Is the digital signage media player close to extinction?

Sept. 25, 2015 | by Drew Harding

Life as a digital signage media player may feel like a vulnerable place right now with System-on-Chip devices maturing on the market. SoC displays now contribute to 8 percent of the digital signage marketplace, which when estimated to be currently worth $14 billion is quite a substantial impact for relatively young technology.

Samsung's Smart Signage Platform, now on its third generation, has been gaining traction over the years and is now supported by a wide range of software providers globally. LG have followed in Samsung's footsteps and brought their webOS for Digital Signage to the market earlier in 2015 which undoubtedly will be improved upon for 2016. (Editor's note: LG might differ with that timeline; its EZSign TV was one of the earliest "media-player-minus" displays to hit the market.) With this kind of product proving to be an attractive proposition for many businesses, I ask, "Is the digital signage media player close to extinction?"

Media player manufacturers such as ONELAN, AOPEN, IAdea, iBase and countless others out there have made and continue to make reliable, high performing products, but are these media players becoming less relevant? I am no psychic (Who is?!?!) so cannot tell the future, but what I can do is make a prediction based on my experience.

But before I do that, let's evaluate SoC vs. the media player…

To evaluate SoC vs. the media player for every possible use case is extremely difficult due to the sheer number of possible digital signage projects, hardware options and configurations. So, what I will try to do is touch on each of the below areas in broader terms and base the information on the most common use case, which is: wall-mounted 43- to 49-inch LFD displays for internal use.

Round 1: Cost

A commercial-grade SoC display typically saves you between £400-£500 (approximately $608 to $759 U.S.) or 24 percent to 32 percent compared to traditional digital signage network, according to promoted research by both Samsung and LG. However, Android and Raspberry Pi came along and have had their impact on the way "traditional" networks are now deployed, offering a much cheaper option for a media player. Not to mention the 2015 innovations of Intel's Compute Stick and AOpen's new Chrome OS device. These new low-cost media players provide some alternative reliable options from the traditional media player.

Verdict: SoC wins. Ultimately, buying a SoC display is still likely to save money, as 1) you do not require the external media player, no matter how cheap it may be and 2) there are savings to be made on additional power consumption compared to an external media player

Round 2: Performance

This really boils down to the question of "What is the content requirement?" SoC devices are more than capable of playing multizone content to a high level; however there are some limitations for things such as simultaneous multiple video playback, interactivity and 4K content.

Verdict: Draw. SoC is perfectly suitable for a wide range of digital signage installations, but the media player does provide boosted performance and upgradable hardware for more strenuous content. Both have their performance merits and it's all about the getting the right performance for the project.

Round 3: Installation

SoC displays require Wi-Fi and a plug socket as a minimum. Forgetting configuration for a minute, you can simply hang it on the wall, plug it in and you're done. Although some media players are OPS and can bolt into displays to negate the need for external mounting and power, 78 percent of media players are external to the display. This means for installation you need to get a suitable screen or a wall mount is required plus an additional plug socket and connecting cables.

Verdict: SoC wins. Hands down, SoC displays offer a much cleaner and easier installation.

Round 4: Networking and management

Getting devices configured on the network may require the adding of a proxy and static IPs. Can this be done on SoC displays? Yes. Can this be done on media players? Yes. Remote management, visibility and control of a device is also a very important part of network management. Can this be done on SoC? Yes. Can this be done on media players? Yes. Software updates? Again, can be done on both.

Verdict: Draw. Both SoC and media players provide their own range of networking and management tools needed to run digital signage networks effectively.

Round 5: Flexibility

When talking about flexibility, I'm talking about how easy it is to use in a variety of ways. SoC can be used as an all-in-one display to show multizone content, and some can also be used for touch applications … however, could it easily be used for a touch payment application with advertising elements along with audience measurement? Not really, but the media player can be. What about delivering 4K content to a video wall with a range of display sizes mounted in various angles? Again, not really. A media player provides more flexibility for these types of scenarios based on the range of graphics cards, processors and drivers available.

Verdict: Media player wins. SoC displays can be used in a variety of ways but the media player, based on the number of available components, proves to be a much more flexible option for more complex signage projects.

Summary

As you can see, SoC does offer some very attractive benefits over a traditional media player-led digital signage network. Now, I do not possess any media player manufacturer sales reports; therefore I cannot provide any data to indicate a swing in any direction. However over the past 12 months at Eclipse Digital Media we have seen SoC-based digital signage projects rise a significant 250 percent. Primary drivers for this uptake, based on from client feedback, has been that the SoC displays remove many barriers for adoption, including a simplified installation, lower overall cost and reliable performance.

Further to this, what I can offer is my opinion based on my time in the digital signage industry with Eclipse digital Media. My opinion right now is that as the SoC display technology continues to gain traction, the likes of Samsung and LG are going to have a significant impact on the sales of digital signage media players … and subsequently other commercial display manufacturers that do not offer SoC displays. As the SoC technology matures and even more functionality and features are brought to market, I expect more and more businesses will realize the benefits of digital signage and choose to implement a SoC based network, especially as the majority of signage projects are for small projects, up to 49 displays.

So, does that mean the media player is close to extinction? I don't believe the media player will become extinct, as they currently offer much more scope and diversity to deliver complex signage projects (video walls, ultra-HD content, interactivity, etc.) but I do believe there will be a decline in media player category as SoC continues to rise. Lucky for us, we carry out digital signage projects using digital signage software that supports both SoC displays and a variety of media players.

I'm sure many of you will have a good opinion and insight on this subject, so I welcome any input and comments you may have. Any manufacturers or software providers that would like to share some figures to add some statistical credibility to the conversation would also be welcomed. 


Topics: Content Management, Display Technology, Hardware, Software, Trends / Statistics

Companies: LG Electronics USA, Inc., AOPEN Inc., ONELAN Limited, IBASE Technology USA, Intel Corporation, IAdea



Drew Harding
Drew Harding is head of Sales & Marketing at Eclipse Digital Media, a UK Based Digital Signage company providing end-to-end Digital Signage solutions to multiple industries. wwwView Drew Harding's profile on LinkedIn

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