Thursday, October 24, 2013

Seenspire launches custom digital signage content service

The folks at Seenspire are launching a new customized content service that is sure to be a hit this Holiday season.

Seenspire motion artists will take your custom message and logo and insert them into one of their high quality video clips.  The final product is rendered and delivered in 48 hours.  You just download the file and use it in the CMS of your choice. The content is delivered as a full HD, MP4 video.

The videos are really top-notch and the quality is miles above what you will find in your typical stock footage site. Best of all, you don't need to hire a graphic artist to get personalized content and there are no usage restrictions.  You can play this content on one or a thousand screens and you just pay a flat fee.

Customers in the US can select between three options: Bundles of 8, 16 or 24 custom video clips (you get to pick 2 videos per Holiday). Since some of the Holidays are US Specific, customers in Canada should pick either the 8 or 16 clip bundles.

All major Holidays are presently covered and I am told more content will be added over time.

This content is ideal for corporate installations, public spaces, retail and many other applications.

Disclaimer: Seenspire is both a client and partner. 


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Font licensing for digital signage

Fonts are one of the many things we take for granted.  We see them everywhere yet we hardly give them a second thought.

Without fonts there would be no print media... no digital signage.  It's hard to think of a world without fonts.

In the days before computers and desktop publishing, type foundries manufactured and sold metal and wood typefaces for printing presses.  Modern type foundries now produce and distribute digital typefaces which we commonly refer to as "fonts".  Font usage is governed by a license that is granted by the type foundry (EULA or End User License Agreement).

Every PC operating system comes with a standard set of fonts and by now, everyone is familiar with Arial and Times Roman.  As computer usage has grown, so has the need for new typefaces and there are now literally thousands of type foundries that cater to every possible style.  Some fonts have even been optimized for viewing on e-book readers and tablets as type foundries keep up with new technologies.

It's important to understand how digital font licensing works, especially in the context of digital signage.
(***Disclaimer! - You must read the license agreement that governs the use of the fonts that you buy.  Each type foundry has its own rules so you must be aware of any restrictions in the font's usage policy.)

Generally speaking, fonts are licensed for use on the computer on which they are installed.  Seems pretty straightforward, right?  Let's see how this works...

  • If you use a PC or Mac to create graphics, videos or animations that includes text you will need a license for the fonts used to create the content.
    • There is no need to buy additional font licenses if your content uses the standard fonts delivered with your computer's operating system. You already paid for those.
    • Any additional font you purchase and use to create your content needs to be licensed.  Each type foundry has its own usage policy so it's important to read the fine print.  Be careful when using "free" or Open Source fonts in your content as some free fonts are licensed for non-commercial use only.  You may need to purchase a commercial license for digital signage use (if available).
  • If your CMS lets you create and render content on remote devices (PC players, Android devices and tablets...), you will need a license for each font used on each device.  If your CMS requires the font to also be installed on the Server PC, you will need a license for that font as well.

    It's important to know where the content is rendered.  If your CMS has a feature that lets you generate an image, video or Flash SWF that gets pushed to your players, the content is rendered on your local PC.  This means the font is embedded in the content and you don't need additional font licenses.

    You only need to purchase additional font licenses when the text is rendered on the playback device itself.  A good example of this would be a CMS with content authoring capabilities that requires fonts to be installed on every remote PC or Android device in order for the fonts to display properly.

    It is a subtle distinction but it is an important one.
  • In some cases, type foundries may have very precise restrictions on how fonts can be used.  For example, some may mention digital signage use specifically.  With so many type foundries, it is very important to read the license before you start publishing your work. 
Fonts are necessary to our work and if we want type foundries to continue to create innovative products, we need to support them and that means licensing their products.

Here are a couple of useful resources:

photo credit: jm3 via photopin cc

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What does the future hold for PC manufacturers?

Things are looking kind of grim for PCs now that Android is firmly entrenched in the digital signage marketplace.  And things won't get better any time soon.  Think of the transition from Flash based animation to HTML5 and Android devices catching up to Apple's new 64 bit processors.

Lets face it... Android devices will become more powerful and content will be optimized for the web.  So what can PC makers do to stay relevant?

Working your strengths

I was reading an announcement about a new partnership between AOPEN and Axis, a major webcam manufacturer. The companies are combining their resources to pair webcams typically used for video surveillance with PCs that can perform dual functions (essentially play content and record video at the same time).  It's a neat idea that is sure to create new opportunities for AOPEN and Axis.  This will be a compelling reason for retailers and banking customers to consider AOPEN PCs for their next digital signage deployments.

It's a great example of working your strengths.  I think PC manufacturers must find innovative ways to use and promote their hardware because there are many areas where Android cannot compete. 

Here are a few examples...

Your typical PC offers way more storage space than any Android device that I have seen, making them ideal for applications where data needs to be stored locally.  This makes PCs less prone to content playback disruptions when Internet access is intermittent.

PC components can be upgraded making them a good choice for long term use.  For example, RAM or data storage can be increased and in some instances video cards can be upgraded to respond to changing needs.

Multi-screen installations and videowalls are other applications where PCs excel.  Android devices simply cannot offer the same flexibility due to limitations of their onboard video processors.  This may change in the future but I can't see it happening anytime soon.

Another point where PCs have an advantage: Remote management tools.  PCs are relatively easy to service and manage remotely.  There are many software applications and online services that provide full remote access to PCs from any location.  This is not the case with Android devices (at least, not yet...).

Is there more to it than cost?

The main advantages of Android devices over PCs remain the same:  Lower acquisition costs and ease of deployment. But it's important to evaluate these statements in the right context.

As we all know, Android devices are essentially tablets and smartphones without a screen.  Major components are repurposed and packaged in a small form factor which helps keep costs low.

By digging a bit further, we discover that many of the Android devices sold as "digital signage players" are simply repurposed consumer grade devices.  To personalize their devices, vendors often install a custom Android OS image and the Adobe Flash player before shipping them out but this doesn't change the fact many of these devices are meant for consumers. They are not designed for the demands of your typical digital signage application.  They haven't been tested for long tem, 24/7 operation.  Their WiFi capabilities can often be marginal and you will find some of them lacking important features like network adapters.

There are purpose built Android devices on the market that have been tested and optimized for digital signage use.  These devices usually include all of the necessary bits and pieces so they tend to be priced higher than consumer grade units.  These devices are recommended for most digital signage applications but the pricing gap with PCs gets narrower.

Pricing will always be a factor but are you really getting your money's worth?  Industrial grade PCs are designed for the harsh environments that we often encounter in many retail and QSR applications.  Industrial PCs are far more reliable than your average consumer device.  They use solid state hard drives, they are often fanless and they can be customized for virtually any application.

But what about the ease of deployment?  While its true Android devices can be powered by any available USB port, you need to have a screen with a free USB port to begin with.  Otherwise you are dealing with power adapters and cables, much like a traditional PC.

Android devices are essentially "plug and play" and this has been a big selling feature and for the most part, this has been the case.  But the same can be said of any PC that has been properly pre-configured by the vendor.  There is little to do when a PCs OS has been optimized for digital signage use and when the player software has been preinstalled.  It's basically the same "plug and play" experience that you would get from any single purpose device.

So, is there hope for the PC?  You bet!  But if I were in the PC business, I would make a real effort to lower the cost of acquisition and I would provide a well engineered, completely turn-key solution.  I see PC installations fail where the vendor didn't spend enough time sweating the details.

In the end, Android may yet win the war but there are still plenty of battles to be fought.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Is there a Microsoft mega-tablet in your future?

Fox News recently introduced a new set that includes what can only be described as "mega-tablets".  These are some of the largest touch enabled screens on the market running on Windows 8, making for an interesting wayfinding/interactive kiosk support.
These devices are the result of Microsoft's acquisition of an outfit called Perceptive Pixel back in July 2012.

Cost is bound to be an issue in the near term but as these screens become more popular we may start seeing some of these show up in high-end applications.  Think museums and trade shows. 

Introducing MYOOH. An interactive and creative agency based in Lyon, France

I have recently had the opportunity to collaborate with the team at MYOOH based in Lyon, France and I wanted to share my experience.

I have found the folks at MYOOH to be highly skilled in the development of digital signage, interactive kiosks and wayfinding applications.  They are experts at integrating web and multimedia technologies to achieve results that consistently exceed their client's expectations.

I highly recommend the MYOOH team for your next project.

Google releases HTML5 authoring tool

Google recently launched a free HTML5 authoring tool called Google Web Designer.  The idea is to help promote HTML5 as the new standard for developing ad content on the web.  Nothing better than to provide content designers with a free tool to kick around.
The software looks pretty slick and I'm sure you could use it to create some pretty decent digital signage content.  Since more and more CRMs support the format, it will be interesting to see if this will get more digital signage networks interested in HTML5.