The evolution of digital signage (Commentary)

By Steve Acquista

Sr. Director of Digital Signage, DT Research

Whether it's in shopping mall, hotel, airport or restaurant, digital signage continues to evolve by offering more than the traditional static message boards that we're used to seeing. We are now embracing complimentary technologies that can invoke a reaction and provide instant benefits and positive experiences for the user and the network owner.

The one-to-many passive sign approach still dominates the majority of the digital signage market today. Whether it's a corporate lobby, retail store, airport or employee break room, passive digital signage is a cost effective way to disseminate information to customers, employees and visitors alike.

Now let's take the same one-to-many signage approach and customize the content to invoke a reaction. We can do this by simply incorporating a QR, or quick response, code into our messaging. Those viewing the sign can scan the code with their smartphone with a QR reader app and be taken to a link that provides additional information, discount coupons, etc.

The adverse to the one-to-many signage approach is the interactive kiosk, which is traditionally designed to address one person at a time. Interactive kiosk-based signage usually requires a touch-active display along with custom programming and mapping of content specific to the application. Becoming proficient in the development of the content for interactive kiosk applications as well as the ability to design and fabricate the kiosks themselves is essential to being successful in the space.

The trend we are seeing more and more is the addition of complementary screens in conjunction to the primary interactive kiosk screen. This approach serves a dual purpose by providing interactive messaging to individuals as well as providing passive messaging to the masses.

Other trends emerging in the interactive signage space is the use of gesture-based technologies. A camera that's connected to the media player focuses on the user's hand movements. This enables the user to interact with the display without physically touching it. Just a wave of the hand, pinching of the fingers or a swipe across the screen is all it takes to zoom in on an image or transition to the next screen page.

Another signage trend we are seeing isn't revolutionary, but with the advancement of multihead media players, disappearing display frames and the overall drop in display pricing, we are seeing the demand increase dramatically for multiscreen arrays and video walls.

Prescribing to the theory that bigger is better, video walls offer high impact and an increase in real estate for more content zone possibilities. The days of daisy chaining a single input to all the screens is being replaced with multihead media players capable of addressing each screen individually or collectively. This allows for more flexibility to manage and render zones to a single screen, over the entire display array, or manage multiple zones of various sizes anywhere on the video wall. All this can now be managed remotely from the central content manager.

Another benefit to multihead media players is that they are usually rack mounted and placed in a central location. By managing and distributing all the outputs from a central head end, you eliminate the need to mount media players behind the displays. This will become even more important as displays get thinner and are mounted closer to the wall.

As digital signage continues to evolve and new trends emerge, it's important to have a clear understanding of the various technologies and the benefits they can deliver. Whether it's a static sign, interactive kiosk or video wall, digital signage continues to deliver results by improving the user's experience and overall productivity.

Acquista is a 20-plus year AV industry veteran and the senior director of digital signage at DT Research, a manufacturer of information appliances including digital signage solutions, mobile tablets and thin clients for the retail, hospitality, health care education, transportation and government markets.

(This commentary piece was adapted from Acquista's commentary in "Digital Signage Future Trends 2012," a comprehensive state-of-the-industry survey, with research showing where the industry has been in the past two years — and where it is heading in the coming years. The report, from Digital Signage Today and DST parent Networld Media Group, is available for purchase here.)

To learn more about the evolution and future of digital signage, be sure to attend today's free webinar, "The evolution of digital signage: Are your installations unique enough to capture attention?" presented by DST and NEC Display Solutions of America at 2 p.m. eastern. You can register for the free, hourlong webinar by clicking here.

Read more about digital signage trends.

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