The Art of the Demo

John Sciacca
Jul 19, 2012

Demonstration (noun) - An explanation, display, illustration, or experiment showing how something works

A well-crafted demo delivers an incredibly powerful, emotional experience that can stay with someone for years. In fact, I can still clearly remember the first time I experienced a home theater system.

It was not a formal demo per se, but was at my friend Travis's house. His father had just purchased a new surround system and we watched Speed on Laserdisc. (You can read more about that system here.)

From the opening seconds – with the elevator cabling clanging in the background behind me – I was totally enthralled with the technology. Seeing that movie literally changed my life as it sent me on a path towards home theater ownership and becoming a custom installer.

I can also recall the first time I experienced a truly high-end system. It was in San Francisco and they led me back into a private room where a Vidikron projector was hanging overhead, a stack of McIntosh gear sat off to the side, and a thick black drape concealed a huge projection screen. I had no idea such a thing could even exist in a person’s home, and after seeing it, I knew I had to have it.

A great demo can cause people to purchase a system far outside of their original budget. And not so much because the demo revealed nuances in the music they'd never heard before, or produced bowel-quivering low-end bass notes, or had the finest trillion-calculations-per-second scaling or produced black levels so deep they could swallow galaxies whole. Sure, these things are important, but the great demo is all about delivering that emotional experience.

And this doesn’t just happen by chance.

If you want to give a truly great demo, you need to prepare for it.

One of the better demos that I’ve been given recently was at this past CES. A consortium of manufacturers – Kaleidescape, Digital Projection International (DPI), D-Box, ADA, CinemaTech, Crestron, Stewart Filmscreen and Totem Acoustics – teamed up to deliver the “Unforgettable Home Cinema Experience.”

Afterwards, I spoke to several of the manufacturers to get their take on the experience. DPI’s Michael Bridwell summed up the reason behind the demo. “There really hasn’t been a good immersive theater experience for CES-goers for many years, if ever. The Art of the Demo has died in terms of video, and we are on a mission this year to revive it. Starting at CES, we're going to show dealers how to once again sell video.”

Kaleidescape’s Tom Barnett added, “This event was an opportunity for us to show how some of the best-of-breed home theater components working together in harmony to provide an immersive entertaining experience.”

And ADA’s Richard Stoerger echoed, “The reality is that in order for [people] to get passionate about the experience, they must go through the experience.” In sitting through the 15-minute presentation and talking to these manufacturers, I learned a few things about giving a truly unforgettable demo. So, how do you plan for a great demo?

  1. Create suspense. Properly set the stage by leading the viewers into a nicely lit demo room and guide them towards (hopefully) comfortable seating. It’s best if there is nothing playing on the screen or any audio playing as this silence creates drama and suspense and keeps them from getting distracted and focuses their attention on you.
  2. Pick appropriate material. Sure, you may love watching the scene where Tony Montana mows people down with his Little Friend and it may even look and sound awesome, but it probably isn’t the right clip to show to a family. Ditto anything with swearing. Animated titles are always popular as they look great, generally have some standout audio and are pretty much universally non-offensive. Have a library of demo clips that are appropriate for different audiences. And when in doubt, ask.
  3. Set up the clips. Give them a brief explanation of what you are about to play for them and tell anything in particular you want them to look or listen for. “I’ve selected this scene from Master and Commander because it has great low-end detail from the cannon blasts. It also has amazing 3-dimensional sound; you should be able to hear the people walking on the rigging up above you.”
  4. Have a unified control system. One button press should dim the lights, set the volume and start the clip. Fumbling with remotes, having to get up and fiddle with things, all detracts from creating that “perfect moment.”
  5. Order the clips. A ten-minute demo filled with nothing but explosions and crashes will lose its impact and not show off all of the elements of a well-designed system. You want to show a variety of material and have your demo to build towards a climax. This means starting out with something that is a little slower and less bombastic.
  6. Know when to stop. Part of a great demo is being in control and knowing when to stop it. Don’t let the clip run on and on; find that perfect ending point, and then stop it.
  7. Don’t forget music. Another often overlooked yet wonderful demo tool are concerts on Blu-ray disc. Stephen Libin of Totem Acoustics commented, “We feel the industry doesn’t promote great concerts on Blu-ray near enough. We feel that concert performances, if well recorded, can bring huge emotion, passion, and pleasure to people. Most people have no idea how much fun concerts can be on a big beautiful flat panel, with superb sound literally taking them into the venue.”

CEDIA EXPO is a wonderful place to receive not only stay current on the latest technologies but to also see how great demos are given and – likely – find some new clips to use in your own demonstrations. Register for #CEDIA12 using code CT07 and you can attend the EXPO for free.

About John Sciacca
John Sciacca is a Partner/Manager at Custom Theater and Audio and is a member of the #CEDIATweeps social media team. Follow John on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets.



CEDIA blog posts are intended to provide general information and should not be regarded as legal opinions or advice.

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