Blog: Jeff Hastings 
Jeff Hastings (Bio)
Tuesday, 03 February 2015

I've been noticing an amusing trend emerge of late — people posting images to Pinterest and other social networks, documenting digital signage gone awry. In most cases, these images depict a once-impressive digital signage installation brought to its knees by what's well known in PC circles as the "Blue Screen of Death."

No doubt these images are striking, but candidly I worry that these images unfairly cast a shadow on the entire digital signage industry, when certain segments have never and will never fall victim to the Blue Screen of Death. I'll circle back to that theme at the conclusion of this post, but in the meantime I'll offer some perspective on how 4K is evolving our industry in unexpected ways.

4K is proving to be a turning point in our industry, because it marks the point at which dedicated solid-state signage players are starting to pull ahead of PCs in terms of functionality and performance. In the latest research report on the World Market for Digital Signage, IHS predicts that "media players will demonstrate stronger growth potential in future years than PCs, as many companies are launching appliance-based media players with similar functionality and longevity, at a noticeably lower cost, than traditional PCs."

Let's take a look at why this is the case:

First, the graphics engine and CPU in high-end solid-state players are now more powerful than those in all but the most expensive PCs. Not only can they decode 4K H.265-encoded video at 60p, but they also deliver interactive, full-screen HTML5 content or a multitude of sophisticated HTML5 assets simultaneously. We're finding that 4K players are being used to play back conventional 1080p content with sophisticated HTML5 and other dynamic elements, due to the richer experience they provide. There are PCs with advanced graphics cards that can match this performance, and there are also very compact PCs that use relatively little power. However, there are none that provide both, and match the cost or the reliability of the equivalent purpose-built player.

Secondly — and this is nothing new — any integrator or store operator will attest to the fact that reliability is as key to the success of a digital signage installation as compelling content. There's absolutely no reason to approve the effort and expense of a digital signage installation if the content doesn't compel the customer to buy, or if the screen doesn't reliably display this content — in some cases 24/7. This is another key reason why purpose-built, solid-state media players that have no moving parts will continue to pull ahead of PCs in 2015.

And lastly, the perceived wisdom has been that a PC is required for large and complicated installations, but that is no longer true. Spectacular results have been achieved on large video walls, outdoor LED displays and mass stadium and retail rollouts driven by the new generation of dedicated players offering advanced capabilities and total reliability.

As this perceived wisdom is overturned, we should start to see a reduction in the number of high-profile "Blue Screens of Death" that I mentioned previously. We can expect the digital signage industry to move past this disappointing era; onward and upward to a better place where we've eliminated the Blue Screen of Death in digital signage.

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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

As 2014 draws to a close, the digital signage market is steadily expanding. A great deal of this growth is organic. More and more retailers, restaurants, offices, airports and other transportation hubs are adopting digital signage because it is affordable, reliable and easy to update. Printed digital signage that is peeling and out of date is now unacceptable – dynamic digital signage has become the norm.

A sector that is seeing particular expansion is luxury retail – an expansion being driven largely by 4K. These retailers are highly image-conscious and quality-sensitive, and they are finding that state-of-the-art 4K players suit their needs perfectly. Paired with a “true 4K” display, the resulting signage is as crisp and satisfying as high-quality print imagery. Most content at this top end of the market is shot in 4K anyway, so a modest investment in a 4K player and screen takes full advantage of that 4K content, providing an immediate return on that investment.

We’re also finding that 4K players are being more widely adopted than expected, and they’re not always being paired with 4K screens. Many of these players are being used to feed conventional 1080p content with sophisticated HTML5 and other dynamic elements. Due to the 4K player’s more powerful graphics engine, the player is capable of producing a richer viewing experience. The cost premium isn’t that great, and the customer gets a future-proofed solution that will transition seamlessly to 4K content and displays as the installation is updated over time.

Additional growth is being driven by an expansion into the entry-level, or “low end,” of the market. Integrators are seeing increased price competition for large-scale kiosk rollouts in big-box retail, among other settings. Until now, the only low-cost option was to try to work with a consumer device that wasn’t built for digital signage and didn’t deliver the reliability and functionality of commercial-grade, purpose-built player. Now that professional-quality, reliable, low-cost, networked signage players are available, we are seeing more and more new customers jumping at the chance to replace printed signage with digital displays in applications where cost was previously a barrier.

If 2014 was all about 4K, I believe that 2015 will be a year of healthy and sustainable growth in the digital signage industry – growth driven by the proliferation of 4K and the emergence of reliable low-cost digital signage solutions.  There is plenty of opportunity for organic growth that will sustain the market for many years to come. At the same time, the emergence of 4K in particular is not only opening new markets, but is also driving a replacement cycle. Existing users will upgrade their installations to take advantage of the enhanced capabilities of this new technology.

As CEO of BrightSign, I see the market expanding at all levels, a market condition that is poised for the introduction of our completely redesigned portfolio of market-leading products – from the entry-level BrightSign LS players right up to the unsurpassed power of the BrightSign 4K players. 2015 will bring great opportunities for the digital signage market to thrive in the new year.

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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A good systems integrator delivers a system that works, meets the client's requirements and is delivered on time and on budget. A great integrator goes a step further, and transforms business requirements into technology solutions, preferably solutions with a very long lifespan.

Much of what separates the two is the ability to communicate well with clients. How closely does the integrator listen and understand the business issues that the client faces and the needs of the audience who will view the signage? Do they use this information to engineer superior solutions that fulfill the client's needs? Project engineers should be skilled at interpreting business requirements and transforming them into appropriate technical solutions.

A great integrator is able to advise the customer about current and upcoming technology, and will recommend a technology solution that future-proofs their installation. This is very different from simply delivering on the client's demands — an integrator that is simply installing a shopping list specified by the client isn't really adding value.

Many digital signage installations require ongoing support. Content may need to be continually refreshed and updated, and new functions and capabilities introduced as business needs evolve. Therefore the relationship with the systems integrator should transform into a long-term business partnership.

How do you go about finding a great systems integrator that will become a valued partner for years to come? Due diligence in this process can be broken into five important steps:

Step 1: Consider the project

Define and be able to clearly explain both the current requirements of your project as well as future goals. Do you want to eventually transition to 4K content and displays? Do you want to add touch interactivity or live TV at some time in the future? Draw up the project requirements and selection criteria. If you don't have this expertise in-house, consider bringing in an expert.

Step 2: Consider the integrator from a business perspective

Review the financial health and integrity of the systems integrator's business. Ask for and call on references that have installed systems similar to what you are asking them to do. Assess the business culture of the systems integrator. How quickly do they respond to requests? Establish their billing practices — when does a casual discussion turn into chargeable consultancy?

Step 3: Consider the integrator from a technical/human perspective

Match the technical requirements of the project to the skills and experience of the integrator. Establish their ability to customize hardware if required and get a feel for how close they are to market-leading vendors. Be cautious of offers to tackle issues outside the firm's expertise. Review their website for examples of similar successful projects, and ask detailed questions about them.

Step 4: Look at the implementation process

Establish who will actually be working on the project, and what the roles of each member of the team will be. Verify that their experience, skills and qualifications are appropriate. Check what parts, if any, of the project will be subcontracted. Verify the suitability and skills of the proposed subcontractors. Discuss a timeline for implementation, including milestones and payment terms. Establish sign-off criteria, including deliverables such as documentation, training and records.

Step 5: Meet the whole team

It is essential to have a good relationship with the project team at every level — not just the managers. Seek a meeting with the whole team before you sign off the project, and ideally involve all the key stakeholders from your side, too. Look for a team that can contribute creatively but takes a measured-by-experience approach to your project.

Close attention to the considerations above will streamline the systems integrator selection process, and set both sides up for a mutually beneficial partnership that will stand the test of time.

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Wednesday, 03 December 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, we reflect on a year that produced a great deal of innovation. Most notably we saw 4K make significant inroads the second half of the year. At BrightSign we’ve seen first-hand the demand for 4K products – since we began shipping our new 4K players in late Q3, we’ve been selling through inventory on a continual basis. And beyond this innovation at the high end of the market, we’re also seeing a big spike in demand for entry-level products. This is driven by a growing trend for mass rollouts of simple point-of-purchase displays in big-box retail, as well as a growing number of tech-savvy small businesses building and managing their own digital signage. In short: the digital signage market is experiencing strong growth both at the high and low ends of the spectrum. This translates into what I expect will be a very successful start to 2015.

An interesting revelation is that stronger-than-expected sales of high-end 4K products is due to more than just the desire to play back 4K content. Some customers are future-proofing their investments because they intend to transition to 4K content and displays in the near future, and even more customers are making the high-end purchase decision because the processing power and performance of the 4K players surpass that of a PC-based system at less than half the cost.

As for our new entry-level players, I believe they will fill a very important niche that’s currently filled by a sea of inexpensive, Android-based devices whose price-points are far more enticing than their actual performance. These consumer devices are complicated to set up and their ongoing maintenance costs frustrate end-users who gravitated initially to the low purchase price. Our new LS players will save these integrators and end-users a world of hurt because they will now be able to use an affordable media player that’s purpose-built for digital signage.

The market shifts I described above came as no surprise. Not only did we anticipate these developments, but companies like BrightSign helped to catalyze these market shifts. As we turn our attention to 2015, we approach the new year readier than ever to meet customer demand at every price point. Not coincidentally, this week we will take the wraps off our revamped product portfolio. We now offer the most diverse line of digital signage media players in our company’s history.

Since day 1, BrightSign has been guided by the simple principle of producing reliable, affordable media players that make is easy for businesses, brands and organizations to embrace digital signage. Our new product portfolio is a testament to that commitment – no matter how modest or elaborate the installation, we have a digital signage solution to meet the need. The coming year will present near-limitless opportunities for our industry, and I can’t wait to see what transpires.

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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.

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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  |  
Friday, 18 July 2014

One display that every single visitor to a restaurant or fast food outlet will unfailingly consult is the menu board. Most retailers have to attract customers’ attention to their in-store displays, but restaurateurs have a guaranteed audience.

The restaurant menu board offers a truly amazing branding and sales window for the store. It’s no wonder that more and more restaurants are moving away from static signage and introducing digital screens.

The menu board must of course be up to date, accurate and compliant with relevant local and national law. To this end, digital signage content management systems can now be easily integrated into restaurant point-of-sale solutions, ensuring that changes to the menu and pricing are instantly reflected in both. These updates can now be handled through an iOS app or a web browser interface, ensuring that any member of staff can quickly remove a dish that’s sold out, and introduce a new one as it becomes available. Meeting food labelling regulations is also a snap with this technology. One update is immediately reflected in every screen in the restaurant or chain of restaurants.

What really sets digital menu boards apart from fixed signage, however, is the way in which they can enhance the customer experience. Rockbot, for example, is a digital jukebox that can be integrated into the menu board system, allowing customers to choose songs when they choose their meal or drink. Sports results, news, or even entire sporting events can be delivered to customers alongside the menu, enhancing their dining experience and encouraging them to stay longer and consume more.
The operational efficiencies achieved with an integrated digital menu board integrated and point-of-sale system are often used to justify the installation cost by providing an easily measurable return on investment. But the real benefit is the opportunity to take the restaurant’s customer and staff experience to a whole new level. VIP Room Theater, one of the most famous Paris nightclubs, allows customers to message each other using screens set into each table. The Cheesecake Factory is using its screens to display staff training videos during off hours. Truly, the only limit to your digital menu board is your imagination.

Posted by: Admin AT 08:30 am   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  
Monday, 02 June 2014

In mid-June the digital signage industry will once again descend on Las Vegas at InfoComm 2014. This is a perennial favorite of mine. Even though the show's focus extends far beyond digital signage, I like InfoComm because it affords us the opportunity to showcase the unique ways that digital signage is integrated into the much larger pro AV market.

As for what we can expect at InfoComm, I believe the key takeaway from the show will be that 4K has gone mainstream. True, 4K buzz is nothing new and 4K-capable products are hitting the market on a steady basis. But to say that 4K is now mainstream is a bit of an overstatement. That’s about to change, and InfoComm will be the tipping point where that change starts to occur.

At DSE we saw specific applications for digital signage, including 4K playback. In fact, our own 4K player powered many of the booths showcasing 4K content. Then at NAB great emphasis was placed on streaming 4K content in the broadcast market, such as the MPEG-DASH streaming of live 4K video content over IP. Both were great testaments to the promise of 4K, yet key hurdles still existed, such as the availability of 4K content, and the ability to display such content at 60 frames per second via HDMI 2.0.

InfoComm will signal the mass-market shift to 4K. I predict we’ll see a wave of new displays supporting HDMI 2.0, effectively completing the 4K-delivery ecosystem. This shift will naturally drive declining pricepoints in various 4K-related product categories, further accelerating adoption of 4K. Announcements made at InfoComm will catalyze many of these market shifts, giving key industries such as broadcast, digital signage and Pro AV powerful tools to thrust 4K into mass-market acceptance.

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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

One of the upsides of frequent business travel is that I get to visit some amazing cities. While my work schedule keeps me very busy on the road, from time to time I have the opportunity to duck into museums in some of those cities.

Digital signage in museums is nothing new — most now have monitors displaying information about entrance fees, current exhibits, concessions, among other things. But an emerging trend I find fascinating is that digital signage is quickly gaining acceptance as a new artistic medium. No doubt portraits and photography still reign supreme, but in many cases a growing number of contemporary artists are embracing digital as a legitimate art form.

Just a couple months ago Robert Wilson concluded a special exhibition at the Musee du Louvre in Paris, France. His video installation, "Living Rooms," featured pop sensation Lady Gaga in the re-creation of several renowned paintings housed at the Louvre. The striking installation is the perfect juxtaposition of modern artistic technique and classic artistic works, resulting in a provocative interpretation that blurs the lines between traditional art and modern pop culture.

Additionally, late last year Michael Nyman exhibited his work at the Summerhall Arts Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland. As one of Britain's most celebrated and innovative composers and film-makers, Nyman wanted to take his extensive familiarity with Dziga Vertov's silent 1929 masterpiece, "Man With a Movie Camera" (itself an experimental film with no story and no actors), and "re-imagine" it by replaying it on eleven screens — with each version subtly different. Nyman's 10 film interpretations share identical frames that are synchronized to the original film, and additionally all of the films share a common soundtrack written by the artist and composer.

Art is constantly evolving as artists seek out new ways to express their vision, and it's clear that digital signage is becoming a new tool of the trade. In addition, the recent onset of 4K is accelerating the acceptance of digital content within the art world. Dramatically improved video quality is winning over even the most discerning critics, accelerating the move to digital display as the canvas of tomorrow.

While on the surface this might seem like an unlikely combination, my belief is that digital signage is perfectly suited for the art world. Not only does it enable the artist to re-create his or her vision with exacting precision, but digital signage introduces motion to art forms that have traditionally existed as static images. For progressive-minded artists this is an alluring option, so it's no surprise that artists are embracing digital signage in their work. Personally, I can't wait to see how this digital renaissance plays out in the years ahead.

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Wednesday, 02 April 2014

A recent report published by Markets & Markets confirmed yet again how quickly digital signage is growing: 8.94 percent CAGR over the next six years. IHS foresees a similar trend, predicting growth between 4.7 percent and 5.6 percent. As for what's driving this growth, both firms agree that data management and analytics will catalyze this continued market expansion.

Live data feeds allow local and corporate managers to adjust marketing messages in real time to affect customers' decisions, boost sales figures and reduce waste. Quick-service restaurants are leading the way. They are "selling smarter" by analyzing their sales data in real time and updating their signage instantly to reflect what they learn. Digital menu boards allow restaurants to make immediate menu changes for promotions and advertising to reflect marketing objectives, as well as manage inventory. Now restaurants can withdraw the advertising immediately when stock of the promoted item is exhausted. Conversely, restaurants can track stock levels and attractively price items that aren't moving, shifting the stock before it reaches its sell-by date.

Other sectors have embraced this opportunity, too. In the financial industry, Western Union International Bank GmbH automatically and instantly updates currency buy and sell prices at its 40 German and Austrian branches — saving staff time and making it more competitive.

Digital signage is no longer a standalone function of a company's outbound marketing efforts. Data is monitored in real time, and integrated, resulting in intelligent digital signage that empowers companies to market more effectively and manage sales more efficiently. This approach is a fundamental change in the way retailers, restaurants and financial institutions run and manage their businesses, and digital signage is driving that paradigm shift.

Posted by: Admin AT 10:49 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  

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