Digital Display Technology. Learning the Basics of Digital Signage Chapter 3: Coming up next
INSIDE: Digital signage is emerging rapidly as a viable and effective communications tool. With that in mind, companies taking the first step in signage deployment will be much more successful on the playing field if they understand the basics of what digital media is and how it operates. For a crash course in digital signage, read on.
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All photos courtesy of LG Electronics Inc. unless otherwise specified.
Written and edited by Travis K. Kircher, editor, SelfService.org
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Chapter 3: Coming up next
In addition to using the more traditional plasma screens and LCD displays, digital signage can be projected theater-style onto various media via front- or rear-projection TV.
The advantages of projection TVs are obvious. They can provide a much larger picture than conventional CRTs can. Projection TVs also can suit a number of rooms and budgets. In a sense, they act as a sort of portable theater.
“They are still bigger and bulkier overall, from just a physical dimension,” said Ron Snaidauf, vice president, commercial products, LG Electronics USA “But the weight on a projection TV has now gotten down to a point where it’s pretty similarto what you’ll see on an LCD or a plasma.”
The interesting thing about projection techniques TV is that the image can be displayed on a variety of media. Instead of simply displaying the image on a conventional blank screen, some manufacturers are experimenting with TVs that can beam the picture onto more creative backdrops.
“You can have displays on a window,” said Jimmy Dun, vice president of businessdevelopment for Fremont, Calif.-
based Dynasign Corp. “The most interesting kind of display I’ve seen is using a fog, and a projector projects onto the fog. Even better, they made this fog-based screen interactive and touchable.”
Many believe this experimentation may be the precursor to widespread use of holographic projection. Others choose to temper their expectations.
“The programs we have seen with holographic projection have still been ones where you’re really restricted to very specific viewing angles in order to get the experience,” said Sean Moran, president of the Out-of-Home Media Networks business unit in the Technicolor services division of Parisbased Thomson. “I haven’t seen a holographic program that I thought as something that made it beyond a trade show. Quite frankly, if you come across one, let us know. I’d love to take a look at it.”
“If deployers can recognize these new technologies as they develop, harness their power and meld them to somehow meet consumer demand, they’ll be in a very enviable position as the future unfolds.” – Ron Snaidauf, vice president, commercial products, LG Electronics USA
“I think we’re a long time away from anything like that,” said Bill Gerba, CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based WireSpring Technologies Inc. “I would say in the next five years, you’re going to see relatively few real differences in the display technologies. There’s a lot of stuff waiting in the wings.”
Internet Protocol Television refers to digital programming that is delivered to the viewer via computer networks. In other words, instead of the network programming of today, which is broadcast through the airwaves, IPTV would be streamed online through the Internet.
The technology was brought to the forefront recently during the Writers Guild of America strike, which began in late 2007. In the time leading up to that strike, the major broadcast networks had been offering episodes of their flagship shows (shows such as “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Heroes”) online, free of charge, as long as the user was willing to sit through brief advertisements. Screenwriters argued that the new content-delivery method provided a way for the networks to circumvent the payment of writers’ royalty fees.
Controversies aside, digital signage deployers would have a lot to gain from fast, reliable IPTV technology. Most signage systems are structured so that the content is forwarded through the network to the digital signage player, which in turn sends the content to the display. IPTV would enable the system to bypass the player and feed straight into the display in a live, streaming feed. Such technology – when perfected – essentially would enable deployers to run their own live streaming network online that could pump content to all of the deployer’s digital displays worldwide.
In a sense, that capability is available, but the picture quality is sorely limited.
“The Internet is not really an efficient vehicle for IPTV,” Dun said. “While you can broadcast low-quality, lowresolution channels, if you’re looking at high-quality streaming in real time – that demands bandwidth. The Internet structure is great nowadays, but it’s not ready to handle that kind of traffic yet.”
Interactivity and targeted advertising
If there’s one thing industry experts agree on, it’s that interactivity – the ability of the consumer to manipulate the digital display – will become an increasingly important feature on digital signage.
Digital touchscreens and interactive kiosks are all around us, rangingfrom the self-service airport check-in kiosks to touch-activated wayfinder displays in colleges and universities. But Tim Buchholz, senior vice president of corporate communications for Point of Purchase Advertising International, an international trade association based in Washington, D.C., says he expects those displays increasingly to target customers based on their interactive choices.
In fact, he says he believes the time may come when a display will be able to size up a prospective customer as soon as he walks into the room.
“I also think there will be interactive devices that will be able to understand the demographics of a particular individual who might be passing by a digital sign and be able to serve up information very targeted to the demographic of that individual,” Buchholz said. “Facial recognition and stuff like that, I think, will be quite advanced by that time, and they’ll be able to send out demographic information and basically have it served up on demand without that person’s interaction with it at all, except their being in proximity to the display.”
He says having this ability will be critical for marketers in the future because today’s consumer is becoming very adept at ignoring random advertising.
“If you’re sending a message out to a very broad audience, there’s a good chance that, for a fairly hefty percentage of the people, it won’t resonate with them,” he said.
Put reliable OLED technology on everyone’s Christmas wish list, from digital signage deployers all the way down to the devoted couch potato who wants better picture quality on his big-screen TV.
In theory, OLED display technology would use the electroluminescent properties of organic compounds to provide an image that would consume less power than a plasma screen or LCD.
“OLEDs – organic LEDs – are basically light- emitting diodes,” Gerba said. “They’re little, tiny components that actually emit light. Because of that, they kind of combine the best elements of plasma and LCD.
” OLEDs are essentially like a plasma, with vibrant color, true black and high contrast, Gerba added.
“But like an LCD, they don’t suffer any kind of burn-in problems,” he said. “Right now, they are phenomenally expensive, and they’re made in very small screen sizes, but obviously if consumer demand wills it, that will change.”
Many experts believe OLED technology could be used to create cardboard-thin portable displays that could be rolled up like a towel. It also might pave the way for displays that could be stitched into clothing. But many in the industry aren’t holding their breath.
“Honestly, OLED has been around for a long time, and people have been projecting that they would have this technology in larger screen sizes,” Snaidauf said. “But from a technology and cost standpoint, it just hasn’t gotten there. For the small screen stuff – maybe for under 10 inches – OLED has a lot of strengths and a lot of good positioning there, but to get a 42-inch or 52-inch OLED, I don’t know that it’s going to happen. They just haven’t gotten to that scale.”
Another display technology that someday might give LCDs and plasma screens a run for their money is the field emission display.
According to an online fact sheet published by Sharp Corp., the FED shares some of the same attributes of a CRT, but its thickness is measured in millimeters. In the case of an FED, the single electron gun is replaced by an array of tiny metal tips called nanotubes, which emit electrons that produce the image on the screen.
“An FED projects pictures using the same light-emitting principle as CRTs,” the online fact sheet said. “An FED removes electrons from the cathode and makes them collide with fluorescent material applied to the cathode, thus emitting light. While the cathode of a CRT uses a point electron source, an FED uses a surface electron source. Sixinch color FED panels have already been manufactured, and research and development on 10-inch FEDs is proceeding very rapidly. When compared with (thin film transistor) LCDs, FEDs offer a superior viewing angle (160 degrees both vertically and horizontally) and are several microseconds quicker in response speed.”
The advantages? An energy-efficient digital display with image quality that mimics a CRT.
Much has been written in this guide thus far about the importance of screen size. Currently, the world’s largest digital display is a 108-inch LCD developed by Sharp Electronics Corp. No doubt display manufacturers will continue to up the ante as time goes on, but Snaidauf believes signage deployers should think twice before they make the assumption that bigger is always better.
“When you stop and think about it, any LCD or plasma screen that is 100 inches or greater in size is going to be tremendously difficult to get into business environments,” Snaidauf said. “How many elevators can handle that size of a piece of equipment coming into it? I don’t know of many that are designed that large. So while everybody talks about these large screen sizes, in some regards, you have physical limitations with regard to infrastructure within buildings that can accommodate that type of size to get it to the deployment point. Yeah, if you go into a stadium, sure you’ve got big loading docks to get in. But in a normal office building? No way.”
Snaidauf doesn’t downplay the effectiveness of these super-sized screens in certain applications, but he suggests that deployers think through the logistics thoroughly before purchasing a 108-inch screen.
Screen size also takes on legislative significance when it comes to interactivity. Like anything else, an interactive touchscreen must be compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. That means it should be accessible to anyone traveling in a wheelchair.
“Finding the right screen size is kind of the Holy Grail right now,” Snaidauf said. “It’s all over the board. When you get into the really large sizes, you’ve got to think about someone getting up close to interact with it. You’ve got the requirements of the ADA — those folks have to access the screen, as well. If you have too large of a screen, you generally have to have that higher up so that it’s not sitting as close to the bottom of the floor. But if you have it up too high, people in wheelchairs won’t be able to access the screen because it’s out of their reach.”
One display technology that could be of particular interest to bookworms is electronic paper. At the time of this writing, electronic paper is just beginning to make inroads into mainstream society through devices such as Amazon.com’s Kindle a wireless portable reading device that can display text from more than 90,000 books, blogs, newspapers and magazines.
One of the core strengths of the device, according to Amazon.com, is that the display “provides a sharp, high-resolution screen that looks and reads like real paper.”
That’s the logic behind electronic paper technology: It’s designed to look like printed text on a paper. According to the Web site of E Ink Corp., the Cambridge, Mass.-based display manufacturer that creates the displays for the Kindle, electronic paper is created through the use of tiny microcapsules approximately the diameter of a human hair.
“In one incarnation, each microcapsule contains positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles suspended in a clear fluid,” the site said. “When a negative electric field is applied, the white particles move to the top of the microcapsule where they become visible to the user. This makes the surface appear white at that spot. At the same time, an opposite electric field pulls the black particles to the bottom of the microcapsules where they are hidden. By reversing this process, the black particles appear at the top of the capsule, which now makes the surface appear dark at that spot.”
Consumer response to Amazon.com’s Kindle device has been tempered. Customer reviews on the site express a wide variety of opinions.
“The device is and always will be an e-book reader, and it is designed to replicate a book,” wrote Jeffrey D. Kenewell of Harrisburg, Pa., in an online review featured on Amazon. com. “That is where the device first struck me as amazing. First off, the Kindle uses electronic ink to produce print that appears (to me) just like the pages of a book. Contrary to reading on a computer screen, this presents the reader with a graywhite background similar to pages, producing a comfortable and similar reading experience.”
Other reviews were not so stunning.
“(The) page turns have an annoying black flash,” wrote one N.J.-based user reviewer who identified himself as “geek squad central.” “Some people report they get used to it, but it’s definitely a turn-off for me. I have seen other e-ink device prototypes that do not have this flash, so waiting for version 2.0 might be a good idea.”
As the technology continues to develop and overcome the perceived snags, enterprising signage deployers likely will find creative new uses for it.
Moran points out that electronic paper could be used to create visually dynamic street signs.
“We’re pretty excited to see that technology develop and come online,” he said.
Until then …
Each of the technologies in this chapter requires much more development before they’ll be deployed on a mass scale. But digital signage deployers that wish to remain on the cutting edge of innovation would do well to stay abreast of their progress. By keeping an ear to the ground, deployers will be well positioned to pounce on any new opportunities.
“New technology translates into one thing: new opportunities,” said Snaidauf. “New opportunities to serve your customers, new opportunities to break new ground and — last but not least — new opportunities to get a leg up on the competition. If deployers can recognize these new technologies as they develop, harness their power and meld them to somehow meet consumer demand, they’ll be in a very enviable position as the future unfolds.”
To be Continued to Chapter 4:
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