When you look at all the digital signage solutions available today from a developer’s point of view, the first thing that might strike you is all the redundant development effort. One company after another is tailoring their own lightweight OSs to meet the specific needs of their project. Linux is often their choice since it allows developers to easily select and modify components as needed. The trade-off for that flexibility though can be an extensive time investment in each custom Linux version. A lack of uniformity among board support packages (BSPs) and tools adds further complexity.
An excellent shortcut for developers is the Yocto Project. This collaborative, open-source project facilitates and streamlines the development of custom embedded Linux. By providing a solid foundation that companies can use as the basis for their own embedded Linux versions with just a few relatively minor customizations, the Yocto Project allows developers to spend more time on compelling differentiating features and far less time on the basics.
In this post, we look at this streamlined development process and how it is helping QNAP, a company that specializes in hardware and software engineering for media players and NVR video surveillance products, reduce its development efforts. Using the Yocto Project, they’ve cut the time spent on OS customizations from a month to just a couple of days.
Improving Development Efficiency with the Yocto Project
The Yocto Project is a collaborative, open-source project that facilitates and streamlines the development of custom embedded Linux. It’s not an embedded Linux distribution–it creates a custom one for you. The project provides proven templates, tools, methods, documentation, and community support to streamline the process of creating custom Linux-based OSs for embedded products regardless of the hardware architecture (see Figure 1). As a result, OS development time is dramatically reduced, helping companies speed products to market, lower development costs, and devote time to creating more competitive, differentiated products.
The free tools are easy to get started with, powerful to work with (they include emulation environments, debuggers, an Application Toolkit Generator, etc.), and allow projects to be carried forward over time without causing you to lose optimizations and investments made during the project’s prototype phase. In addition to supporting roll-your-own OSs, Wind River and Mentor Graphics offer commercial OS support and services that protect code and design investments when moving from a proof of concept to a commercial OS.
Partly derived from the collection of recipes, classes, and associated files that make up OpenEmbedded-Core—the build framework for embedded Linux—the Yocto Project is continually refined, tested, and updated by an active community. As a result, companies can find the tools they need to accelerate embedded Linux development across a breadth of platforms. This is particularly true for Intel® platforms. Significant project contributions by Intel engineers help ensure pre-validation for Intel platforms, as well as an extensive lineup of prebuilt and tested BSPs that offer solid Linux support across these platforms.
Yocto Project support for the Hob graphical interface further enhances the efficiency among developers. This tool simplifies efforts to create, modify, build, and deploy images for beginner and experienced Linux developers alike. Developers also have the flexibility to use their preferred UI tools, such as Clutter, QT, HTML5, Gnome, and more.
QNAP’s Experience with the Yocto Project
Like many companies that produce embedded solutions, QNAP used to roll its own custom Linux distributions from scratch. This was a tedious process typically requiring the full-time attention of two developers for about a month.
QNAP has been able to reduce that figure to just a couple of days using Yocto Project technologies. By relieving QNAP developers from many low-level details involved in creating custom Linux distributions and BSPs, QNAP is able to apply greater focus on differentiating features for a broad and growing range of digital signage usage models.
Leveraging the Yocto Project, QNAP is creating flexible solution stacks enabling the company to deliver:
· Digital signage players at a variety of capability levels and price points
· Video wall controllers supporting configurations of up to nine displays per controller
· Compelling signage features, based on the latest Intel® platforms, such as full HD, 4K Ultra-HD, and multi-screen collages
· A variety of supporting applications such as content management, scheduling, and administration
· Value-added functionality such as user interactivity and automated content customization based on changing factors, such as time of day, weather, and GPS coordinates.
A Feature-Rich Example: the QNAP iS-2840
A good example of a QNAP feature-rich digital signage solution developed using the Yocto Project is their high-end iS-2840 Digital Signage System. This powerful solution’s custom Linux distribution was created through with Yocto Project tools and workflow, and is designed to run professional digital signage software for content creation, scheduling, and remote management.
Figure 2. The iS-2840 is QNAP’s current top-of-the-line digital signage system.
The custom OS runs on top of a powerful Intel® Core™ i7 processor and Intel® C206 Chipset that together enable the unit to deliver excellent compute, integrated media, and graphics performance over the previous generation without an add-on graphics card. The processor supports next-generation I/O technologies, higher resolution independent displays, and enhanced security capabilities. Highlights include:
· Intel® HD Graphics 4000 for enhanced visual experiences, including excellent 3-D performance and support for three independent displays.
· Intel® Quick Sync Video 2.0 for improved ability to decode and transcode simultaneous video streams.
· Integrated PCI Express* Gen 3 and USB 3.0 support for faster connectivity.
· Intel® Platform Protection Technology with Intel® Trusted Execution Technology for measured launch and protected execution.
The iS-2840 offers four mini DisplayPort outputs that can combine to power four TV screens as a big 4K video wall and support both vertical and horizontal arrangements (Figure 3). A bezel compensation feature allows video to be displayed in proportion even if the distance between the screens is set longer.
Using the Yocto Project contributed to development of the iS-2840 by allowing QNAP to make short work of customizing its embedded Linux distribution to take maximum advantage of the performance, graphics and energy efficiency benefits of what was Intel’s latest generation of Intel® Core™ processors at the time of development. This gave QNAP time to enhance its feature set and tune the unit’s operation with its packaged iSignage software bundle for content creation, scheduling, and remote management. This software enables iS-2840 users to remotely manage units, including easily edit and schedule video wall content such as 2x2 and 1x4 displays.
The Innovation Never Stops
One of the great things about open source solutions is the speed at which the community can drive innovation. As new digital signage usage models emerge, the Yocto Project* will continue to help solution providers like QNAP take advantage of the latest Intel® platforms to bring new products to market faster and more cost-effectively. At the same time, easier, faster development makes it possible for companies like QNAP to supply systems integrators with new solutions and services designed to keep the digital signage market fresh and exciting for signage owners and their audiences alike.
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Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® IoT Solutions Alliance
Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine