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Opinion: displays get smart

Now including integrated media player functionality, displays are only going to get smarter, says Jeff Hastings, CEO at BrightSign.

I’m often asked what is going to happen in the future of displays and one analogy that I think perfectly answers that question is that of the humble television set. We’ve gone from just being able to change the channel to having built-in WiFi that gives us access to countless channels and allows us to pause, rewind, record, even interact with live television. Commercial displays are on a similar journey where we’ll see truly smart displays that have all the functionality built in to the display, but we’re several steps away from that.

In the digital signage space, we tend to focus on making things bigger – larger displays, imposing videowalls, projects with thousands of displays integrated throughout a facility. Small screens are often overshadowed by this rush to ‘go big’. But anyone who keeps a close eye on our industry knows that small displays are in the midst of big growth.

Starting small
Let’s be clear – small form-factor displays are nothing new. But earlier efforts to integrate smaller screens in for example corporate settings and surgeries were primarily built around a tablet ecosystem. Windows, iOS and Android tablets were sleek and already had touch interactivity – on the surface they were a perfect solution. But these tablets weren’t built with digital signage in mind, so adapting them for this purpose required a great deal of custom work. When all was said and done, these devices ran consumer operating systems and had reliability issues and other limitations when adapted for a dedicated commercial signage application.

So, what’s changing? Small form-factor, purpose-built displays are now being produced by a growing number of commercial display manufacturers. These displays offer some important advantages over their tablet predecessors. First and most importantly, these displays have integrated media player functionality. With all the smarts built-in, there’s no need to mount media players externally – this creates flexibility in where the displays can be placed and makes it possible to integrate or surface-mount displays with minimal space requirements. Furthermore, PoE enables flexible placement without the need to run power to every mounted location and reduces dependence on wireless connectivity that can be troublesome in retail environments.

Lastly, in many cases these smaller displays are made-to-order. Displays can be designed with a finished bezel for surface-mount applications, or ‘open frame’ for kiosk or wall-mounted integration. And with HD available now and 4K on the way, onboard media-handling capabilities make handling rich media a breeze, and the small displays have impressive video quality due to the high density of pixels on screen.

Significant opportunities
All this translates to significant opportunities for AV professionals scoping out projects in many quickly growing vertical markets including retail, corporate communications, conference room scheduling, etc. Whether it’s swapping out older tablets in existing locations or installing fresh in a new build, these new small screens are signage-ready right out of the box and bring big functionality to small spaces.

The BrightSign HS123 Digital Signage Module (DSM) allows display manufacturers to create a product that matches their display of choice with a BrightSign HD media player. This is a step in the right direction compared to the well known SoC displays on the market that deliver very limited digital signage capabilities. At BrightSign we’ve also recognised the demands, particularly of high end luxury brands, for 4K ready built in technology and will be launching an updated BrightSign Series 4 DSM in due course.

Although signage display technology hasn’t caught up with the level of sophistication available on the consumer screens that we use daily, such as smartphones, tablets and televisions, we are seeing smaller displays leading the way with built-in features that incorporate interactivity, data processing and synchronicity. The complexity of I/O needed for commercial and interactive digital signage and kiosks means that this functionality will never be implemented just on a chip (SoC). A true smart display will be powered by a board or module of some kind. Today, BrightSign offers a digital signage module with mainstream functionality that can be integrated within the display. In the future, we’ll see this functionality expand to deliver a higher level of sophistication.