In October 2010, Intel introduced the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) to help standardize the design and development of digital signs. As 2012 comes to a close, it’s time to look deeper into the advantages of the specification, the benefits of using Intel® architecture with it, and some of the products now featuring it.


The Advantages of OPS-Compliant Systems

For those unfamiliar with the specification, OPS modularizes the development of display panels and media players. OPS-compliant displays have a built-in slot for an OPS-compliant media player (see Figure 1). The player and the display connect through an 80-pin JAE connector that supports commonly used interfaces such as DisplayPort and USB. (A short Intel video provides a great overview of OPS and its benefits.)



Figure 1. OPS modularizes digital signage, enabling insertion of the media player into the display. (Photo courtesy of Nexcom.)


With OPS, digital signage manufacturers can deploy interchangeable systems faster and in higher volumes, while lowering costs for development and implementation. Through the OPS specification, their products are automatically compatible with more systems—including future systems not on the market yet. This opens up new sales opportunities as their customers can upgrade their infrastructure more easily because components are interchangeable by design.


OPS-compliant systems have many advantages for signage customers as well. By enabling the media player to be tucked into a slot in a monitor, OPS-compliant systems provide clean, all-in-one designs for digital signs. Not only does this look better in a store environment, but it reduces cabling and improves serviceability. Have a problem with a unit? Remove the offender, whether it’s the display or the player, and simply replace it with a good unit. A sign owner can be back in business in minutes without a lot of fuss over wires and connections.


Another big advantage is scalability. If a customer wants to use the same media player with a bigger display, it’s no problem. They just pull the player out of the smaller display and insert it into the larger one. If they want to run a display with a more powerful media player, again, it’s no problem. They just pull out the old media player and insert a more powerful one.


Before OPS, there were no open standards for such modular media player and display designs. This made design, component integration, implementation, and upgrades harder because system integrators or customers had to consider how to connect A to B. Now if a systems integrator or digital sign user buys an OPS media player and an OPS display, there’s no mystery to it. They’re going to connect, it’s going to be easy, and the resulting unit will be easy to place in its intended environment. In fact, with wireless networking, the only cord necessary will be the power cord for the display.


Controlling the combined display/player unit is no problem either. The display/player communication interface (UART and HDMI CEC) provides status reporting and control. Plus, running digital audio/video signals via HDMI or DisplayPort assures picture-perfect images and video.


Advantages of Intel® Architecture (IA) for OPS Signage Systems

Although it is not required by the specification, installing digital signage equipment based on IA empowers scalable digital signage applications that can network easily with other equipment. IA also helps future-proof signage investments through its well-established interoperability and the wide variety of applications designed for it.


Of particular interest for high-performing digital signage solutions are 3rd generation Intel® Core™ processors (formerly codenamed “Ivy Bridge”). These processors feature Intel’s latest integrated graphics innovations, offering up 60 percent improvement in graphics performance and a 2X boost in 3D performance over the previous generation. These processors also include the ability to power up to three displays. This means that in addition to running the display a player module is in, they can run two additional displays. You can learn more about these processors and their advantages for digital signage in a previous post: Matching Processor to Signage Application.


Other reasons for going the IA route are all the intelligent software applications and capabilities Intel offers to enhance OPS-compliant and other digital signage solutions. These include:


  • The security and remote management and automation features enabled by 3rd generation Intel® Core™ vPro™ processors and their Intel® Active Management Technology.
  • The anonymous video analytics provided by the Intel® Audience Impression Metric (Intel® AIM) Suite. This application enables targeting personalized content to consumers while providing retailers and advertisers with valuable analytics. The software monitors viewer metrics, such as gender, age bracket and length of attention, and can analyze the data in real-time to deliver more targeted messaging. Intel AIM Suite can also be used to provide metrics on advertising effectiveness and measure ROI. Intel Core processors provide all the processing performance necessary for this application.
  • The Near-Field Communication (NFC) capabilities that all 3rd generation Intel Core processors include to enable mobile payments and signage interactions—such as downloading coupons.


For more economical, less graphic-intensive applications, many media player manufacturers offer systems based on Intel® Atom™ processor N2000 and D2000 series (formerly codenamed “Cedar Trail”). These processors provide integrated graphics, including a hardware-accelerated video decoder for smooth full HD (up to 1080p) playback and streaming, eliminating the need for a graphics card. Two features they share in common with 3rd generation Intel Core processors also make them ideal for retail signage applications. The first is Intel® Rapid Start Technology. This provides fast resume, an excellent feature for signage systems looking for a fast restart after a power conservation mode. The second feature is Intel® Smart Connect Technology. This enables a media player to receive content updates even when on standby.


What’s Happening with OPS

Many major manufacturers of commercial-grade LCD and LED display screens like NEC, Mitsubishi, Philips, Samsung and ViewSonic now offer models that accommodate OPS-compliant players. Some media player manufacturers, such as Axiomtek, also offer OPS-compliant displays.


On the media player side, many Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance members offer a wide range of choices. I’ll just point out several.


Kontron has taken a big step in simplifying the evaluation of OPS-compliant digital signage solutions with its Digital Signage Evaluation Kit-12 (DSEK-12). The kit features technologies from Intel, Kontron* and Microsoft* in a pre-validated system that allows developers to focus on software development. The kit includes an OPS-compliant Kontron media player KOPS800 (see Figure 2) based on 3rd generation Intel Core processors, as well as a 180-day evaluation copy of Windows Embedded POSReady 7. In addition, demos of Content Creation and Content Management Software (CMS) from Flypaper* and Scala* are included. Additionally, this pre-validated system comes pre-loaded with Intel AIM Suite and Intel® vPro™ Technology activated. Add an OPS-compliant display and you’re in business.



Figure 2. Kontron KOPS800.

Advantech offers the OPS-compliant ARK-DS262 (see Figure 3) powered by 3rd generation Intel Core processors. All Advantech media players are available pre-loaded with an embedded OS, along with SUSIAccess remote device management software, Acronis data protection software, and network security software by McAfee. This enables system integrators and their customers to quickly set-up, manage and operate in the field, focusing more on their own applications and saving important development time and resources.



Figure 3. Advantech ARK-DS262.


Nexcom expands its digital signage family with a new OPS-compliant player, the NDiS M532 (see Figure 4). Based on 3rd generation Intel Core processors, it includes advanced built-in remote management functions. Like other OPS-compliant systems, the M532 includes the ability to adjust display brightness and system volume over the network.



Figure 4. Nexcom NDiS M532.


iBASE provides a versatile OPS-compliant player, the iOPS-76 (see Figure 5), that runs on 3rd generation Intel core processors. An evaluation kit includes dual USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port, serial port, audio jack and additional DisplayPort and HDMI ports for connecting additional monitors. Two DDR3 SO-DIMM (dual channel), one Gigabit Ethernet LAN, two USB 3.0 and an external-accessible mSATA SSD are standard. Optional Bluetooth/Wi-Fi/TV tuner connections are available.




Figure 5. iBASE IOPS-76.

Axiomtek is deep in the OPS space. Their OPS-compliant OPS870 player uses 3rd generation Intel Core processors to deliver outstanding performance and superb graphics capability. In addition, their

OPS-compliant OPS830 (see Figure 6) employs a dual core Intel® Atom™ processor D2550 to provide low-power processing and high graphics performance. For extra versatility, a PCI Express Mini Card expansion slot is available for graphics-enhanced video card, wireless LAN card for 802.11 a/b/g/n and 3G/GPRS, and tuner/AV capture card. It also supports a DDR3 SO-DIMM with a maximum of 4 GB of memory and one 2.5” SATA HDD tray for operating system and storage. Need an OPS-compliant HD display with either of these? Axiomtek has you covered there, too. You can choose from the OFP321, a 31.5-inch LED backlight display or the OFP320 31.5-inch TFT LCD.



Figure 6. Axiomtek OPS830.


OPS-compliant designs are not just clever. They’re smart for how they deliver the all-in-one benefit as well as modular future-proofing. Television and PC manufacturers should take note. What’s your opinion?


retail[1].pngTo learn more about bringing intelligence to digital displays and other retail devices, see Digital Signage - Top Picks



Advantech and Kontron are Premier members of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. Axiomtek, iBASE and Nexcom are Associate members of the Alliance.


Mark Scantlebury

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance

Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine