Digital signage is a rapidly growing embedded computing technology delivering high speed information and advertising display to consumers in a wide range of market segments including retail, transportation, education, health care, and lodging. This rapid growth has convinced multiple embedded systems vendors to create digital signage products to launch themselves in this potentially lucrative market.  As with any new technology, the early equipment designs are mostly proprietary and require a substantial engineering budget and schedule to establish a stable configuration for production.  In order to simplify the design and bring the costs down, designers would like to have a supply of standard, off-the-shelf signage components that are guaranteed to work together.  Addressing this need, Intel® recently released the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) defining the electrical, mechanical, and thermal specifications for a plug-in module containing the computing system necessary to drive a digital signage display panel. Intel® created the OPS to reduce fragmentation within the digital signage market and to simplify installation, usage, maintenance, and upgrades.




OPS defines a standardized module and related interconnections necessary to insure compatibility and ease of integration between digital signage components from multiple vendors.  As shown in the figure, the standard specifies an off-the-shelf 80 pin JAE Electronics TX24/TX25 blind mate plug and receptacle connector system between the pluggable module and the display. The Pluggable Module consists of a printed circuit computing board housed in a protective wrapper chassis. The circuit board should be equal to or smaller than the EPIC (Embedded Platform for Industrial Computing) standard size of 115 x 165 mm. The overall dimension of the module including the mounting frame is 200 mm x 119 mm x 30 mm.


The standard also defines the interface signals for all 80 pins of the JAE connector. Power input is specified as +12V~+19V at less than 4A and is spread over multiple pins to stay within the connector’s maximum current rating. Other connector pins carry the digital signals for interface to the display including High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) or Digital Visual Interface (DVI) and the royal-free DisplayPort interconnect. Stereo audio, serial communications, and provisions for both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 signals are also defined. Pluggable Module Power Status, Power ON via display panel, Pluggable Board Detect, HDMI Consumer Electronics Control (CEC), and System Fan Control are a few of the module/display control signals specified in the standard.


Thermal management of the Pluggable Module is another topic covered in the OPS. One of the later sections outlines a wind tunnel test to quantify the module thermal performance. The test monitors ambient temperature, airflow speed through the module, and output air temperature to ensure that the operating module complies with the required thermal specification. The OPS document specifies the complete mechanical details of the module wrapper chassis including ventilations grilles, the location and dimensions of the connector, holes for assembly, and a security lock.


In addition to the standard, Intel® also provides two design guides to approved applicants to aid in the development of OPS-based digital signage. The Pluggable Board & Docking Board Interconnect for Digital Signage design guide details the interconnections for the high speed signals that pass through the 80-pin JAE connector including DisplayPort, HDMI, and USB signals. The Thermal and Mechanical Design Guide describes the thermal design requirements of the Digital Signage Pluggable Module based on the Intel® Core™ i7 processor with Mobile Intel® 5 Series Express Chipset (QM57) platform.


Although it is not required by the specification, installing digital signage equipment based on Intel® architecture helps you implement scalable digital signage applications that can network easily with other equipment. Intel®’s vPro technology, for example, allows designers to control and reconfigure a remote embedded system while Active Management Technology includes certificate-based security to provide remote access to the system for management and security tasks even when the system is powered off. This technology offers digital signage support teams a low cost method to perform remote diagnostics, monitor operation, and manage periodic software updates.


The OPS makes it possible for digital signage manufacturers to rapidly deploy large numbers of interoperable systems while reducing development, implementation, and support costs.  Barb Edson, Senior Director of Marketing for the Windows Embedded Group at Microsoft recently posted a video outlining the benefits of the OPS for digital signage suppliers. You can find out more information and download the complete OPS document and design guides at Intel®’s Open Pluggable Specification Community site. What ideas and suggestions can you offer other designers as they venture into digital signage design? Please share your experience and questions via comments with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community. You can also take a look at a recent Roving Reporter blog post on extending the signage and gaming limits with Sandy Bridge for more information on Intel®’s latest microarchitecture as it applies to digital signage.


Warren Webb
OpenSystems Media®, by special arrangement with Intel® Embedded Alliance


Microsoft is an Associate member of the by Intel® Embedded Alliance.