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Sony – Metreon – Hear Music – Listening Kiosk System

by DigitalDoyle

Post image for Sony – Metreon – Hear Music – Listening Kiosk System

This is the most complex and interesting project I did for Sony. It’s the Sony MediaServer System at the Metreon in San Francisco. We took the listening station concept we had in the SonyStyle store in Manhattan and pumped it full of steroids. This thing is awesome, if I do say so myself.

We produced a custom version of the MediaServer for a company called Hear Music, an eclectic and innovative music retailer (owned by Starbucks now), with a store inside the Sony Metreon entertainment complex in San Francisco.


I did this one with Al Podrasky, then at Sony Development Inc. At that time SDI was an R&D branch of Sony and had a huge number of ex-Disney Imagineers working there. They treated me like family and took great care of me while I was working with them. That’s Al working at the old Hear Music offices in the image to the right.

See those great hulking grey boxes under the table? Those are the two servers (everything was designed and built redundant). And between the monitors is the array of hard disks where we stored the content and music. Believe it or not the servers were Dell 166mhz Pentiums, and the total capacity of ALL the hard drives was only 100Gb. At that time (1999), that was an astronomical amount of storage space. It sounded like a small jet engine when we fired that disc array up the first time. ;o)

This is the MediaServer User Interface for Hear Music. Normally I would have created the front end in something like Macromedia Director, but the folks at Sony had a relationship with Microsoft at that time, so the front end was created as DHTML using Internet Explorer in kiosk mode. You wouldn’t think it possible, especially at that time, but the interface was incredibly responsive and rivaled anything I’ve done with Director or Flash since.

The customers interact thru nice, bright Sony LCD flat screens at each of 11 interactive listening stations in the store. Here the user can explore all the stories and learn the history and significance of each genre and category of music as well as info about the artists.

It’s a very deep system. And the user experience is completely built on the fly from a networked database as the customer uses the system. The user can also swipe the barcode of any CD and that CD will come up onscreen and let the user listen to it. It’s really one of the very best and most entertaining, not to mention educational, ways to both shop for music as well as learn more about musical appreciation. The Hear Music writers filled the database with an incredible amount of interesting information about each artist, group, genre of music, and the many connections between them.

Al and I did pretty much everything on this one, from specifying and setting up all the hardware to all the custom software development, front-end and back-end. Al did the database design and programmed the components that my ContentCreator software used. And we both built and set up all the kiosk CPUs and did the networking to wire them all together.

Here I am up in the server room at the Metreon working out last minute bugs just before the opening in June 1999. I was one exhausted puppy by the end of this one. Sony kept me on the west coast working on R&D projects for most of 2 years. And we worked literally around the clock for the last 2 weeks of the project. Worth it, though.

This is a screenshot of part of the backend system content creation software, called ContentCreator, that we developed to feed and fill the database with all the text, images, and audio. With this software Hear Music was able to collect all the content quickly and easily.

Like the front-end, I wrote this from scratch as DHTML using Javascript and VBScript to handle the user interaction, database communication, and interfacing with the hardware to do all the scanning and ripping of the cover images and CD tracks using the custom-programmed modules Al wrote.

The program rips and processes audio and places the finished files in specific places on the servers. Al Podrasky and I did everything from set up the hardware and software on the Servers and individual kiosks to physically setting everything up and networking everything in the store and the back room for the Hear Music store.

I learned a tremendous amount about turnkey database driven intranet systems while building this project. The two of us pretty much took the system from concept to completion, front end and backend, and I’m very proud of the way it turned out. The folks at Hear Music are very also very happy with it.


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