Blog: Jeff Hastings 
Jeff Hastings (Bio)
Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A construction boom is happening globally. Professional and collegiate athletic facilities around the world are either being renovated or built new from the ground up. A reported $3.6 billion was spent on stadium works for the World Cup alone. Wikipedia chronicles an extensive list of 75 stadiums currently under construction around the world with seating capacity from 5,000 up to 100,000.

What's interesting to me is to observe how integral a role digital signage is playing in bringing about this next generation of sporting venues. The economics of spectator sport complexes has changed dramatically. In these newer facilities, you would have a hard time going anywhere that wasn't within eyeshot of a digital screen. Believe it or not, 30 years ago the "Jumbotron" next to the scoreboard was the only screen in the entire place. Now we have screens at the concession stands, in restaurants, in seat backs, in the causeway, in VIP hospitality suites and even in the bathrooms. And those grainy jumbotrons have been replaced by LED screens measuring hundreds of feet across. This is clearly an enormous opportunity for the digital signage industry.

No doubt the proliferation of digital displays in sporting venues has revolutionized the spectator experience. But beyond this obvious development, I believe that digital signage has opened up a huge opportunity for stadium owners to generate additional revenue by hosting events outside their core sports. These new venues now host corporate functions, private receptions, other sporting events and even community events. A BIG reason this is now possible is that signage is no longer static. With the flip of a switch, every screen in the stadium can change over to reflect another corporate (or team) identity. The chameleon-like ability of these new venues to reinvent themselves to accommodate additional teams and organizations gives near-limitless possibilities to the number of and types of events a stadium can host.

There's no turning back — every new sporting facility will be built for visual impact, and designed with digital signage at the core of the fan experience. Fans will enjoy a much richer experience in the stands, and stadium owners will enjoy new revenue streams with a dramatic increase in outside events they can host.

Posted by: Admin AT 11:06 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 02 September 2014

For months now, nearly everyone in the digital signage industry (myself included) has been cheering the eagerly anticipated arrival of 4K. To say that our industry is poised for the transition to 4K is an understatement — we are ready, our customers are ready, but is the technology itself ready for mass adoption? The answer is yes, but with a few caveats.

All along I've cautioned that "true 4K" is only achievable under a set of very particular circumstances. More specifically, H.265-encoded 4K content at a pixel resolution of 3840-by-2160 must be output to a display at the full frame rate of 60p.

It's not as easy as you might think to achieve the true 4K workflow described above. In particular, there are a few links in the 4K chain that are proving difficult to navigate at this early stage of 4K's path to mainstream adoption.

First and foremost, you need to find a 4K display with an HDMI 2.0 input. While these displays are readily available in the consumer market (Panasonic and Samsung were among the first to ship consumer 4K displays with HDMI 2.0), commercial displays with HDMI 2.0 are harder to come by. This will likely change in the months ahead as more manufacturers bring HDMI 2.0-enabled 4K displays to market.

H.265 encoding is another challenge. Elemental Technologies offers a robust solution, however it's best suited for commercial broadcast applications. I was excited to learn that Main Concept, a leader in the compression space, is offering a sub-$500 encoding solution that has the potential to become the de facto standard for H.265 encoding for all non-broadcast 4K applications.

To be clear, 4K is here and will gain steady momentum in the months ahead. But as always, I suggest caution as customers, installers and integrators invest in 4K digital signage. Wise, informed choices now help ensure a deployment that’s future-proofed for years to come.

Posted by: Admin AT 03:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 21 January 2014

We're only a couple of weeks into January and we've already kicked off our busy trade show season. As I was flying home from Las Vegas fresh off a very successful CES show, I was reflecting on my time perusing the show floor — most notably, that 4K was everywhere. For months I've been asserting that this will be the breakout year for 4K, but it's downright exciting to see that materialize in the form of trade show booths decked out with brilliant, beautiful 4K displays.

The arrival of 4K brings excitement and possibilities. But lurking behind all this buzz is the reality that there's a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding 4K. Perhaps the most important point of confusion is that many believe you can enjoy 4K quality by simply purchasing a 4K-capable product. This simply isn't the case. You need to think of 4K as an ecosystem — a collection of individual parts that exist as a whole only when they work in harmony. This is especially true of 4K in the context of digital signage.

It's important to understand what exactly constitutes "native 4K" content. For video content to be true 4K, the source content must have a resolution of 3840x2160, with a frame rate of 60 fps. Anything less simply isn't 4K.

This 4K content makes quite a journey from capture to display, and it's essential that the content's properties remain preserved throughout that journey. The first step in this process is encoding. Many of us are familiar with H.264, the video compression standard for conventional HD content. 4K brings about a new standard called H.265, or "High Efficiency Video Coding," or HEVC. H.265 interprets this extremely data-rich 4K content and compresses it in much more efficient ways to deliver 10 bits/channel for extremely smooth, high-quality video resolution at a manageable bitrate. The diagram below illustrates the process I described above.

It's important to note that while 4K is leading the transition to H.265, this new codec also benefits 1080p content. Current comparisons show that H.265 is twice as efficient as H.264 when compressing 1080p content. H.265 is versatile and efficient, and I expect it to quickly become the standard for encoding digital signage content.

As a company, we are partnering closely with Elemental Technologies because they have proven to supply the encoding horsepower required to deliver a true 4K viewing experience. Elemental is the first to implement the HEVC specification with the capability of processing 4Kp60 H.265 content in real-time. The company's award-winning work in HEVC video processing helps create a high-quality viewing experience for 4K media players and displays.

"HEVC provides the potential to dramatically reduce delivery costs across all video profiles and deliver new levels of video quality to bring digital signage to life," Elemental VP of Marketing Keith Wymbs said. "It dramatically impacts the delivery of content display on 4K screens."

Once the encoded video content reaches the player, it needs to be capable of a couple things. First and foremost, it must be able to decode the content on its way to the display. It's critical that the video is reconstituted to its original form — 3840x2160 at 60 fps. Once the content is decoded, it's ready to be sent to the display. To be up to the task, the player must have an HDMI 2.0 output. Most players on the market today ship with an HDMI 1.4a output, which sends content at 3840x2160, but only at 30 fps. Cutting the frame rate in half results in a much choppier viewing experience.

And of course no 4K ecosystem would be complete without a 4K display. Early adopters have been quick to purchase and install these amazing displays. The displays require a significant investment, further underscoring the need to understand the 4K ecosystem to ensure an end-to-end 4K solution.

So with this advice under your belt, I officially welcome you to 201(4K).

Posted by: Admin AT 01:55 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Friday, 01 November 2013

Each year, growth in our category is driven by innovation – advancements in key areas that cause our customers to invest in digital signage to help propel their businesses forward. I believe that 4K will be the catalyst that drives this growth in 2014.

Unfortunately there’s significant trepidation about 4K, so we face the challenge of demystifying the possibilities – explaining the opportunities surrounding an investment in a digital signage deployment that will fully harness the power of 4K in 2014 and beyond.

In much the same way the broadcast industry struggled with HD until 1080p content became commonplace, the digital signage industry will face a similar challenge as 4K begins to hit its stride. For this reason, it is critical that we help our customers future-proof their digital signage investment.

As an example, we had the pleasure of working with Seiki Digital at the IFA tradeshow in Berlin this fall. We partnered to deliver beautiful 1080p up-converted content to their 4K screens and the Seiki displays looked stunning. It was a simple yet powerful demonstration of the same 1080p content delivered to a Full HD display and a new 4K / UHD display side-by-side. The superior picture quality delivered by BrightSign to the 4K UHD screen was quite evident.

In the coming year, signage installations should include screens that are capable of displaying 4K content. The improvement in picture quality is nothing short of outstanding. And even though 4K content may initially be scarce, the screens paired with a media player capable of the highest quality video up-scaling can do a fantastic job of displaying existing Full HD content at 4K resolution.

There will be a lot of excitement around 4K in the coming year. This presents us with an opportunity to prove our worth to our customers – to counsel them on the possibilities for upgrading to 4K signage, and to deliver solutions that will scale seamlessly as they make the migration forward.

Posted by: Admin AT 06:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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