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Digital Signage: Opportunity Ahead

By 2011, the digital signage market will be worth $2.59 billion, according to InfoTrends, an analyst firm based in Weymouth, Mass. That's a lot of opportunity. But in order to feast on the opportunity and not just nibble at crumbs, AV integrators will have to think outside the box?which means selling more than just boxes.

HEARING IS BELIEVING

Some opportunities in digital signage play directly to AV installers' existing expertise. Almost by definition, digital signage has to date been a visual experience, but strategic audio is gaining traction, sometimes to create a multimedia effect and sometimes because audio is the best way to present certain types of information.

“The audio component definitely is growing in terms of interest,” says Adflow's Kartonchik.

OfficeMax has digital signage with directional sound in areas where customers queue to pick up print orders. Besides providing information about OfficeMax services, the signage also plays a CNN feed.

Omnivex's new Moxie platform and other digital signage programs have made giant leaps in ease-of-use. Such Windows-based software makes it possible for less tech-savvy pros to not only build rich content, but also better manage signage networks.

Omnivex's new Moxie platform and other digital signage programs have made giant leaps in ease-of-use. Such Windows-based software makes it possible for less tech-savvy pros to not only build rich content, but also better manage signage networks.

“That decreases the perceived wait time,” says Kartonchik, whose company worked on the project.

One common issue is how the digital signage audio interacts with the rest of the store environment. For example, when conventional loudspeakers are paired with digital signage in areas where store staff spend much of their day—such as a checkout line—hearing the same content over and over can prompt them to turn off the audio, making the content less effective.

The alternative is to use directional loudspeakers, including a type known as parametrics, which create a narrow beam of sound that disappears if the person moves just a few feet out of the sweet spot. Digital signage with parametric speakers can be a good fit for a variety of environments, such as a store where conventional loudspeakers would compete with one another.

Another alternative is to pair the loudspeakers—regardless of whether they're directional or not—with sensors that detect the store's ambient sound level and automatically adjust the volume.

ON THE BUBBLE?

Some digital signage opportunities take a while to materialize—not because the technology isn't mature, but rather because certain vertical markets have long lead times.

“Most of my projects involve a corporation or a university determining that they need digital signage, and then they begin the process—which could take up to two or three years—of the best way to do it,” says Digital AV's Johnson. He often gives them a request for proposal (RFP) template, which helps guide them. “It makes it easy for them.”

Adflow Networks is among the vendors currently seeing more interest than installs.

“It seems as if there are a lot of organizations out there talking about it and planning for it, but they haven't done anything yet,” Kartonchik says. “I think we're looking at a bubble somewhere in the next 18 months where suddenly it's going to go boom, and people will be scrambling to try to get something implemented. But we're not there yet.”

Tim Kridel is a freelance writer and analyst who covers telecom and technology. He's based in Columbia, Mo. He can be reached at tim@timkridel.com.



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