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AV technology helps breath new life into funeral services in Dublin

Using AV technology which wouldn't look out of place in a high-level boardroom, Mount Jerome crematorium takes a new and innovative approach to funerals

As Benjamin Franklin famously wrote in 1789, in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. And whilst the latter has the potential to be sidestepped (Google, Vodafone, Facebook we’re looking at you), the former is (for now at least), sadly inevitable.

With over 55.3 million people dying every year (equivalent to 151,600 per day), human burials and cremations – as crude and as insensitive as it might sound out loud – provides some significant business opportunities. And like any business, there is competition and a need to differentiate. That’s where AV steps in.

Based in Harrold’s Cross, located on the Southside of Dublin is Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium. With a history dating back to 1836 and more than 220,000 funerals and 24,000 cremations under its belt, the venue – which has three separate chapels – is viewed as one of the most advanced and forward thinking of its kind in Ireland when it comes to utilising modern technology.

Whilst retaining a traditional, comfortable and respectful environment, the technology found in each of the chapels (Victorian, Garden and Angels) could have been lifted straight out of any modern office meeting room – with displays and functionality for professional video calling, audio (including speakers, microphones), music and video streaming and lighting – all controlled and programmed ahead of and during services (more on this shortly).

The vision behind the project comes from its proprietor Alan Massey, who wanted to harness the use of AV technology to enhance the experience of its services to 200,000 plus people that visit its chapels each year. The upgrade process began in 2012, with Massey working alongside George Groom, who died in 2016. Since then Niall Duggan, technical division manager at integration specialist firm McKeon Group has lead the upgrade. 

“George started this journey and I was brought in to finish it, so he deserves huge credit,” explained Duggan. “Mount Jerome is a unique case. The perception for most people when thinking about a crematorium is likely to conjure up memories or images of a rather cold, sad and sombre environment. For many venues, that’s probably a fair description. But for Mount Jerome, that couldn’t be more different. Alan’s [Massey] vision was to help provide a warm and respectful environment with the functionality to turn a sad situation into a more joyous one and celebrate the life of the deceased. “Anything that you would see in a modern workplace or office meeting or boardroom, he’s put it into the chapel so that he can give his clients any option that they want.”

Prior to joining McKeon Group in 2015, Duggan had spent eight years with Crestron, whose technology plays a prominent and dominant role in achieving Alan’s ambitions and satisfying the needs of the 200,000 plus visitors attending its various services each year.

Bringing it to life

Each chapel includes a 65-inch display – located behind the alters and positioned next to where the coffin is placed. Eight-inch cabinet speakers (12 in main chapel) and pendent variants also feature prominently in each venue to provide a professional PA system and a consistent high-quality audio experience throughout.

“It started off small, with a TV behind the coffin behind the altar,” said Duggan. “From a TV behind the altar, it then turned into something much bigger. The TV part is not anything hugely new or unique. Many people will have visited a crematorium before and seen a display in the room. It’s the add-ons and what you can’t see that make this a more unique experience.”

To achieve that unique experience, each chapel is fitted with a Crestron Digital Media Presentation System (DMPS) which allows for the presentation of music, video and images in varying formats provided or suggested by visitors (friends and family) to be played and displayed during a service.

Using Crestron AirMedia, guests can bring visuals (photos, videos) housed on their on their own device (mobile, tablet) and connect directly to the system wirelessly. All images are scaled automatically to fit the presentation screen, removing the risk of unflattering stretched out visuals.

For those that have attended a funeral, music often plays a personable role before (walking in), during and after a service (curtains closing and departure). Traditionally, tracks would be selected and played from either a CD or from a USB stick attached to a computer. However, families are now able to select their own tracks (ahead of the funeral), which are then found, selected and streamed via an iTunes account.

“It sounds simple, but it can make a big difference to friends and families,” said Duggan. “It’s an extra service that just makes things a bit more special.”

To facilitate this, each chapel uses a Crestron streaming music player and Digital Signal Processor (DSP). The DSP allows for the processing, mixing and routing of all audio sources including microphones, organs.

All welcome

Live streaming and Skype Video Conferencing is also available, allowing those who cannot physically attend a funeral the ability to view proceedings or even say a few words via the two cameras installed on site. Two cameras are set up, a wide angle at the back of the room and one attached to the display facing the audience, whilst the audio feed from the room is fed through to ensure the highest possible quality.

“During the booking, the families of the deceased will be asked if they have any relatives abroad or anyone that would like to attend but can’t for whatever reason,” explained Duggan. “They will request their Skype address and the ushers in the chapel will then invite them to join a Skype call around 20 minutes before the service begins and check to make sure they can hear and see everything.

“Alan then took it another step and added the option for the person on the end of the Skype call to be put onto the big screen behind the altar so that they can (if they choose to) address those in the audience or say a few words.”

He continued: “I recently attended a funeral at Mount Jerome, so I got to see things from the other side. My sister is living in Seattle and couldn’t make it back. so, instead, she was able to Skype in and see and experience the whole service from her computer. It’s a great option to have.”

Massey added: “Families love how easy it is for them to host funerals on Skype and to have a remote family member address the congregation.”

Standing room only

In addition, in the event of a funeral being oversubscribed each of the three chapels has an outdoor speaker, and for very large funerals, the service can be streamed (powered by a Crestron Digital Graphics Engine 200) into its onsite coffee shop, which includes a 40 inch touchscreen display and an additional viewpoint of proceedings.”

All aspects of the funeral service are controlled and managed using a Crestron TSW 750 touch panel – primarily through a selection of pre-programmed ‘scenes’. Operators can select from a variety of scenes to automatically alter the lighting, open or close the coffin curtain and adjust the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning – see box out). The pre-set scenes are designed to make the funeral service run with ease and minimise the risk of human error, with scenes suited to different stages of the service, for example ‘Chapel Ready’ and ‘Service Complete’.

“At the height, Mount Jerome can do 16-20 services a day, so it’s essential that everything is able to be prepared and ready to go to avoid delays or any awkward disruptions or errors during a service,” explained Duggan, wrapping up. “At the end of the day it’s a business and Alan has invested heavily in it to give his clients the best experience possible in the circumstances and to stand above the rest. He’s achieved just that.”

In memory of George Groom