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Digital Signage Top Technology Trends

1. 4K or Ultra HD Displays
Several exhibitors introduced 4K displays at DSE 2013; that number increased in 2014, as did the variety of ultra-HD displays, including curved ones. According to Nick Belcore, executive vice president at Peerless-AV, 4K displays will once again be a big focus at DSE 2015.

“Factors that will that drive ultra-high definition in 2015 include: increased availability of 4K content, increased availability of media players to support the content/resolution, increased options for displays and decreased costs for entry into the space,” says Richard Ventura, vice president of product marketing and solutions, NEC Display Solutions of America. “Each of these factors will allow the early adopters to continue using the technology as well as helping the next tier of adopters to realize the benefits that ultra-high definition brings, such as image quality, clarity and depth.”

According to Ventura, another driver for ultra-high definition adoption in 2015 is the introduction of solid state light source projectors supporting 4K content.

“Solid state light source projectors allow for much longer run time and are capable of lifetimes at least two times greater than traditional lamp-based projectors,” he says. “As more applications such as projection mapping take off, the need for ultra-high definition content and projectors will increase.”

Video walls, adds Ventura, will likewise spur the use of 4K. “New technologies such as Display Port 1.2, allowing for pass through of 4K signals and multi-streaming to video walls, will also help drive the adoption of ultra-high definition installations,” he says.

And where will ultra-HD be used? In addition to continued adoption in specialty retail and flagship locations, where 4K displays provide more lifelike imagery and depth otherwise not seen from standard high-definition displays, Ventura identifies the following markets:

What Ventura doesn’t mention is the introduction of touch technology, in particular multi-touch interactivity, to the world of 4K resolution displays.

“The greater pixel density of 4K provides an increased level of clarity that is uniquely appreciated at the short viewing distances of touch users,” says Becky Connors, product marketing manager, Planar Systems. “With the ultra-large sizes available in 4K displays, touch capability translates into multi-user interaction that can engage multiple viewers for extended periods of time.”

Though the future looks bright for ultra-HD, price and content may slow market growth.

“As prices fall on high-resolution and 4K displays and TVs, digital signage is becoming more broadly adopted, such as in high-end retail stores who can now advertise varied content to customers,” says David Rahvar, general partner, Rose Electronics. “However, growth in this market is currently constrained primarily by limited content. As more content is created, this market will begin to grow much faster.”

“For many use cases, 4K displays are probably overkill — and they typically command a hefty price premium over their 1080P brethren,” adds Navdeep Reddy, co-founder/chief information officer, Enplug. “However, recent consumer trends have shown massive price reductions on this front. Even though many users will still be driving 1080P content on these displays, expect a strong showing in the market for these pixel packed models.”

Price and content aside, those attracted to ultra-HD must ultimately consider their intended application and whether the more refined resolution is actually needed.

“The burden largely lies on manufacturers and content creators to provide adequate information and guidance on the best solutions for individual customers and meet their needs with quality products,” advises Rose Electronics’ Rahvar.

Shrinking bezels result in a more attractive, almost seamless viewing experience for large-format video walls. Photo courtesy Peerless-AV.

2. Video Walls
Large-format video walls continue their trend, with underlying technologies driving a more a more appealing and engaging viewer experience.

“Advances in display and mounting solutions will make video walls more seamless and cost effective than ever before,” says Peerless-AV’s Nick Belcore, adding, “Large format displays are making single unit video walls very cost effective with no seams.”

“With continuing innovation in LCD and LED displays, bezels are beginning to narrow if not disappear entirely, giving the ability to link together displays to create large single displays and video walls, and mix content within one seamless display,” says Rose Electronics’ Rahvar, who notes that his company has played a hand in developing this market through the manufacturing of video wall processors and video extenders to carry high definition and 4K content from the source to the displays.

“Development in touchscreen and interactive technologies continue to increase the number of uses for these displays, such as assisting viewers and users with directions and transportation, hospital monitoring devices, emergency notifications, education, church services, and much more,” he says.

An intriguing new application is the outdoor installation of video walls, which will be the subject of a DSE Industry Roundtable focused on the Public Spaces sector. “Public spaces are increasingly utilizing digital signage to provide the public with information and the opportunity to share content, and outdoor video walls are a great way to further enhance the space,” says the session’s group leader, Jack McKeague, general manager and VP of sales, Display Division Peerless-AV.

Small displays have found a role in a variety of communications situations, such as the shelf display (top) and the meeting room display (bottom). Photos courtesy Samsung & Visix.

3. Small Form-factor Displays

Whenever we seem to have reached the practical size limit for a large-format display, or multi-display video wall application, along comes an even larger display or video wall. As costs decrease, larger displays become more practical – and more eye-catching amid the other objects vying for our attention.

But small displays have their place, too. Just consider the role that tablets now play in retail, hospitality, restaurants and transportation, among other venues.

Kathryn Gaskell, product manager at Chief, likes what she sees in the battle of the sizes.

“The trends lately seem to gravitate toward the extremes — either extra large or small displays being applied to interesting and complex video wall configurations,” she says. “The range of options allows designers and installers room to be creative with their solutions.” From Chief’s point of view, that means mounts designed for installation speed, adjustability and accessibility, she adds.

Kevin Schroll, senior product manager, Smart Signage, Samsung Enterprise Business Division, also notes this divergence in display size direction.

“While the industry continues to focus on increasing screen sizes and a motto of  ‘bigger is better,’ the commercial display market is now seeing another trend in the new demand for smaller form-factor signage,” he says. “Smaller displays — in the 20- or even 10-inch range — easily replace static posters, but also now enable retailers or other businesses to create more interactive in-store experiences to engage customers.”

Display manufacturers have long warned against the use of consumer displays for commercial purposes, and Schroll advises the same caution for small displays.

“Integrators have experimented with utilizing tablets in kiosks, but commercial displays offer several important advantages including reliability, connectivity options and the ability to manage content remotely,” he says.

And what are some growth areas for small displays? “We are seeing strong interest in smaller form-factors for applications from shelf-level signage in retail to corporate meeting rooms,” says Schroll.

Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager, Visix Inc., concurs with Schroll, singling out room signs as “the latest hot product in the industry, with multiple vendors offering small displays that show event schedules and other digital signage content,” she says. “Some are integrating touchscreen capabilities for reservations right at the room, while others also pair hardware with software that combines data from multiple scheduling applications, like Exchange, EMS and Google calendars.”

“Electronic paper signs are also entering the picture as an affordable option to replace printed schedules,” she says.

4. Simple Digital Signage Solutions
It should be obvious that small to medium-size businesses that may need only one or at most four or five displays have different requirements from larger competitors, franchises and chains needing hundreds of displays throughout the enterprise. In the case of these companies, and the pro AV companies that typically serve them, simpler is better. In the absence of such solutions, smaller businesses often resort to buying consumer displays.

As Michael O’Halloran, product manager, Smart Signage, Samsung Enterprise Business Division, points out, “The absence of easily accessible commercial solutions has led many to turn to DIY approaches utilizing consumer TVs and makeshift content. But this can result in frustration for a variety of reasons, including the fact that consumer TVs are not designed or warranted for 16/7 use.”

But, he adds, “Technology advancement such as the introduction of embedded media players and Wi-Fi in smart commercial displays has now opened the way for simplified and more affordable digital signage solutions for even the smallest of businesses.”

Samsung has seized on these developments, responding to the growth opportunity in the small business market with its new Smart Signage TV solution, one among simplified digital signage solutions we expect to see at DSE 2015.

Interactive touchscreens are now found fulfilling various messaging missions both outdoors and indoors. Photos courtesy Peerless-AV & iQmetrix.

5. Interactivity
The Interactive Technology Show originated as a show within Digital Signage Expo but was swallowed up by the larger event a few years ago when it became apparent that interactive display solutions were available almost everywhere you turned on the DSE floor. That evolution alone speaks volumes for the role interactive technology plays in the industry, but there’s more.

Over the years, we’ve seen single-touch screens evolve into multi-touch screens, and multi-touch evolve into multi-user, multi-touch. We’ve also seen the introduction of alternatives to touch, including touchless displays triggered by hand movement, body gesture or voice.

We’ve also seen projection technology used to create interactive surfaces, ranging from whiteboards in the classroom to floors in museums and shopping malls to counters and tabletops in retail stores and restaurants.

And then there’s mobile, with a growing list of ways to interact with the screen, including text2screen, pic2screen, QR code, Bluetooth, Near Field Communication (NFC), social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) and so forth.

With the gaming industry leading the way, Zytronic expects curved touch displays, such as the concave and convex touch displays pictured here, to be the next big thing in interactive technology. Photos courtesy Zytronic.

One interesting new trend to look for is the use of curved touch sensors.

“Driven by expectant electronic consumers, who see curved televisions as the epitome of high-end electrical products, curved touch sensors are the next step in human interface machines and digital signage,” says Ian Crosby, sales and marketing director,Zytronic. According to the company, curved touch screens offer such benefits as unique eye-catching design, advanced multi-touch functionality and immersive experiences.

“The trend for curved touch sensors was seen recently at the Global Gaming Expo 2014 in Las Vegas, where Aristocrat introduced its state-of-the-art “Arc” gaming machine,” he says. “Featuring a dual 42-inch display and concave touch sensor, the jaw-dropping unit most definitely has the “WOW” factor…, drawing gamers in, and inviting them to immerse themselves in the digital world.”

While gaming machine manufactures have been early adopters of curved touch sensors, Zytronic anticipates that in the future curved displays and touch sensors will be used more and more in public entertainment and leisure applications.

“Companies such as museums, bars, restaurants and shopping malls, which are continually competing to offer the best service combined with cutting edge design, will undoubtedly be able to see the benefit of adopting curved sensors for use in their interactive digital signage and POS,” says Crosby.

Crosby further notes the availability of both concave and convex designs, with optional custom printed borders. “Concave sensors offer the opportunity for a wrap-around, absorbing user experience,” he says, “while convex sensors offer an appealing, palpable surface, inviting consumers to reach out and touch.”

The Toshiba 60-inch Touch & Get kiosk is so named because it features video highlights that fans can select and transfer to their mobile phones. Photo courtesy Toshiba.

Though Toshiba is a household word in the business equipment and consumer electronics world, the company is a relative newcomer to the digital signage market in the U.S. Nonetheless, the company is starting to make waves with significant installations, especially in the area of sports arenas and stadiums, and with what it describes as “exciting new applications that expand the definition of digital signage.” The latter includes interactive technology such as the company’s
Touch & Get kiosk.

According to Bill Melo, chief marketing executive, Toshiba America Business Solutions Inc., Touch & Get provides an intuitive, self-service way to transfer large amounts of data wirelessly.

“More importantly,” he says, “it’s super fast.”

How fast? “Imagine transferring an entire 2GB HD movie in 2 minutes! Wirelessly!” says Melo.

The secret behind Touch & Get is Toshiba’s transfer jet technology. “We’re using transfer jet and other Toshiba technologies to push the boundaries of interactivity and re-imagine digital signage,” he adds.

In November, Toshiba debuted Touch & Get together with a host of other products at its new installation at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles.

While this discussion has mainly focused on interactive technology, Christopher Krywulak, president and CEO, iQmetrix, reminds us of the integral role content plays in interactivity. Krywulak sees huge potential in using in-store interactive displays for customers to access products that don’t appear in the store and suggests that retailers that haven’t already discovered the many advantages of the so called “endless aisle” are missing out on a significant customer engagement opportunity.

“Retail space is finite (and pricey), but endless aisle allows retailers to be more efficient when it comes to the use of their space,” he says. “With endless aisle, retailers can keep more stock in the back of the store, at their warehouse or even with a supplier if they have a virtual inventory program in place.”

Furthermore, stores no longer have to find shelf space for all the products they carry. “With virtual merchandising, retailers have a digital extension of shelf space that offers customers a more enjoyable shopping experience with less clutter but more product choice,” Krywulak says.

That includes the ability to offer an expanded and even unique product line while allowing a customer to view the product and order it, without the retailer bearing any inventory risk.

“In addition to changing inventory practices, virtual merchandise touchscreens offer a complementary experience to online, displaying dynamic and interactive product images and videos, reviews, pricing, inventory availability and options to request customer service from an in-store sales rep,” adds Krywulak. “Interactive touchscreens can be strategically positioned in-store according to lifestyle features or solution types, allowing retailers to focus on solution-based selling versus simple transactions.”

Krywulak also points out that virtual merchandising technology tracks a vast amount of customer data across its various touch points. “Retailers can use this data to improve the content, merchandising and overall shopping experience based on user tendencies,” he says.

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