Driving Planet Hollywood's Video
In all of Planet Hollywood's 52 restaurants, video is central to the customers' experience. To give them a sense of living in the glitz and glamour, the restaurant chain puts its customers right inside the movies.
"Video gives us the 'wow' factor," explained Larry Howard, Planet Hollywood's director of audio-visual, whose previous experience includes serving as show systems supervisor for Universal Studios in Florida. "Planet Hollywood wants to inundate you with the movies and the only way to do that is to overwhelm you with video."
The wow factor is where a range of Barco video projectors, backed by Mitsubishi floor monitors, come in. In every Planet Hollywood location, these projectors display the restaurant's own custom-made collection of movie clips to the patrons.
Planning and maintaining this equipment is the responsibility of Ted Rothstein, president of TR Technologies in New York City. Rothstein is an industry veteran whose credits include Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios, Studio 54 and Roger Water's new studio in London. It is up to Rothstein to coordinate not only the placement of 10 to 20 video displays in each Planet Hollywood restaurant, but also the 100 to 200 speakers, source machines and computers that control the whole show. Rothstein has chosen Barco to provide the video the customers see in the restaurants -- a choice endorsed by Howard.
The way in which Rothstein employs Barco projectors is different in each Planet Hollywood location. For instance, the most challenging location Rothstein has had to deal with to date is the restaurant in Orlando, FL. In this particular location, Planet Hollywood opted for an 18-foot diameter circular screen, a shape that defies the conventional output of any video projector. To meet this challenge, Rothstein decided to modify the output of a front-projected Barco 8100 Light Cannon. This projector normally displays a 30- foot diagonal image. To convert this image to an 18-foot circle, he first passed the video through a digital processor. This processor digitizes the analog video, crops the image to a circle, and then converts it back to an analog image for the 8100.
However, Rothstein admits this is a less-than-perfect solution. In addition to degrading the video quality through the conversion process, this approach does not provide "quite enough light on the screen for the amount of ambient room light that Planet Hollywood likes to have."
That is why, at the time this article was being written, Rothstein was demonstrating the new Barco 9200 to Planet Hollywood management. The 9200 is a brighter video projector which can be modified to project the very circular image Planet Hollywood wants. "They've been working on it for over a year," Rothstein said. "That's one of the new features -- projecting a circular image -- because we asked them for it."
If accepted by Planet Hollywood management, this change would remedy Rothstein's concerns about signal degradation. As for light levels, by combining the outputs of two 9200s onto the same screen double-stacking) - which he hopes to do at the Orlando location -- Rothstein believes he can deliver enough light to the screen.
The next two most challenging installations -- in terms of screen size -- have been the 14-foot diagonal screen in Myrtle Beach, and the 10-foot screen in Moscow, Russia, where Rothstein has installed Barco 3OOOs. Beyond that, most other Planet Hollywood locations use either 10- or 8-foot diagonal screens. He uses either the Barco 1609 or 7O1S to project to these screens.
Beyond these specific instances, Rothstein can count on other installation challenges where they have not built their own restaurant. Without a doubt, the biggest problem is space. Often Rothstein has to install the Barcos as front projection units. This means he has to keep people and objects from passing between the projector and the screen.
"Front projection has a lot of difficulties," he said. "You have to keep the path clear. You have to keep ambient lighting low. You have keep direct lights off the screen, and you have to use a higher power projector. You're balancing between high-gain and low-gain screens, depending on the angle of visibility you need, versus squeezing as much light off the screen as you can get."
When the screens are not in use, Planet Hollywood wants them out of the way so the customers can see the wall-mounted memorabilia. That is why many of them are electrically controlled roll-down screens that can be retracted when audio-only clips are playing. Planet Hollywood alternates between video and audio clips to let customers have a chance to talk and eat at their tables. During the audio clips, fixed screens and floor monitors display a movie photo from current audio track and then a Planet Hollywood animated logo.
Of course, it is not just the equipment that matters, but what is on it. Unlike many other restaurants, Planet Hollywood puts great stock in random programming. It does not want customers to experience the same thing every time they come to eat, as they would at an amusement park. That is why Rothstein has chosen to run the system -- which includes a Pioneer 50-disc laserdisc player and a Pioneer CAC-V5000 500 CD player -- using either a 486 or Pentium computer, controlled by TR Technologies' own DOS-based graphic touch-screen software. The computer has the ability to randomly access both players, which creates the mood that management seeks.
"The system's not playing from a fixed play list," he explained. "The software connects beats-per-minute and makes smooth transitions between certain kinds of styles of music and video. It's a smart system."