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3/13/2006
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Entertainment Companies Push Interactive Options At Movie Theaters

Technology is making interactive pre-show entertainment and multi-player video games in theaters more of a reality.

Technology is making interactive pre-show entertainment and multi-player video games in theaters a reality, according to companies at the Entertainment Technology Center at University of Southern California (ETC-UCI) in Hollywood, Calif. on Friday.

TimePlay Entertainment Inc. has developed consoles and software that integrates with digital projectors it will install at United Cinema International (UCI) Odeon theaters in the United Kingdom within the next two months. TimePlay also said it's signed a deal with an unnamed U.S. theater chain.

The PC-based software platform developed in C++ took a year to build. Mounted at seats, the consoles, each with a unique IP address, are equipped with a 3.5-inch touch screen and backlight. The device, about the size of a Sony PSP, connects to theater seats with a tethered arm.

The video game projected on the movie screen can support up to 70 players in the theater simultaneously. "It's almost as if you have 70 joysticks attached, as opposed to having a true client-network model," said John Race, producer at TimePlay. "The software feed all the inputs from the consoles at the seats back into the server."

The console can process and transmit concession stand orders. It has a point of sale (POS) system that reads magnetic strips on credit cards, tying into the theater's network. Movie goers can order and pay for soft drinks, popcorn or candy from the theater lobby and have the snacks delivered to their seats.

TimePlay and others believe digital technology will bring patrons back into the theater. Not only to watch full-length features, but encourage corporate gatherings, birthday parties and other events.

The Motion Picture Association of America estimates 2005 box office sales in the United States fell 6 percent to nearly $9 billion, compared with a 7.9 percent decline to $23 billion worldwide.

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