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August 1, 2014

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On Strip, Hard Rock has a touch of interactivity

Restaurant’s second Las Vegas location brings debut of technology

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Justin M. Bowen

Diners at the Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip play on the 18-by-4-foot interactive Rock Wall that gives customers the chance to enlarge images and videos in Hard Rock’s collection.

Hard Rock Cafe Interactives

The new Hard Rock Cafe on the Las Vegas Strip draws people with the usual attractions, but is also debuting some new Microsoft technology.

Hard Rock on the Strip

Joe Tenczar, senior director of technology at Hard Rock International, shows off the 18-by-4-foot interactive Rock Wall at the new Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip. Launch slideshow »

Hard Rock Cafe

It’s not often that fans can reach out and touch one of Madonna’s famous bustiers or Michael Jackson’s bejeweled gloves. Armed with new technology and thousands of pieces of memorabilia, Hard Rock’s newest location on the Las Vegas Strip is making that possible — at least in the virtual sense.

Hard Rock International unveiled its first Strip location Labor Day weekend but gave an up-close tour of its new technology on Tuesday.

A rock 'n' roll theme still reigns but the new location has layered in a secondary theme: interactivity.

Hard Rock’s Strip location has introduced three separate and unique interactive devices to enhance a visitor’s experience. Hard Rock has spent the last 18 months developing interactive features, including its 18-foot-long Rock Wall, Microsoft Surface tables and in-booth interactive screens.

Adding interactivity to Hard Rock’s memorabilia collection began as a Web venture, said Hard Rock senior director of technology Joe Tenczar.

The company rolled out what it called Memo 2.0 at Microsoft’s Mix09 conference in March in Las Vegas.

Hard Rock’s Memo 2.0 includes about 1,200 pieces of rock relics from Hard Rock’s 70,000-piece (and counting) collection. The goal was to expand the reach of the memorabilia collection beyond the Hard Rock’s physical walls.

“What it really is about is content and we’ve got some killer content,” Tenczar said. “There’s no reason to have so much in our warehouse or across the world that people can’t get to.”

Not long after the company launched the feature on its Web site, Tenczar said Hard Rock decided the next logical step was to expand the technology to its new flagship property in Las Vegas.

“We thought that Las Vegas was the perfect place to do that. The café had to be big and everything’s bigger and better in Vegas,” Tenczar said.

Hard Rock International summoned the help of technology giants like Microsoft; Technomedia, the developer behind several Universal Studio attractions; and projection specialist Obscura Digital.

In the restaurant’s lobby sits Hard Rock’s trademarked 18-foot wide by 4-foot tall interactive Rock Wall. The Rock Wall lets visitors browse memorabilia for Hard Rock’s 157 locations at a larger-than-life size.

Stage costumes and guitars fly across the screen. Once a piece of content is selected, related memorabilia circle the selected item, giving users the chance to jump from piece to piece within their favorite artist’s collection.

The Rock Wall’s zoom feature works much like iPhone technology, where users can pull the item from opposite ends with their fingertips to see an expanded version. Elvis Presley’s 1976 Harley-Davidson can be viewed at its actual size in a matter of seconds.

Photographing and choosing 1,000-plus pieces of memorabilia from a collection of tens of thousands was a challenge, Tenczar said. Each item is photographed in several pieces in a high-resolution format and stitched together to create a larger, more detailed image.

The Rock Wall is one-of-a-kind to the Strip location but other locations around the globe might soon get 52-inch versions of the screen.

The Rock Wall allows six users to browse at a time, but Hard Rock also built the feature into some its bar area tabletops and dining booths.

Inside the main dining area, each booth features a 19-inch touch screen, giving customers a more personal look at some of Hard Rock’s pieces of rock history. The screens run Hard Rock’s Memo 2.0 application and allow users to browse memorabilia by featured artists, genre, content type (such as an instrument or vehicle), decade and location.

With the application’s deep-zoom feature, users can take in every scratch on John Lennon’s glasses, every knick on Jimi Hendrix’s 1956 Gibson Les Paul and every thread on Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” wedding dress. A background story is paired with every piece.

The interactive screens at Hard Rock’s dining booths also give customers the chance to control their environment. Users can cast their vote for the next music video to play throughout the restaurant and explore Hard Rock’s memorabilia related to that artist.

Interactivity goes a step further with the Microsoft Surface tables, providing a 360-degree multi-user, multi-touch interface. Customers can explore the same memorabilia as the booth interactive screens and Rock Wall, but also can browse the interiors of the 150-plus Hard Rock Cafés worldwide, watch curator videos on how the company acquired certain memorabilia and test their rock ‘n’ roll knowledge.

The Strip location is the only one to have the Microsoft Surface tables as a permanent fixture.

Aside from the 950-seat restaurant, the Hard Rock’s Strip location houses a 1,000-person live concert venue. Its official grand opening will be Wednesday with a free concert featuring three Las Vegas-based bands. Hard Rock Café general manager Greg Thomas said the venue has plans for bigger acts including Kings of Leon and Ne-Yo in the coming months.

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