When it comes to processors, many of us in the computer industry can be a little like Tim Allen’s “Tool Time” character in the 1990s television show Home Improvement. We want more power, more performance—the best we can get. Which is why under the hood of my desktop, you’ll find a recent Intel® Core™ i7 processor that delivers more performance than I need for most applications. Yet when it comes time to do some video editing of footage from an adventure, watch out. This computer seriously earns its keep in whipping through transcoding and rendering tasks while I mercilessly continue multitasking on everything from web browsing to my writing projects.
It’s much different in the embedded industry. Here there’s a real talent in selecting the processor that delivers the right performance for a specific task or tasks. The more price-competitive a market, such as retail digital signage, the more important it is to offer a variety of products providing a full range of performance and price points. After all, not all signage customers are looking to screen ultra HD images and video on ultra high resolution displays. Often a customer just needs some players that will provide solid HD playback and high resolution video for advertising promotions and in-store branding.
For the displays that don’t need the eye-popping graphical performance of 4th generation Intel® Core™ processors, an Intel® Atom™ processor delivers great price/performance for a wide variety of fanless form factors. In these cases, developers turn to boards featuring either the Intel® Atom™ processor N2000 or D2000 series. These processor deliver excellent media performance for lower end players (see Figure 1). And do it running at a thermal design power (TDP) ranging from 3.5 W to 10 W.
Figure 1. For developers of digital media players, this chart provides helpful guidance on when to select a board with an Intel® Atom™ processor versus one with the more extensive features on an Intel® Core™ processor.
The Intel® Atom™ processor N2000/D2000 series use an integrated Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 3600/3650 to deliver high definition 1080p video playback and streaming at a fraction of the power consumption of their predecessors. This graphic engine includes two hardware decoders (H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2) and can power dual independent displays. The multiple digital display and output options include LVDS, HDMI, VGA, and DisplayPort.
An integrated memory controller supports up to 4GB of DDR3 system memory, providing plenty of headroom for whatever processing tasks are required. Features like Intel® Rapid Start Technology, which provides fast resume from standby, and Intel® Smart Connect Technology, which enables units to download content updates even during standby, have strong appeal in the retail market.
Add it all up and the Intel® Atom™ processor N2000/D2000 series provide a perfect entry solution for signage applications where the extreme video transcoding performance, ultra high resolutions, and the advanced management and security features of Intel® Core™ processors are not needed. Developers and system integrators instead can use these Intel Atom processors to deliver economical players that provide 1920 x 1200 resolution, smooth video playback at full HD 1080P video, and support for the common Microsoft Windows* operating systems that run most of the content creation and management software that signage customers want to use.
Solutions from the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance
Members of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance offer a wide array of media players and boards for digital signage and kiosk systems using processors from the Intel Atom processor N2000 and D2000 series. Their solutions make it easy to tap both performance and economy of these chips for price-sensitive markets. In this post, I want to highlight a number of them.
The fanless AAEON DSS-CV21 (Figure 2) features a small, slim enclosure (240mm x 32mm x 170mm) and is powered by the Intel® Atom™ Processor D2550 with 1M Cache at 1.86GHz. It supports dual view with one VGA and one HDMI port. Robust connectivity is available via Gigabit Ethernet connection and optional wireless LAN (Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n) antennae. Storage is one 2.5" HDD/SDD, with further storage capability through an SD Card Reader. Additional device connectivity is supplied by one RS-232 expansion port and four USB 2.0 ports. Multi-channel audio is also supported through an S/PDIF interface.
The Axiomtek OPS830 signage player (Figure 3) is a modular design featuring compatibility with the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS). This means you can insert it into any OPS-compatible display to make an all-in-one player/display unit. This player uses the Intel Atom processor D2550 and provides an array of display interfaces including a VGA port on the module and DisplayPort and DVI/HDMI via the slot-in JAE 80-pin connector used for OPS connections. A PCI Express Mini Card slot is available for graphics-enhanced video card, wireless LAN card, and tuner/AV capture card.
The SECOpITX-x2000 (Figure 4) is a Single Board Computer in the Pico-ITX form factor (just 100mm x72mm) that is available with: the Intel® Atom™ D2550 at 1.86GHz and 10W TDP; the Intel® Atom™ N2800 at 1.86GHz and 6.5W TDP; and the Intel® Atom™ N2600 at 1.6GHz and 3.5W TDP. This small, feature-packed board with dual independent display support (HDMI connector and LVDS internal connector) is ideal for making a low-power entry-level media player for a wide variety of uses including retail signage and menu boards.
The Supermicro SYS-1017A-MP (Figure 5) is a Mini-ITX box PC. This a compact, low power system features a 6.5W Intel Atom N2800 processor, 1x 2.5" HDD bay, 1x mini PCI-E expansion slot, and a VESA mount bracket. It’s ideal as a mountable compact media player. It supports VGA, HDMI and DisplayPort video. There are two Intel 82574L Gigabit Ethernet ports. The motherboard also has two USB 3.0 ports and four USB 2.0 ports. The system has a 60 W power supply.
The IEI ECN-360A-HM65 (Figure 6) is a fanless media player (255mm x 130mm x 63mm) available with either the Intel Atom processor D2550 (1.86 GHz) or the N2600 (1.6 GHz). This wall mountable system has a 2.5” SATA HDD bay for applications and media and an option for wireless LAN (802.11b/g/n) in addition to its 2x Realtek RTL8111E PCIe GbE controller.
The Norco BIS-6595 (Figure 7)is an Intel® Atom™ processor-powered player utilizing the next generation of their proprietary large “ICEFIN” thermal design. This design ensures maximum heat dissipation and a true fanless system. Available with the Intel Atom processor N2800 or D2550, the unit (280mm x 219mm x 115mm) includes 2x Mini PCIe and one internal SIM slot, WiFi and 3G support for network connectivity, and DVI+VGA dual independent display output.
We’ve just looked at six great options from members of the Intel Intelligent Systems Alliance for meeting the needs of developers and system integrators targeting the market for entry-level digital signage solutions. I would encourage contacting these companies for information on other boards and solutions they have for addressing this growing market, as well as their products using Intel® Core™ processors to deliver high performance to mainstream and high-end signage solutions.
Contact Featured Alliance members:
Solutions in this blog:
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· Digital Signage - Top Picks (blogs, white papers, and more)
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance
Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine