There was a time when a “sports bar” was the neighborhood bar with a television hanging on one side of the bar, and the patrons yelling at the bartender to change the channel from basketball to football. That’s when televisions were big and bulky and the number of channels were limited.
Now, great sports bars need to serve wings, nachos and hamburgers with fries, and don’t forget an assortment of nuts, pretzels, cold beer, and pretty girls to serve them. Oh, I was distracted by the pretty girls . . . this is about the visual presentation.
The TV antenna is gone and replaced with a cable feed or satellite transmission. It doesn’t matter which company that you consider, they all have a sports package, delivered in 1080p Hi-def resolution, which includes just about any sports activity that a customer might want to view. A DVR would be handy to have in order to replay games during times when there is little sports action.
The favorite sports packages are Sunday Ticket with access to as many as 14 games each and every Sunday; MLB Additional Innings with 60 out-of-market regular-season games each week; Mega March Madness for a month of B-ball; NHL Center Ice with up to 40 non-local games a week; and don’t forget NASCAR.
The ideal sports fan experience includes views available from any seat in the bar with multiple, large high-definition TVs positioned for ease of view. The size of the bar will determine how many TVs can be utilized and whether a large projection-screen would work. Customers are drawn to the mega screen for sports action, such as NASCAR.
The layout of the bar will determine the placement of the TVs. Place as many TVs behind the bar as the space will allow. There was a time when mirrors or paintings were mounted behind the bar because tube type televisions would not fit, but today these decorations are replaced by flat panel televisions, which need only inches from the wall for mounting.
The size of the TVs should be determined by the depth of the room from the bar to the parallel wall, unless the room is large enough for additional TVs to be mounted elsewhere. The idea is for the patrons to enjoy the viewing experience, and to be able to see the sports event without straining their eyes. This is where a good Systems Integrator comes in to play with the technical knowhow to make all of the pieces fit.
In some sports bars, the same game is on all of the televisions, because they direct the same signal to all sets. This is no longer the case. The video router allows for different events to be sent to different TVs. Maybe, the people on one end of the bar want to see a tennis match at Wimbledon, while the patrons at the other end desire to watch the Augusta Open golf tournament. Each TV could display a separate sport or sport news, and with just a push of a button, all TVs could go to one event, such as fourth and goal with five seconds to play in a close football game. If there are few sporting events happening, one or more of the TVs can display signage, showing the specials of the day.
With the Black Magic Design Videohub, complicated manual video patching is eliminated forever!
Videohub allows connection of all of the equipment in a sports bar and easily changes connections right from your computer. It has 144 inputs and 288 outputs. Don’t panic. They also have smaller units. Other companies, such as SignVideo have 8×8 routers, allowing eight different sources to be sent to 8 different destinations. There is a router for any size bar. Sources can be cable, satellite, DVD, VCR and pretty much any video or audio source. All though the technology is complex, the actual use is very simple.
Of course, there needs to be destinations to connect the sources. There are many choices for televisions available. This is not the place to skimp. Use only quality commercial flat screen televisions. The quality of the components and enclosure will be higher with brand name sets. Look for a resolution of at least 1080p. There are two choices in TV technology, Plasma and LCD. Plasma handles motion better that LCD, which might be an issue, watching a fast moving sport, which most are. Plasma is not as power efficient as LCD, which could be a factor when there are a lot of TVs running up the electric bill. To make up for the motion factor, a LCD TV with a refresh rate 120 Hz or 240 Hz will cope with the action.
A LCD with a LED backlight uses the least amount of energy and weighs much less than a plasma unit, lowering the cost of the installation and the electric bill. LCD TVs look better with ambient light and some LCD screens resist glare. Major manufacturers, such as LG, Panasonic and Samsung have three year warranties on site. Just imagine taking down a 60″ TV to have it repaired. Commercial models have additional fans and other thermal characteristics to withstand long usage and overheat conditions. One great feature of a commercial flat TV is IR remote lockout so that the bar’s customers cannot change channels.
If the bar is large enough, a projection screen is a huge draw, as the action will be almost life size. If the bar is in the design stage, watch the placement of the ceiling lights, so that light does not spill onto or block the screen. For an existing bar, look for a large wall area that can be viewed from any spot in the room. If the existing lighting falls on the screen, disconnect those lamps, or add them to a dimmer, so that they can be turned off during a televised event and back on during down time.
Selecting the right screen is not easy. There are multiple factors to take into consideration. A screen with a high gain and image uniformity is ideal, yet these attributes are incongruous. The higher the gain, the more reflective is the screen. Normally, the higher the gain, the more the light falls off at the sides, top and bottom, depending on the viewing angle. A screen that has uniform reflectivity is not a high gain screen. High gain screens are ideal if the audience is centered on the screen, but this is not usually the case in a sports bar. Evaluate the different screen materials to determine which would work in a particular lighting condition.
Screen size will be dependent on two factors. The first factor to be considered is the size of the wall where the screen is to be mounted. If there is sufficient unobstructed space, go with a 119″ diagonal screen. Anything larger will require a very expensive projector to produce sufficient brightness. The screen aspect ratio should be 16:9, which is the standard HDTV widescreen format. For HDTV projection (16:9), screen height should equal or exceed 1/3 the distance from the screen to the optimum seat.
The second factor that must be considered is the throw distance of the projector. If the room is large, this should not be a problem, but for smaller rooms, the distance from the screen to the projector must be sufficient so that the projector can fill the screen without the projector being located outside of the building. There are projectors that have wide angle lenses for short throw distances. Just make sure the screen is not too large for the projector and projection distance that is selected.
Screen Innovation’s Black Diamond II projector screen enables projection with the lights on by increasing image contrast over 300%. The Black Diamond material absorbs ambient light, deepening black levels and punching up white levels.
Holo Displays has an advanced light diffusion technology that renders brighter images, as much as 3 times brighter than conventional screens with improved contrast levels, and enhanced view angles. This is a rigid acrylic material.
As a complement to a large screen, the RGB 4 View™ multiple window processor displays four video inputs at full resolution at up to 1280 x 1024p or 1600 x 1200i pixels, for dramatically better visual quality than traditional video quads which display each video signal at only 25% of true resolution. The 4 View is capable of displaying four simultaneous sporting events on one large screen, or if there was a main event such as a championship game, displaying one image full screen.
Just as there are many screens available, there are just as many projectors. The key factor to evaluate a projector is the brightness or lumen output. This is decided by the size of the screen. A low lumen projector on a large screen will produce a faint image. I suggest that for all screens 119″ diagonal or smaller a 3,500 – 4,000 lumen projector should be employed.
The Mitsubishi FL7000U is a 5,000 lumen HD projector, ideal for sports bars with lots of ambient light. This high-def projector has a resolution of 1920 x 1080, and a refresh rate of 120 Hz for fast sports action.
DLP projectors or LCD with a refresh rate of 120Hz will work for a sports bar. The resolution should be 1080p with lens shift for offset mounting if necessary, and interchangeable lens for mounting options to fill the screen.
Buy lots of spare lamps. As most projector lamps have a life of about 2,000 hours, the lamp will need to be changed every 5 â€“ 6 months with an average daily use of 12 hours. Unless the lamp is relatively new, I would change it before the Super Bowl or World Series just to be safe.
If smoking is allowed, check the warranty of the considered projector, as some warranties are voided if damage is from smoke. Make sure the screen is carefully cleaned often, as smoke could discolor the surface. Follow the screen manufacturer’s instructions.
The Projector Protector Air Handling System is a complete fresh air cooling system for big screen projectors. It is common knowledge that any piece of electronic equipment will work better and longer if it operates in a clean, cooler environment. Although fans in electronics provide a cooling feature, they don’t address the quality of the air. They are pumping dirty, dusty, greasy air across lenses, mirrors, LCD screens and all the rest of the electronic components and internal wiring and connections. In order for the electronics to reach their expected life, or exceed it, the equipment must be cooled with clean, fresh air. In a bar and lounge environment, there are many different particles that are in the air.
There is a wide range of sound systems for the sports bar, but one system stands out for me. The Soundsphere System has better intelligibility, more even coverage and higher quality sound from fewer speakers.
Due to their broad dispersion, fewer Soundsphere speakers produce a more even coverage of full frequency sound over a given area than a greater number of conventional speakers. An additional benefit of the non-directional sound dispersion is that listeners seldom perceive the sound source. They perceive a uniform field of sound that appears to come from everywhere.
Lighting needs a lot of consideration. Put all general lighting fixtures on dimmers and use standard fluorescent tubes with smooth easy-to-clean diffusers in work spaces. Do not skimp on lighting for the cash register, especially if you are using security cameras. Use automatic lighting controls to turn lights on upon entering storage areas, and off when exiting. Skip the halogen lights and use LEDs wherever possible. LEDs are even better than Compact Fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. Most LEDs last over 50,000 hours, produce little heat and use a minimal amount of electricity. The electric bill will see a substantial reduction.
Most sports bars have a lot of windows, which could cause problems during a day event. Blinds, curtains, drapes or shades would help control the ambient light. Draper’s FlexShade window shades reflect light and heat from the sun. Motorized window shades can automatically adjust to compensate for the changing shade requirements throughout the day.
Don’t forget to spice up the dÃ©cor with neon signs, sports posters and memorabilia. Neonsign.com has a large selection of sports bar signs along with kegworks.com. For framed sports posters, check out Urbanloftart.com, or fulcrumgallery.com, and for sports memorabilia go to autographcity.com and prosportsmemorabilia.com. These are just a few of the many companies that provide sports dÃ©cor for the bar.
Visit barlighting.com for some creative ways to add accent lighting to the bar with LED lighting. Liquor bottle displays stand out with LED lighting behind the bottles. LEDs make great accent lighting under the bar, along railings and even under tables. LEDs use very little energy and produce no heat.
Sports bars are fun, but they must be inviting to draw the kind of crowd that will be there for every sporting event.
Len started in the audio visual industry in 1975 and has contributed articles to several publications. He also writes opinion editorials for a local newspaper. He is now retired.
This article contains statements of personal opinion and comments made in good faith in the interest of the public. You should confirm all statements with the manufacturer to verify the correctness of the statements.