Digital Signage, IT/AV

Signs Of Innovation

Digital signage serves up HD video with integrated, real-time ticket menu.

The Center of Science and Industry (COSI) of Columbus OH has expanded its digital signage over the last few years, and recently completed integration of its 28-screen network. The system now operates on a single platform, which is integrated with the ticketing database, and the five-screen arrays display video along the length of the entire wall in four locations. “For us, it’s important that we deliver a great experience for our visitors,” said John Shaw, COSI’s Director of Experience Production. The world-class museum hosted 622,905 visitors in 2014.

[accordion]
[accordion_item title =”Tips”]
• Use either software or hardware EDID emulation on multi-screen systems when using DisplayPort technology.
• Use media players certified to operate with the selected digital signage platform.
• When integrating third-party data, it’s best to use the source’s API, if available, because it is a very effective means of accessing the information. [/accordion_item]
[accordion_item title =”System Components”]
ConnectPRO EDID Emulators
Kramer RS232 extenders/repeaters
StarTech HDMI distribution amplifiers
Scala Enterprise digital signage
software platform
Seneca small-form-factor media players
Virtualized Windows 2012 Server [/accordion_item]
[accordion_item title =”System Programming”]
Outbound Software API for access
to ticketing data
Python Script
ScalaScript [/accordion_item]
[/accordion]

Printed Signs To Digital Signage

“The desire to upgrade to digital signage came about because of how often we had been changing our printed signs,” said Shaw. “When we surveyed the field, we did find a few museums that have implemented digital signage, but we wanted our design to reflect the COSI brand, so it wasn’t really modeled after any other project.”

After responding to COSI’s RFP, Hammond Communications Group of Lexington KY was contracted to implement their proposed solution, which included a design to unify the content management of COSI’s eight digital signage areas into a single application. Hammond met the bid requirements at the best price. Shaw said, “When we spoke with Hammond’s past clients, they all had positive things to say about Hammond’s solutions, project management, implementation process and ongoing service.”

Hammond, a longtime Scala Certified Partner, used Scala Enterprise software as the unifying platform. Hammond engineered the solution, specified hardware components, configured the hardware and software, and provided customized programming integration services. Hammond continues to provide operational tech support.

Integrating signage content with real-time ticket data informs patrons when shows are sold out, while displaying the next available show time. Additionally, ceiling-mounted displays at admission ticket counters complement COSI’s signage content strategy.
Integrating signage content with real-time ticket data informs patrons when shows are sold out, while displaying the next available show time. Additionally, ceiling-mounted displays at admission ticket counters complement COSI’s signage content strategy.

A third party installed the new onsite “Admissions” and “Coming Soon” screens, while Hammond installed all onsite media players, RS232 extenders, HDMI distribution amplifiers and EDID emulators. Hammond also specified an offsite Cloud-based Virtualized Windows Server and installed Scala Enterprise Content Manager software and peripheral applications at the remote site.

Streamlining The Guest Experience

Integrating signage content with real-time ticket data informs patrons when shows are sold out, while displaying the next available show time. Additionally, ceiling-mounted displays at admission ticket counters complement COSI’s signage content strategy.
Integrating signage content with real-time ticket data informs patrons when shows are sold out, while displaying the next available show time. Additionally, ceiling-mounted displays at admission ticket counters complement COSI’s signage content strategy.

One goal for COSI was to provide a more user-friendly and more informative experience for patrons at the admissions counters. Colorful, vivid digital signage now displays content related to current shows and exhibits, along with schedules and integrated real-time ticket information. “Upgrading our admissions signage to digital displays allows us to more quickly update content for new exhibits, movies, events and programs,” said Shaw. “As ticket availability changes, our visitors get real-time information when an exhibit or show sells out so they can better plan their visits.”

Another goal was to deliver richer content to different areas throughout the museum, with greater efficiency. Initially, COSI had several digital signage displays throughout the facility, with each one being managed separately. The goal was to enable a single authorized staff member to manage all of the signage from one place through a unified, browser-based platform. This would allow programming and control of the 28 digital screens throughout the museum, serving the National Geographic Giant Screen Theater display system, the COSI Planetarium display system, the two entryway videowall display systems, the two queue-area ceiling display systems, as well as the two admissions counters’ video display systems.

General Admission and Member & Donor Services areas each feature five 65-inch LCD screens.
General Admission and Member & Donor Services areas each feature five 65-inch LCD screens.

The new admissions menuboard system features 10 65-inch screens, five of which are wall mounted side by side in landscape mode, forming a single ribbon display over the General Admissions counter. The other five screens are mounted in the same configuration over the adjacent Membership Admissions counter.

Using the XML data from COSI’s existing ticketing and reservations system (Outbound Software), Hammond provided a dynamic Scala template using custom Python and ScalaScript programming so pertinent data is rendered onscreen in real time. With the new solution, COSI can use the dynamic template to create Ultra HD show promotions, as well as other custom graphics for current and upcoming events. All time-sensitive information regarding show schedules and ticket availability is integrated into the dynamic Scala-templated content.

A single media player runs each ribbon of five screens, with each screen having a full 1080p signal, allowing the array to run at more than 10 megapixels. COSI can control the content on each screen individually with dedicated playlists, while also having the flexibility to use a UHD playlist across all five screens.

“With our admissions signs,” said Shaw, “we try to keep the content focused on just the information that our visitors need to make purchase decisions, so those displays only feature exhibit and movie times with static artwork.” Video clips and movie trailers run on displays at other locations in the museum. For example, the ceiling displays for the queue area run movie trailers and promotional videos related to current museum features and exhibits.

Efficient Design

Two videowalls greet visitors as they enter the museum. Each wall has five screens in an artful asymmetrical arrangement. Hammond redesigned the system so that, instead of the two walls being run by 10 media players, only two media players (one per wall) now run the 10 screens, delivering Ultra HD video.

Another feature that COSI desired was the ability to turn all of the displays on and off based on a user-defined schedule in the content-management system. Hammond accomplished this and provided flexibility that allows the various displays to each run on independent scheduling.

The mix of screens includes new 65-inch Panasonic displays with narrow bezel, and reused NEC and Samsung LCDs, all commercial grade, and each brand with its own unique RS232 control protocol and commands. Hammond chose Scala’s metadata field so each media player is set to send the correct commands from its serial port to the displays via RS232 ports. RS232 repeaters are used to boost signals where needed.

Hammond created a custom Scala-Script for each screen type to work with the power on/off commands. Using built-in Scala features, such as media item conditions, time triggers and player metadata, Hammond made it easy to add the players and displays to the power schedule, regardless of the manufacturer. A dropdown menu in the player setup program allows easy selection of screen types for connecting additional systems to the power on/off schedule as COSI expands its digital signage.

Connecting It All Together

As with the ticket counter displays, the Planetarium screen includes show titles, prices, times and availability, which are pulled directly from COSI’s ticketing system.
As with the ticket counter displays, the Planetarium screen includes show titles, prices, times and availability, which are pulled directly from COSI’s ticketing system.

An offsite, Cloud-based Windows virtual server, used for the single point of content management, communicates with each media player. The media players connect to the internet via wired Ethernet and use HDMI to deliver content to the displays. For the two ceiling displays in the queue area, Hammond used HDMI distribution amplifiers/splitters. The entire system is capable of displaying HD and UHD content and supports common image and video formats, along with Flash, ScalaScript and HTML5.

Currently, the COSI system does not feature mobile interactive content or touchscreen interactivity, but it is fully capable of supporting those functions, which gives COSI plenty of opportunity to continue innovating and expanding the system to meet its growing needs.

“We really like how easy it is to update content and to manage the system,” said Shaw. “We wouldn’t go back to the old way. In fact, we hope to expand the digital signage system to continue to improve our visitors’ experience and increase sales.”


Craig Miller is Vice President of Interactive Media, and Brandon Codispoti is Director of Technology and Development at Hammond Communications Group (www.hammondcg.com).
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