System-on-Chip: Not Yet Ready for Prime Time


System-on-Chip (SoC) is an integrated digital signage solution in which media player hardware is embedded within a display, eliminating the need for third-party, external media players. These external media players are the commercial equivalent of consumer products such as Roku, Chromecast and Amazon Fire.

Initial System-on-Chip Products Had Limited Capabilities

First-generation SoC products from Samsung and Sony launched in 2013, followed by second-generation displays and the entrance of LG into the market in 2014. First- and second-generation products had minimal processing and graphics power that restricted capabilities to playback of images and basic video. Content creators and software developers often faced a substantial learning curve when required to use proprietary operating systems (e.g., Samsung Tizen OS, LG WebOS). Finally, adoption was hindered by skepticism about long-term commitment and focus of manufacturers to what will always be for them a relatively niche product.

Subsequent generations have addressed some of the issues encountered by early adopters. Improved hardware offerings have greatly improved the functionality and flexibility of SoC displays. New entrants into the market (Panasonic, Philips, Sharp, Toshiba, etc.) have adopted Android as a standard, and Samsung and LG have made their operating systems more developer friendly. However, Android remains a consumer-grade operating system, and the proprietary operating systems are derivatives of consumer TV platforms. They are primarily based on the world of streaming, and there’s not a lot of focus on software development. The core hardware is good, but the software ecosystem is changing all the time. That makes life difficult for end-users and developers.

What the industry needs are very stable APIs because so many software developers are developing on these platforms. When the software changes with every new version of the consumer TV models, development is quite difficult.

System-on-Chip Now Offers Some Advantages

The primary selling point for SoC is that the upfront cost is approximately 25 to 40 percent lower than comparable solutions. Users also typically experience a reduction in hardware support expense due to fewer points of failure. Power consumption is usually lower, as an integrated design improves energy efficiency. In addition, with no need for configuration, the installation process is straightforward and requires less technical expertise.

Most display manufacturers require screens to have constant Internet access both to stream data and to download software updates. While this connectivity is convenient, it also creates a potential security concern for corporations with large installations consisting of hundreds of displays.

External Hardware Remains Essential in Certain Situations

Despite recent improvements, SoC devices continue to face some limitations in their ability to support the breadth of features needed for many types of digital signage projects.

Consequently, external media player solutions remain the solution of choice for businesses aiming to ensure seamless transitions between media content, complex video layering and HTML rendering or synchronization between multiple displays. The primary advantage of dedicated external media players is the breadth of the solution’s software offering.

External hardware also accommodates applications that vary from touchscreens to complicated display solutions and/or video walls with a range of display sizes mounted at various angles. An additional consideration for many buyers is external hardware’s upgradeability, the ease of which helps to “future-proof” the display, not locking buyers into a specific product ecosystem.

Another Option for All-in-One

A different type of integrated solution is gaining momentum in the industry. Displays and players that have adopted Intel’s Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) are offering the Pro AV market a solution that’s both powerful and integrated. The combination of an OPS display and a commercial-grade OPS media player delivers an all-in-one signage solution that is powerful and feature-rich while still being simple to install, eliminating the need for wiring and technical expertise. This OPS display/player combination can offer all of the benefits of a commercial-grade media player, a purpose-built OS, stable software with open APIs and an all-in-one solution without any of the downfalls.

To Date, SoC Has Struggled to Gain Widespread Adoption

Despite most display manufacturers now bundling SoC at minimal incremental cost, it is estimated that fewer than 10 percent of displays with SoC have their capabilities used by operators, who still prefer external hardware solutions. Nevertheless, SoC products have improved significantly since market entrance and offer a compelling alternative in some circumstances.

Ultimately, the decision to purchase external hardware, an integrated OPS solution or a SoC display must be made on a case-by-case basis. For many basic digital signage needs, SoC may very well be an adequate solution. Customers who place a premium on performance, reliability and scalable software will likely continue to rely upon external hardware or integrated OPS solutions for the foreseeable future.



About Author

Mark Boidman is a Managing Director and Head of Media Services at PJ SOLOMON, a private M&A investment banking firm. He works with companies across digital media and tech, marketing services, mobile and out of home media.  He has advised on numerous transactions worldwide, including Europe and Asia, and has executed more than $40 billion in completed transactions during his career.  In 2015, Mark was named Dealmaker of the Year by Business Worldwide Magazine and a “40 Under Forty” honoree by the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts and the Consultants’ Training Institute.  Mark sits on the Board of Directors of the Digital Signage Federation, the trade association supporting the business interests of the interactive technologies, digital signage and digital out-of-home network industries.  He is a member of the Advisory Board of Gimbal, a location and proximity-based mobile engagement company, as well as the Advisory Committee for The Deal, a leading financial information provider.   

To read more of Mark’s thoughts, check out his new book, Times Square Everywhere: The Next Wave in the Fast-Changing Media Landscape, now available on Amazon.

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  1. An interesting and relevant article. As a software developer of 40yrs, 20 of which have involved Digital Signage I have to agree with Mark. HW selection, API availability and longevity of the platform are all key in the decision tree for platform selection where we hope to get a return for the investment. Our software is not being sold just to sell screens for the big boys, it’s being done for our future and based on our clients requirements.

    • George Preston on

      I agree. I hear from many end-users who are in the process of uprading their existing DS system who say their main complaint is platform longevity (they use slightly pithier langauge). One of the best indicators of just how weak SoCs can be at predictability is how difficult it is to get an answer on backwards compatiblity of a certain feature of app. There is a real vacuum of knowledge.

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