Sindy on the move: the latest toy story

NETWORK George Cole reports on a fun and games sales package entered for the `Independent' award for multimedia innovation in business
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Sindy and Action Man have been in some strange places, but who would have thought they would end up inside a notebook PC? The toys form part of a multimedia package developed for the toy giant Hasbro by Essentially Multimedia (EM2), of Egham, Surrey. The package has also been entered for the Independent award for the most innovative business use of multimedia at Multimedia 96.

The Electronic Sales Presenter (ESP) consists of a Panasonic CF-41 notebook PC, complete with colour LCD screen, sound card, speakers, CD-Rom drive and a module for playing MPeg digital video - the latter allows computers to display VHS-quality video. The system is being used by approximately 35 of Hasbro's sales team. It takes three CD-Rom discs to store information about the company's vast range of toys, games and pre-school products - these include Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, Battleships, Play Dough and Star Wars.

"Before the ESP was developed, Hasbro sales people would visit shops and give information to the store buyers in the form of brochures and sheets; everything was on paper," explains Bryan Lewis, the managing director of EM2.

"Major customers were invited to Hasbro and given a full presentation twice a year, which showed the company's new range of Christmas and spring toys. These presentations would include television advertisements."

It was not practical to invite all of Hasbro's customers to these presentations, so the company looked for a way of taking the presentations to them.

Last September, EM2 was given the go-ahead to design and develop a portable presentation system for Hasbro's sales team. The result was ESP, which was completed by January this year. The three CD-Roms have more than 2,000 images and some 55 minutes of MPeg video. The latter is used to show TV adverts and "sizzlers", which are clips from films, such as Mask, featuring toy characters. The video was produced on EM2's MPeg Creator, a system which converts the video into a digital code and then records it on a CD-Rom as an MPeg file.

The ESP CD-Roms also include text, graphs and numerous sound clips. The cuddly toy Barney makes half-a-dozen different sounds, and by clicking on a series of screen icons, users can hear Barney's various noises.

The Cool Tools range includes power tools, such as sanders and drills, and their sounds are also stored on the CD-Rom. Some of the pictures are also animated - for example, Sindy's eyes can move in their sockets.

ESP may be technically impressive, but it would be no good if only computer experts could operate it. In order to familiarise staff with the system, the sales team were each given notebook PCs to use during the Christmas holiday period. The sales teams then went out on the road with them in the New Year and, according to Mr Lewis, there have been few problems. "We set up a telephone help line, but most of the calls have been about loading other programmes on to the computer," he explains.

Although Hasbro will not comment directly on the impact of the ESP, the signs are that the system has proved to be a cost-effective way of delivering high-quality presentations to customers around the country. And the beauty of the technology is that it can be easily adopted by other companies. The ESP is a clear sign that multimedia is no longer tied to powerful desktop machines. Multimedia is on the move - and, by the looks of things, so are Sindy and Action Man.

Multimedia 96 takes place from tomorrow until Thursday, at the Business Design Centre, London. For details about the exhibition, contact 0171 288 6408.http://www.bdcevents. multimedia96/

EM2: 01784 477767; Bima 01733 245700.