CNN clarifies complex caucus cavalcade with new ‘Magic Wall’

CNN debuted a new multipoint interactive touch-screen technology last night to bring visual clarity to viewers about the intricacies of the Iowa caucus.

Dubbed “Magic Wall” by CNN, the new addition to election coverage is unlike any other conventional touch screen because it can register and respond to hundreds of interactive touch points at the same time. “Think of it as a giant iPhone with a hundred fingers on it,” said David Bohrman, CNN senior VP and Washington, D.C., bureau chief.

Having the ability to interact with so many on-screen elements seemed ideally suited to the ins and outs of the Iowa caucus, which is conducted in rounds and is much more fluid than a typical state or national election. The interactive wall allows multiple people to interact with on-screen elements simultaneously. For CNN’s caucus coverage, that meant grabbing and dragging graphic representations of caucus goers to their candidate’s corner, transforming them into campaign buttons and calculating percentages.

What makes the Magic Wall tick is unique technology created by Jefferson Han, founder of Perceptive Pixel. Han’s approach to tracking the movement and pressure of multiple touches relies on the reflection of light to identify where the screen is touched. Bohrman, who first saw the technology demonstrated at the TED 2006 conference, recognized its potential for election coverage.

Initially, Bohrman intended to wait until November to integrate the Magic Wall into CNN’s election night coverage. However, it was too good to wait, he said. The Perceptive Pixel technology shipped to CNN in New York last week, and programmers from the company customized the system’s software for last night’s coverage over the three days leading up to the Iowa caucus. “They’ve taken our elements and palettes and incorporated them into their graphic system to match our look,” Bohrman said.

“It has enormous capabilities,” he said. “We will be using it a lot over the next year.”

To see a Web-based demo of the Perceptive Pixel technology, visit

View the Perceptive Pixel multi-touch system at NAB2008