Changing the face of electronic retail displays

Johannesburg, 12 Apr 2005

The application of Panasonic Plasma Display panels as the projection medium for disseminating information has reached a new level of acceptance in SA, following the formation of an alliance between the brand and Ethniks InfoChannel Broadcast Multimedia, the official distributor of Scala InfoChannel software for southern Africa.

The development reflects the current trend towards digital signage, datacasting, digital in-store merchandising, retail theatre and electronic billboards, where converging information and telecommunication technologies are being leveraged to create a platform for corporate and marketing communication to customers, staff and the general public; as well as datacasting for general in-house communication and training purposes.

The Panasonic/Ethniks alliance has already secured a deal with Woolworths whereby Panasonic Plasma Display panels and the Scala Broadcast Multimedia System have been placed in the retail chain`s top six stores nationwide (five per store) - namely Cavendish Square, Canal Walk, Menlyn Park, Eastgate, Sandton City and Gateway - from October 2004 and are being used to display customer-focused content created and distributed using Scala InfoChannel.

Four units have also been installed at Woolworths Greenacres and several more at Woolworths` head office, the latter for disseminating corporate communication (such as product or marketing campaigns launches) as well as up-to-date sales and marketing results.

A second pilot project has commenced within the Keg franchise infrastructure, in partnership with SA Breweries. Panasonic Plasma Display panels and the Scala Broadcast Multimedia System have been installed in five Keg outlets to date.

Petrus Venter, CEO of Ethniks Systems, explains that his company has the expertise to create a complete multimedia authoring, broadcast and playback environment that is unparalleled in the local market. He elaborates on the integrated software and systems solution offered by InfoChannel as follows:

* Content creation, using InfoChannel Designer 3, an affordable yet supremely powerful software tool for authoring and scheduling attention-grabbing professional media for virtually any display application. Text, graphics, sound and video are quickly, easily and seamlessly integrated into engaging broadcast-quality multimedia - with a 17-year development history, ICD3 has no rival.

* Broadcast, using InfoChannel Network Manager 3 - a server-based application that schedules and manages the transmission of multimedia content to one or multiple display monitors from a single desktop. An optional Broadcast Server uses satellite communication to multicast the content over greater geographic areas or numbers of sites.

* Playback, using InfoChannel Player 3 to continuously run and update the content displayed on virtually any electronic display medium - including plasma and television monitors. Text, graphics, sound and video can be scheduled dynamically and customised per location, to allow for local content and dynamic data insertion. This highly-evolved system has been designed to cope with the rigours of stable 24/7 multimedia playback.

* Dynamic data linking in real-time, which gives users the freedom to mix a variety of media with dynamic data. Text, graphics, animation and graphics can be combined seamlessly with data feeds - such as prices, schedules, queuing status and more.

Commenting on Ethniks` choice of Panasonic as a display partner, Keith Stanton, Group Product and Sales Manager: IT and Presentation Products, says the new generation Panasonic Plasma Display panels offer brilliant performance capabilities, enabled by a fantastic array of technological advances. These include:

* Improved panel performance, delivered by a new, brighter multi-facet asymmetrical configuration hyper pixel (MACH) panel; a new Real Black Drive System that delivers the industry`s highest contrast ratio of 4 000:1; a new Real Gamma System, that achieves 1024 shades of gradation and a flicker-free, high quality picture; and MACH Digital Contour Enhancer, which reproduces vivid, life-like images.

* Improved functions, including multi-picture display, a nine-point digital zoom function that gives the option of 2x or 3x image enlargement, and built-in image-enlarging function that simplifies multi-screen display (2x2 or 3x3). Front button OSD controls are complemented by automatic power saving options, while Contrast Automatic Tracking System (CATS) automatically adjusts the picture contrast according to the ambient lighting.

* Improved expansion capability, where three interchangeable input slots allow different combinations of optional terminal boards.

"Optional touch-screen operation is also available on certain models," says Stanton. "This is ideal for applications where interactive multimedia content is disseminated, with your finger serving as the mouse on the plasma display panel."

Clearly delighted at the alliance with Ethniks, Stanton points out that Panasonic Plasma Display Panels are already widely used internationally as the platform for corporate and marketing information - often in conjunction with Scala. "The medium is evolving rapidly in southern Africa and we`re delighted to be at the leading-edge of the wave," he concludes.