floor level and transom level creates negative comb filtering” , Durno continued. “The result improves localization for near-field listeners.”
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Next to the Now Building, the trapezium-shaped Now Trending space follows a similar audio configuration, with 34 X4i installed on the ground floor, 20 of which span the two walls covered with LED screens. An additional upper tier of 13 5XT coaxial speakers, supplemented by four Syva Subs, hang around the perimeter of the room, while compact SB10i subwoofers are hidden in a gutter below the video screens. Adjacent Now Pop Up 1 and 2 spaces include 14 5XT with two Syva Low and 12 5XT and one Syva Low respectively.
The long, rectangular Now Arcade is designed as a gateway to the other spaces, but can also be used for private reservations. Here, there are rows of 19 X4i ultra-compact coaxial speakers per side at floor level, along with eight SB10i subwoofers spread across the length of the hallway.
All spaces are centrally managed via Q-SYS (opens in a new tab)with audio distributed via Dante (opens in a new tab) and Milan-AVB on redundant networks. An extensive guest liaison system allows incoming patrons to route audio into venues, in addition to in-house content production. “Onsite personnel and guest engineers have access to every system in every space, transmitting audio to the relevant L-ISA processors via analog, AES and Dante,” Durno added. “This highly flexible system gives visitors the right level of control and freedom to configure Outernet for their event, without altering or damaging the system in the process.”
L-Acoustics was also involved in system commissioning and training at the end of the project, with SSE Audio providing 24/7/365 support via Service+, a remote maintenance solution provided by parent company, Solotech.
Outernet hosted the Blue Moon Gala celebrations of UNICEF’s 75th Anniversary and Mothers2mothers’ 20th Anniversary earlier this year. According to Whittaker, using L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal Sound offers the perfect solution to help bring entertainment and art experiences to all the senses.
“The team rose to the technical challenge flawlessly, delivering a truly world-class solution,” Outernet’s Whittaker concluded. “From L-Acoustics, the global leader in high-end professional sound, to our display partners who work with us to deliver the world’s largest permanently installed mobile platform, we know we are in between great hands. These partnerships have not only been crucial to making Outernet work, but also to accommodate the various specification changes as it has evolved and to ensure our future success. I am enchanted by all the acoustic realms that L-ISA reveals to us.