Scott Lipsky thinks you will soon be changing your art as easily and often as you do your music and TV shows.
The 39-year-old Seattle resident is part of the Internet's second wave, an entrepreneur who made a bundle off the dot-com boom and can afford to dig into his own wallet to test other ways technology might change our lifestyles.
His latest innovation is a small box that turns plasma TVs into electronic galleries of fine art. RGB Labs Inc., his start-up, is selling its Internet-connected "GalleryPlayer" to hotels, restaurants and corporations for display on the walls of lobbies and other high-trafficked spaces. A consumer version is in the works, too.
"You have a box that plays movies and a box that plays CDs. Why not a box that plays art?" Lipsky said as he showed off his contraption in a Washington hotel suite last week.
Behind him, glowing digital images of paintings by Renoir, Manet, Cezanne and other great artists cycled slowly on a 50-inch plasma TV screen, each lingering long enough to have impact before dissolving into something new. The luminescent images were finely textured, showing startling details of the brush strokes from the original oils, occasionally zooming in on an apple, say, before pulling back to show an entire still life.
The rotating art display made it clear that RGB Labs was peddling something new. What was not clear was whether anyone would buy it, especially since the player costs $3,000 and the art programming service -- refreshed monthly with new images -- costs $195 a month.
Paul Brown's law firm in Seattle, Black, Lowe & Graham, is one of RGB's first customers. "We thought it would be kind of neat to have revolving artwork in our conference room," said Brown, a senior partner. "The response has been strong. Everybody stares at it. ... It sets a nice tone; it changes but is not spastic."
Martin Smith Inc., one of Seattle's biggest real estate developers, bought the system for the entrance of its eight-story historic office building. "Everyone who comes into my lobby comments on how wonderful it is," said partner Mickey Smith. "It really looks like a piece of art, not a TV screen."
Skeptics note that plasma TVs are still expensive -- the average price is $4,400, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, making them mostly toys for the well-to-do. They also wonder why a digital art gallery would fare any better than those Internet-connected photo frames that entrepreneurs tried to sell a while back. The idea, which never took off, was to present digital photos in a frame and regularly refresh the images via an Internet connection.
Fine art, though, is to home photos as the Yankees are to Little League, and plasma TVs pack more visual punch than 8-by-10-inch photo frames. Moreover, as high as it is, the cost of plasma TVs has been dropping, putting them within range of what many corporations and large organizations are willing to spend to decorate their spaces. Sales of plasma and flat-panel LCD displays are on track to double this year and probably will continue doubling for two more years, according to the CEA.
Lipsky thinks plasma TVs are at the point where they could spawn new businesses and trigger twists on old ones.
RGB Labs employs 20 people, including an editorial team that decides how to sequence images and what they should look like on a screen.
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