Screen trends for digital signage in 2014

By Richard Ventura

Vice President of Product Marketing and Solutions, NEC Display Solutions of America

As we get ready to turn the page on the calendar to next year, now is the perfect time to start prognosticating on the digital signage front for 2014.

Here are three areas that promise to be of growing interest and focus in the next year:

  • Video Walls
  • Touch-enabled Displays
  • Ultra High-definition Resolutions

Experiential video walls

While video walls have been around for a while, expectations are still growing. Consumers are intrigued by their size and presence. But back in 2008, those same consumers were mesmerized by them. Today, video walls have to create experiences to draw people in. The "wow" factor is still a key objective for retailers, universities, restaurants and other venues. But experience will be paramount.

As the seams between large-screen displays shrink, the opportunity for further creativity grows, and it's no longer just about disseminating information. People want impactful digital signage. For example, retailers want to redesign their store environments so they can set themselves apart from their competition and establish industry leadership. Creative video walls immerse consumers into brands and into the stores themselves. But just about any industry or organization trying to establish a brand impression is ripe for a video wall.

Walk into any major building on a college campus. The alumni and donors want to see how their universities express creativity, display advanced technology and espouse leadership. The same holds true for corporate offices and their lobbies. A first handshake with a prospect or partner often happens in front of a video wall. Grandeur is at stake here. So is brand-building. The retail environment is primed for the creation of an awe-inspiring video wall — just look at the large video wall at AT&T's flagship store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

Falling prices of panels have helped forge the popularity of video walls. Today, organizations can create video wall systems that are larger and are able to display extremely high video resolutions. Software companies like Hiperwall are driving these immense high definition video walls and content beyond the normal limitations of video processing technologies. The result often is a more cost-effective and higher quality digital canvas with immense levels of content and video capabilities. The new LCD video wall displays are lighter; they last longer, and deliver pictures that are cleaner and crisper than the older generation video wall systems. The higher resolutions even lend themselves to the experience that organizations are trying to deliver.

Video walls can even compete with very large single digital screens. There are still 150-inch plasma displays and LCDs now approaching 100 inches. As awesome as big displays are in their own right, they are limited with respect to their resolutions. With video walls, installers can utilize very high resolutions on each screen — reaching almost 6K by 5K. That's a higher resolution than one can achieve on a single screen. Video walls lend themselves to creativity and diversity, and that's why they will be more experiential in 2014.

The interactive society with touch

Smartphones, tablets, laptops and other "smart" communications devices are driving a truly interactive society. That interactivity involves one of the most fundamental of human senses, too — touch.

In the past, interaction was passive: Digital screens displayed content with a call to action. Buy this burger for $0.99, for example. But now the interaction is active and physical, between a consumer and his/her device.

Still, it's more than just interacting with a device. Today the interaction could be using NFC (near-field communications), augmented reality or other technologies to connect one's device to a large digital screen or video wall.

While currently, touch displays make up just a small part of the overall digital signage equation, the numbers are set to explode in the coming years. This is based on the number of inquiries from customers and prospects, and the goal to connect with target audiences, especially for industries where there is a lot of foot traffic — airports, malls, transportation hubs, college campuses, etc.

Microsoft Windows 8 will also drive touch interactivity. As will the continued growth of iOS-based devices from Apple and Android devices as well.

In the past, where brands would implement video walls to make a huge splash, they will now look at how they go beyond just the walls. They will touch-enable those video walls to connect with customers in immersive, experiential ways.

That's where multitouch technologies come to the fore — giving the ability for several people to be interacting with the same large canvas concurrently. Laser, infrared, overlays and camera-based touch systems can facilitate that experiential opportunity.

Brands are even shrinking the sizes of some of their stores in favor of increasing their presence and number of locations. Many are building more pop-up stores for malls, or kiosks on college campuses.

Consumers want to feel, touch and interact with brands. And brands will be ready to oblige in 2014 through touch.

The ascent of Ultra-HD technologies

Ultra-High Definition Displays, or Ultra-HD, also known as 4K by 2K, are part of a platform still in its infancy. There's little content, and the prices for such display are high. Still, all the major display manufacturers were showcasing 4K technology at InfoComm13 this past summer. It's a technology ready to make a big splash in certain places.

At a resolution of 3840 by 2160, the finite details of an image or video are truly being shown. The color levels and details are at levels that prior technologies could not show. These details are so fine that one does not get the full benefits of this high resolution until you are further away from the screen.

From my perspective, early adopters of Ultra-HD technology will be specialty retailers and other niche players seeking to make a big impression. It may not even be something that is deployed in every store. Perhaps the flagship locations in major markets will be the lucky ones to experience it first. Some government and higher education institutions also may be early adopters for research purposes.

Like other technologies, Ultra-HD adoption will ultimately be driven by consumers, when those Ultra-HD televisions eventually come down in price. But it's not too early to start thinking about how Ultra-HD fits into your digital signage strategy.

These are just a few trends — experiential video walls, the growth of touch-enabled digital signage and Ultra-HD resolutions — to consider for 2014. While there are others, these three are poised to help organizations deliver stronger brands and other desired business outcomes in the coming year.

Richard Ventura is vice president of product marketing and solutions at commercial LCD display and projector solutions provider NEC Display Solutions of America Inc. (www.necdisplay.com). He can be reached at rventura@necdisplay.com.

Copyright © Platt Retail Institute 2013 and reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. See the entire PRI Journal of Retail Analytics at www.plattretailinstitute.org/JRA.

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