Digital Signage has been a hot topic on the Intel® Embedded Community website, and for good reason.  Dynamic high-resolution signs that include remote connectivity and offer viewers an interactive experience deliver a better return on investment (ROI) than do legacy signs. Moreover, technologies such as Intel® Architecture (IA) processors and initiatives such as Intel® Active Management Technology (AMT) enable cost-effective deployment of compelling digital signs and the ability to manage the assets remotely. Still the design challenge is considerable especially given the different technology tracks of IA processors, HD displays, interactive features, and analytic capabilities. A modular design approach to digital signage based on the Intel® Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) can enable products that support the latest technologies and Axiomtek* is among the first to deliver compatible displays and modules.


The allure of digital signage is quite simple. Sign owners can dynamically update the signs over wireless communication links. That capability ensures that signs carry a current and compelling message. Moreover interactive features can allow viewers to dig deeper into the advertisers' messaging via touch interfaces. The viewer gets a richer, more-personalized experience. The advertiser gets a better ROI, and advertisers pays a higher rate enabling sign owners to deploy the technology. We covered the basics of the technology stack involved and the market opportunity in a prior article.


Still, the value proposition of digital signage gets even more compelling. As covered in an article on Anonymous Video Analytics (AVA) in signage, smart signs can employ image processing and analytics to target a message to a viewer demographic. The idea is not to recognize a person, but rather generalized demographic information such as gender and age bracket to dynamically tune the message. Moreover, the analytic capability enables the sign to track viewing statistics that the sign owner can use to justify higher advertising rates adding to the ROI angle.


Chasing technology


The challenge for sign designers is chasing the various technologies that go into the best digital signs while delivering on time-to-market demands. The latest processors enable capabilities such as AVA and will enable even richer video experiences over time. Display technologies are advancing on a different track. The best signs will benefit from the latest in wireless networks for fast real-time message updates. How can the industry deliver best-in-class features, with fast time-to-market, and reasonable costs?


Sign owners and designers need a technology path that provides an incremental upgrade path that addresses all elements of a sign. On occasion that upgrade will require installation of a new display. In many cases, however, a modular approach will allow the upgrade of an existing display with the latest compute and display capabilities. Moreover, a modular approach can allow sign owners and designers to mix and match compute power to display capabilities for different applications.


The OPS standard was defined specifically for such modular capabilities. My colleague Warren Webb covered the basics of the OPS specification and concept shortly after formalization last year. Basically, OPS partitions the signage system into separate elements – a modular pluggable computer platform and a display. The display integrates a standardized plug-in slot that hosts the pluggable computer module.


The image below, courtesy of Axiomtek, illustrates the concept. In the image, the display in front has the OPS slot located along the bottom of the display. The rear view of the display, with the sign turned on its side, shows how the pluggable module is installed into the sign.


OPS spec_600p.jpg


Indeed Axiomtek is among the first companies to deliver both elements of the OPS vision announcing the OFP320 31.5-in HD sign system, and the OPS860 computer module. Robert Wang, VP of Sales & Marketing at Axiomtek, succinctly captured the value proposition saying about the computer module, "The compact box features fast time-to-market that operators can implement into the market quickly."


The OFP320 sign, pictured below, is based on a TFT display. The OPS specification defines support for multiple display interfaces across the standardized connector. The OFP320 is compatible with pluggable modules that use HDMI or VGA video interfaces. The sign supports 1920x1080-pixel resolution and can be installed using VESA-compliant mounting brackets.




Axiomtek will offer OPS modules for use with the OFP320, and other complaint signs, starting with the OPS860 module. The OPS860 is based on 2nd-generation Intel® Core™ i7, i5, or i3 processors that formerly were codenamed Sandy Bridge. The module can accommodate as much as 4 Gbytes of DDR3 DRAM. It includes a Gigabit-capable Ethernet port, two USB ports, and audio in and out capabilities.


Now, in the context of the OFP320, let's examine the options to match a sign implementation to application requirements, the upgrade paths available, and software upgrade possibilities. The OPS860 itself is upgradeable and configurable in a number of ways.


The module includes a PCI Express Mini Card slot. That slot can accommodate a Wi-Fi card or a cellular wireless card for remote connectivity. Alternatively, Axiomtek offers a TV tuner card for the slot with video capture capabilities.


The Axiomtek OPS modules design also includes a modular slot for a disk drive that you can see on the right half of the face plate in the photo below. You can customize the module capability with magnetic or solid-state disk drives.




As IA processor capabilities evolve, Axiomtek will offer upgrade the OPS860 with follow-on modules. For example, the company has indicated that it will support the 3rd-generation Intel® Core™ processors, codenamed Ivy Bridge, that are due on the market very soon. The next-generation processors will offer 20% greater CPU performance, and an even bigger upgrade in 3D graphics performance. Indeed an Ivy Bridge follow-on will be able to deliver a richer graphics experience to viewers.


Meanwhile, the IA-based platforms all include support for AMT. The OPS860 supports AMT 7.0. Next-generation modules will support AMT 8.0. AMT enables sign owners to detect and solve hardware and software failures without deploying a truck to service a sign. Moreover AMT allows a sign owner to upgrade functionality, such as improving AVA capabilities via software upgrades, again without rolling a truck.


The modular approach to signage is instructive in general in terms of the way design engineers can approach projects where requirements such as fast time-to-market, remote management, and upgradeability are requirements. How do you face such challenges? Fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community would appreciate your comments. Are you using AMT? DO you plan to use OPS? Please share you observations and expertise.


To view other community content focused on sensing and analytics, see "Sensing and Analytics – Top Picks."



Maury Wright

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)

Intel® Embedded Alliance


*Axiomtek Co. Ltd. is an Associate member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance