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While The National Retail Federation (better known as NRF) celebrated its 101st birthday this past week, I made my very first trip to retail's Big Show. As a newbie to the NRF's Big Show, it's difficult for me to say that this was digital signage's coming out party; however, one could not argue against the tremendous digital signage presence and buzz at this year's show.

Nearly every major player in digital signage seemed to be there. It was also Avnet's first year to feature a large signage presence in our booth, and we are already planning to go bigger in 2013!

I spoke to a number of vendors who didn't believe they were "in the digital signage market." "We make kiosks," they said. I smiled. Whether or not a particular company actually sold digital signage, it was difficult to find a booth that wasn't using digital signage! I am, of course, being generous, as many still used consumer-grade televisions, but you get the point (and see the potential).

There was definitely no shortage of large or beautiful (but not so portable) video walls. I cringed watching the setup of these massive walls, but mostly the teardown. I won't name names, but let's just say a display or two may not be reusable for next year's show.

Portability isn't a huge area of strength for video walls or digital signage in general; however some nice wheeled video wall mounts from Peerless are changing that a bit.

If NRF is any indication, digital signage is poised for a huge breakout year in retail.

As I recently shared with EE Catalog, content providers are on the cusp of what's possible for new technologies to help them not only immerse, but measure their increasingly distracted audience. And there was no question the show backed this statement up with what seemed like dozens of demonstrations of Intel's AIM Suite and competing analytics software platforms scattered about the show floor.

The emerging technologies to drive and measure ROI seem to be moving right past the emerging phase and into prime time, propelling the signage industry to some truly stellar growth.

Of course, I must also mention (to the surprise of no one) that touch is becoming more prolific every day, providing what is currently — and for the foreseeable future — the most intuitive way to interact with a digital sign. Gesturing was present, but clearly will take a while to reach a significant adoption rate due to the lack of a common gesturing language. The industry must unite to decide if we should wave our hands, close our fists or jump up and down to perform a desired action.

Sleek is always chic, but now it's affordable! Both large and small format displays showed up in their Sunday best, dressed in thinning bezels, flat glass fronts and plenty of curves (rounded edges) and touch friendly!

A few even chose to "bare it all" by going transparent. Both the Planar and Stratacache booths featured transparent refrigerator doors. There was hardly trouble walking around and identifying new applications for these transparent displays (think about transparent mannequins or vending machine fronts).

3-D was not nearly as prominent as it was at CES, however there were a few industrialized versions that didn't require glasses (including Magnetic 3D's demo in the Avnet booth) and showed some practical retail applications of content.

Overall, it was a great showing and momentous start to 2012 for digital signage!

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Latest posts by Jon Parks
Jon Parks
Jon is a product marketing manager for Avnet's Brilliant Digital Signage, focused on building supplier relationships driving digital signage solutions for Avnet's reseller and OEM/ISV customers. He's has been with Avnet for five years supporting supplier marketing for the Embedded and Sales Acceleration groups.
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