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Kevin Krock, editor
Pioneer Invests In Innoventions

By Tony Phoenix

Since its 1998 debut, Innoventions in Disneyland's updated Tomorrowland has struggled. Billed as a place where companies can feature cutting- edge technology, it opened with outdated product demonstrations and quickly slipped behind the times. Guests generally seemed underwhelmed with the items on exhibit, especially when the games on display on the ground floor were great examples of last year's releases from Disney Interactive.

Poor visitor response and short visit times led to several featured companies not renewing their sponsorships. The loss of SGI and Honeywell left some gaping holes in the attraction's offerings, and reduced the value the other sponsors receive. After all, who wants to sit next to an empty exhibit?

Promotional photo © Disney
Promotional photo © Disney

Well, one hole has been filled with the addition of Pioneer Electronics, which debuted its splashy exhibit on August 22 in a cute presentation made by Cynthia Harriss, President of the Disneyland Resort, Kazunori Yamamoto, President and CEO of Pioneer North America, and the oh-so-real Virtual Bellhop (shown above).

Now the question must be asked - Why would Pioneer make such a large investment in Innoventions? Let's be honest: altruism had nothing to do with it. Businesses do not drop the amount of money on a project like this without expecting some form of return. So rather than simply walk you through Pioneer's new exhibit, let's take a tour and look at what exactly they are trying to accomplish.

The Virtual Resort - not just a vacation destination!

The first thing you notice as you approach the Pioneer exhibit (shown below) is the bell desk at the center of the exhibit. Here you "check in" and a virtual bellhop (one of three - speaking English, Spanish, or Japanese) gives you an overview of the offerings at the "Virtual Resort."

Promotional photo © Disney
Promotional photo © Disney

Surrounding you are just some of the 41 50-inch plasma screen displays, which at approximately $16,000 each, are worth almost $700,000 alone! On a few of them you'll see fish swimming around - giving the impression of looking into an aquarium. Touching the surface of the screens allows for some rather nifty interaction - either you can draw something on the screen with your finger, and then watch it break off and get bounced by the fish, or the fish (like in a real aquarium) will follow your finger as you move it around.

These screens are fed from the industrial DVD player that houses 720 DVDs. This one player provides all of the video used throughout the exhibit and can been seen working above the registration desk.

There are four activity areas in the Virtual Resort, each showcasing a different Pioneer product line. These four product lines get to the heart of why Pioneer decided to invest in Innoventions.

Innovation, not domination

Pioneer used to be considered one of the leading manufacturers of electronics and even today is a leader in developing new technologies. Its researchers were key contributors to the development of the LaserDisk player, DVD, plasma displays, and interactive digital cable TV. Over the past several years, however, the brand has weakened and the demand for Pioneer products has shifted to competitors like Sony. This has been reflected in its sales numbers and stock price. Coincidentally, the day Pioneer opened the Innoventions exhibit, its stock price hit a 52-week low.

The status of Pioneer stock and its slipping market share has obviously not gone unnoticed by Pioneer management. In July, Pioneer announced a new branding effort centered on its new corporate credo: "sound.vision.soul."

The Soul of the Virtual Result

Knowing that Pioneer is trying to build a new image in the market, it becomes easy to understand its desire to invest in Innoventions. The new exhibit is part of that rebranding process. In the exhibit, Pioneer can showcase newer technologies that are beginning to appear on the consumer market. In this way, Innoventions' delay in updating to the newest technologies is actually a plus, as Pioneer wants to show what consumers can buy today, and items that will become mainstream over the next one to two years. This is all about selling products and building the Pioneer brand.

Let's look at the four areas featured in the Virtual Resort, beginning with the Valet Parking area (above). Here, a classic car has been modified to demonstrate the on-board navigation systems and satellite radio.

The rear seats feature DVD movies, video games, and probably the greatest feature ever created for parents on long trips - the "Are We There, Yet?" button. Children can push this button and instantly see the route of their trip, current location, and how long they will still be traveling.

The Jungle Jams Lounge (above) showcases Pioneer's CD Disk Jockey system, allowing you to mix CD music. It features an interactive video that demonstrates the system's capabilities and even allows you to spin a CD like you used to be able to spin LP records. A cast member has their own booth and can demonstrate the mixing of several different Disney CDs.

The Home Movie Activity Center (shown above) demonstrates the new DVD recording system Pioneer is introducing. It allows you to upload recordings from broadcast television and cable, camcorder footage, and VHS and DVD recordings. Once uploaded, there is a full editing suite that allows you to mix and create your own movies. While the interface is still a little awkward, it shows a lot of promise.

In the final featured area, the Virtual Suite uses high definition projectors to create a virtual room, with three plasma screens serving as the windows and painting over the fireplace. Here, you select from four different settings: a castle tower, a New England seaport village, a chateau in the Alps, and a Mediterranean seaport. Unfortunately, the projectors we had seemed grainy, and contrasted dramatically with the images shown on the plasma screens.

Success, or…?

So, given the investments made, did Pioneer meet its goal? In my opinion, the exhibit is probably the best in Innoventions. It is fun to experiment with the technologies and see what is just around the corner. It actually makes me want to go back and explore again.

Pioneer at Innoventions

An Expensive Toy

Pioneer PDP505 50-inch High Definition Flat Screen Plasma Monitor

Add this beauty to your wall! One not-so-small problem though -- it costs over $16,000!

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