New for cemeteries: solar-powered video headstones

MIAMI (AP) — Video screens have shown up all over in recent years — cell phones, bathrooms, car head rests, subway cars, even elevators. Next up: a solar-powered video panel embedded in a tombstone that plays a clip reminiscent of ‘‘This Is Your Life.’’
Tasteless, you might say? A magnet for vandals?
On the contrary, says inventor Sergio Aguirre.
His soothingly named Serenity Panel is all about helping families celebrate the life of a lost loved one.
‘‘While nothing ever replaces the gift of life, memories can now come one step closer to forever being remembered and not forgotten,’’ waxes the Web site of Aguirre’s company, Vidstone LLC.
The video headstone concept has been around for years, but previous inventors’ ambitions have been laid to rest. One gave up for lack of demand and out of concern his invention wouldn’t be able to withstand years of harsh weather.
That’s not deterring Aguirre, who quit his telecommunications job last month to work full time on Vidstone.
Aguirre, 32, promises the Serenity Panel will be durable, and while he hasn’t sold any yet, he says he’s got pre-orders from families whose relatives have died. He wouldn’t say how many pre-orders, and he hasn’t yet collected any payment.
The device plays a five- to seven-minute video featuring special moments from someone’s life that would be compiled by anyone from friends and relatives of the deceased to funeral homes. Vidstone doesn’t do video production.
The Serenity Panel’s screen is covered by a solar panel, which can be flipped open by visitors. Once opened, the video starts.
The device includes two standard headphone jacks to listen to the audio. The solar panel protects the screen from sun damage and charges a battery inside, Aguirre said. Four hours of sun provides enough juice to play the video continuously for up to 90 minutes.
The 7-inch shatter-resistant LCD screen is designed to last for 15 years, when it can either be replaced with a newer device or covered with a bronze plaque. It will come with a one-year warranty; extended coverage for 10 years is about another $200.
Aguirre says the product is vandal-resistant and has been tested to survive the outdoors — the unit will function between 32 degrees and 120 degrees Fahrenheit. He said the panel won’t be damaged if temperatures get outside that range.
The Serenity Panel should be ready for sale in October and cost about $1,500, including the use of video-making software, he said.
G. Scott Mindrum, president and chief executive of funeral services company Making Everlasting Memories, got a patent for a similar device in 1998 but never produced it.
‘‘I don’t want to offer something that would fail,’’ he said.
Aguirre insists that won’t be a problem, and his panel has already created a buzz in the funeral industry. A prototype won an award for the most innovative product at this year’s International Cemetery and Funeral Association convention in Las Vegas.
And an informal poll for the National Funeral Directors Association found that of the people who want funerals, 62 percent want some form of personalization, such as video or music tributes.
Indeed, Aguirre says he got the inspiration for Vidstone at the March 2004 wake for his father-in-law. The mood was glum and everyone was crying.
But then a movie screen rolled down and a video tribute was played. The first photo was of his father-in-law with a martini in hand, a pink boa wrapped around him and a top hat on.
‘‘And so everybody started chuckling and smiling and the tears kind of cleared up,’’ he said.

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