Blog: Jeff Hastings 
Jeff Hastings (Bio)
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  |  
Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Our vibrant industry is evolving its technology base faster than ever. 4K was first talked about at CES, and already screens are appearing everywhere from high end to low end. Integrators are now using more and more full-HD streaming media servers to lower the cost of video distribution. Content developers are incorporating their HTML5 Web assets into digital signage content, leveraging an investment already made in content creation.

The social media generation expects to interact with signage rather than just view it, and the technologies that support this interaction, like touch control and swipe, continue to be deployed more and more. Customers' expectations are calibrated by the devices in their pockets. Signage networks are increasingly enabling customers to engage through Twitter, Facebook or other platforms. Local store managers also expect to be able to control their signs from their smartphone with an app — as well as via a Web browser.

The Internet is driving digital signage technology in other ways too, making it essential for signage to update in real-time in response to fluctuations in the market, weather or news events. Displays installed at 40-plus Western Union International Bank currency exchanges, for example, are updated continuously with the latest exchange rates by intelligently pulling data from their business system.

Some of these changes started in 2013, and many have now transitioned from being a nice-to-have, to an essential feature during the year. As you consider your investment in digital signage in 2014, make sure that the products and equipment you are selecting not only fully support the changes that have already taken place, but also have a good roadmap for supporting new technologies as they evolve. Future-proofing is a key issue for digital signage network owners.

All of the trends will develop and extend in 2014, and new paradigms will emerge. Don't get stranded with products that are static. Be sure you are buying into a flexible platform that will evolve in lockstep with emerging technologies.

Posted by: Admin AT 01:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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