Virtuo Begins Shipping This Week; Premium TouchTunes Product Is Billed As First 'Smart' Jukebox

Posted On: 4/4/2011

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TouchTunes Charles Goldstuck

When introducing Virtuo, Charles Goldstuck predicted that the new TouchTunes jukebox platform will redefine out-of-home entertainment and change the way in-venue entertainment is experienced.

Mounting to a wall, the slightly angled, widescreen Virtuo is designed to catalyze social experiences, while "smart" uses of LED lighting attempt to catch the attention of consumers across a crowded tavern or barroom.

Goldstuck, president and chief executive of TouchTunes Interactive Networks since May 2009, described Virtuo as "a first-of-a-kind SmartJuke." The new box made its debut at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on Feb. 28, on the eve of the 2011 Amusement Expo. More than 500 people, most of them jukebox operators, attended the gala unveiling and dinner, which included entertainment by singer-songwriter Crystal Bowersox, the runner-up on the ninth season of "American Idol," and alternative rockers Jimmy Eat World.

TouchTunes says Virtuo is "smart" for a number of reasons, but mostly because new applications can be developed for the company's OpenStage software platform, which makes its debut on the new box. Virtuo can support multiple apps. As with PCs, Macs and smartphones, development tools are available to third-party suppliers.

Virtuo's camera integration means the juke can double as a photo kiosk, supporting future applications using consumer images and video. TouchTunes plans to introduce its own karaoke app in the fall of 2011.

Goldstuck said Virtuo has been designed to increase consumer engagement substantially. To this end, the new machine is equipped with a 26" landscape-format user interface that offers advanced browsing capabilities. The display size and aspect ratio increases the viewing space by 60% and pixel density by 30%, compared with 19" monitors. The landscape orientation lends itself to social interaction by better accommodating multiple users.

A new controller based on a 64-bit fanless computer is said to provide 10 times the power of the company's Gen3 system. It is equipped with a 500GB hard drive with serial ATA interface. The high-definition camera is capable of recording video at 30 frames a second under low-light conditions, in addition to still images.

The payment system can accommodate one- and two-credit music tracks. It is supplied with two ICT bill validators and a credit card reader -- but it will not accept coins. The bezels on the payment devices are illuminated for easy visibility. Brightly lit pictograms on each entry aid intuitive comprehension of the options.

The Virtuo's user interface, running on OpenStage, offers browsing and search capabilities, with sorting controls to help make browsing faster and more efficient. Patrons may browse alphabetically, or by popularity and release date, and they can find additional information about a title (and recommendations) by accessing Gracenote Inc.'s Internet database. A large, eye-catching "push-to-play" button at the right side of the cabinet resembles the play icon displayed in familiar computer videoclips.

The user interface is intuitive and familiar. On the homepage, it prompts the user with three choices: Search, Browse and Staff Picks. It works like a Google fast search, and can produce results by song, artist or lyrics (and a contextual Web connection), the latter being firsts for a jukebox, according to TouchTunes. "Don't know the artist or song title? Try typing some lyrics to find what you're looking for," Goldstuck explained.

The Staff Picks feature permits the organization of a location-specific pool of one-credit songs. Each venue can manage Staff Picks content to establish unique musical settings and moods.

In developing the interface, the jukebox company conducted research with consumers for over a year to determine the best way to find music. Many OpenStage features were suggested by consumers, including the album cover flow design. It also enables TouchTunes to fully skin artists.

The Virtuo offers a viewable play queue to show users what will play next. Additionally, it allows consumers to create playlists on the fly -- before credits are spent.

Also new is an LED matrix display situated above the panoramic main screen. The high-intensity color diodes display "pause," "skip" and "volume" functions, and scroll the title of the song currently playing. This panel incorporates a live equalizer that animates the display in synchronization with the beat of the music; it also can be synchronized with light shows and onscreen content. It can run video advertising, too.

Considerable attention has been devoted to the new jukebox's light show capabilities. Engineered for high visibility across the entire venue, it is scriptable and can be customized by context; it also supports location-themed lighting. The light show is coordinated among four independently controlled systems: a wall rim (displaying 16 million colors); a payment "curtain" offering a gradient lighting strip to illuminate the payment entries; a reflective "wall wash" illuminator with six dimmable zones; and the brand bar backlight, a single-color light strip that illuminates the TouchTunes logo.

Supplied with dual Bang & Olufsen amplifiers, the Virtuo offers operators remote diagnostics, as well as management by means of a virtual "dashboard," accessible over a secure Internet connection.

The new TouchTunes box is supplied with wired and wireless remote controls and the ability to accommodate a microphone (with talk-over pager switch) and/or a balanced auxiliary input by means of a direct signal injection box.

It is fully compatible with the mobile myTouchTunes application for iPhone and Android smartphones, and permits custom music programming by means of location-selectable background music channels. The company, which connected its first jukeboxes to POTS lines more than 10 years ago, said its alliance with Verizon will be an important part of its future. In the immediate future, Verizon Wireless will add its 4G spin to TouchTunes boxes.

TouchTunes retained the celebrated industrial design studio Frog Design (San Francisco) to style the Virtuo. It measures 39.4" high by 28.4" wide by 10.7" deep, weighs 120 lbs. and is easily mounted to an Ovation bracket.

Virtuo will be built for TouchTunes by Flextronics, an electronics manufacturing services company that's an engineering and manufacturing partner with OEMs ranging from automotive and medical technology companies, to computer and mobile products makers. Based in Creedmore, NC, Flextronics' industrial division manufactures self-service kiosks. Redbox DVD vending machines are perhaps the division's best-known products, which also include ATMs, digital signage systems, reverse venders, automated ticketing machines and lottery ticket dispensers, among other unattended point-of-sale devices.

The first 500 Virtuo models are expected to roll off the assembly line by April 1, after which production will ramp up to meet orders that "have exceeded expectations" as of mid-March, according to TouchTunes.

Jason Rubin, a founder of Entertainment Experts, a regional operation with offices in Denver, Baltimore and Cincinnati that participated in field tests, hailed the advent of the new box. "Virtuo is the most exciting product that has come into our industry in the past 20 years," he said. "It is visually stunning and represents a giant leap forward in its technology." Response by consumers and location managers has been "overwhelming," Rubin reported.

The way Goldstuck sees it, the Virtuo, with its elegant design and scalable framework, brings the jukebox to the present. "We think it allows the jukebox experience to catch up with contemporary consumer experiences."

He admits that Virtuo is not for every location, and will initially hang in the best-earning spots where it's expected to lift sales by a least 40% to as much as 90%, figures in line with beta-test results. "During beta-testing, patrons often congregated around the jukebox -- like it was a stage," Goldstuck said. Hence, OpenStage is a fitting name for the system.

After three years of recession, the TouchTunes chief executive says he's become more intrigued with opportunities rather than simple survival. Virtuo, he says, is all about new opportunities.

"Not all locations are created equal," said Goldstuck, a former record label executive. "Some are about pool and darts, others the music and the best have both."

Still, he believes Virtuo, and jukeboxes in general, should be a key part of the entertainment fabric in more locations. "Why is the installed base only 65,000?" he asked. "Why not 250,000?" (TouchTunes administers about 45,000 boxes.) As for Virtuo, he's confident it will help open up new locations and markets for operators.

TouchTunes Virtuo

While much of the Virtuo buzz is all about the exterior appearance by Frog Design, TouchTunes paid equal attention to the juke's interior component layout and cable coding. The simplified interior is meant to improve the service experience for operators.

NOTE: OpenStage is not backward compatible. However, TouchTunes said it will continue to support its Gen3 MX-1 and Ovation models. Both systems will support 4G wireless service.