The Eyes Have It

The eyecandy sound lounge & bar in Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino delivers a visual feast for patrons. The 13,000-square-foot classic cocktail lounge offers a technology-lover’s dream: interactive touch tables, innovative sound stations and a dance floor with constantly changing images. Using the table’s circular touch screen, guests can create images and messages that appear on an adjacent touch table, whether it’s a pre-selected visual that pulsates to the music or a creation of a guest’s own imagination. The club also features stationary and motorized cameras in the booths, so guests can take a discreet peek at everything happening around them.

Nightclub patrons and bar-goers want to be dazzled visually, and cutting-edge venues like eyecandy are increasingly tapping into a new generation of technology with video screens, signage, video mixing, high-definition TVs, text-to-screen messaging and large projection screens to engage and essentially wow their guests. To feed the demand for next-level visual technologies, a raft of innovative providers are producing an array of systems aimed at raising the energy levels and excitement at venues nationwide.

The investment behind these systems varies depending on a venue’s needs. “I’d hate to put a price on a video rig because the truth is it all depends on your budget and the type of vibe you want to create,” says Jay Lopez, aka DVDJ Unique, a sponsored Pioneer Pro Video DJ who is also part of a group of video DJs called The Video Assassins. “Plasma and projectors are cheaper than LCDs. Do you want one big screen or multiple smaller screens? You can easily spend $10,000 on TVs or under $800 for a projector and screen.”

The same, he adds, goes for digital video DJ equipment. “You want a high-end, very talented DVDJ? Then he is going to need high-end gear. But if you’re happy with a middle-of-the-road DVDJ, then that is the type of gear you need. It comes down to the old saying, ‘You get what you pay for.’ This statement cannot be more true when it come to talent and audio/video equipment.”

Doug Howard, producer of the VJ-Pro Music Video subscription service, says video systems can range from relatively inexpensive to the top-of-the-line set-ups. Though his company specializes in video content, it works with top playback solution manufacturers.

“We are often asked to help select and design systems for small and large venues. Assuming a venue has a decent audio system in place, we have designed basic video systems to complement [the audio] with budgets of anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000 for the most basic of screens, delivery mechanisms and content — soup to nuts. After that, the sky is, of course, the limit. You can go for less, but unless you know what you are cutting back on, it will likely end up looking cheap and defeat the whole purpose.”

Reaping Returns
Many operators see video and visual entertainment as a worthwhile investment. Cutting-edge visuals are “extremely important in a nightclub,” says Stephen Moss, co-owner with Steven Donahue of Florida Entertainment Group in Tampa, Fla., which operates a quartet of clubs in the community of Ybor City: G Bar, The Honey Pot, The Ybor City Social Club and the Ybor Eagle.

Visual entertainment keeps patrons engaged at all four properties, attracting them to the venues and keeping them there with constantly changing imagery that adds to the total experience. G Bar, for example, is an 8,000-square-foot gay and lesbian neighborhood bar and dance club with a large focus on video entertainment; it houses 10 large-screen LCD monitors and its video lounge takes up half of the venue. The Honey Pot is a multimillion-dollar tri-level facility, which Moss refers to as a “show palace of a nightclub.” Video monitors on all three levels are controlled from both DJ and VJ booths. The Ybor City Social Club, a no-cover daytime bar and lounge, offers eight video monitors.

Tracking Technology
The key to maximizing the value of the technology is to stay current. “I have been doing video for close to 18 years,” Howard says. “I have seen tons of developments, but the latest is, of course, that most video is delivered via a hard drive. Very few people are working disc any longer.”

For club owners, one of the advantages of working with a hard drive is that it gives them more control over what is played — and what is not played. “With most hard-drive-based (digital) playback systems, an owner or manager has the option of hiding, blocking or simply deleting songs from being available for playback. On even more sophisticated playback software, one can pre-select the music a VJ can mix from during a particular time of day,” Howard explains.

For example, management could select a variety of video titles for happy hour that fit with the target demographic, and the VJ can only use those songs during that time. “This allows for control of overall presentation and customer experience, while still allowing the DJ to creatively and organically work the crowd, but within predetermined demographic guidelines.”

Another evolving technology trend is video mixing with scratching capability and pitch control. “For example,” says Lopez, “if you have a video by Akon (R&B singer/songwriter Aliaune Thiam) and he happens to be walking inside a room [on the video], we can actually, with this equipment, grab the platter … and spin it backward, and he will actually walk backwards. When you release it, like releasing a piece of vinyl on a turntable, he will continue to walk forward. The audio and video are synced, so when you are scratching you are hearing the scratch sound and seeing a representation of what a scratch would look like in a video.”

Today’s video DJs are pumped up about the capabilities of the current equipment.  “The latest thing we have — and I love them — are the Pioneer DVJ-1000 DVD turntables,” says fellow VJ Barry Browder of Georgie’s Alibi in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., which also has additional locations in Palm Springs and St. Petersburg. “You are able to queue them up just like you would a record, speed them up, slow them down. It makes VJing a lot more creative because you can actually beat mix a song rather than just letting [it] stop and the next one play.”

On the Big Screen
Another popular development in nightclubs and bars is the introduction of flat-screen televisions and projector screens. After the installation, however, many venues simply use them to air sports or ambient videos, which Lopez disapproves of because it distracts from the vibe of a music-focused nightclub. “Using those screens to play the artist’s music video while the crowd is dancing to the audio of the song enhances the experience,” he recommends. “As VJs or DVDJs, we take it a step further and also create custom music videos. We use all kinds of clips from the mainstream media, movies, commercials and even cartoons. By installing a screen and having a DVDJ you now have more than just a living, breathing, advanced version of MTV. You have a performer who can entice your customer’s sense of sight and sound.”

To further capture guests’ attention, sports-themed venues feature up-to-the-minute news via electronic tickers. Additionally, many operators are engaging the crowds and mining new advertising opportunities by using text-to-screen technology in which patrons take part in competitions or splash written messages on nightclub screens. The interactivity creates a sense of community and spurs repeat visits.

“A text-to-screen system is a fun solution for small bars with a neighborhood feel,” Howard says. “A text-to-screen by itself, however, would be a catastrophe in a large club [because] in a large venue, you absolutely must give the clientele an experience they could never have in a local watering hole. That is what will make them talk about the experience to their friends, come back for more and frankly feel justified in spending more than they would at a local pub or bar.”

Operators looking to differentiate their venues with next-level visual technologies are always thinking about the next thing. Later this year or in early 2010, Moss and Donahue will be installing see-through “scrims” for video projection in their venues. The scrims are, essentially, “invisible video screens that we can float throughout the ceiling area of the club and do video projection onto,” Moss explains. And The Honey Pot has a 35-foot ceiling, he adds, “so we can actually do some really cutting-edge stuff with that.”

Such forward thinking is necessary, as Americans’ fascination with visual entertainment shows no sign of abating. Luckily, neither does the tide of technological innovation. NCB

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