LAS VEGAS – Jan. 18, 2010 – On a warm and bright January day, diners file in for lunch at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Café. They make their way through the gift shop, up the escalator, past TV screens playing the '68 Elvis comeback special, and toward the hostess station.
Then they see it: the Rock Wall, a showcase of rock history at a larger-than-life size. Images of classic guitars, stage costumes, and platinum and gold LPs float across a massive, 18-foot-wide, 4-foot-tall glass screen. They are the treasures found in Hard Rock International's music memorabilia collection – the world's largest.
Greg Thomas, general manager of the Las Vegas Hard Rock Café, shows off one of the 19-inch touch screens that run Hard Rock’s Booth Interactive application and allow visitors to browse memorabilia from the guest booths.
Some of music's most prized possessions fly by: Handwritten lyrics by John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix's Flying-V guitar, Michael Jackson's sequined glove. Patrons get a closer look by playing with multiple Microsoft Surface units scattered across the reception area, bar, and VIP lounge. Once they sit down, they can try out small interactive touch screens in their booths.
"People make a beeline right for (the technology)," says Greg Thomas, general manager at the Las Vegas Hard Rock, as he watches from the lobby. "You could sit here all day and play with this stuff."
"This is just too cool," says Michael Mariz, a visitor from Palm Springs who couldn't pull himself away from the Rock Wall even as his friends were taken to their table. He flicked his fingers to enlarge Elvis Presley's slot car collection and then drummed up background information on the toys, which actually reside at the Hard Rock's Hollywood restaurant.
Visitors can reach out and touch thousands of pieces of rock history, at least in a virtual sense, using Microsoft’s Surface, Silverlight, SharePoint, and Windows technologies. Through a series of devices, ranging from 19-inch touch screens in the restaurant's booths to the multitouch Surface units to the Rock Wall, Hard Rock is using technology to increase the number of people who are able to check out its memorabilia.
"We have over 71,000 pieces of memorabilia in our collection and are the curator of the world's largest music memorabilia collection," says Joe Tenczar, senior director of technology and CIO, Hard Rock International. "With Surface, we're able to bring the vast collection from Hard Rock locations around the world for our customers to see and explore in a whole new way, enhancing their time with us. You know, my jaw still drops when I walk into this place and see what we're able to do. I'm hoping our guests will have that same experience."
In the lobby, Thomas uses a Surface table to call up a video that features the Hard Rock's first curator. He also works on a jigsaw puzzle depicting the café from the outside.
He says he never gets tired of playing with the touch technology. "People love this experience, and it keeps them engaged," he said, piecing the puzzle back together as he talks. ("You have to finish a puzzle once you start.")
It all started a little more than a year ago, when Hard Rock partnered with its brand agency, Duncan/Channon, and Microsoft partner Vertigo to create a new online experience incorporating Silverlight into its Web site.
Tara Zanecki of San Francisco uses the Rock Wall to take a closer look at a pair of Madonna’s gloves.
The result allowed users to get up close and personal with more than 1,000 items through Hard Rock's Memorabilia site. Users could browse the site by featured artist, genre, content type (such as an instrument or vehicle), decade, and location. Using Microsoft's Silverlight and Deep Zoom technologies, people could zoom in to see nicks on guitars and the fine print in letters—and get the background story on each piece.
The customized experience has been extended to Surface units, where people can use their fingers to zoom in and out and explore the collection. "You're seeing every little scratch, every little detail that makes it real," says Eric Havir, senior marketing manager with Surface. "You wouldn't be able to touch this stuff if it was in a museum."
Inside the Hard Rock's main dining area, each booth features a 21st-century jukebox: a 19-inch touch screen that allows customers to vote on which videos should be shown on screens around the café and browse the memorabilia collection. "Look at this resolution," Havir said, zooming in on a pair of Vans worn by guitarist Mike Firsby of blessthefall.
Interestingly, Hard Rock manager Thomas was late to the rock party. As a kid in New York City, he grew up on old-school hip-hop. "Then I started falling in love with stuff like Led Zeppelin, which rocked like old-school Run DMC and LL Cool J." His tastes have broadened. "I like Golden Earring," he said as he voted for one of the Dutch rock band's songs at the touch screen. ("Hey, we won," he said later as Twilight Zone blared through the restaurant.)
Back in the Hard Rock's lobby, Thomas watched a young boy barely tall enough to reach the Rock Wall inspect a Paul McCartney guitar with help from his mother. "The technology we have here connects people to the memorabilia," he says. "But it's still all about the music. Music brings people together."