Digital Signage Expo 2013 was a huge success by almost every measure. It was by far the biggest DSE to date, shattering records set in previous years. And it didn't disappoint as a showcase for new products and technology trends either.
Using the opportunity to browse the show floor allowed us to gauge current digital signage industry directions:
- On the one hand, there were some new innovations that push the limits of what digital signage and display technologies are all about. For example, Perch Interactive's interactive retail solution using overhead projection technology.
- On the other hand, we noticed some technologies that might have made their debut in previous years, but their adoption appears to have become more widespread, which could signal that this is the next big thing in the digital signage industry. For example, transparent LCD displays now shown in a variety of applications.
That being said, here is Digital Signage Connection's short list of what we believe are the top 5 notable trends at DSE 2013:
5. Ultra-HD in the Forefront
The debut of ultra-HD 4K and 8K digital screens last year generated a lot of excitement, especially in the consumer market. No longer was 1080p HD the ultimate, end-all resolution you could have on your digital displays — the minimum resolution would soon become 3,840 x 2,160 for ultra-HD. However, it seemed that adoption might take a while, at least within the consumer sector, such as televisions, computers and so on.
That's not the same as in the digital signage sector, it appears.
Because this industry does not have to play the waiting game as TV networks upgrade from standard definition to high definition to ultra-high definition (after all, we have our own networks), the digital signage industry appears likely to be among the first adopters of this new technology.
LG, for example, rolled out some giant ultra-HD displays and put them front and center to greet to those entering the show floor at DSE 2013, and other ultra-HD displays (such as Planar's giant screens) could be found throughout the show. Even the world's first ultra-HD digital signage display, an LG product, greeted DSE travelers at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport as they got off and boarded their planes.
LG's large ultra-HD digital signage displays wowed DSE show attendees.
However, there are challenges: New technology is expensive and can be slow to adopt, but once it is adopted, it moves so fast that it's hard to say how long it will stay. 240 was replaced by 480, which was replaced by 720, which was replaced by 1080, all in what seemed to be an instant. So, the questions remain: How long before the cost comes down enough to be affordable on a large scale, and how long will this new standard last? Will ultra-HD stay long enough in the technological lifestyle to make a huge impact, or will it go the way of the LaserDisc and Betamax?
4. Digital Signage 'Kinects'
Gesture-tracking technologies are far from anything new or ground-breaking. Indeed, the Microsoft Kinect, which revolutionized and steered the industry in much the same way the Apple iPhone 4 and iPad both did in their 2010 release, was first announced on June 1, 2009, for the Xbox 360 video game system.
However, the Kinect's popularity transcended the video game industry, and gesture-tracking found a home in many other applications, one of which was digital signage.
But, of course, that's old news.
In walking the show floor at DSE 2013, we noticed more and more companies are using such technologies than in previous years, suggesting its adoption could be becoming widespread. In talking with a number of representatives with STRATACACHE, they said it makes sense, for a variety of reasons.
For the germaphobe in us (or for installations found in hospitals, where sanitation and infectious diseases are always a huge concern), there is no need to actually touch the screen in order to interact with it. That's a huge plus. Tim Huckaby, founder and chairman of interactive software developer InterKnowlogy, showed a potential operating room application as part of his keynote panel demonstration.
For outdoor installations — those at risk to the elements and vandalism — the digital sign can be enclosed, to protect it from harm and damage.
So the right idea is there, at least. It just remains to be seen how many companies adopt this technology and how quickly it is adopted.
3. See-through Signage
An interesting breakthrough seen at DSE 2012 and again in 2013 is the use of transparent or slightly translucent digital signage.
In just about every use, a product is placed behind a clear glass LCD enclosure while the glass, acting as a clear digital screen, is programmed to point out different product attributes and play animations. A prime example, found in the DSE New Product Pavilion, was the Samil CTS ClearView 224, a digital signage LCD display that showcased a Samsung Galaxy Note cell phone/tablet while displaying facts about the device on the screen in front of it.
Samil's CTS ClearView 224 was a prime example of transparent and translucent digital signage at DSE.
One of the more interesting uses of such transparent signage is for high-end vending machines — for such products as Best Buy earphones or Coca-Cola or Pepsi soft drinks. The animations on the vending machine glass zeros in on specific products (such as a Best Buy USB disk drive or a Diet Coke or a Pepsi Max) and displays the item's cost and specific product information, such as memory space or calories.
It's a fascinating thing, seeing a screen made of something so thin and clear, and its circuitry and other inner workings not being visible to the naked eye. Kim Brown, marketing manager with Planar, explained that the technology is such that when her company's displays and installations are turned off, the glass reverts to a simple, clear glass; as opposed to going completely black (and potentially turning a transparent/translucent display completely opaque, thus obstructing the view of the product).
A technological breakthrough such as this will undoubtedly lead to newer, better, more creative things in the digital signage industry, and it will certainly be interesting. The possibilities are endless.
2. The Great Outdoors and Digital Signage
It should go without saying that, like Christmas lights, the digital signage industry is "for indoor/outdoor use." And those who design displays in the latter category certainly have their work cut out for them.
When a digital sign is put outside, there are a lot of risks, among which include weather and vandalism. But even a bright sunny day could be the downfall to how effective a digital sign is at conveying a message.
A trend we noticed at DSE was more high-brightness digital signs, such as those offered by DynaScan Technology Inc. The newly released DS55LX3 offers a 1,500-nit display, a display very bright and radiant. And that's hardly the company's brightest sign — DynaScan's ultimate sign can reach 5,000 nits.
DynaScan's high-nit digital signage showed off a unique market niche at DSE.
The high-brightness displays were stunning, and as DynaScan marketing manager Scott Pickus told us, are great for areas with a lot of sunshine or even when signs are directly facing the sun, such as on college campuses, at coffeehouses and restaurants.
1. Signage Going Small
The final and top trend we noticed at this year's Digital Signage Expo was not just signage getting larger and giant videowalls, but also the use of smaller, more intimate signage, such as Apple iPads and other tablet computers.
But to fully explain the apparent phenomena, one must look back a few years:
Then-Apple head honcho Steve Jobs announced the release of the first iPad on Jan. 27, 2010. While it was far from the first touchscreen and far from the first tablet computer, Apple has had a knack for pushing consumer want and demand, ever since releasing the original popular iPhone in 2007 (which was also hardly the first touchscreen smartphone — just the one that forced the market to go in that direction).
Unsurprisingly, many in the digital signage industry saw the iPad as a threat, and at the time, perhaps rightfully so. Consumers and businesses could just as easily buy a tablet as a touchscreen sign instead of a digital display.
However, in the years since, consumers have become used to using functional touchscreens, and in a way, that functionality of touching screens to move objects has helped the digital signage industry. Indeed, in one of our recent Questions of the Month, one repeated and recurring anecdote the DSE Advisory Board seemed to relay was that of young children walking up to large digital screens, touching them and becoming dismayed that nothing happened, just as the kids saw in Apple commercials. It seems that touchscreens are becoming the norm, to be expected everywhere in all walks of life.
Which leads us back to smaller signage.
We talked to Iles Guran, founder and CEO of Armodilo, one of many providers of iPad- and other tablet-based kiosks that displayed their products at the show. Guran pointed out that consumers are already comfortable with iPads and other tablets. And at a lot of retail locations, customers prefer using a device that offers a little more privacy than a large videowall.
Armodilo's tablet-based kiosk.
Guran also pointed out that one retailer recently replaced a large videowall with a slew of iPad kiosks and his company's mounting stands. However, he was also quick to point out that his company's solutions are not intended to replace giant videowalls, nor is there a "one size fits all" approach for every retailer. In other words, smaller signage seems to have carved out a niche in the industry based on its own merits, but it's a niche that's already shown signs of increasing growth.