Intel Targets Digital Signage

By Cheryl Coupé, Contributing Editor

Next-generation digital signs will be interactive, connected and energy-efficient

According to Jose Avalos, Intel’s director of retail and digital signage, there are more than 700 companies creating digital signage solutions worldwide. That includes many large multinationals, but the majority are small players with fewer than 40 employees and under a million dollars in revenue. And while a fragmented market provides opportunities for innovation from many small players, it can be difficult for those small companies to scale production for broad distribution. Intel’s solution? A design platform based on standard PC hardware and software technologies to support both innovation and scalability.

A recently announced collaboration between Intel, Microsoft and NEC Corporation intends to meet that need, with NEC integrating solutions and services (including content management and media distribution) with a digital signage platform based on Intel® Core™ i7 and Core™ i5 processors running Microsoft Windows Embedded Standard 7. Intel’s digital signage model is a familiar one: The client side consists of a display driven by an Intel® platform-based media player running content management software. On the network operating side, software manages the aggregation, delivery and scheduling of content to clients over a network such as WiFi, 3G or 4G.

In October, Intel announced the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) for digital signage, supported by Microsoft, NEC Display Solutions and the Taiwan Digital Signage Special Interest Group. The OPS articulates a specification for media players based on a small form factor and standardized electrical interfaces that would ultimately allow developers to create a family of digital signage products from entry level to high-end platforms with swappable media players to meet specific application needs. In a release, Avalos stated, “The Open Pluggable Specification was created by Intel to address fragmentation in the digital signage market and simplify device installation, use, maintenance and upgrades. With the specification, digital signage manufacturers will be able to deploy interchangeable systems faster and in higher volumes, while lowering costs for development and implementation.”

Avalos describes a vision he says Intel shares with its partners, in which next-generation digital signs are interactive, connected and energy efficient. In addition, these signs will be able to support anonymous video analytics that can report demographic information back to the advertiser on everything from the number of people who pass by or stop in front of the sign, and – using technologies such as facial recognition – report information back to the advertiser on audience gender, age group, and even facial expression, such as smiles. This capability combines with remote content management technology to provide proof-of-play and proof-of-impression information used by the advertiser to measure return on investment (ROI). It can also be used to test creative and to adapt content to more closely match the sign’s audience.

Intel is watching several technology trends in digital signage, including the use of gesture technology, which is deployed today mainly in gaming applications, but which will drive added interactivity with customers. Avalos says, “We see gesture being a key ingredient of digital signage over time. In fact we’re developing, as part of our commitment to the industry, proof of concepts that are intended to articulate advanced usage models to the industry and to motivate the industry.”

Other trends to watch include energy efficiency at both the chip and platform level, as well as using remote management technologies to schedule maintenance and content updates and turn systems off to improve the life of the product and save energy. From a business model perspective, digital signage will become even more intelligent in the future. Traditional models will continue to be one-to-many, but advances in cell phone connectivity will be able to establish a oneto- one interaction with consumers. New retail applications even tie in social networking through in-store kiosks that allow consumers to consult their friends and then share purchasing decisions.

The biggest market trend Avalos sees is that “the multinationals have started to come in.” He believes this will create a nice balance between innovation from smaller players and increased investment from multinationals that will allow solutions to scale in volume and across geographies worldwide. Beyond this, he expects to see service providers such as telecoms entering the U.S. market over the next couple of years – a trend that is already occurring in Europe and China.

Cheryl Berglund Coupé is Editor of EECatalog.com. Her articles have appeared in EE Times, Electronic Business, Microsoft Embedded Review and Windows Developer’s Journal and she has developed presentations for the Embedded Systems Conference and ICSPAT. She has held a variety of production, technical marketing and writing positions within technology companies and agencies in the Northwest.