BRISTOL, PA -- Who said innovation has to be expensive? The new NGX Internet jukebox from AMI Entertainment Network Inc. exhibits a wealth of innovation at a low price. Designed as a modular system -- inside and out -- the new juke is designed to provide operators with long-term flexibility.
Photo: The Next Generation Jukebox, or NGX, the latest Rowe product from AMI Entertainment Network Inc., provides operators with extreme flexibility when it comes to hardware management. The large-format (32” screen), wall-hanging jukebox begins as a 72-lb. base model, which can be enhanced internally and externally.
Built with standard components, like a 32" vertical screen and Bang & Olufsen amp, and running the AMI's latest Version 3 software, the wall-mounting NGX looks and sounds good, not unlike any design in AMI's Rowe or Rock-Ola jukebox lines.
But when you open it up, things look different from the run-of-the-mill jukebox. AMI has engineered the NGX by eliminating all but the most popular components to provide a clean, easy-to-service box. Operators can remove and replace primary components, such as the core computer or hard drive, without tools. A simple thumbscrew holds them in place.
"I was inspired by the cleanliness of the jukeboxes on the European market, especially in the UK and Ireland," said Jeff Kalis, AMI's engineering manager for jukeboxes. "I kept looking in there and saying, 'These look good. They look really clean, without a whole rat's nest of wires and modules all over the place.'"
However, jukeboxes in Europe do not have the same capabilities and requirements as those in the U.S. They typically lack output transformer packages or large, high-capacity amplifiers, among other features. This led to one of those eureka moments for Kalis and the AMI engineering team. "We took a completely different approach to the design of the NGX," he explained. "We began by asking 'what do the majority of people operating jukeboxes really need from a basic model?'"
As it turned out, the majority of jukeboxes contain components that are often unused for the entire lives of those units. Even worse, operators were paying for those idle components. "Keeping the cost down for operators was another priority in developing the NGX," Kalis said. A stripped-down Rowe or Rock-Ola box can meet the needs of 90% of music operators, he estimated.
For operators who need additional components, like a dialup modem or second amp for large venues, AMI will now offer these parts as retrofit kits for the NGX. There are also add-on kits for wireless routers, audio output transformers, money meters, special event switches and RF remotes, among other features. Wireless kits for Verizon or Sprint services are available, too.
Operators now can pay for what they only need and use. And for routes extending over a variety of geographic areas and location types, from suburban to rural, and from small taverns to larger bars and clubs, the NGX gives operators the ability to customize jukebox capabilities. According to AMI, one man can install the 72-lb. box, which is about 113 lbs. lighter than its big-screen predecessor, the Rock-Ola Rock-Star Lx.
Essentially this is the same buy-what-you-need, cost-saving concept that consumers have been using for years when shopping for computers or even cars.
A MODULAR THEME
"The flavor of the project quickly became one of modularity," said Steve Jarema, AMI's director of hardware engineering. "How do we make the NGX as modular as possible? How many things can we do?"
As it turned out, much could be done. An example of this total modularity concept, Jarema pointed out, is the currency module. Rather than permanently integrating it into the box, AMI designed an assembly that can be attached below the screen, at the jukebox base, or on the side of the box. The NGX, like many Rowe boxes, accepts coins, bills and credit cards.
One option Jarema exhibited particular fondness for was dual bill acceptors. If one banknote acceptor gets jammed around 11 p.m., the other picks up the slack and the operator is spared from a midnight service call. "We wanted to make sure we didn't bind our operators in any way and open up new possibilities," Jarema said.
BEAUTY: SKIN DEEP, AND SMART
AMI's modular approach is highlighted by new Smart Skins. The prominent NGX feature, Smart Skins are large decorative frames that lock onto the exterior of the unit to provide a new look around the box's 32" vertical screen. The frames snap into place using outlets mounted on the side of the jukebox, then lock by turning screws -- no wiring harnesses or access panels for connections are needed. Once installed and powered up, a skin provides a lighted frame for the unit.
The initial concept was skin only, with power input to provide light. AMI's chief executive, Mike Maas, suggested adding intelligence to the peripheral, which would enable it to interact with the jukebox.
Photo: Pictured, from left, are Jeff "Nostalgia" Kalis, AJ "Premium Wood" Russo and Steve "Nitehawk" Jarema.
Each skin has a communications input and output link that controls lighting and interactive behavior, which creates a unique look in combination with the jukebox user interface. "The link tells the jukebox software which skin is hanging on it," Kalis explained. "A microprocessor in the skin provides bidirectional communication. Not only can the software detect which skin is on the box, but it also identifies which mode the skin is on. It is aware of color patterns, speed and brightness."
Smart Skins are significant, according to the AMI design team. Presently, the system functions only as an esthetic enhancement, creating colors and themes to match a location's décor or create particular mood. In the future, however, the communications function will likely allow operators to adjust a skin's features remotely, link it to specific videos in an attract mode and call up pre-loaded, scheduled advertising.
Intelligence aside, the main purpose of a Smart Skin is to change the look of a jukebox without changing a jukebox. "One of the things that happens with operators is they get demands by location owners to freshen the look of the juke, so once a year they have to a lug a new box in," Jarema said. "With NGX skins, all they have to do is take the face off the juke and go from one look to a completely different look."
Right now, AMI is offering two skin options, the NiteHawk and Nostalgia, but more are on the way. During the recent Amusement Expo in Las Vegas, the company displayed an assortment of prototype frames to gauge operator reactions. They included sports themes and a carved-wood styling that recalls the paneling of an upscale club or cigar bar. Other ideas floated by the company include themes that promote specific beer brands, along with licensed logos of national and local sports teams.
The AMI development team is hopeful that the skins concept could become a sales tool for operators and open the door to new locations. "Certain bars have a certain look, so in the future we can perhaps match the juke to the wood of those locations," Jarema said. "We can customize the skin to a particular chain. We can put the name or logo of the chain on the Skin and design it the way they want to design it. We intend to work very closely with operators to develop these skins."
AMI creative director AJ Russo said the NGX's modular design is a distinct departure for AMI's Rowe jukeboxes. "We put everything in the box the operator needs immediately," he said. "For the first time, you open the box and you'll see a very clean and simple arrangement. Outside, you can click on a skin, light up the box and watch the screen change to match the skin."
Even more, the NGX without a skin is a nice looking box. Skins can be added later. "We built the NGX to become anything jukebox operators could possibly need now and in the future," Russo said.