Digital Signage, IT/AV

Signage Gets Personal

DSE

DSE14 focuses on integration of mobile technologies and retail applications.

They came to see. They came to learn. They came to network with other professionals. More than 4000 attendees from around the world came to Las Vegas in February for Digital Signage Expo—despite severe winter conditions that grounded or delayed thousands of flights in the US. They attended the educational conferences, earned and renewed certifications, visited exhibits and asked many challenging questions.

At this year’s DSE, this reporter noticed that attendees represented a wider spectrum of digital signage professionals than in the past. There seemed to be more decision-makers from client companies, more creative professionals from ad agencies, more static-signage pros moving into the digital space, more vertical market activity and more innovative SMBs exhibiting new signage solutions.

The buzz from the sheer numbers of highly motivated attendees and exhibitors was impressive, as was the excitement generated by many innovative new retail solutions. The growing demand from millennial customers for omni-channel shopping experiences was one key topic that sparked animated conversations. Platt Retail Institute’s Retail Forum, Omni-Channel & The Future of Retail, presented the experiences and insights of experts on this important topic. The thought-provoking event focused on expanding the reach of retail signage to more deeply engage young, affluent and constantly connected consumers. A free download of PRI’s new research article, “The Future of Retail: A Perspective on Emerging Technology and Store Formats” is available at the organization’s website, www.plattretailinstitute.org.

New Directions
The accelerating pace of change is presenting new opportunities and driving innovation. The key is to recognize advantageous conditions and respond to them in a timely manner, with the latest solutions. At educational sessions and in the exhibit hall, discussions spanned topics such as expanding interactive video marketing into social media via Vine, You Tube and other platforms; integrating geo-location, analytics and customer info to create tightly targeted and timely custom messages, and, of course, amping-up the mobile, multiscreen experience.

As the noise-level of messaging across all media rises, marketers are focusing more on delivering individually relevant, useful and timely information to customers on whatever combination of media they are using at any moment. More about Capital Networks’ Dynamic NFC, QVue Waitlist and other innovative mobile and multi-screen apps later in this report.
The exhibit hall shined bright with new 4K displays from LG, Planar Systems and others, as well as cylindrical LED displays from NanoLumens. Videowalls were bigger (MultiTouch’s iWall was 16’x8′) and ultra-thin bezels on displays from several manufacturers, including Samsung, Panasonic, and NEC, were barely visible. There was a cornucopia of new LED-backlit LCDs of all shapes and sizes for just about every application, along with a range of turnkey solutions for the faint at heart.

ViewSonic introduced a dual-sided 55-inch LED-backlit LCD with touch capability on one side. For QSR drive-through applications, Peerless-AV unveiled the Xtreme Outdoor Triple Digital Menu Board, complete with a kiosk, three displays and a “rain cap” that also serves as a solar shield. Panasonic showed the world’s first single-chip DLP-based, lamp-free projector that delivers 6000 lumens. These were only a few of the showstoppers.

Several manufacturers indicated awareness of the gradual shift from dependence on dedicated signage screens to “signage on any screen.” Mitsubishi showed two videowalls and said that it is positioning its new displays mostly for command-and-control room visualization display applications. Christie put the spotlight on Christie Managed Services, which includes design, deployment and support of digital signage solutions.

One reason more retailers haven’t made an investment in digital signage is the lack of sufficient ROI (return on investment) justification. Few companies have successfully integrated cash register and other point-of-sale systems with digital signage. Many CMS providers pay lip service to this issue, but fail to provide deployable solutions. At an educational session, Scala mentioned that a data set within a POS system could be integrated with content on large-format screens using Scala’s CMS.

Attendees crowded Scala’s booth to see the Scala Connected Store in action. Scala staged a scenario of a retail store selling clothing and shoes, and demoed mobile phone integration with the signage screen. As customers walk by a product with iBeacon technology, an image of the product automatically shows on their mobile phone. If they want more information about the product, they simply touch the image on their phone and the signage screen will launch a video of the product, and provide more information and product recommendations.

Scala and Stratacache showed applications on a Windows tablet geared toward in-store sales associates. Store employees could use the app to provide more information to customers or look up which app-enabled customers are in the store. Once a customer’s profile is selected, associates can access buying history, recommendations and even send a coupon or other relevant message via push notification or email to that customer.
In Stratacache’s Connected Assistant solution, signage on the touchscreen enables the customer to get more information about products they are interested in. Or, if they need more assistance, they can touch the “Help” button, automatically notifying a sales associate’s tablet and ensuring a rapid response to the customer’s specific needs. Stratacache’s booth brought several real-world in-store signage applications to life, including one that helps a customer narrow choices (see accompanying photo).
The Scala Connected Café got this reporter revved up in more ways than one. Ordering a cappuccino, I watched as my order was processed from entry on a Windows tablet to order fulfilled on the large-format signage screen—and then enjoyed my rejuvenating beverage!

Real-Time Information
In addition to Scala, other major software vendors also highlighted integration of real-time information with signage screens. Omnivex and X2O Media each led three industry roundtable discussions. When we met with Jeff Collard, President of Omnivex, he emphasized the importance and impact, in any signage application, of getting the right information to the right people at the right time.

“Big Data is now getting the attention of large companies,” Collard said. “Until recently, data was in silos but, going forward, data from smart devices will be added to the data pool. Systems have to be intelligent and capable of extracting useful information, and using digital signage for the delivery of enriching visual experiences.” At the company’s booth, visitors learned how Omnivex Moxie can connect people with real-time information, where and when they need it.

Also offering a data-driven CMS, X2O Media’s latest version of its HTML5-based solution links to internal and external data sources, including SAP, Oracle, Excel or RSS feeds. The X2O player delivers content, in real time, to multiple screens including signage displays, videowalls, tablets and mobile phones. This open platform also integrates with third-party media players (e.g., Cisco IEC 4600 Series, Exceptional 3D).

Mobile Intelligence
Consumer need for a unified, omni-channel shopping experience and increased use of mobile devices has fueled the demand for mobile apps and products that extend signage messaging. Alex Romanov, CEO of iSign Media, said that, despite e-commerce gains, brick-and-mortar retailing remains on firm footing. “Mobile and proximity marketing is still young, but has the potential to really transform retail,” Romanov said. “To hold on to their physical space, retailers must utilize the latest technologies to gather data in a way that does not intrude on or interrupt consumer behavior, and based on it, engage customers in real time toward a successful transaction.”

The company introduced the iSign Smart Player Development Kit to enable potential customers to test and evaluate the iSign Smart Player, an all-weather appliance with CMS, ideally suited for QSR outlets with drive-throughs. The system synchronizes mobile messaging with digital signage messages, and gathers data relating to shopper preferences in product/brand and final purchases in real time, without gathering any information that could intrusively identify individual shoppers.

Capital Networks introduced Dynamic NFC, an application that allows users to get more information from messages displayed on signage screens with a tap on a, NFC- (Near Field Communication) enabled phone. The app automatically opens a web page associated with the message displayed on the screen. Dynamic NFC integrates with the company’s popular Audience, and the link can lead to a mobile discount coupon, more product info or virtually any other engaging data.

The QVue Waitlist app is intended to improve the customer experience by reducing wait times at quick-serve restaurants, delis, dry cleaners or any business with a customer queue. As either an Android or iOS app, it allows customers to “get on line” online, as soon as they enter the establishment’s pre-set, geo-fenced territory.

In my “Sign Age” column in the March issue of Sound & Communications, I presented ways in which audio can help extend and personalize the signage experience. I briefly mentioned new apps from Barix and Hear My Lips (HML). Here are some updated details. Both solutions stream the audio signal to mobile devices through a WiFi access point. The Barix solution uses the company’s Instreamer device to encode the audio signal (with low latency) and stream it into the WiFi network. Viewers can download the Barix Audio Point App to their smartphone, scan the QR displayed on or near the signage screen and enjoy listening to the audio content.

Inserts Processor
The HML solution also inserts a processor between the AV source and the video screen to encode the audio and send it to smartphones or other mobile devices through a WiFi access point. The company reports that its technology corrects for latency between the source and mobile devices, including WiFi latency, thereby providing zero latency or full lip-sync. The patented HML technology is also available for licensing. In some instances, only a software upgrade may be necessary to incorporate the lip-sync technology into existing products.

HML is developing a proximity detector within its app that employs Bluetooth. When two Bluetooth-enabled devices are within range (three feet to 33 feet) they acknowledge each other and handshake. When one of the devices is an HML processor and the other is a customer mobile device with an HML app, the processor will take control of the app, switching the sound function on and selecting the correct sound channel. The release of this interesting app will be pre-InfoComm.

Because sports bars are a major market for HML, the company offers other interactive apps for consumers, as well as extensive onsite video promotional tools to venues who want to promote their menu items and special events through synergy between their large video displays and customers’ mobile device screens.

Mirror, Mirror…
Gone are the days of the “paper doll dress cutout” type of digital dressing room “mirrors.” The latest in-store dressing room mirrors can now be large and out in the open. Several companies, including Intel, LG, Sharp and Samsung, showed webcam-enabled “mirror” displays in different sizes. Sharp featured a 90-inch display in its Fashion Boutique vignette, which provided visitors with a portrait orientation, virtual try-on of clothing items. Sharp’s PN-R903, full HD, full array 700 candela, 90-inch LED-backlit LCD was connected to a Microsoft Kinect and webcam system so the virtual clothing item follows whatever movement the user makes. Visitors could select the clothing item of choice using a wirelessly connected iPad mounted into a floor-standing kiosk.

The retail fashion-targeted 55-inch Mirror Signage from LG also serves as a digital mirror, and features a touchscreen for interactive applications. “Virtual Fitting” software employs the system’s proximity sensor and touch capabilities to allow customers to check out clothes outside the changing room.

Reality Show & Tell
The exhibit hall included several simulated real-world retail environments showing innovative signage solutions. Sharp’s entire booth simulated an airport shopping environment, giving attendees an immersive experience with its full line of professional displays. Sharp collaborated with several major brands, including Delta Airlines, to demonstrate the role of technology in the day-to-day life of an air terminal. Four Winds Interactive was one of the software companies that worked closely with Sharp to customize, manage and deliver content using the FWi software platform.

Sharp PN-U553 professional 55-inch displays provided actual flight information data from McCarran Airport, a stunning example of the image sharpness demanded in flight information boards. Sharp’s PN-R603 professional 60-inch display with 700-candela brightness was featured in both the Gate Counter and Newsstand vignettes, which incorporated content and magazines from Hudson News.

At the simulated Gate Counter, a 20-inch touchscreen (LLS-201A) enabled visitors to check their actual flight information online and send their boarding pass to their mobile phone. Booth visitors eagerly participated in a raffle for a chance to win two actual first-class Delta Airlines vouchers or a Tumi carry-on bag. Delta also provided a 3×3 interactive videowall display, comprised of nine Sharp 42-inch pro displays with touch overlay designed by Display Werks, which is also being used to promote Delta’s new Business Elite service at events all across the country. In addition, the booth featured a new 24-inch touchscreen with TouchTech’s Lima software interface in the Duty Free vignette, and menu boards in the fast food area and at the Coffee Bar, which offered weary show attendees a welcome cup of real coffee.

Samsung’s booth demonstrated a couple of retail installations, including a RadioShack storefront window with an interactive 75-inch Samsung LED edge-lit LCD and gesture-sensing technology. This entertaining application, created in partnership with Infusion, featured a RadioShack robot “personality” that served up interactive product info and humor. For example, when a visitor sent a message to the robot via Twitter, it broke out crowd-stopping dance moves.

The 4K Wave
The 4K/UHD buzz that started last year at major tradeshows continued at DSE. I did not see any end-to-end demonstrations of true 4K content from capture through transmission to display. Instead, many companies simply showed 1080p content upscaled for display on 3840×2160 resolution LCDs. We expect to see more comprehensive 4K solutions at the NAB show (which I will review in the June issue of Sound & Communications). My “Sign Age” in this issue also provides some pointers to 4K issues and applications in signage.

Crowds gathered at LG’s booth to get a close-up look at both its new 105-inch edge-lit LED commercial-grade display and its 105-inch curved UHD TV. The super hi-res panel, with a 21:9 aspect ratio, reportedly displays content at a 5120×2160 resolution, and can be mounted in landscape or portrait mode. Also on display was LG’s new 98-inch UHD signage display, which delivers 3840×2160 resolution in a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Stunning images on the QuadHD84P drew attendees to Christie’s booth. This was a technology preview of the company’s upcoming 84-inch 4K LCD, which reportedly offers a true 60Hz refresh rate, making it ideal for both fast action video and high-tech data visualization applications. It can be used in both landscape and portrait modes, and is equipped with three additional HDMI 1.4a inputs, providing compatibility with a wide variety of sources from scaled HD to 3840×2160 at 30Hz.

H-Res LCD
DynaScan showed a hi-res 84-inch LCD slated to ship this month, and Planar showed its 84-inch 4K/UHD touchscreen (more about this later). Philips offered its displays powered by BrightSign’s new 4K media player, but the content was 1080p scaled up to UHD. Samsung also presented its new 85-inch D-Series UHD commercial display, and positioned it as a teaser for the company’s upcoming 4K lineup.

Samsung and Planar showed displays without their logos on the bezel, noting that logos are awkward when the displays are used in portrait mode. Samsung introduced replaceable bezels, available in three colors to customize signage to match the décor of the venue or facility (similar in concept but not in material to the Touch of Color bezels its consumer division introduced years ago).

Many of the latest media players and HDMI extenders support 4K video. BrightSign emphatically stated that, at its booth, 4K content was running on its new 4K media player to a Seiki display, without scaling. The content was encoded by Elemental Technologies. BrightSign’s 4K media player reportedly delivers native 4K, H.265 coded, 10-bit video files at 60fps via HDMI 2.0. The 4K player offers all the features and capabilities of the company’s popular XD1230, and will ship this summer.

Jeff Hastings, CEO of BrightSign, predicts that, “as we exit 2015, a majority of screens will be 4K, with a market growth of 30% in 2015.” Hastings anticipates that luxury brands will lead the way. “Higher video quality gives a higher value perception of the goods,” he said.

Haivision demonstrated the new CoolSign Display Engine, which features native support of 4K resolution video. The CoolSign digital signage player is designed to support up to four 1080p regions and a data crawl at the same time or a single 4K (3840×2160) zone of display.

Among other 4K/UHD enablers and peripherals, Gefen introduced an HDMI extender for delivering UHD over fiber at 30Hz, with RS232 and bidirectional IR using one SC-terminated fiberoptic cable. The new fiber system is effective over a distance of up to 6600 feet. Gefen also showed its ELR (Extra Long Range) HDMI Extender, which uses the company’s ELR implementation of the HDBaseT technology for point-to-point 4K transmission up to 330 feet with RS232 and IR control (plus power) over a single Cat5. This offers a means of deploying 4K signage over existing infrastructure at some venues.

Interactive Attractions
Many touchscreens and videowall displays at DSE were dubbed “4K,” but did not play true 4K content with integrity. Touchscreens with games and other fun content attracted and engaged attendees in large numbers. At its booth, 3M featured the Ideum Platform 46 Coffee Table, Drafting Table and Full-Size Table with a high-performance multitouch with support for 60 touch points. Also on display was the company’s GestureWorks Gameplay for Windows 8, and a custom 3D wayfinding application, called Visit Indy, developed with RATIO Architects.
Attendees played Digital Air Hockey at MultiTouch’s popular, double 55-inch Enriched Reality table, but it was the massive MultiTaction iWall that drew crowds to its booth. The 12-screen wall of 55-inch screens is targeted to corporate public spaces as a turnkey delivery, including mounting, onsite installation and even some application development. A large number of simultaneous users can access high resolution content, including multiple concurrent 4K videos.

Unique to the 84-inch display unveiled by Planar Systems were its multitouch capability and Corning Gorilla Glass optical bonding. The Planar UltraRes Touch delivers 3840×2160 resolution and features 32 simultaneous touch points. The LCD display’s narrow bezel of 1.3 inches and mounted depth of only 3.6 inches make it ADA compliant for protruding objects in public spaces. It was shown in both wall and table configurations.
Philips MMD’s touchscreen showed Keywest Technology’s digital concierge application. Hotels can use the solution to serve up relevant information, including coupons for happy hour, dining availability and reservations, flight times, local event ticketing and weather forecasts.

The Christie MicroTiles videowall, a 6×4-unit multitouch interactive display, demonstrated the flexibility of modular, rectangular displays that plug into a computer USB port without the need for drivers.

Focused Audio
Concerns regarding blaring audio in public spaces have limited the use of audio in many signage applications in the past. But newer technologies for sound isolation, coupled with the increased demand for enhancing the viewer experience, are now making it possible to integrate personal access to audio with signage solutions. Check out my “Sign Age” column in the March issue for an overview of enhancing signage with audio.

At DSE, I enjoyed a few minutes of pristine audio for “my ears only” in the New Product Area through Turtle Beach’s HyperSound directed audio system. The HyperSound system’s ultrasonic technology converts audio into a highly directional beam of sound, which can be used in a variety of settings. In its own booth, the company also showed HyperSound in floor, hanging and kiosk configurations.

Barix highlighted its new SoundScape in-store radio platform, a portal to manage audio distribution over IP networks. Retailers now have the ability to switch between live streams and stored playlists. An added benefit is the flexibility for ad insertions within live, branded radio programs for part of the day, and easy switching to stored content at busier shopping times to preserve network bandwidth.

Expanding Market
There were more than 50 first-time exhibitors, an indicator of the growing market. There were also numerous forward-trending items demoed in the New Product Area, an indicator of continuing innovation. We can expect to see even more signage innovation on display at InfoComm in June, and a whole new generation of interactive and mobile solutions at the next DSE in March 2015, when the show will return to the Las Vegas Convention Center. For details, go to www.digitalsignageexpo.net.

Contributing Editor Shonan Noronha, EdD, is an award-winning video producer who authors Sound & Communications’ monthly “Sign Age” column and is Editor of the twice annual IT/AV Report. She can be reached at snoronha@testa.com.

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