Thursday, November 17, 2005

Stop and Smell the Glows

Whenever I hear about 3-D TV shows, like next Monday's ep of ''Medium,'' I always think about how TV really only appeals to two of my senses—sight and hearing. And then I think about my sense of smell, which always leads me directly back to smellyvision.

Of course, the concept isn't new. Here are two snippets from Time magazine about using smell to enhance the theatre experience.
The AromaRama process itself, developed by a public relations executive named Charles Weiss, is fairly ingenious. The film carries a "scent track" that transmits cues to an electronic "trigger" that fires a salvo of scent into the theater through the air-conditioning ports. The AromaRama people claim they can reach every nose in the house within two seconds, and remove the odor almost as fast as they release it. The perfumes* are built up on a quick-evaporating base (Freon), and as the air is drawn off for filtering, it is passed over electrically charged baffles that precipitate the aromatic particles. (December 21, 1959)
"amazing Aroma-Rama" (which breathes the "olfactory effects" in and out of a theater through its air-conditioning system) is simpler to install than Todd's "glorious Smell-O-Vision" (which supplies every customer with his very own scent vent). (February 29, 1960)
Sounds like Smell-O-Vision is perfectly suited for your home theatre. And a company named DigiScents thought so too. They thought enough of the idea that they raised $20 million in the late '90s to develop a prototype for making scents for internet and gaming experiences. Needless to say, DigiScents is in the internet graveyard.

Why? They promised to develop a personal scent synthesizer—the key word is synthesizer. DigiScents vowed that a small device could be manufactured with a limited number of base scents and that the device would mix these base scents in varying proportions to synthesize new smells. One problem. It won't work. You can't fool your brain that easily. When you mix two scents together, you don't get a new scent. You smell the two scents that you used. If you mix the scent of oranges with vanilla, you don't magically get banana. It smells like a 50-50 shake.

DigiScent's pledge of synthesizing smells proved to be their undoing since they couldn't deliver on their promise.

What if they promised to develop a scent generator instead? A scent generator produces scents from a replaceable cartridge. No magic. No hand waving. Just straightforward engineering. Each new video game you buy comes with its own cartridge. Want to fully experience the smellyvision ep of ''Medium?'' Get the scent cartridge in TV Guide or Entertainment Weekly.

We may eventually find out. Companies, like AromaJet, ScentAir Technologies and TriSenx are still trying.

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