Digital recording is not, in the main, an option. The excuses came thick and fast: there wasn¹t enough demand; the costs involved were too high. Many of those facilities I talked to didn¹t have a clue about what I was asking about.

The few that did have this technology were booked up to kingdom come. We ended up using a viewing facility that only recorded on VHS, then hired in a cameraman who filmed it through the glass on to digital at an additional cost of £350. We checked with 38 companies in the South-east ­ only eight had digital filming facilities.

The problem seems to be historical. Lots of viewing facilities went hi-tec 18 months to two years ago. They were keen to deliver technology suites or cyber cafés to be used in the massive website research bun fight. Of course, everyone knows what happened to that!

Lots of viewing facilities were left with expensive ageing equipment which research now seems to have little use for and reduced bank balances. I suspect this is partly responsible for the reluctance to embrace the cost of digital filming.

In the short term, viewing studios probably have it about right. The output of a digital video camera is not as good as VHS or Hi 8 due to pixelation when you zoom in unless you buy a very expensive video camera. In time, as with all technology, the prices will decrease and quality increase. Maybe that¹s the time when digital viewing studios will become the norm.

Digital is not the only bit of kit that clients need to check out. Video conferencing can also make their lives easier, and could definitely decrease the amount of flying round the world that international researchers do. After the events of 11th September, this could prove attractive to those based in the US.

Unfortunately this equipment, too, is limited. Only three viewing facilities in the South-east seem to offer it. A cheaper option is Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which happens in real time and is much better quality than using web cams.

The best advice is know your technology, then visit the Viewing Facilities Association to find the venue that fits the bill.

Viewing facilities hire

Costs are based on two 90-minute evening groups, excluding food and transport. Little regional difference exists but some Northern areas in the are more expensive than central London due to less competition and high demand.

Viewing Facilities Association

For information contact:
Rose Molloy (membership) on 01480 211288

What to ask to get the best out of a viewing facility

<li>If you are not doing the booking yourself, ensure that the booker has all relevant research

<li>How much setting up and winding down time is included in the price?<li>Check the room sizes if you have a lot of stimulus

<li>Check what equipment is available and if there are any additional charges for it

<li>When the topic is design research, check if natural light or natural lighting is available

<li>How many clients can fit in the client room comfortably and is there an overspill?

<li>What food is available other than a finger buffet?

<li>How much car parking is available?

<li>What are the names and phone numbers of all respondents?

<li>What are the names and phone number of the recruiters?

<li>What is the name and number of taxi company supplying respondent transport?