Monday, January 26, 2015

Intel beefs up its NUC line with faster processors, better specs

Android gets a lot of press with their digital signage devices but that isn't stopping Intel from expanding its PC offerings.  In fact, Intel's NUC or Next Unit of Computing line will expand with more processor options for 2015.  NUC models will soon be available with an i3, i5 or i7 processor.  One model (NUC5i3MYHE) is specifically designed for kiosk and digital signage use but nothing's preventing you from selecting a more powerful model for multi-screen installations.

Intel/Windows is still attractive for many industrial and commercial applications.  The big advantages being remote access and maintenance, especially if you select an Intel vPro model (Core i5 or i7). That's one area where Android is still lagging.

Here is another reason for Intel NUCs appeal.  Many CMS products still only support Windows.

Before the Intel NUC, folks sometimes used Mac Minis running Windows as their main digital signage player hardware.  The Mac Mini's format meant they were easy to hide behind a display screen but Intel's new hardware is half that size and it has very competitive specs.

Intel NUC continues to be a great option for many digital signage applications.

Here is a great article on ZDNet that covers the specs in detail.  There is also more information about the new NUC models on Intel's web site.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Microsoft Holographic shows us the future of wayfinding

Microsoft is trying very hard to be cool again as the company announces a new technology that uses a headset to superimpose holographic images right in front of your eyes.  Created by the folks behind the Kinnect, the Microsoft HoloLens headset lets 3D holograms integrate with the real world.  You can display video screens, icons and other graphical elements in full 3D within your field of vision.  Holograms can be fully interactive and this is where things can get really interesting.

Imagine a world where information currently delivered through an interactive kiosk gets freed up from its confines.  You can walk a trade show floor or visit a museum and have access to a wealth of information displayed right in front of you, blended into the physical world. This goes way further than current mobile applications because the holographic media becomes part of the environment. 

I can see a parallel with Google Glass, and we all know how that went.  Now, it's easy to criticize their experiment but Google was testing something entirely new. Based on Microsoft's announcement, I'm sure we will see improved versions of Google Glass and other similar technologies before long.

With Microsoft jumping into the fray, it's becoming quite evident that sensory based computing is here to stay and this will have huge implications for interactive kiosks, wayfinding and even digital signage.

Expect some interesting times ahead!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The pros and cons of smart displays

Some of the biggest names in electronics have been selling smart LCD screens that feature on board media players.  At first glance this seems a great idea but are smart displays for everyone?

This article is a reflection on the pros and cons of this approach so you can make an informed choice when selecting the right technology for your project. This is not intended at criticism of any specific brand or model.

What's great about smart displays.

  1. Simplified digital signage installation.
  2. Simplified content deployment and management.
...and many other advantages, such as the cost of the player hardware, operating system and basic CMS software are all included in the price of the display so you will pay less than if you were buying all the components separately.  Also, smart displays require a minimal amount of preparation work before they're up an running.  It's basically all plug and play and many products are supported by third party software developers who can deliver more advanced features than the basic CMS included with the display.  One last thing... No wires or devices hanging behind the screen means neater installation.

So on the positive side, smart displays should be more economical and easier to deploy.  They are a great starting point for folks who don't have access to technical resources and who want to handle their digital signage installation on their own.  Think small convenience stores, restaurants and bars...  These displays are easy to buy and you get to display your content with a minimum amount of fuss.

Why haven't they taken over the market yet?

There are some applications that are still out of reach.  For example, many smart displays can't synchronize content across multiple screens and their basic CMS can't handle advanced scheduling and multi-zoned content. Smart displays are often delivered with a series of canned layouts that can't be easily modified or personalized. In some cases the operating systems and built-in CMS can't be upgraded or patched.

Many first generation smart display products were little more than glorified digital picture frames where you slipped in a SD card and the built-in hardware would let you loop the content indefinitely. Since then, many display manufacturers have bundled free desktop software that will let you organize content with a bit more control but it's still very basic.  

Newer products offer improved CMS features but they lag behind dedicated software from third party developers.

It's easy to understand why this category hasn't been more popular when you realize integrated devices are usually more difficult to repair and near impossible to upgrade.  If the media player or memory storage fails in a smart display, you have have to remove and ship out the display.   If your digital signage uses external PCs, Android media players or even OPS hardware, you can swap the media player without having to replace the screen. You're back in business faster and you can even swap out components if you ever decide to upgrade them later.

The solution? Do your homework.

Don't just base your purchase decision on price alone.  What may look appealing at first glance may not be practical in a year or two.  Consider more than one product and keep in mind your long term needs.

While you can create and maintain restaurant menus on smart displays alone, some of the best menu boards installations are still driven from a single PC feeding multiple displays.  Using external hardware components may require a bit more integration and technical expertise but in the long run you may find it's worth the expense.

There is a definite market for smart displays and I expect this sector will continue to grow.  In my opinion, the biggest factor preventing a more widespread acceptance is the lack of a common operating system.  OS fragmentation means you can't easily integrate solutions from different display vendors.  You get less CMS options because there are less incentive for third party developers to support multiple operating systems and proprietary hardware.

This probably explains why OPS enabled displays remain so popular and why the media player market is still booming.