Monday, March 24, 2014

How will the looming Windows XP deadline affect your digital signage deployment

Microsoft may be ending support for Windows XP on April 8th but the world won't end on April 9th and here's why... Properly configured digital signage PCs will continue to operate reliably and securely on Windows XP post April 8.

Now, what do I mean by properly configured?

Any PC running Windows (any version of Windows) that is used for digital signage should be locked down tight.  This means no automated Windows updates.  No anti-virus.  All non-essential Windows apps and components should have been removed or deactivated and the only apps running would be the ones required to display content and communicate with a dedicated CMS.

If you followed these rules when you deployed your PCs on XP, they will continue to work post April 8th. These PCs have not received any patches or security updates for quite a long time... in some cases, years.  These updates were not required then and they won't be required tomorrow.

Why?  PCs used for digital signage are essentially single-purpose devices performing a set of automated tasks. They are much less likely to be exposed to viruses or malware since they aren't used for email or other general office use.

Now it's important to make a distinction between a passive digital signage application and an interactive kiosk that is used for secure transactions.  There is a good article on the Sixteen Nine blog by Nick Donaldson that goes into great detail about the potential risks of continuing to use Windows XP past it's expiry date and it touches on many good points.

However, a properly configured and locked-down PC running on XP should be fine until the hardware fails at which point you will most likely replace the whole unit, never mind the operating system.  By then you will have lots of options to choose from.  You can switch to new hardware running a current version of Windows or you may go with Android, Raspberry Pi or some type of Smart TV.

If your PCs aren't locked down yet, it's still time to do it... At least, until April 8th, 2014.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Small form factor PCs fight back!

There has been a lot of press lately about Android devices replacing PCs and for good reason.  The performance matches a lot of low-end PCs and the price sure is appealing.  Another big selling point has been their small size which make them easy to hide behind pretty well any display.

Intel has been fighting the good fight with their NUC boxes but there have been few high-end small form factor PCs available until now (except possibly PCs from these guys).  Engadget recently published an article on a new PC from Shuttle that will most certainly find itself behind a lot of digital signage displays.  The specs are impressive with support for processors up to Core i7 and triple monitor outputs.  As the article mentions, cooling has been optimized so this unit will be able to operate at temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius. This is a big deal because it's not always possible to locate your PCs were there is good ventilation.

I always thought of Shuttle as the makers of those "breadbox" PC units having built one a few years back. They have since expanded into other form factors that make them quite attractive to digital signage integrators.  

Android sure has its place in this market but nothing can beat the PC for versatility and support for multiple screens.  It's good to see more activity on the PC side for a change.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Television Point of Sales inserts custom ads in live TV broadcasts

Walk into any sports bar and chances are you will find a combination of big screen TVs, projectors and video walls showing some sporting event.  It's like walking into your local Buffalo Wings and finding yourself surrounded with more flat screen TVs than you'll find at your neighborhood Best Buy.  I can just imagine this guy who looked up and had an epiphany...  All those channels and no local advertising to be seen.

This guy's name was Dennis DeMay of Television Point of Sales, Inc.

Dennis tells me his company offers a proprietary video server that detects when an ad is coming up in a TV broadcast and then plays the ads in a small window in the lower right hand corner of the screen while the system pushes local ads in full screen.  The alternate feed is switched in real time and the transition is seamless.

Using this system, bar owners can sell advertising space on their screens while respecting all broadcast regulations because the ads are not prevented from playing.  They are simply resized on the fly and played in a smaller window while ads controlled by the venue owner are shown full screen.

It's an interesting take on the whole local content thing and assuming no one is breaking any laws, a pretty nifty way for venue owners to take control of their screens and offer some ad space to local businesses.

Here the company's corporate summary...

Television Point of Sales, Inc. (TVPOS) provides proprietary video server products and services which enable business venues offering television-based entertainment to advertise directly to their most valued customers... those already on-site. We offer no less than the Holy Grail of effective advertising: a way to market relevant products directly to a highly motivated and well-qualified demographic at or near the point of purchase, where buying decisions or impulses can be acted upon immediately.

TVPOS has developed a unique and highly effective PC-based ad delivery technology which monitors conventional broadcast television signals to identify network ads in real time, instantly switching to an alternate audiovisual feed to show advertisements or promotional spots of immediate interest to the patrons of compatible venues. The transition from network programming to in-house messaging is seamless and unobtrusive, appearing where ads would normally be expected to occur and making for a natural television viewing experience without interrupting program content. Depending upon the network, there are typically from four to five advertising breaks per channel per hour during the business day, giving you up to ten minutes of advertising space per hour at two minutes per break (for example.)

The conventional approach to television advertising is expensive and inefficient: Network programming supplied to viewers is periodically interrupted by commercial breaks consisting of several unrelated and often intrusive ad spots aimed at the general demographic presumed to be watching a given show. In this sense, programs are a delivery system for advertisements, presenting many ads of interest to only a very small percentage of viewers - a scattershot approach, at best.
Wouldn't it make more sense to identify business venues where a sizeable audience of like-minded consumers is expected to congregate in the presence of television monitors near a point of purchase, and to advertise only products of immediate interest to them?

This is where Television Point of Sales comes in. Our clients are business venues such as restaurants, bars, health clubs, casinos, banks, and even the rooms of host hotels during themed conventions. Targeted ads for in-house products could include featured menu items in restaurants, drink promotions in bars, sports drinks and concessions in fitness clubs, financial products in banks, and amenities and featured restaurant promos in hotels.

Implementation of our system is straightforward: TVPOS AdServers dedicated to each monitored channel are installed in the client's audiovisual equipment rack, requiring only power, an internet connection, and standard or HD baseband television feeds. The equipment interfaces easily with the client's A/V distribution system to best deliver the desired network programming and in-house advertisements to their captive audience.

Our servers can be configured to deliver in-house ads by run of schedule, or by a client's unique scheduling requirements. Ads are distributed to the servers via an Internet connection as required, and a summary of ad runtimes and frequencies can be generated for client use or billing purposes.
TVPOS services include identification of client advertising needs and potential revenue streams, media development and presentation, external billing support, system installation and support, and customization of hardware and software to suit clients' needs.

We have compelling evidence and feedback from marketing efforts that there is a significant demand for our services in the U.S. and abroad. Our efforts so far have been aimed at developing and perfecting our technology to answer the needs of the market and to chart a strategy to fulfill them. We welcome strategic partnerships or software license opportunities for those companies in the digital signage markets that are looking to create a significant edge over their competitors.

I'm told TV POS is currently looking to license the technology to anyone who wishes to integrate it into their existing digital signage solution.

Anyone interested should contact Dennis at 615-781-2818 or via email:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Advice for anyone looking to deploy digital signage "on the cheap"

The digital signage market is flooded with low-cost alternatives to traditional PCs.  You have solutions based on Raspberry PI, Android and Smart TVs.  These technologies offer a wide range of possibilities at a very attractive price point.

Here is some advice for anyone looking to deploy digital signage "on the cheap"...

First off, there are tons of cheap Android devices on the market today.  These come in many shapes and sizes (the ubiquitous "fat USB key" and square "puck") you can stick behind a screen with a strip of Velcro. Then you have digital signage CMS providers that let you download and install their apps on your own Android device which makes the whole setup quick and easy.  In many cases you can pay a monthly fee for the server access and you are good to go!

Sounds too good to be true?  Well, I'm afraid it is.  There is more to it than just loading an app on any old Android device.  I've been spending some time testing these types of devices with various digital signage apps and I can tell you it's not for the faint hearted.  Playback performance and reliability is all over the map and the main culprit is a lack of Android OS optimization (also known as "ROM" customization).

Since most are derived from consumer Android tablet hardware you will often find Netflix, YouTube and many other apps sitting on the desktop, eating up precious storage space.   You also need to deal with a menu bar, clock and other notifications permanently displayed on your screens.  Cleaning up all that junk will take a lot of time and patience. Trust me, there is nothing worse than having to debug one of these things.

Compare this to a CMS vendor's own hardware.  When you purchase an Android device pre-loaded with a CMS vendor's app, you also benefit from their custom ROM development.  The OS interface is tweaked to ensure only the content is displayed full screen.  Vendors will often include some type of watchdog app that ensures the device is monitored and runs smoothly.  This is all rolled up into the ROM and replicated across all their units ensuring consistent results.

So when you buy a cheap Android unit off Aliexpress or some other offshore e-commerce site, remember you won't get any of this optimization.  You won't get any watchdog apps.  You're on your own so you better like tinkering with ROMs and spending a lot of time on Android forums.

In my opinion, purchasing a "fully baked" Android player from a reputable vendor makes a lot of sense. You can assume the devices have been optimized and tested for 24/7/365 use.  The ROMs are clean and there is no bloatware.  Best of all you benefit from technical support and a warranty if something ever goes wrong.

Sub-$40 devices are easy to find but in the end this stuff needs to work.

Here are a few vendors who ship Android hardware with their own software pre-installed :

A quick Google search will bring up many, many more...