While editing articles for the upcoming April issue of Embedded Innovator magazine, I noticed that there is a major effort underway to make it easier to implement and scale digital signage systems. Where once there was just the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS), now there’s also the Intel® Intelligent Systems Framework.


This is the dynamic duo in industry specifications for digital signage systems. OPS provides a modular standard for displays and media players, enabling the design of media players that fit neatly into a slot in the back of a display to facilitate installation, maintenance and upgrades. The Intel Intelligent Systems Framework provides a common set of interoperable guidelines to address the fundamental capabilities required for connecting, managing, and securing intelligent devices in a consistent and scalable manner.


Plugging into the Open Pluggable Specification

OPS is a great convenience for matching the level of performance you want from a media player with a display that can take advantage of that performance. If you’re just showing static images, you can choose a low-end OPS-compliant media player designed for that. If you want high definition (HD) images and video, you can choose a high-end OPS-compliant media player.


OPS also provides excellent flexibility. If down the line you decide you want a bigger display, you can   buy a newer, bigger OPS-compliant display and just reuse the media player from the old display. OPS also provides some insurance on being able to utilize new technology. For example, if you want to take advantage of the improved integrated graphics, performance, manageability and security of a new generation of Intel® processors, an OPS display/player combo allows you to just pull out the old media player and insert a new OPS-compatible media player with the latest processor.


The Challenges in Scaling Out Digital Signage Systems

As great a step as OPS is in modularization, the digital signage industry still faces challenges in assembling large networked systems that connect hundreds of signs to the back-end or cloud, as well as other retail systems. Large signage systems require remote manageability and security to be cost effective and protected from malware. What’s more, large signage systems require some form of data collection and analysis to provide the audience metrics, proof of play, and delivery of targeted content that advertisers want.


This has been a tall order. Developers and system integrators have made laudable efforts to cobble together relatively secure and manageable digital signage systems. Unfortunately, it’s been a pretty labor-intensive process involving finding and spec’ing interoperable components, selecting and getting all the software and licenses together, and then testing and hoping the whole thing doesn’t become obsolete or hard to expand in several years. The customized nature of these systems can make them expensive to implement. Dependence on proprietary hardware or software that may not be offered or maintained in the future can be frightening when investing hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.


A Sign for the Times: The Intel Intelligent Systems Framework

For digital signage systems, the Intel Intelligent Systems Framework is a wish come true. Designed for use across the full spectrum of connected devices, the framework gives developers access to a range of validated components from the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance, a global ecosystem of 250+ member companies that collaborate closely with Intel and each other to innovate with the latest technologies. These framework-ready components can be mixed and matched to deliver comprehensive solutions spanning from media players to the cloud.


Framework-ready hardware includes boards, modules, and market-ready systems. Complementing these hardware solutions are software components from McAfee, Microsoft, and Wind River. These components include:


  • Operating system and middleware, such as Microsoft Windows, Wind River Linux, and Wind River VxWorks
  • Security solutions, including McAfee Embedded Control and McAfee Deep Defender™ designed to protect the edge and the network
  • Remote manageability capabilities supporting third-party management consoles
  • Virtualization solutions enabling consolidation of multiple functions on a single platform—such as point of sale (POS) and digital signage
  • Integrated software development tools, such as Intel® System Studio, that help software developers quickly and efficiently code for systems based on Intel® processors
  • Firmware solutions, such as Intel® Firmware Support Package, that provide low-level Intel processor, Intel® chipset, and memory firmware initialization capabilities using a standardized interface


Using these framework-ready components developers can confidently and efficiently connect and secure devices and data from different platforms and applications (see Figure 1). In addition, the framework uses Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT)—part of Intel® vPro™ technology available through select 2nd and 3rd generation Intel® Core™ processors—to deliver value-add capabilities like hardware-based virtualization and remote management. The latter is particularly valuable for replacing expensive in-person service calls with out-of-band control, update and repair capabilities. For sign system owners, this lowers total cost of ownership (TCO) and enables faster ROI by maximizing system uptime and lowering maintenance costs.


ISF Retail Diagram.JPG

Figure 1. Through the Intel® Intelligent Systems Framework, the retail industry will more easily be able to connect, manage and secure a wide range of devices, laying the groundwork for new consumer experiences, enhanced productivity, better inventory management, and brand optimization.


An OPS-Compliant, Framework-Ready Solution

When it comes to media players, the best of both worlds are OPS-compliant devices that are Intel Intelligent Systems Framework-ready. A good example is the Advantech ARK-DS262. This tiny (200 x 119 x 30 mm) unit small slides easily inside OPS-compliant displays, but packs all the processing and advanced graphics you’d expect from its 3rd generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor (see Figure 2). There’s integrated support for HDMI output for full HD content display and 3D animation applications with no need for a third-party graphics card.



Figure 2. The Advantech ARK-DS262 fits into a slot in an OPS-compliant monitor to make an all-in-one digital signage solution that can be reconfigured easily if necessary in the future.


The ARK-DS262 also is ideal for remote management through Intel AMT and a third-party console. In fact, as a framework-ready component, it comes pre-loaded with an embedded OS, along with SUSIAccess remote device management software, and system security software by McAfee. In addition, security is easily implemented on both a device and network basis through framework-ready McAfee products that take advantage of Intel® processor-based security technologies. With such a turnkey signage solution, developers and system Integrators can save important development time and focus on their own applications.


Giving Advertisers the Control and Metrics They Want

The use of framework-ready media players and boards ensures the ability to deliver viewership metrics and targeted content. Such players and board boards can run Intel Audience Impression Metrics Suite (Intel® AIM Suite), an anonymous viewer analytics (AVA) software product. Easily deployed in digital signage systems, Intel AIM Suite installs on nearly any device based on Intel® processors and utilizes off-the-shelf consumer web camera sensors and cloud-based reporting. By providing the ability to recognize viewer gender and approximate age bracket, Intel AIM Suite enables delivery of viewer-targeted content and can collect viewership data such as dwell time and user interactions to report back on advertising effectiveness.


A New Era for Digital Signage

Strategically combining key framework ingredients, developers and OEMs can now more quickly design digital signage solutions that connect over a network through a variety of wired and wireless technologies. This integration and the performance of Intel processor-based systems will enable signage solutions that system-wide can collect and analyze data in near real time to deliver customized messages to specific audiences at each sign and record their reaction.


This is a new, exciting era for digital signage. The ability to monitor and increase advertising effectiveness alone should increase the number of organizations willing to invest in extensive signage systems and to inspire new revenue models in their relationship with advertisers. The Intel Intelligent Systems Framework also opens the door to new usage models as the number of framework-ready products grow. It’s easy to imagine that developers quickly become adept and creative at using these ingredients to launch their own solutions for success. One might well ask: what will you do with the framework today?





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Advantech is a Premier member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. McAfee, Microsoft and Wind River are Associate members of the Alliance.


Mark Scantlebury

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

Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine