As multiple industries turn to digital signage to deliver low-cost, real-time information and promotional messages to their targeted market, embedded design teams must be ready to integrate this media-centric technology into new or existing products. Digital signs are extremely flexible and can be used for product demonstrations, store directions, and can be updated as needed to promote items based on the time of day or even the weather. With the proper sensors and analysis software, digital signs can also deliver targeted advertisements and information based on the age and gender of the observer. However, adding digital signage to a current embedded product or planning for an entirely new design requires advanced processor architecture with enhanced graphics capabilities, flexible I/O, remote communications support, reduced power consumption, and extended lifecycle support.
The Intel® Atom™E6xx series provides all of these digital signage requirements and is the first Intel® Atom™ processor designed specifically for embedded systems including a 7-year life cycle commitment. The E6xx series combines the 45 nm processor core plus memory and display controller into one package to reduce the component count and lower overall power requirements. An integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 600 2D/3D graphics engine provides hardware accelerated video decoding and encoding for MPEG4 part 2 and H.264 signals. The GMA supports Low Voltage differential Signal (LVDS) displays with a 80 MHz pixel clock and Serial Digital Video Out (SDVO) displays at 160 MHz. The E6xx series also uses the open PCI-Express standard for the processor-to-chipset interface allowing designers to create specialized I/O functions as needed. The available E6xx Atom™ processors range from the 600 MHz E620 covering the commercial 0 to 70 °C temperature range up to the E680T with a 1.6 GHz clock speed and operating in the -40 to 85 °C Industrial temperature range.
One of the fastest ways to get started with the Intel® Atom™E6xx series is with an off-the-shelf digital signage player from NEXCOM. For example, the entry-level NDiS 111 player is powered by the 2.7W E620 600MHz processor and supports full HD multimedia content. (See figure 1) The low power Atom™ processor allows the player to fit into a small 7” x 4.5” x 1.5” fan-free enclosure suitable for mounting directly behind a LCD monitor. The NDiS 111 offers a mix of rear I/O interfaces including a Digital Visual Interface (DVI), Gbit Ethernet, USB 2.0, and a SATA disk on module socket for external storage. For expansion, the player includes a mini PCI Express connection to an optional TV tuner or WLAN module.
For new designs, Intel® recently released the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) defining the electrical and mechanical requirements for a digital signage plug-in module. The specification defines a standardized module and related interconnections necessary to insure compatibility and ease of integration between digital signage components from multiple vendors. The OPS promises to reduce fragmentation within the digital signage market and to simplify installation, usage, maintenance, and upgrades. You can get more details on the OPS in a previous Roving Reporter blog post entitled “New standard targets digital signage development”. You can also register for access to the complete OPS document and design guides at Intel®’s Open Pluggable Specification site.
NEXCOM also offers the PowerDigiS Presentation Designer software for Windows to help content creators develop and package digital signage productions (See figure 2). The tool provides a straightforward drag and drop technique to organize content within playlists and a screen design function to save layout templates for later use. Users can add, edit, and control multiple media types including text combined with dynamic animations, pictures, video files, TV programs, and flash movies. The presentation designer also provides a preview function for individual or integrated content files. Finally, the tool can be used to publish and upload presentation data to one or more media players or a portable USB drive.
The Intel® Atom™E6xx series is an ideal architecture to support the image-processing circuitry needed for embedded digital signage applications. The low power, flexible I/O, and accelerated graphics features give designers more than enough performance to get started with digital signage. What ideas and suggestions can you offer other embedded designers as they transition to digital signage design? Please share your experience and questions via comments with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community. Also, check back for the second part of this series as I show how the Intel® Atom™ E6xx architecture can be used for in-vehicle signage applications.
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NEXCOM is an Associate member of the by Intel® Embedded Alliance.