Attention seeker

When Portuguese telecommunications provider Optimus wanted to stand out from the crowd it built a unique and futuristic concept store. Anna Mitchell explores a custom-built, interactive retail solution provided by Displax Interactive Systems.

Optimus entered the Portuguese telecommunications market in 1998. Competing against two long-established brands the young company embarked on an intense advertising campaign, positioning itself as a vibrant and exciting alternative. Eleven years on and Optimus is a well-established provider in Portugal but the market is still hugely competitive so the company gave itself an ambitious objective in an attempt to differentiate itself from its rivals. The goal: build the best concept store in the world.

The store was located at Casa da Música, a distinctive and futuristic looking concert hall in Oporto, Portugal and designed by world famous Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas. As you pass by or enter the store you are greeted with an interactive display. Seven Panasonic PT-D7700U-K projectors create a constantly evolving 22 metre “tri-dimensional” display. The projectors fire onto the glass façade. A product developed under the Displax brand, called Displax Flexy, provides a film over the glass made up of dots with varying spaces between them. This contributes to the dramatic effect as rounded shapes appear to morph and spin across the store’s entrance. The display reacts to and follows passers by which are captured on cameras pointing out to the street. The whole display is controlled by Displax Interactive Systems’ motion sensor and show control technology, which is the brainchild of interactivity specialist, Edigma.

Once customers enter the shop the star attraction is the ‘Experience Block’. The Displax research and development team built a monolithic structure, incorporating all the shopping functions needed within the store. The team describes this as “the machine” and it sits in the middle of the 400m² space. As the store’s walls are not cluttered with the usual retail displays there are unimpeded views of the sweeping concrete forms of the Casa da Música.

Displax Interactive Systems handled all software required for the interfaces, interactivity and functionality housed within the Block. The software runs off Linux boxes, most of which are housed in a separate control room. The heat these machines generated meant they were unable to be incorporated within the block. All data and video is sent over Cat5 cable and for the displays Displax uses HDMI over Cat5 because the server room is located about 80m away from the displays. The Experience Block houses more than 70 NEC LCD displays all offering interactivity handled by Displax.

Various modules provide different functions for customers. The phone configurator is a touch screen interface that allows users to select phones based on various categories like price and other technical features. As a customer selects the phone characteristics that they desire the back lighting behind the product display is dimmed leaving suitable phones highlighted. The grid of physical phones is mirrored on the touchscreen and selecting one brings up detailed information about the handset.

The Pharmacy module consists of a long table over which a layer of glass is suspended. A number of mobile phones rest in cradles along the table. An electronic device from Displax, called the Tester, detects if a phone is picked up. NEC AccuSync 17” GX/CX displays show information about the removed phone. The displays are also touch enabled with Displax Skin, a through-touch screen film, which was applied to the suspended glass top.

A tall thin seamless vertical touchscreen, again using Displax Skin, allows users to manipulate a large collection of still images. This is the Wallpaper unit and it offers a single, uninterrupted list of wallpapers, themes and screensavers. By clicking and dragging on the touchscreen surface, the user is able to scroll the entire list, vertically or horizontally. Clicking on one of the wallpapers brings up more detailed information about the item if available. The MP3 Unit consists of two tall, thin seamless touchscreens that allow the user to manipulate a collection of music or audiobook MP3 content. Again the touchscreen allows the user to scroll through the list and if a track is selected, information and album artwork is displayed. The track can also be played out with sound directed at the user through a Brown Innovations Sound Dome. The Sound Dome concept is utilised again at the Ringtone module. This unit consists of two tall, thin seamless vertical touchscreens where users can scroll through and select a collection of Ringtone audio content.

The TV Unit comprises 23 NEC AccuSync displays of various sizes. Two touchscreen interfaces allow the user to select and control the content shown on each of the individual displays. The top interface is intended to control the upper half of the displays for adults and the lower interface is intended for use by children to control the lower half. The TV content is high-definition and the system can also display web content.

Finally, the Clix Unit consists of one angled integrated touchscreen display, a Sony video camera and again a Brown Innovations Sound Dome. Here, users can record, playback, email and create short video clips.

The store also incorporates a chill-out area and a back room. In the evenings the back room is taken over by DJs. Yamaha handles all sound requirements and the sound system is controlled by a Yamaha DM2000VCM.

The Optimus Concept Store project won the Digital Signage Best Practice Award in the Interactive category at visual communication trade fair, Viscom 2009. This, once again, raises the question: how useful is the term digital signage? This project certainly goes far beyond what is usually considered as a signage product. But, however you categorise the solution, one thing is for sure, if it doesn’t make Optimus stand out, I’m not sure what will.

Brown Innovations Sound Domes
Yamaha DM2000VCM

Displax Skin, Tester, motion sensors and custom built software
NEC MultiSync LCD displays and AccuSync displays
Panasonic PT-D7700U-K projectors
Sony video cameras

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