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TECHNOLOGY EDGE (MULTIMEDIA): Soaring sights and sounds

At Trade Shows these days, people swarm the MediaPro International booth, trying to touch the money floating in the air.

See it? Right there. A $100 bill flutters above that table. And over there, a pile of coins hovers over another table. Go on. Touch the money. No one will mind. Grab it if you can.

Too bad, you can't. It's a holographic image generated by a new-fangled projection system built into the table.

After years of measuring advances in multimedia products in terms of shrinking video wall mullions, multimedia developers roared into the 21st century with the real deal: holograms and a host of other products capable of transforming the way shopping centers and retailers think about multimedia merchandising.

MediaPro, a distributor based in St. Cloud, Minn., acquired the exclusive rights to distribute an impressive hologram machine, which is manufactured by Dimensional Media Associates of New York.

“The device comes in three models,” says Mike Zwilling, vice president of operations with MediaPro. “The M-360 looks like a round coffee table. It projects an image that looks real from all angles. A smaller version, the M-180, projects a holographic image that you can see only from the front. Then we have the M-40, which projects video. You can project a commercial with it. We've done demonstrations with talking heads hanging in the air. And it looks real.”

The M-40 costs about $40,000. The M-360 is approximately $24,000, and the front-view only M-180 costs less than $2,000.

Flying projection screens

Last year, Hitachi America Ltd., of Brisbane, Calif., introduced a see-through projection screen that promises a new approach to shopping center and store signage and point-of-purchase displays. Distributed by ProScreen of Medford, Ore., and MediaPro, the AirSho System consists of a special projector and a thin, flat, transparent screen made of a photo-polymer. Using a computer DVD or other image source, the system produces huge full-color displays that appear to hang in mid-air.

Available in 40-inch and 60-inch diagonal screens, AirSho projects static or moving images viewers can see clearly from any angle — front, back and sides. According to Hitachi spokesperson Kerstin Barr, Sears has installed AirSho in its 21st Century Store in Cincinnati, and AT&T Wireless plans to install three units in its Chicago store.

“Depending upon the installation, the 40-inch AirSho system costs between $8,000 and $10,000,” Barr says. “The 60-inch system costs between $10,000 and $12,000. Larger models are being developed for release during the next eight months.” Barr also notes the concept offers the potential to replace traditional print signage and point-of-purchase displays and eliminate the need for printing. “With AirSho, you simply update the image source,” she explains.

Sound that stays put

Remember the cone of silence from the 1960s sitcom “Get Smart”?

SoundTube Entertainment of Park City, Utah, has adapted that idea to provide directional sound for retailers. The SoundTube Sound Dome features a speaker housed in a clear parabolic dome. The unit hangs from the ceiling and focuses sound on the floor below. Listeners hear only the sound coming from the unit, not other sounds around the sales or mall floor.

Sound Domes come in 30-inch and 19-inch diameter models. “These speakers are ideal for in-store television, kiosk and audio point-of-purchase applications,” says Mat Baer, product manager for interactive audio with SoundTube. “They offer a way to bring radio and television campaign messages to the point of sale.”

According to Baer, Ford Motor Co. has begun installing Sound Domes in its dealerships. “These installations use an array of four domes around a display car. As customers walk around the vehicle, they hear different messages, musical themes, and environmental sounds.” If three customers are looking at the same vehicle, each hears only the message from the Sound Dome he or she is standing beneath.

Several Sears stores have installed a Sound Dome system to explain and promote video games. Lego installed a system in its flagship store in Orlando, Fla., and Juxtapose, a fashion retailer targeting teenaged girls, uses Sound Domes above a sofa seating area where customers gather to sample CDs.

A mall television network

Skytron Mall Television Network of Irvine, Calif., has taken to the airwaves in malls across the country. This year, the company will place huge three-sided video devices with 4-ft. by 7-ft. high-definition television screens in more than 200 mall food courts.

Using a satellite up-and down-link system, Skytron broadcasts hour-long programs to each of these installations every day during shopping hours. The programming includes interviews with movie stars, movie trailers, fashion shows, travel logs, cooking tips, and lifestyle sketches, done like television news magazine segments. Skytron generates revenue by selling advertising that runs in between the two-to-four minute segments. “Our advertisers like the idea of having shoppers as an audience,” says Bruce Schoenegge, vice president of marketing for Skytron.

Why would a mall want something like this? Because Skytron is an entertainment value to the mall and the food court, encouraging shoppers to buy thus increasing per-sq.-ft. sales. Skytron also provides the mall with nontraditional revenue in rent for space above the food court as a percentage of the advertising gross. In addition, the system provides an advertising medium for retailers in the mall to use co-op ad funds. The idea has found appeal with many major mall owners including CBL & Associates Properties of Chattanooga, Tenn., which has agreed to place Skytron screens in its portfolio of enclosed shopping centers. Early this year, General Growth Properties of Chicago signed on with Skytron, which is installing units in more than 100 of that company's malls.

Images that float. Sound that doesn't make noise. Television networks that pay rent. Multimedia has finally begun to deliver on its promise. Stay tuned.

Michael Fickes is a Baltimore-based writer.

CENTERLINQ kiosks use Pioneer displays

Long Beach, Calif. — Millions of visitors to more than 25 malls across the country are treated each month to an interactive shopping experience, courtesy of CENTERLINQ kiosks equipped with Pioneer's 40-inch plasma display panels (model PDP-V402).

Adding a dynamic multimedia edge to the typical information kiosk, Pioneer's plasma display panels provide visitors to malls — including California's Galleria at South Bay — with an interactive opportunity to gather valuable information about store products and services.

“We wanted to provide shoppers with an entertaining alternative to the typical back-lit mall maps and information desks,” says Mickey Marraffino, regional marketing director for Forest City Management, one of the largest mall developers in the country. “Pioneer's plasma displays used in the kiosks are an ideal display solution because they attract attention, facilitating communication between retailers and shoppers.”

With large images and brilliant colors, Pioneer's plasma display panels, mounted at the top of each CENTERLINQ kiosk, were installed to draw the attention of visitors passing by. The sleek, contemporary design of each plasma panel matched with an easy-to-use interface, engages shoppers' interest and allows them to view information at a glance.

The kiosks' content is accessed via a high-speed T-1 Internet connection to the mall's website, ensuring that information can be updated frequently depending on the season, holiday or event.

In addition to providing customers with an entertaining way to access information, kiosks equipped with plasma display panels allow mall executives to save time, money and space. Weighing less than 70 pounds and measuring just four inches thick, Pioneer's plasma display panels are conducive to CENTERLINQ's space-saving design.

Source: CENTERLINQ/Pioneer

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