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The Art of the Perfect Demo

A well-crafted demo delivers an incredibly powerful, emotional experience that can stay with someone for years. In fact, I can still clearly remember the first time I experienced a home theater system. It was not a formal demo per se, but was at my friend Travis's house. His father had just purchased a new surround system and we watched Speed on Laserdisc. (You can read more about that system here.) From the opening seconds – with the elevator cabling clanging in the background behind me – I was totally enthralled with the technology.

Demonstration (noun) – An explanation, display, illustration, or experiment showing how something works

A well-crafted demo delivers an incredibly powerful, emotional experience that can stay with someone for years. In fact, I can still clearly remember the first time I experienced a home theater system. It was not a formal demo per se, but was at my friend Travis’s house. His father had just purchased a new surround system and we watched Speed on Laserdisc. From the opening seconds – with the elevator cabling clanging in the background behind me – I was totally enthralled with the technology. Seeing that movie literally changed my life as it sent me on a path towards home theater ownership and becoming a custom installer.

I can also recall the first time I experienced a truly high-end system. It was in San Francisco and they led me back into a private room in the back of the shop where a Vidikron projector was hanging overhead, a stack of McIntosh gear sat off to the side, and a thick black drape concealed a huge projection screen. When the lights dropped and the image filled the screen, I was stunned. I had no idea such a thing could even exist in a person’s home, and after seeing it, I knew I had to have it.

A great demo can cause people to purchase a system far outside of their original budget. And not so much because the demo revealed nuances in the music they’d never heard before, or produced bowel-quivering low-end bass notes, or had the finest trillion-calculations-per-second scaling or produced black levels so deep they could swallow galaxies whole. Sure, these things are important, but the great demo is all about delivering that emotional experience.

And this doesn’t just happen by chance.

If you want to give a truly great demo, you need to prepare for it.

One of the better demos that I’ve been given recently was at this past CES. A consortium of manufacturers — Kaleidescape, Digital Projection Inc. (DPI), D-BOX, ADA, CinemaTech, Crestron, Stewart Filmscreen and Totem Acoustics – teamed up to deliver the “Unforgettable Home Cinema Experience.” (Check my review of the D-BOX theater seating from my recent trip to see Spiderman.)

Afterwards, I spoke to several of the manufacturers to get their take on the experience. DPI’s Michael Bridwell summed up the reason behind the demo. “There really hasn’t been a good immersive theater experience for CES-goers for many years, if ever. The Art of the Demo has died in terms of video, and we are on a mission this year to revive it. Starting at CES, we’re going to show dealers how to once again sell video.”

Kaleidescape’s, Tom Barnett, added, “This event was an opportunity for us to show how some of the best-of-breed home theater components working together in harmony to provide an immersive entertaining experience.”

ADA’s Richard Stoerger echoed, “The reality is that in order for [people] to get passionate about the experience, they must go through the experience.”

In sitting through the 15 minute presentation and talking to these manufacturers, I learned a few things about giving a truly unforgettable demo.

So, how do you plan for a great demo?

1) Create suspense
Properly set the stage by leading the viewers into a nicely lit demo room and guide them towards (hopefully) comfortable seating. It’s best if there is nothing playing on the screen or any audio playing as this silence creates drama and suspense and keeps them from getting distracted and focuses their attention on you.

2) Pick appropriate material
Sure, you may love watching the scene where Tony Montana mows people down with his Little Friend and it may even look and sound awesome, but it probably isn’t the right clip to show to a family. Ditto anything with swearing. Animated titles are always popular as they look great, generally have some standout audio and are pretty much universally non-offensive. Have a library of demo clips that are appropriate for different audiences. And when in doubt, ask. (You can also read how a totally age inappropriate Matrix demo made Heather think she could do it better, launching a career in the audio/video industry.)

3) Set up the clips
Give them a brief explanation of what you are about to play for them and tell anything in particular you want them to look or listen for. “I’ve selected this scene from Master and Commander because it has great low-end detail from the cannon blasts. It also has amazing 3-dimensional sound; you should be able to hear the people walking on the rigging up above you.”

4) Have a unified control system
One button press should dim the lights, set the volume and start the clip. Fumbling with remotes, having to get up and fiddle with things, all detracts from creating that “perfect moment.”

5) Order the clips
A ten minute demo filled with nothing but explosions and crashes will lose its impact and not show off all of the elements of a well-designed system. You want to show a variety of material and have your demo to build towards a climax. This means starting out with something that is a little slower and less bombastic.

6) Know when to stop
Part of a great demo is being in control and knowing when to stop it. Don’t let the clip run on-and-on; find that perfect ending point, and then stop it.

7) Don’t forget music
Another often overlooked yet wonderful demo tool are concerts on Blu-ray disc. Stephen Libin of Totem Acoustics commented, “We feel the industry doesn’t promote great concerts on Blu-ray near enough. We feel that concert performances, if well recorded, can bring huge emotion, passion, and pleasure to people. Most people have no idea how much fun concerts can be on a big beautiful flat panel, with superb sound literally taking them into the venue.”

Beyond having a killer demo system, one of the best tools to come along in a *long* to help dealers create the perfect demo is the Kaleidescape movie/music server. In the past, selecting a demo scene took quite a bit of time as you found the right disc, loaded it into the player, waited for the FBI warnings and trailers to finish, navigated to the chapter and then pressed play. This all took several minutes. Several mood and momentum killing minutes.

With a Kaleidescape hard disc system, your entire movie and music library is available for instant access. Even loading Blu-ray discs – which can take 30 or more seconds on other players – takes mere seconds. And with the ultra-slick cover art browsing interface, you can gauge your audience’s penchant for certain titles and customize your demo with clips that will appeal to them.

The other major Kaleidescape innovation that assists with demonstrations is the new Scenes feature. Kaleidescape’s movie team have hand-picked thousands of the funniest, scariest, most action packed and emotionally charged scenes from the most popular movies, and bookmarked these scenes for you to easily locate and view. Scenes automatically appear once you import a movie that has Scenes available and have easily identifiable titles like “Mini Cooper Chase Through Paris” (The Bourne Identity), “Scaffolds and Embassies” (Casino Royale), and “Calligraphy School is Saved” (Hero).

Now, instead of having to hunt for the perfect demo scene, you can have thousands of them instantly pre-selected for you. And with virtually instant access to these scenes – even on Blu-ray – it makes it much easier to orchestrate and deliver a perfect demo every time; easily starting, stopping and moving on to the next clip without any flow-jarring pauses for loading or searching. (It also makes it wonderful for end-users to have little amuse bouche bites of their favorite films; sampling their collection and enjoying the best morsels and bits with friends over an evening.)

Wondering what demo scenes that Kaleidescape dealers around the country used to show off their systems, I asked Kaleidescape if they could share the list. Besides general curiousity of what is popular, it might give other dealers some new demo ideas to use. Here are the top 45 demo scenes:

1 The Light Cycle Battle Tron: Legacy
2 Jakesully’s First Flight with His Ikran Avatar
3 Bank Robbery The Dark Knight
4 Gotham Streets Showdown The Dark Knight
5 The Spirits Gather Around Jake Avatar
6 The Destruction of Hometree Avatar
7 Sam Duels Rinzler Tron: Legacy
8 The Gathering of Mustang Pilots in Columbus Gray Eagles
9 The Dream Is Collapsing Inception
10 Introductions The Art of Flight
11 Getting Ready for the Games Tron: Legacy
12 Light Jet Battle Tron: Legacy
13 Dancing in Space Wall-E
14 Chase to the Embassy Casino Royale
15 Experiencing Freedom in an Avatar Avatar
16 The Repair Ward Wall-E
17 Tordrillo Mountains, Alaska The Art of Flight
18 Wall-E and Eve’s Introductions Wall-E
19 Joker’s Magic Trick & Proposal The Dark Knight
20 Wall-E Shows Eve His Home Wall-E
21 The Na’vi Fight Back w/the Aid of Eywa Avatar
22 Extracting Lau from Hong Kong The Dark Knight
23 Dash Runs on Water The Incredibles
24 Drilling Platform Fight Star Trek
25 Betrayed by Zuse Tron: Legacy
26 Fixing Wall-E Wall-E
27 An Introduction to Shared Dreaming Inception
28 A Surprise Attack Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
29 The Old Lady Discovers the Colony Ratatouille
30 To Truly Know the Mustang, You Have to Fly the Mustang Gray Eagles
31 Radiator Springs Racing Team Cars
32 The Stark Expo Iron Man 2
33 The First Battle for New Gladiators Gladiator
34 Iron Man Hunts Down Jerichos Iron Man
35 Fight Through the Bamboo Forrest House of Flying Daggers
36 The Fall of Optimus Prime Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
37 Bruce Is Having Fish Tonight Finding Nemo
38 Ride of the Valkyries Apocalypse Now: Redux
39 The Launch of Apollo 13 Apollo 13
40 The Echo Game House of Flying Daggers
41 Bourne Kills Desh The Bourne Ultimatum
42 A Fight Between Friends Iron Man 2
43 Crawling Across the Burj Khalifa with Broken Gloves Mission: Impossible -Ghost Protocol
44 Cooking with Lightning Ratatouille
45 The Third and Final Lap of the Podrace Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

And here are the top 35 concert scenes that are demonstrated:

1 Someone Like You Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
2 Life’s Been Good Eagles: Farewell 1 Tour – Live From Melbourne
3 Rolling in the Deep Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
4 Chasing Pavements Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
5 Fever Michael Bublé: Caught in the Act
6 Hotel California Eagles: Hell Freezes Over
7 I’ve Got You Under My Skin (w/ Katharine McPhee) Chris Botti: In Boston
8 Make You Feel My Love Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
9 Set Fire to the Rain Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
10 Hotel California Eagles: Farewell 1 Tour – Live From Melbourne
11 I Can’t Make You Love Me Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
12 Feeling Good (Michael Buble) David Foster & Friends: Hit Man
13 The Boys of Summer Eagles: Farewell Tour I – Live From Melbourne
14 Smooth Criminal Michael Jackson: This Is It
15 Turning Tables Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
16 Shut Up & Bounce Dostana
17 Beat It Michael Jackson: This Is It
18 Englishman in New York (w/ Branford Marsalis) Sting: Live in Berlin
19 Through the Fire (w/ Chaka Khan) David Foster & Friends: Hit Man Returns
20 Orinoco Flow Celtic Woman
21 My Way Robbie Williams: Live at the Albert
22 People Get Ready w/ Joss Stone Jeff Beck: Performing This Week…Live at Ronnie Scott’s
23 Cinema Paradiso (w/ Yo-Yo Ma) Chris Botti: In Boston
24 I’ve Got the World on a String Michael Bublé Meets Madison Square Garden
25 Lucky Boy Bachna Ae Haseeno
26 Lovesong Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
27 Emmanuel (w/ Lucia Micarelli) Chris Botti: In Boston
28 Gravedigger Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City
29 Bridge Over Troubled Water (Josh Groban with Brian McKnight) David Foster & Friends: Hit Man
30 Wrapped Around Your Finger The Police: Certifiable – Live in Buenos Aires
31 Hometown Glory Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
32 Rumor Has It Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
33 The Way You Make Me Feel (Take 2) Michael Jackson: This Is It
34 Walking on the Moon The Police: Certifiable – Live in Buenos Aires
35 Gimme Shelter (U2 w/ Mick Jagger, Fergie & The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts

CEDIA EXPO is a wonderful place to not only stay current on the latest technologies but to also see how great demos are given and – likely – find some new clips to use in your own demonstrations. Register for #CEDIA12 here using code CT07 and you can attend the EXPO for free.