Whether in a government office or university campus setting, a hospital, beside a highway, inside a vehicle or even on someone’s lapel, digital signage is becoming omnipresent. This growth is occurring while the uses for digital signage, and theories behind its use, are evolving.
|Marlin Company's Electronic Communication Station|
“Digital signage is what we use today because that is what technology has brought us,” says Frank Kenna III, CEO of The Marlin Company in Wallingford, Conn. The firm has been creating signs since 1913, but in the 1920s Frank Kenna Sr. observed that the company’s employees were more willing to read both current event posters and safety notices provided they were positioned next to each other. He had realized that it is human nature for people to be more receptive to company messages if they are combined with interesting visual information.
Today, the Marlin Company uses innovation to create content for electronic displays and digital signage along with scores of other firms. “The only thing that we design our software to do is work with people who want to communicate with their employees, which is a very small subsection of the digital signage world,” Frank Kenna III said. That is different from designing software for digital signage that works in retail, food service and transportation environments, he added.
“We have news, weather and sport feeds because average persons want to know these things,” Kenna said. Providing that information on the screen gets viewers “to pay attention to the other things an organization wants to convey.”
Marlin does provide equipment but is agnostic about the systems it works with. The company is more focused on creating an array of content. “Communication is not really about the equipment, communication is about changing the behavior of the people you are dealing with,” he said.
The company creates what it calls “vertical applications” to address the needs of government entities as well as corporations. Those applications are joined to the necessary equipment to convey the required messages, according to Kenna. “There is not that much difference between government and corporate clients, because they are all trying to communicate,” he said. “We focus on software as a process of getting messages in front of their people.”
Much depends on what a user wants to achieve, said Richard Ventura, director of sales for NEC Display Solutions. “When we talk about digital signage, a lot of it is solution-based rather than product-based,” he said. “It is the application and how the product fits that application.”
| Black Box Networks' I Compel|
A decision maker choosing digital signage should have a goal and strategy to achieve that goal, Ventura said. “Once they understand what they want to show, they need to look at how to deliver it,” he said. “Unless the end user knows right off the bat what they want to do, or at least have an idea what their goal is, they are going to spin their wheels for a long time.”
NEC clients are encouraged to write out a wish list of what they would like to display to internal and external entities, Ventura said. “Not every wish or hope is going to fit, especially on a tight budget, but we can help walk them through all the pieces, there are some that are important wishes and some that are very important needs,” he said. From that point, how to proceed becomes “selecting the very simple because there are multiple software solutions and some are very focused.”
Users who are unsure what to include in their digital signage might observe how airports or retail outlets deploy similar systems, Ventura said. For example, military bases are placing digital menu boards into their mess halls, he said, “because a lot of fast food places have similar signage.”
|A model demonstrates how Black Box Networks' I Compel would be worn.|
Mess halls are not the only place on military bases where digital signage is being used. “Legacy” equipment and networks have security restrictions that must be taken into account, said Dan Alpern, a presenter at the 2013 Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas.
At some bases, changing or updating digital signage requires putting the information on a flash drive and physically walking it to a display unit because it does not have network capabilities.
However, such “rudimentary equipment” is often being replaced, and when Alpern is tasked with replacing gear, he favors Web-based solutions and all-in-one boxes. Such solutions “have the computer capability to accept a flash drive presentation or video and are pre-loaded with Internet capability that digital signage lends itself so well to.”
A typical unit has an operating system that facilitates the loading of a manufacturer’s software to enable the identification and control of the display via an Internet network. That eliminates having to acquire a separate display, PC control unit, Internet router and software to control it all, he said.
|NEC's LCD TileMatrix Video Wall Solution|
While Internet networks represent the latest in digital signage, “the future success of the digital signage industry is going to be interactive convergence with end users,” said Alpern; and others agree.
“In the old days, information was in one place and could not be repeated in several locations,” noted David Rahvar, general partner of Rose Electronics in Houston.
Rose, which produced the first “KVM” (keyboard, video, mouse) switcher still used to control multiple PCs, is now focused on developing a line of less expensive extension products, enabling signals to travel longer distances without degradation, for HDMI, DVI and digital audio for Cat-5 or fiber, Rahvar said. Affordable extension equipment is going to be needed for applications where several hundred, or even thousands, of small liquid crystal display screens are deployed to provide schedules and other information, he said. Such innovations are coming from users who want to display more information while wanting almost instant control. That is helping drive the evolution of digital signage, he added.
However, as with other aspects of audiovisual information, mobile devices are considered by some to be the near-term future of digital signage.
As a result, The Marlin’s Company’s newest products “are focused on getting communication not only on the wall, but in the pocket where a person can see it at any time or any place,” Frank Kenna said. “This allows two-way communication.” More smart phones are being produced with “nearfield communication” enabling them to interact with digital signage, he said.
Digital signage products produced by those companies are:
BLACK BOX NETWORKS
Black Box Networks’ I Compel WDS wearable digital signage could soon be seen on the lapels of presenters at an orientation or training event near you. Those who want to enhance one-on-one interaction with digital content—such as military recruiters—can use the I Compel to help get their message across.
The I Compel’s 2.4-inch LCD screen contains a 256-megabyte built-in flash memory and features an average playback time of from
12 to 15 hours. Optional software access controls thousands of players worn around the country, or around the world, for quick updates of messaging. Much of the same signage content and Rose branding displayed on full-size Electronics’ signage can also be displayed on QuadraVista the miniature.
The Marlin Company’s electronic Communication Station enables organizations to communicate with all of its employees quickly and easily, the company said. Marlin’s digital signage solution, designed specifically for the workplace, makes it easy for users to post in-house content from most any file format, according to the company. The program also enables organizations to customize content specific to their area of interest, Marlin said.
NEC’s latest signage product is its 46 inch 3x3 LCD TileMatrix Video Wall Solution. The TileMatrix and TileComp technologies are combined with the ultra-narrow bezel of the NEC X463UN and an adjustable wall mount, according to NEC. Minimal bezel widths help to avoid interruption of the displayed content while included DVI and RS-232 cables can be used to source digital signage content while controlling the display, the company said. An NEC Display Wall Calibrator kit is included, allowing for accurate brightness intensity white point matching and greater color uniformity from screen-to-screen.
| Sony's SimpleSign|
The Sony SimpleSign is an all-in-one LCD signage kit that is intended as an upgrade for companies using DVD or videotapes to play back corporate marketing or advertising messages. Packages include a 32- or 40-inch LCD screen and a BKM-FW50 network interface card that provides simple digital signage through various network configurations.
A one-gigabyte CompactFlash and a USB CompactFlash card reader/writer and a Cat-5 crossover cable are included. The interface card can receive simple images and movies directly with USB and CompactFlash or through Ethernet connection. Users drag and drop what is needed and the monitor plays it back in slideshow format. No additional software is required, and everything else that is needed to get the signage kit started out of the box is provided.
The newly released Rose Electronics QuadraVista HDMI controls and monitors up to four HDMI video sources on a single display as well as picture-in-picture. Each of the quadrants can be adjusted and positioned to any size or location on the display. Operation is by keyboard or mouse.
The QuadraVista HDMI provides simultaneous support for HDMI and DVI. An input signal is automatically detected, as is video loss, and there is USB support for connecting USB printers, cameras, flash drives, graphic tablets and other USB-compatible devices. Custom access software enables access and control of connected computers from a remote laptop.
| Rose Electronics' QuadraVista|
'AT THE CUSP'
The future of digital signage is going to be determined by users and producers, according to Richard Ventura. Digital signage producers will find themselves “at the cusp” as users push “manufacturers to adopt new standards and features to accomplish the ever-growing and ever-changing face of digital signage,” he said.