intel_Something big has happened since I wrote “Thinking Small about the Big Picture in Digital Signage,” my last post on low-power, low-cost digital signage. In October, Intel launched a new processor series and in doing so, has changed the game when it comes to using Intel® Atom processors for digital signage applications. The new processor family is the Intel® Celeron® processor and Atom™ processor E3800 product families (formerly codenamed “Bay Trail”).
These processors can play a supporting role in two trends driving a lot of today’s innovation: the Connected Store and the Internet of Things. In this post, I want to look at how these processors change the rules on what you expect from an entry-level media player.
A Processor Family for Entry-Level Media Players That Perform Better Than Entry-Level
If I were a retailer, there would be several features I’d want in an entry-level media player. First and foremost, I’d want the ability to wow my customers with compelling images, both static and video. After all, that’s why you buy digital signage. You want to stop customers in their tracks and pay attention to a promotion or other advertising message.
The new Intel Atom processor E3800 product family and Intel® Celeron® J1900 and N2920 processors shine here. They use Intel’s Silvermont microarchitecture and industry-leading 22nm process technology to deliver over 5X faster graphics and 3X faster processing than the Intel Atom processor N2000/D2000 family. In fact, these processors include a version of the Intel® HD Graphics 4000 that made 3rd generation Intel® Core™ processors so amazing. A lot of the enhanced graphics performance comes from dedicated execution units and fixed-function and hardware decode engines (Figure 1). You get full HD video decode support that can handle 10 or more simultaneous video streams.
The processors deliver 3D content through DirectX 11*, Open GL 4.0*, and OpenGL 1.2 and will provide output for two independent displays. They support HDMI 1.4a and DisplayPort* 1.1, with maximum resolution of 2560x1600@60Hz and hardware-accelerated video decode for H.264*, MVC*, VPG8*, JPEG/mJPEG*, VC1/ WMV9*, and MPEG2* standards. Bottom line, these processors deliver the goods for visual media.
Enabling Software Compatibility from Entry-Level to High-End Signage
The next feature as a retailer I’d want in an entry-level media player is the knowledge that it will be compatible with the mainstream and high-end solutions I have or may want to add later. Most retailers have had negative experiences buying entry-level, mainstream and high-end signage and POS systems and trying to get them to work together. This includes the difficulty of training employees on different software.
Entry-level in price, these new processors change the paradigm. They enable developers to offer a scalable line of retail devices with the same media software compatibility. These new processors are fully compatible with Intel Core processors. This compatibility is valuable in helping developers and system integrators meet a wide range of market needs, enabling a retailer to mix and match entry-level to high-end players while using the same software. In fact, developers of high-end digital signage applications for systems powered by Intel Core processors can tap the same Intel® Media SDK when developing applications for systems based on the Intel Atom and Intel Celeron J1900 and N2920 processors. The Intel HD Graphics enables developers and their customers to profit from scalable full HD video content across all retail digital touch points.
Then there’s what makes these processors entry-level. It’s certainly not their performance. In that space, they exceed expectations—a new out-of-order execution engine provides up-to-2x greater performance per core over previous generation Intel Atom processors. In terms of low-power performance and reducing bill of materials (BOM) though, these processors certainly fill the “bill” in enabling low-cost solutions. As the first sub-10-watt Intel® processor system on chips (SoCs) designed for intelligent systems, they reduce board real estate by turning what was a two-chip solution into a single chip design (Figure 2).
In a range of designs from one to four cores, these SoCs deliver integrated graphics, integrated 64-bit memory controller, hardware-based virtualization capabilities (an excellent feature for interactive signage requiring advanced security to protect customer information), and outstanding integration of I/O interfaces. In addition to the display interfaces mentioned, the SoCs includes camera interfaces with image processing, multiple storage types, and legacy embedded I/O. Expansion capabilities include PCI Express* Gen 2.0, Hi-speed USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 connectivity.
The Intel Atom processor E3800 product family (but not the Intel Celeron processor J1900 and N2920) provides two more features you might not expect in a processor for an entry-level media player. These SoCs can operate in an industrial temperature range (-40º to 110º C). This makes them suitable for outdoor environments. In addition, they support the use of Error Correcting Code (ECC) memory. This might seem overkill for a media player, but there are times when the extra reliability and availability that ECC provides could be important. A good example would be an interactive map of an airport in a concourse. You wouldn’t want travelers looking at a blank or frozen screen due to a memory issue.
Systems and Boards Already Available
Probably one of the best features of these new SoCs is the embedded ecosystem support behind them. The 250+ member companies of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance offer an increasing number of systems and boards based on these SoCs. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
AAEON provides the ACP-5214 (Figure 3), a ready-to-go 21.5-inch fanless multi-touch computer with the Intel® Atom™ E3827 processor that just needs an ODM’s or system integrator’s branding and software solutions. Its HD TFT LCD display (1920 x 1080) is a multi-touch (two-point) design with a tough anti-scratch surface.
For those developers looking to build their own media player or all-in-one unit, IBASE offers the IB897 board (Figure 4) with a quad-core Intel® Atom™ E3845 processor that features 1.91 GHz clock speed, 10-watt power consumption, and 2MB L2 cache. The board offers one DisplayPort port, one VGA CRT and 24-bit dual channel LVDS connectors. Versatile I/O functions include two GbE ports, two COM ports, one USB 3.0, three USB 2.0, two SATA II ports, two Mini PCIe slots and a Micro SD slot. The IB897 supports an operating system temperature ranging from -40°C to 85°C. It includes iSMART, IBASE’s green technology with EuP/ErP power saving, auto power on/off scheduler and power resume functions. The IB897 is also available with the 1.75 GHz dual-core Intel Atom processor E3827 and up to 8GB 1333MHz DDR3L memory capacity.
The NDiS M323 OPS Digital Signage Player (Figure 5) from Nexcom is a cost-effective OPS-compliant 1080P media player that is compatible with the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS). As an OPS-compliant media player, the NDiS M323 can be plugged into OPS-compliant devices without using cables to make an all-in-one solution, simplifying hardware integration and increasing hardware compatibility. Based on the Intel® Celeron™ Processor J1900, the NDiS M323 features quad-core performance and Intel® Gen 7 Graphics. The NDiS M323 is capable of fast video conversion and sharp 3D graphics processing to play multiple high-definition videos on two displays (the one it’s inserted in, as well as a second display) while running applications in the background.
Venture Corporation makes its VG-E3800 motherboard (Figure 6) available with all five current SKUs of the Intel Atom processor E3800 family. This range of choice enables developers to scale the hardware design from a one-to-four core CPU configuration. In addition, an optional expansion card provides excellent peripherals flexibility, making the board suitable for retail applications from media player to POS terminal. The VG-E3800 supports Windows 8, 7 and Windows Embedded Standard operating systems. Its dimensions are 190mm x 130mm.
Take Entry Level to a Higher Level
If you’re a developer or systems integrator looking for a way to add a new dimension to entry-level digital signage that will wow retailers and their customers, take a good look at systems and boards based on the Intel Atom processor E3800 product family and Intel Celeron J1900 and N2920 processors. To learn more about the ways the low-power high performance of these SoCs shines in retail applications and the Connected Store, I suggest you read this Intel white paper.
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Solutions in this blog:
· Performance - Top Picks (blogs, white papers, and more)energy
· Energy Efficiency - Top Picks (blogs, white papers, and more)
· Digital Signage - Top Picks (blogs, white papers, and more)
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance
Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine