If you haven’t been following in the last week, I’ve been totally awed by what Microsoft and Ventuz has done at CeBIT 2007 and the Vista Germany launch. Ventuz is of course a company in Dubai which delivers presentation solutions beyond the conventional flying text in PowerPoint. Their solutions cater for all sorts of industries and businesses, but Microsoft Germany seems to a very happy returning customer.
Their solutions are a combination of hardware and software technologies. Hardware technologies that allows for rendering to a large number of connected large-screen displays, touch sensitivity using light barriers and motion sensing controls with partnered technologies like goMonkey. Their software is an authoring tool which enables designers to use both 2D and 3D compositors to create compelling animations and renderings to display data both static and dynamically updated from external sources.
If none of that makes any sense, then watch this show-reel.
I got in touch with Christian Schmidt who is the product manager from Ventuz to ask a few questions about the technology and its future. Here’s what he had to say.
First, let me introduce myself. I am the Product Manager of Ventuz and have been working with Ventuz since the very first project for Microsoft in 2003. At that time I was working at Second Unit Services who was the first company ever to use Ventuz. They were our alpha and beta testers and we proved with their help that the idea behind Ventuz works. I trained their artists and operators and with the Ventuz Beta phase ending, I moved to Ventuz and began my work there.
Do you think this is the future of presentations?
Yes and No. The presentations definitely achieve something which has been missing for the better part of a decade, the WOW-factor – the ability to catch the audience’s attention. PowerPoint and Flash are simply boring and everybody has seen everything that can be done with those tools. In that regard, 3D was the next logical step.
However, Ventuz is also merely a tool. How that tool is used is up to the users, artists, operators and the guys you think up setups such as the one used for the Microsoft presentations. In that regard I would say, yes, this is the future of presentations. Although the entire concept is millions of miles better than any traditional (PowerPoint-oriented) presentation, it is still lacking something.
The thing which has to be tweaked is the link between the presenter and the presentation. The Microsoft presentations are getting close, but the amount of technical gimmicks are sometimes distracting from the content of the presentations. Although the idea of the touchscreen is really cool, I think it is too much for the presenters and the audience to handle. Simplicity has always been the best way to go. In the case of the Microsoft presentations, I would say, that the ability of the presenter to freely move around and trigger slide transitions and interact with the actual presentation on the big screen are more than enough.
I think that the future of presentations has to be seen from two angles. The first is content and the second is how that content is translated by the presenter to the audience. Ventuz is definitely a solution for the first problem. In my opinion all other existing solutions are outdated. PowerPoint has boring graphics, Flash is a performance killer and is also only 2D and all other solutions out there (including the PowerPoint enhancement Ovation) are just limited and temporary solutions.
Since Ventuz is a completely open tool for Designers, there are no restrictions on what content to produce. It is like Photoshop, a generic tool with which you can create any type or style of presentation you want. Sadly, there is a drawback. Ventuz is a professional tool, in its current form it is not suited for the average joe that wants to create presentations. Ventuz requires trained users like any other professional application. But in most cases, at least when it comes to presentations at exhibitions and other large presentations, the actual content is not produced by a Product Manager or Sales Manager but by a design agency anyway. Then Ventuz is in my opinion the definite choice. It not only allows them to create better and more interesting graphics but also has other advantages.
Just one example from my experience. In PowerPoint, you always have static backgrounds. The eyes begin to focus on specific areas of the graphics and get tired easily. The audience begins to loose interest in the presentation. If the presenter is not well trained, the entire presentation is almost useless. In Ventuz you can create continuously animated backgrounds. Small changes in the background help the audience focus more. Even though it is a subtle change, the difference in awareness is huge.
The other big advantage of using Ventuz would be everything related to how the presentation (the graphics) are displayed and controlled. Ventuz allows users not only to create the fancy graphics but also to add logic, scripting and controls to them. This allows creative guys to come up with and realize even the craziest methods of interacting with the presentation.
A simple yet very effective approach would be the light barriers used in the Microsoft CeBIT presentation. It effectively frees the hands of the presenter and adds something special to the show to increase the audience’s attention. A more freaky way would be the way at the Microsoft Vista launch, where people could interact with the presentation using only their hands. This was done by the way by hooking up Ventuz to a tracking solution by Austrian company goMonkey. Very cool stuff.
Those two ways are just a few ideas on how to allow presenters and even the audience to control and interact with a presentation. And this is in my opinion the point which needs room for improvement and will define the “future of presentations”. The light barrier installation at CeBIT is getting close to that.
What opportunities or scenarios does interactive presentations present?
The first and foremost opportunity I would say would be to increase the interest audiences have for a presentation. If information is no longer spoon-fed but can be interactively experienced it is much more interesting to the audience. Another factor which is very, very important is that Ventuz allows these interactive presentations to be fed with real-time data. The information in presentations no longer has to be static. You could link all the information in a presentation to a database for example which would allow you to update and change the content according to your audience. Presentations can become an interactive experience with changing data. It is boring if a presentation is always the same. Why not change the color of the presentation according to the time of the day? Some TV channels do the same thing.
I think that with solutions such as Ventuz or let’s say with the concept of “interactive presentation” the term “presentation” itself is wrong. A presentation is a one way transfer of information from a presenter to his or her audience. And that is what can be changed. Presentations no longer need to be linear and frankly boring. Many science fiction movies in the past two decades have shown so many different types of what could be possible. Most of these ideas can actually be realized nowadays. Take Minority Report for example. With a Holopro Screen, a Cyberglove and Ventuz, you could (easily) recreate that interface. With the power of modern computers, software technologies such as Ventuz and a creative mind to put them to good use, the style and way of how information is presented is limited only by your imagination.
How is Ventuz involved and what should we expect to see in the near future?
Ventuz is a tool that lets creative minds do new and extraordinary things, not just limited to “presentations”. Ventuz will continue to grow into a generic or let’s call universal application to create any kind of realtime graphics, 2D or 3D. Ventuz has been developed to display virtually any kind of information on as many different output devices as possible with as much flexibility as possible of control them. Ventuz will continue on that road.
With Windows Vista and DirectX 10, Ventuz will adopt the new standards set forth by Microsoft and change and grow with them.
Ventuz will also try to be more accessible to new users. The challenge Ventuz and others like us have to face is the necessity of people to change the way of thinking when it comes to creating presentations. Many people are still stuck with the traditional way of creating presentations, graphics and animations. The concept of real-time graphics is somewhat new to them and requires them to deal with another “philosophy”.
I look forward to seeing a presentation powered by Ventuz in the near future! Come on Microsoft Australia, flex some of that small marketing budget muscle.