IBC Report - Digital designs

For the first time this year’s IBC had a dedicated area for digital signage vendors, signalling perhaps that the broadcast industry is not yet ready to surrender this key sector to the AV fraternity. Chris Fitzsimmons reports from the RAI in Amsterdam.

Whilst we often write about how much ISE is growing, or InfoComm or any other show for that matter, all of these pale into insignificance when faced with a behemoth such as IBC.

Covering some 12 halls of the RAI site our visit this year was more of a surgical strike than an attempt to cover the whole thing in any meaningful way. The target this time was the newly introduced digital signage pavilion.

At first sight it has to be said that it was significantly underwhelming. It consisted of around 8 booths on the second level of the conference centre. However, further investigation revealed exhibitors who were impressed with both the quantity and quality of visitors who had made the effort to find them.

Chief amongst them was Digishow. The company’s Chris Fulton has been working with IBC to promote Digital Signage for a number of years. Whilst he also exhibits at ISE, it was his view that the people he saw at IBC were more of the kind he was looking for. “We’re looking to sell our products at enterprise level, and here we’ve seen the major consultants come by specifically to see the digital signage pavilion. We need to work with companies who know how to integrate our products fully. I’ve been really pleased with the number of interested parties.”

Just before I spoke to Chris he was deep in conversation with another interested party, whilst his colleague was discussing display options with some gentlemen from the UAE.

Also in the pavilion were Panasonic, and partner company U-Touch. The ubiquitous (at IBC at any rate) 103” plasma was on display, show-casing U-Touch’s touch screen technology. The 103” was everywhere at IBC, demonstrating that for digital signage it’s an excellent, and eye catching option.

Interactivity seems to be the new string to digital signage’s bow, giving the viewer a more immersive experience and enriching the content available.

One of the concerns that has vexed those involved in digital signage thus far is how to make decent money out of it. There are few companies that can tick all the boxes in terms of supplying everything required. You need displays, software and players / hardware, a distribution solution, someone to install the systems and also, importantly, someone to do the selling.

The solution is of course partnership, one that has so far been employed very well in the USA, but remains a slow starter in the EMEA market for some reason. However, in the digital signage pavilion one such fledgling relationship was on show.

Technology solutions provider Bell Micro has brought together ViewSonic, AOpen, Best Wave and Matrox under one banner to deliver a complete digital signage offering. Bell will be providing installation and sales services, working with the four technology vendors to fulfil display, software & hardware requirements.

One company that certainly is capable of doing most of this is alone Sony. Its digital signage products currently come under the auspices of Eric Siereveld the company’s Director of Retail, Transport & Venues as well as Media. He took time out from a franticly busy booth to talk about it.

“Our corporate strategy for the digital signage market is to take the pain away from customers by offering them a managed service.”

Sony is able to leverage its display business along with the Ziris software platform to cover everything from management of content to displaying it. Its professional services arm is then on hand to manage and carry out the installation, or to work with installation partners.

The company gave a first outing to what it terms Ziris Canvas at IBC. This is a multi-display solution allowing for more creative arrays of screens that is currently possible with Ziris. Up until now it has been very much a conventional network of screens proposition.

The system uses a master computer running Ziris to “cut up” an image for display on multiple screens. Interestingly Sony has again taken an unusual approach to the controller for each display. Whilst it already offers the option of using onboard cards or Mac Minis as the control device, Canvas makes use of the processing power of a Playstation 3. Yes, that’s right each display is plugged into its own PS3, via and HDMI cable, running Ziris client software.

Whilst that sounds (and is) a pretty expensive solution the PS3 route offers Sony a number of advantages. Firstly it’s a games console, so it’s an established and stable platform to run on. They are designed to take long operating hours. Secondly it’s a standard product. In the event of a failure you can simply pull out one and put a new one in. Thirdly, it has full HD capabilities and an extremely powerful processor. One of the limitations to many players is their horsepower, and the PS3 certainly doesn’t lack that. Finally Sony are producing thousands of these each month for the consumer market, far more than competitors would for simple signage players. For this reason, despite being an expensive solution, it is still far cheaper than you might expect for a player of that power.

Perhaps another reason why IBC is keen to develop the signage pavilion is the increasing number of “broadcast” vendors who are strongly involved in that space. The likes of Harris and Thomson Grass Valley both have products. Thomson’s MediaEdge solution is a video over IP pushing solution, focused on delivering high quality images over corporate networks.

Harris was showing additions to the Infocast system, first seen at InfoComm in June, and whilst the digital signage is clearly not its first concern the product was afforded a significant presence on the booth.

The attraction of IBC as a digital signage vehicle must surely be the content creation and delivery angle. It seems that there is a movement to try to bundle up signage, with mobile TV and other media into the broadcast package but there are problems with that approach. You still need to address the sales and installation pieces of the puzzle, which are probably better represented amongst the system integration fraternity to be found at ISE. Strangely enough, ISE will also be going to town on digital signage, using the preferred term DOOH. The 2009 event will feature a DOOH business conference with a range of speakers.

The last word surely must go to Eric Siereveld who tellingly remarked: “I don’t think that IBC is a key show for digital signage, I’d be surprised to see a retail customer walk on here with a project in mind. However I don’t think ISE is the answer either, for the same reason. More likely you will see these people in their own environment – the retail exhibitions.”

IBC 2009 will take place 10-14 September at the Amsterdam RAI.

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