Pub leverages POS system to control entertainment devices, save space, money

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Bidding to become as adept at presenting European satellite-TV soccer matches as it is at selling Irish whiskey, the Local, a Minneapolis pub, reports encouraging results near the end of a beta test of Controllo, an open-architecture system that promises simpler and less costly audio-video control for bars and restaurants.

In effect, Controllo makes the Local's point-of-sale system the master remote control for the establishment's seven TVs. That's important in a place where March Madness means a crowd of soccer fans differing about which international match to tune in. "It's very useful," said Josh Petzel, general manager of the pub, which belongs to three-unit, Minneapolis-based Cara Irish Pubs. "It's a beta, so there have been some challenges. But long term, the flexibility it gives us to control our audio-video system, to change channels or adjust sound from anywhere in the place, will be tremendous."

Lone Tree Technologies, a hospitality industry custom software and systems integration house based in Centennial, Colo., developed Controllo to compete with freestanding controller systems from the likes of Richardson, Texas-based AMX and Crestron Electronics Inc. of Rockleigh, N.J. The developer says the software also controls lighting components,­ a feature the Local sources said they have not yet plumbed but anticipate may prove more efficient and convenient than the current practice of adjusting 25 individual dimmers in a closet without a view of the lights involved.

Controllo integrates with the audio-video and POS equipment already in place. The only additional requirements are the download of Lone Tree Audio Video Light Control software to the POS and the installation of Calypso Pro I/O controllers, which connect the POS with the TV and audio devices via infrared signals.

ALocal manager can access Controllo from any of the pub's 15 Micros 3700 POS workstations. After entering the password-protected manager's page, a touchscreen pops up that permits control of any TV as well as the four DirecTV and two Setanta Sports satellite receivers. If customers request a particular game, the system can send the feed to any or all of the TVs. Controllo also controls TV audio and music in 12 audio zones of the 12,000-square-foot pub.

Besides integrating with the Micros 3700 POS system, Controllo currently works with Aloha version 5.3 and Maitre'D by Posera, Lone Tree sources said. They added that the controller technology also should integrate soon with the Digital Dining and Dinnerware POS brands.

"There are still some bugs to work out," said David Swensen, the Local's technology manager, citing issues in software-hardware communication. But he maintained that he prefers touchscreen control to manual TV adjustment. "It's like having all of your remotes combined into one," said Swensen. "It's quite another thing to walk around with four remotes in your hand, changing channels."

Swensen said that he didn't know the amount the Local spent on Controllo. But he said management told him it was about $11,000 less than the price of AMX or Crestron systems with similar functionality. The savings result mainly from using existing POS terminals as touchpoints rather than installing the touchscreen devices required by the other systems, he indicated.

According to Swensen, installing the software took a couple of hours and programming the control devices took about 25 hours, slightly longer than expected because of the beta status. Learning to use the system took 15 minutes. "I would do it over again," said Swensen. "I'm not 100 percent satisfied with how it flows and works at this point, but I think it will get there."

Other operators with a stake in TV sports or music videos use different means of control. For example, at ESPN Zone in Chicago, managing the venue's 100-plus high-definition TV screens is the job of a dedicated staff person using a Crestron touch panel in a production booth.

Handheld remotes run more than a dozen TVs at the three bars of the Cubby Bear Lincolnshire, a sports-themed restaurant in Lincolnshire, Ill. "I wish I had one on-off switch for all the TVs," said general manager Robert Mullan. "It takes me 15 minutes to turn them all on when I open."