Multimedia technology takes fabric exhibits to a new level.
By Rob Coco and Bob Sneed
Over the past few years, two developments have taken the custom exhibit industry by storm. One is the use of specialty fabrics in the building of custom exhibits for events, trade shows and permanent installations; the other is the integration of technology into these environments to enrich the attendee experience.
The use of both specialty fabrics and the latest in multimedia technology can transform a good exhibit into a great exhibit and an average activation into a successful one. While the technology that Dimensional Communications Inc. (DCI) of Mahwah, N.J., has incorporated in actual projects is varied, a few examples provide a more in-depth view of how technology can enhance your client’s—or your own—fabric exhibits, adding to the effectiveness of your activations.
Fabric and interactivity
The trend toward using fabric has been steadily growing and shows no signs of slowing down. There are many benefits of using textiles to create large-scale exhibit structures and graphics. A variety of factors have combined to make it a logical choice: streamlined production, cost savings on freight and drayage, and ease of installation. With the continual improvement in the quality of print capabilities, large-scale fabric graphics have become the foundation for many DCI projects.
“Exhibits have become mixed-media display art using all forms of technologies. Tension fabric graphic technology combined with LED walls creates an immersive environment for visitors,” says Joe Moriconi, general manager at display communications company Tectonics Industries, Warren, Mich. “Incorporating the use of interactive technologies provides opportunities for brands to connect with the individual visitor. By utilizing voluntary data collection technologies, brands receive tangible metrics that can be used in specific marketing to individuals or groups for sale opportunities.”
Utilizing various lighting techniques can help create a highly dramatic environment. A well thought out and professionally designed lighting plan enhances the vibrancy of any fabric graphic and brings an exhibit to life. DCI has had success on many projects using internally lit fabric walls or panels. Through the use of energy-efficient, longer-life and low-heat-generating LED lights, graphics glow. And by installing the proper hardware, the same display can take on an entirely new look by cycling through multiple colors.
“Lighting a fabric display is very easy because there is no glare or reflection from the surface as opposed to lighting a hard panel with a reflective surface,” says Paul George, president of Gorilla Production Group, Costa Mesa, Calif. “The soft knit fabric used in most cases takes light and the colors look great.”
Although eye-catching graphics attract attendees to a display, it is the integration of technology that keeps them engaged. The incorporation of multimedia into exhibits has accelerated to the point that few projects don’t include technology in some form. In the past, multimedia meant a few monitors and a simple presentation. However, it is the advancement in technology—most specifically, interactive technology—that allows exhibitors to become competitive in the marketplace. Because it has been an integral part of DCI exhibit designs, DCI created a full-service, in-house multimedia department, Immersive Realities.
“With innovations and advancements happening faster than ever, we travel the world to find what’s new and exciting before our clients even hear about it. The drive to stay on the bleeding edge of technology inspired us to create our Immersive Realities division,” says Bob Sneed, vice president of multimedia technologies.
Projection of images and video directly onto fabric or on an integrated rear projection screen is an effective way to transform a plain fabric wall or header into an eye-catching graphic showpiece that captures attendees and allows exhibitors to provide information in an impactful way.
Although many fabric types are not specifically meant for projection, the technique has been successfully incorporated with great results. However, the exhibit environment can sometimes present a challenge. To achieve the desired effect, ambient and artificial lighting must be controlled and proper angles and distances must be factored in with the use of the correct projection equipment. Many types of projectors can be purchased or rented for this purpose; however, DCI has had great success using equipment from companies such as Christie Digital Systems and Barco.
Where high resolution clarity of the image or video is paramount, projection screens can easily be mounted seamlessly into a large wall. DCI used this approach for the 3-D film produced for Mercedes-Benz USA. For this project DCI used a 16-foot-by-9-foot rear projection 3-D screen by Stewart Filmscreen Corp. and twin Christie Digital 30K projectors to provide the high light output necessary for the large screen size. (It should be noted that this technology requires expertise in content development and hardware selection.)
The use of monitors to create large-scale video walls is a technology that has been part of successful exhibits for many years. Currently available—and anticipated future technologies—make them an effective way to attract and engage potential clients to exhibits. The latest ultra-narrow, 5mm bezel LCD screens allow projection of an almost seamless video wall image. Samsung, LG, NEC and Planar are among the companies competing in the commercial monitor market. These video walls can display dramatic, high-resolution images and video content ideal for the long viewing distances that are often typical at trade shows, special events and many permanent installations. In its simplest form, a video wall utilizes scalers in each individual monitor to magnify the content for display on the entire wall.
Fabric structures and heavier monitors may not seem to mix. However, with today’s innovations in fabric framing and advancements in lightweight monitor technology, the desired design for surface mounting or a streamlined, flush mount look can be accomplished. Video towers and large-scale fabric structures have been used in the exhibit world to showcase dazzling video displays.
With the increased use of smartphones and tablets, customers are familiar with touch-screen technology. This can be an effective way for exhibitors to engage customers. Touch-screen technology provides a strong delivery system to showcase goods and services with many added benefits. Touch screens can be used to request and capture customer information and can allow users to send product information directly to them from the show floor. By taking advantage of this capability, clients can reduce the number of brochures and promotional materials sent to a show and save money normally spent on printing, shipping and drayage.
Another exciting development in touch-screen technology allows users to connect to social media sites directly from the show or event, expanding the exhibitor’s corporate message beyond the actual show floor experience. It also enables measurable ROI by capturing attendee information, measuring “hits” on social media and tracking what types of information potential customers are interested in.
Costs to implement touch-screen activations vary depending on the complexities of the programming needed and amount of hardware required. DCI has successfully reduced client costs by providing a developed suite of multitouch applications on a per-show rental basis. To make multitouch activations even more cost effective, DCI now uses an infrared bezel solution that enables a client to convert many existing monitors into multitouch screens by simply attaching it to the face of the monitor.
Not only can these bezels be used with standard-sized monitors, but large-scale video walls can be made into larger-than-life, multitouch walls with custom-built versions of the same technology. Basically, any monitor installed in a fabric structure can become a fully interactive experience through the use of multitouch.
Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology many people have used but may not be aware of it. When you check into some hotels and receive your room key, chances are you may be holding RFID technology in your hand. In some cases, RFID is used when you tap your key card against the “reader” on the door to your room.
DCI took this technology directly to the exhibit floor and created fully integrated systems that significantly enhanced its client’s event activations. Guests completed a brief registration process and were provided their own personalized credential embedded with a code tied to their information for use throughout the experience. With the wave of their credential in front of a RFID “reader” mounted behind a fabric wall, guests can start videos or interactive games or post directly to social media.
Client benefits are many but, most importantly, exhibitors are able to capture attendee information and track what types of information guests are most interested in. It is a seamless, interactive use of technology that provides measurable returns for the company that uses it.
Using vibrant graphic images on fabrics can really make an exhibit stand out above the competition; the same is true with incorporating technology. Monitors and hardware are only one side of the technology equation. Without beautifully designed content, an exhibit will never achieve the high impact every client desires.
For this reason, it is most important for content development and hardware selection to go hand in hand at the beginning stages of every project. It is essential for the creative team to know the exact specifications of the delivery system and monitors. If this combination of technology and content is successful, you, too, can bring your exhibits to life through the use of technology.