Creating impact

When it comes to the rapidly evolving world of digital signage, two features dominate and contribute to the success of installation: impact and immediacy. Impact delivers the ability to draw viewers’ eyes to a single screen in a world of digital and analogue information overload. Immediacy ensures that once attracted, the viewer sees something that is applicable and up-to-date, writes Steve Montgomery.

Whilst any public screen, whether it is plasma, LCD, LED or projection with almost any content, counts under the heading of digital signage, it is the networked, purpose-designed, information, advertorial, graphic system that truly counts. The market is huge enough to attract the attention and the product development teams of the largest manufacturers; companies such as Samsung, Sony and NEC who have embraced the market with products aimed specifically at it. Products that cover both hardware, with dedicated public displays and software, with networkable content delivery and display management suites. And because the market is so large, considerable investment has been made into product development, resulting in ranges of products specific to the digital signage market

Modern LCD and other displays have been enhanced with feature sets over and above normal panels to suit the demands and requirements of digital signage applications. Many manufacturers use the term “public displays” to differentiate them from the more general “TV“ versions. Typically, public displays feature better reliability, ruggedness and operational features, with an associated increase in price of around 100 percent. Maxime Clairet, Public Display Product Manger for Sony explains: “Professional panels are designed to operate 24 hours per day, seven hours per week and need to be stronger and have greater reliability than domestic units. Our new GXD 52” panel is IP30 rated to operate in dusty and damp conditions with convection rather than forced air cooling, so can be used in covered locations on railway stations and similar sites. The forthcoming FWD 42” and 47” models are new full HD and slim bezel designs.”

Taking it a stage further, Unicol have developed an IP53 rated housing in their ODH, outdoor housing range for 40” to 46” displays. Paul Edwards, Unicol’s Marketing Manager comments: “Originally designed as public information and digital signage display housings for shopping centres and transport terminals, we have found that a lot of our dealers have been successful in installing them in factories where there is a lot of dust, and pub gardens for outdoor viewing.” The company has extended the product line to include kiosks with back-to-back 50” panels inside, likely to grow to include 65” screens in the future. Whilst still in its infancy, they indicate a rising need for high quality, environmentally sealed and secure display housings. Further bespoke developments indicate the size and viability of the marketplace, Unicol recently constructed a video wall mounting system with easy access mechanism for LCD video walls that was first installed at Niketown in Oxford Street in London. The Adapta-Wall system provides vertical frames to mount 3 or 4 screens on top of one another. A number of these frames are fixed to a wall or structure to make up the video wall array, whilst allowing individual screens to be easily replaced.

We are all more than familiar with the standard 16:9 format of the standard TV screen and hence the normal display used in landscape mode. Until recently most displays were mounted in this orientation, but nowadays more are being installed in portrait mode to raise the level of impact and to replicate paper-based billboards. There is, or was a problem in doing so. Various effects such as ‘plasma drop’ where the plasma gas inside the backlight fluorescent tubes falls under gravity to create uneven brightness, and various cooling irregularities has contributed to a reduction in reliability in screens mounted the wrong way. Both Sony and LG have solved this problem. Sony’s Maxime Clairet: “The new displays work equally horizontally and vertically. They automatically sense the orientation and rotate the on-screen menu as well as the backlit screen logo to suit.” LG Electronics’ Roeland Scholten, Commercial Director, Business to Business, agrees: “We offer a three year warranty on professional displays into the professional market whether they are used in horizontal or vertical mode. For various reasons however there is still a slight difference resulting in shortened life of portrait screens of 40,000 hours compared with 60,000 for landscape ones, although 42” and 47” professional monitors do not have any lifetime difference.”

An issue that has plagued plasma screens for many years is screen burn, the process in which a fixed image will burn into the panel so that it will remain there even when the power is switched off. Whilst not such an issue with LCD, it cannot be prevented and will occur on long retained images. Content designers should be briefed to change layouts on a regular basis to prevent it as far as possible.

LG also has recently launched another LCD product designed for the digital signage market; with more to follow later in the year, to create impact and attract viewers’ attention, as Roeland Scholten explains: “The Long, Thin Displays are half-screen displays in two sizes; 766mm x 308mm and 988mm x 330mm, with resolutions of 1366 x 480 and 1366 x 398 pixels. Both can be operated in the normal way from a PC source displaying half a desktop, making it simple for designers to create content. The advantage is that they can be installed in far more situations than normal screens; above tills in shops and over doorways and our research has shown that far more people take notice of them than more distant or less obvious larger screens. The size and shape make them ideal for in-store advertising in a number of locations.” He continues: “Later this year we will release transflective displays that are much stronger than conventional ones, so strong in fact that they can be hit without breaking, and very thin bezel units, bringing the surround down to about 10mm. Also to come are ‘Totem’ displays for external use and ideal for shopping malls.”

Small bezels will be generally welcomed in the industry, particularly where matrix or tiled video walls are installed. For some time Plasma has been available in completely bezel-less format, but this has not been an option for LCD, and is unlikely even in the near future with current technology. Several manufacturers include inbuilt processing and image scaling to allow larger displays to be constructed. Barrie Guy, Head of Large Format Displays for NEC Display Solutions explains: “Larger screens create greater visual impact and whilst they are appearing in ever greater sizes, it is often more economic and convenient to build a wall of smaller units. Our NEC 20 series thin bezel range has a tiling feature that automatically scales the image and sets it’s position in the wall. We have just worked very successfully with HSquared to install two 2 x 2 walls in the Liverpool FC football store and with Mood Media on a 4 x 4 wall at Niketown.”

Samsung offers what it calls the Matrix Display system. A number of its public display LCD panels such as the 460PX(n) and the 320PX include a built-in image enlarging processor which supports a number of wall formats. Arrays can be made from 2x2 up to 5x5 as well as 1x5 and 5x1 strips for more innovative installations. No other video controller device is necessary to create the wall. There is also an interesting mounting option which allows three or four sided, free-standing stacks of displays to be created.

Mitsubishi have taken note of the need for impact and branched out with a brand new, unique, highly impactful display for the digital signage market. This is single piece 140” LED, using 4mm LEDs. Each unit has a resolution of 768 x 448 pixels with a range of video inputs and is capable of producing 1500 cd/m2. c

As for integration, a digital signage system comprises several components that need to be installed in an often very space-restricted site. It makes sense to integrate the separate components as far as possible to simplify this task. A number of manufacturers have addressed this issue by adding PC cards, memory slots and network components within the display or on optional cards incorporated in the display. Sony’s BKMFW50 plug-in card combined with the Ziris software suite is a powerful combination providing local processor, CF card reader, networking and screen control. Maxime Clairet: “Ziris software, coupled with the receiving adapter is a very user friendly way of controlling a network of screens from a single web page to download content, manage the display and monitor the health of each display. It makes it very easy to install and remotely configure a screen network thus simplifying the integrator’s task and enhancing overall reliability.”

NEC also offers a range of public display solutions, also based on slot options, with available plug-in modules to provide a CAT 5 receiver, HD-SDI input, single board computer, and DVI daisy chain board. Barrie Guy: “By separating the screen from the option card, rather than incorporating the function into the display allows parallel development of both technologies. From a user maintenance point of view it is simpler to change a card in situ, than to remove and replace a whole monitor, particularly with health and safety issues and restricted access to screen sites: it is invariably the extra processing that fails rather than a professional display. In order to extend the range of features we have made both hardware and software an open standard so that third parties can develop applications and cards for our displays that they can market separately. An accreditation scheme verifies that they are compatible with the display and give users confidence in them.”

Panasonic specialises in very large plasma screens, with a range including 65” and 103” displays. Two of the 103” displays were recently installed as an eye catching digital signage display at the Bluewater shopping centre. John Anderson, European Technical Manager for Flat Panel Displays explains some of the features that make them ideal for this type of application: “With toughened glass, plasma is ideal for low-risk public areas – at Gatwick we tested the screens to simulate accidental knocking with skis to ensure that they would not break in crowded holiday periods. We have a vast range of plug in EINS cards, including processors, networking, wireless connectivity and storage devices as well as HD input processing. A new feature for plasma, including the 103” display is an internal chop and rotate feature that splits an image into three and rotates each section. This allows three plasma screens to be mounted in portrait mode side by side and fed with one normal picture. So you can have a giant 192“ (diagonal) image with a resolution of 3240 x 1920 pixels. Future additions to the input option cards include fibre input with a capability to extend the connection up to 1.5 kilometres.”

Clearly the digital signage industry is buoyant, driven by market demand and with a whole set of large manufacturers responding to it. It is, in these credit crunch times, perhaps one of the few industries where business is on the increase.

Article Categories

Most Viewed