Corporate Digital Signage Systems
Jun 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney
Simplified distribution of high-resolution content helps advertisers catch the public eye.
Do you like to watch football games in 45 minutes by zapping through commercials? Or do you TiVo each evening's Tonight Show with Jay Leno so you can bypass the ads the next morning? This style of TV watching is becoming increasingly common, and it's driving broadcast advertisers bonkers.
That's one major reason digital signage is growing so quickly. Frustrated advertisers are eager to gain “dwell time” — a term for the moments when an eye-catching electronic sign engages the attention of a passerby. For many ad companies, this is gaining in importance over increasingly suspect Nielsen ratings, which are worthless if TV viewers scan through the ads.
In fact, InfoTrends, a market research and strategic consulting firm for the digital imaging and document solutions industry, reported last November that the overall 2005 digital signage industry revenues had exceeded $1 billion. The firm also adjusted its projections upward by 35 percent annually to forecast a $3.4 billion digital signage industry by 2009.
As a result, Lyle Bunn, strategy architect at Alchemy International, the digital signage content division of St. Joseph Communications, says, “The outlook is increasingly positive because dynamic signage has reached a ‘tipping point.’ Today's installed base of networks and displays already makes the medium worthy of the attentions of large brands, advertising agencies, system integrators, investors, and equipment suppliers.”
One trend driving this is the increasing viability of the Internet as a communication source, and most new digital signage systems are capable of being controlled and sending out their messages via IP. This has simplified the installation, management, and content distribution of digital signage systems in every environment.
Digital signage installers are also finding a growing call for portrait orientation of their screens because the horizontal or landscape positioning looks too much like widescreen television. Again, their clients are finding that information on anything that looks like a TV is of diminished interest to their potential audience.
Although LCD screens, plasma displays, and even digital projection systems are providing more signage area at lower prices, the new 1080p image resolution is providing installers with a significant dilemma. Long the Holy Grail of display designers questing to maximize picture density and clarity, 1080p images are the best that the current incarnation of high-definition technology can provide.
1080p images are comprised of 1,080 lines of vertical resolution progressively scanned in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio with a frame resolution of 1920×1080 (2,073,600 pixels) and are often referred to in marketing jargon as “true high definition” or “full HD.” Driven by 1080p's consumer acceptance as the gold standard in home video despite the fact that it takes a keen eye looking at a very large screen to appreciate the improvement over its more common interlaced relative (1080i) professional 1080p screens are gradually coming down in price.
The problem is that there is currently precious little source material available in 1080p. Except for high-end computers, only Blu-ray or HD DVD discs and some game players, such as Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360, can output 1080p, and these systems are not mainstays of corporate boardrooms. Worse yet, most of the existing transmission infrastructure is not capable of handling the 1080p data rate.
Fortunately, with many corporations wanting to future proof their investments by installing only the best displays available, several connectivity companies have stepped up to the challenge of transmitting 1080p. For example, Magenta Research offers its MultiView AK1500 dual-port Cat-5 video receiver that, with the help of adapter cables, can transmit high-resolution 1080p video fidelity through Cat-5 cable over 1,200ft. Also, Communications Specialties' Pure Digital Fiberlink 7500 series transmission/receiver pair converts a 1080p DVI signal to fiber and can send uncompressed 1080p up to 47,520ft.
Of course, the competition to produce bigger and better displays will not stop at 1080p, and there are already companies marketing 2K resolution screens to video production systems, projector manufacturers providing 4K systems to film exhibitors, and tests within the medical imaging industry calling for 8K and beyond.
So the competition to catch the public eye with dazzling digital visions will continue to soar, even while the systems providing the content hurry to catch up. Following is a look at some of the major digital signage systems that are breaking new ground in today's corporate market.
The new Network Edition version 3.5 software from 3M Digital Signage can distribute and play back media files, schedule playlists, and monitor a network of digital signs from any networked computer. The 3M Network Edition 3.5 release includes the introduction of new server-class Network Edition software products for flexible network management options, expanded and enhanced Active Information modules for dynamic content creation, and augmented network management and security features. Version 3.5 highlights include Network Edition Full Server, which enables users to host their own networks and allows full Network Edition functionality behind users' firewalls.
Adtec Digital Edje 4111 HD is a digital media player for AVC/H.264 and MPEG-2 high-definition and standard-definition file playback. Its IP stream decoding can automatically scale the content to match an output resolution up to 1080i for outstanding HD playback.
The Edje HD includes a built-in command interface and scheduler that can play a list of files and loop indefinitely. Media and schedules are managed on the server with the included MediaControl application that also directs the playout. Adtec Digital's Edje 4111 HD digital signage system can tune in and decode multicast HD content over IP with fallback playout of stored content in case of failure.
The BroadSign Suite workflow from Broadsign International adopts the ad space booking/selling process practiced by the traditional media industry, and its software generates proof-of-play reports for every screen, not just for each playback PC. The BroadSign Player and BroadSign Administrator modules, available on Linux or Windows, provide complete flexibility in configuring a network and determining which targeting criteria to assign to each screen, area, site, location, or market. BroadSign's services are used by digital signage network operators in 25 countries worldwide.
MediaStar Evolution, the latest release from Cabletime, is a range of versatile products that deliver TV, multimedia, and digital signage to a wide audience over IP networks. For corporate installations, the 760/2M EvoNet unit enables one-to-many multicasting, including live TV channels, specific training programs, and flexible messaging. With IP browser, RS-232, and USBv1.1 control interfaces, the MediaStar Evolution encoder is built around a reliable dual-core computing engine running under Linux and can generate either single MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 dual-output encoded streams. To accommodate differing content requirements and network parameters, MediaStar Evolution MPEG-2/4 streams can be configured to run between 500Kbps and 8Mbps.
ChyTV from Chyron allows users to manage video signage content and distribute content to any ChyTV screen from anywhere on the Web. Each display can be controlled alone or as part of a group to present playlists of content with the click of a mouse. ChyTV users can create new pages using pre-defined templates, update existing pages on the fly, and generate reports about the playout and effective reach of the signage. Chyron is also offering ChyTV.net as an online ChyTV user community, as well as a place to find new video signage content and share ideas.
The new SignStream Media Express software from Contemporary Research integrates media playback, display control, and integrated event scheduling into one web-based application. Low-cost Media Express controllers manage displays over the same pathway, thereby eliminating the need for added control wiring, Ethernet bandwidth, or dedicated display-mounted servers. The Media Express scheduler can freely assign playlists during the day, turn on displays, change HDTV signage channels, lock out local display user control, and shut everything down for the night.
The Denon Professional DN-V755 network audiovisual player requires no software to install or schedule, and it can be accessed with any web browser, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. Once connected, the Denon DN-V755 acts like a website where MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video or WAV, MP3, or MP2 audio media can be added to its 40GB internal hard drive with simple drag-and-drop techniques.
The Digital View ViewStream 200 is a digital video and audio player designed for the playback of MPEG-1/2/4 and still pictures on existing TV and video monitors directly from a solid-state CompactFlash memory card up to 4GB in size. Video tracks play according to a playlist created with DV Studio Advanced or in alphanumeric filename order. A range of interactive options are available, including touchscreen buttons, as well as innovative switching options. The ViewStream 200 has an optional RS-232 serial port for interfacing with a barcode reader.
The MS9500 and the new MS9500GL players from Electrosonic Media Networks allow digital signage networks to economically send dynamic HD video, graphical, and editorial content to hundreds of digital signage displays located virtually anywhere. These low-cost, compact solutions support ATSC-compliant formats, HDV, and MPEG-2 in multiple resolutions. Using a 10/100BaseT Ethernet network infrastructure, the MS9500 series are intelligent devices that can live anywhere on the network.
The FirmChannel product line from Eliquid Media International is completely scalable for both the number of screens and the number of locations. With a 3.02GHz Core 2 Duo Intel CPU, the 4GB Enterprise ES-100 automated content distribution and management system from FirmChannel uses a simple web-based interface to control content on displays anywhere in the world.
The FirmChannel ES-100 server system is designed to be scalable up to 10,000 FirmChannel SP-100 players. It supports widescreen 16:9 mode, standard 4:3 mode, and vertical 9:16 poster mode, allows export and import of playlists to and from any SP-100 system, and even includes a built-in photo editor.
Enseo's new Galileo HD MPEG server was designed specifically for multichannel video-on-demand or scheduled near-video-on-demand applications that are using either high-definition or standard-definition MPEG audio/video. Galileo is based on Enseo's Alchemy HD MPEG decoder subsystem and Linux Video Suite software that combines digital video and 32-bit graphics, along with robust applications software while providing simultaneous decoding of four independent streams of high-definition or standard-definition MPEG.
The Enseo Author/OTA software suite consists of two separate applications, Author and On The Air (OTA), that allow for targeted presentations at individual locations without the need to send separate information to each server. As evidence of its platform's scalability, Enseo is the digital media engine behind the TV Guide Channel.
The Mantis line of digital media players from Focus Enhancements offers multiple channels of high- and standard-definition video together with 16-bit and 32-bit accelerated graphics. Media is transferred to the Mantis player via the standard DVD drive or via a 10/100 network connection. Powered by the Focus Enhancements Gemini universal media card, Mantis players decode all 18 ATSC formats, output to a resolution of your choice (up to 1080i) at a 16:9 aspect ratio, and offer precise AV synchronization using hardware-enabled Dolby Digital decoding.
The Helius MediaStream SST-Mi is a high-definition MPEG-2/4 playback device that is actually an Apple Mac Mini with Helius software installed on it. By combining the Helius MediaStream SST-Mi with the Helius MediaSignage and MediaWrite software packs, users can quickly create a flexible and scalable digital signage network solution.
The MediaStream SST-Mi features a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo processor, built-in 54Mbps AirPort Extreme wireless networking (based on 802.11g standard) and MPEG-4/MPEG-2/Flash/JPG/GIF/PNG support. Helius has just debuted the MediaStream SST-Si, which uses solid-state memory to eliminate the need for fans.
The newly released IQ Box HD from the Impart Media Group is a high-definition digital signage player/server that includes bundled, ready-to-go software (Impart IQ Producer and Impart IQ Link) and standard, secure interface tools already available on the Web, empowering users to manage their network from anywhere in the world. The Impart IQ Box HD digital signage player/server's built-in management dashboard allows operators to monitor the operation and performance of each of the Impart IQ Box digital signage player/servers on a network.
MagicBox claims its Windows PC-based Aavelin digital signage product is the easiest-to-use messaging system on the market, thanks to the functionality of its Aavelin Composer software. Aavelin Composer lets users create and import images from common graphic programs, and then pick transitions, schedule pages, and publish from just about any software to create dynamic digital signage content. MagicBox's optional new E-Blast Software allows users to remotely access multiple systems from one location, thanks to built-in networking along with support for modems and removable media, including USB Flash drives.
Display 3 from Omnivex is designed to manage any number of displays from a central location with a WYSIWYG interface allowing multiple content assets to be combined on the screen and tailored to the requirements of each specific display. Omnivex Display 3 is a store-and-forward system that assembles all of the components (content, layouts, playlists, and schedules) at the central management location and delivers them at the same time to the remote players. To monitor the status of remote PCs within a digital signage network, Omnivex Control 4 receives realtime information directly from each display device and can be configured to automatically react to any conditions.
The next generation of Scala's digital signage software platform, InfoChannel 5, introduces the InfoChannel Content Manager, which together with other significant authoring, network management, and playback enhancements, features streamlined interface/workflow; rapid template-based content authoring; sophisticated content management, including new channel planning/scheduling modules; and a new 3D-based rendering engine for improved visual quality and performance, along with multiple independent output channels per remote player PC. InfoChannel 5's realtime rendering at the point of playback ensures smaller file sizes, which coupled with intelligent file transfers, dramatically reduce network bandwidth requirements.
Because it fits directly into a flatpanel display, the ICS-FW40D network media player from Sony provides an affordable and flexible method for high-definition MPEG-2/4, H.264, and WM9 streaming media delivery. Based on a card controller with a 60GB hard drive, the ICS-FW40D's embedded web server provides a convenient method of configuration and control of the unit via a standard Internet browser located anywhere on the network. Playlists may contain a mixture of remote and local video files, audio files, or graphics files. The ICS-FW40D is also IDTalk-compatible and can be controlled with Ziris Manage software.
Symon TargetVision digital signage systems, now with new version 9.2 software, include the Symon Enterprise Server (SES), Symon Design Studio, and the Symon SDA series of network video appliances. Symon Design Studio software transforms workstations at any level of the organization into powerful messaging centers, benefiting from pixel-by-pixel control of the placement, position, and size of elements. Symon SDA network appliances receive, store, and broadcast this information to the proper range of video displays throughout an enterprise.
For More Information
3M Digital Signage
Alchemy PI Media
Electrosonic Media Networks
Eliquid Media International
Impart Media Group
Jay Ankeney is an industry consultant and former TV network engineer living in the Los Angeles area.
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