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Communication wave of the future

Video/PC convergence offers business new way to communicate

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Darren Westenhaver has some simple advice for boosting the excitement of PCs: get moving.

Westenhaver, who heads Salt Lake-based Alden Media, recommends video — full-blown moving pictures with accompanying sound — as a way to get customers, employees or anyone else staring at a PC. The attraction is how it can mimic a television.

"That's really where the TV and the PC converge, is the ability for video to play on your PC, whether off a CD or DVD or the Internet," Westenhaver told a crowd at the recent Connect 2002 technology conference.

Formerly involved in film and video editing and film production, Westenhaver runs a company that "repurposes" video for VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs and the Internet. In a simple demonstration at the conference, he used a PC to run video of a woman talking — far more attention-getting than the static text she was reading on the other side of the monitor.

The business applications are limitless, he said.

"You can't afford any longer to just think about broadcast," he said. "If you do advertising and marketing, you have to think beyond the set-top box. You have to think about the Web, DVD and CD, because people's minds are no longer locked into TV."

Some PDAs, for example, allow the user to take and store photos and video. "It's amazing the way the technology is converging," he said. "This whole convergence of video onto the PC and Palm Pilot and cell phone is going to change the way marketing is done."

Video on cell phones is becoming more common in Japan, he said. "You might think, why would I ever want to do that? If you're an advertiser, and you look at the Internet with those annoying pop-up ads, imagine if you have a cell phone and you have pop-ups."

Technology will allow a person to view a TV signal, and the closed-caption part of the screen will be able to provide access to e-mails to learn more about, say, a car or jeans on the video. Eventually it will allow people to order the items they see on the screen, he said.

"Imagine how that will affect the advertising market," he said.

The interactivity offered by DVDs allows for training of employees to be more effective, he said. A DVD can be designed to contain training video but stop if the viewer is having trouble learning.

"If they make the wrong choice, you can have a video review, and you can set up the DVD on a PC so that it tracks the results of what they're experiencing, and you'll be able to see are they doing what they're supposed to be doing, following the instructions they've been given," Westenhaver said.

One of his clients is an Oregon construction company that has developed technology for crushing rocks. It used to send out salespeople, armed to the teeth with TVs and lots of videotapes, to prospective customers. Now all the information is on a CD that includes DVD content, which the sales reps show on their laptops.

Animation has helped the company with assembly logistics, too. "They're able to take this video and build that piece of equipment with the video, step by step: Watch it, pause it, build it. Watch it, pause it, build it. They used to have to send out a consultant to go sit with the guy and help him build this huge piece of machinery, to be sure it ran well and safe, and now they just send out a CD."

Another DVD made by Alden Media was for a manufacturer of materials used in knee-replacement procedures. It uses animation to show how a knee is surgically replaced, interspersing that with video of a football player suffering the injury that led to the procedure.

Animation files are prime candidates for use in courtrooms, he said. Graphics on posters can be replaced by animation shown on big-screen projectors.

"The applications for the courtroom are significant for injuries or anything like that, to show processes," Westenhaver said. "There really is no limit to what you can do."

Text searches of dialogue on video also can allow a lawyer to easily and quickly find the video clip — part of an arsenal an attorney can use to discredit a witness' contradictory testimony on the spot.

Another option for the video-minded is QuickTime VR. It allows the PC user to get a 360-degree view of an image — manipulating its motion and zooms by pressing certain keys on the keyboard.

A new development is directional sound. Spin the image of a home's exterior this way to hear a babbling brook. Spin it the other way to hear birds.

Virtual tours of homes — big among real estate types — also can feature a link that allows users to see options for, say, the types of kitchen countertops that are available and how much they cost.

"It enables you to do a lot of stuff with sales and marketing but also educating your clients. Before they even come into the house, they can literally take a tour and make a lot of decisions about your product."

A self-confessed video junkie for years — remember album-sized laser discs? — Westenhaver discovered he can use his PC to watch DVDs of the entire season of the TV show "24" and to access Web sites to learn more about the show's season.

"It's limited only by what you can imagine," he said of the video/PC convergence. "You can do a lot of stuff with this."

E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com