All the Signs are Here for Interactive Retail

Shopping has changed so dramatically in the last 20 years that you don’t even have to go into a store these days. Digital technology is further transforming the shopping experience, using networks and big data analytics to smooth the process and inform the consumer.

Shopping is divisive. People love or loathe it, but even the haters are shifting as digital technology in shopping malls and stores brings a personalized experience that can inform and entertain. Above all, of course, digital signage can nudge the consumer to a particular purchase. Advocates say the new generation of digital signage creates a platform known as Retail 4.0 and can streamline efficiency in the stockroom as well as the shop floor.

The new generation of digital signage creates a platform known as Retail 4.0 and can streamline efficiency in the stockroom as well as the shop floor.

Smartphones and even wearable devices can be used to access digital channels while the user prowls the malls or High Street shops. Retailers are using digital signage to do more than display videos that can arrest the most world-weary shopper with video adverts. Companies are using it for communications and public information services and also for rapid emergency notifications in public areas.


Figure 1: The VIA ALTA DS 4K Android commercial player raises retail graphics with 4K multimedia and Bluetooth networking capabilities.


Analyst Global Market Insights reports that the digital signage market is likely to exceed $23 billion by 2023, as companies capitalize on lower Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) prices. In 2015, LCD technology displays accounted for over 50 percent of the digital signage market. Light Emitting Diode (LED) display technology, however, is expected to grow as LED backlit panels offer energy saving benefits.

Embedded system manufacturers are introducing high performance, versatile systems with connectivity options for networks and with advanced graphics capabilities.

Although used in banking, education, healthcare, and transportation, it is the retail sector that dominates the digital signage market, with over 40 percent share of revenue in 2015 (Digital Signage Market Size by Application . . .Application Potential, Price Trends, Competitive Market Share & Forecast 2016-2023 – Global Market Insights). Most growth has been in Asia Pacific, six percent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) since 2010. As the region’s transport, healthcare and education infrastructure grows it is implementing digital technology in these areas, in response to the demand for an enhanced visual experience and communication. The USA has a strong digital signage market with a large number of suppliers and services. It has some innovative examples of how digital signage can be used for smart, interactive retail, and how smart kiosks can bring the 24-hour culture to more markets.

Smart Visuals
Digital signage used to be one-way delivery service for information. This marked the advance of self-service shops from traditional shelved stores—or the transition of Retail 1.0 to Retail 2.0. The advent of e-commerce brought Retail 3.0, and now, interactive online services, using big data analytics, sensors on an Internet of Things (IoT) network and access to the Cloud have resulted in Retail 4.0. This kind of data transmit and receive as well as processing and graphics encoding and decoding takes some powerful systems to produce the image. Embedded system manufacturers are responding by introducing high performance, versatile systems with connectivity options for networks and with advanced graphics capabilities.

To nudge consumers to a promotional item, digital signage and automated, self-service kiosks can show videos. These can now be interactive and tailored to the audience. VIA Technologies has introduced the VIA ALTA DS 4K Android commercial player (Figure 1), which has advanced graphics capabilities to provide new services to consumers.

The touchscreen system has Ultra High Definition (HD) video and 3D graphics capabilities and HTML5 rendering for rich visuals and connectivity for an interactive display. The Android commercial media player has Dual Ethernet connectors to allow an Internet Protocol (IP) camera to be installed. This camera can be configured to blend locally captured, real-time video streams with Cloud services and content for dynamic location, for example. Data can also be used to display time-specific content, such as sandwich deals at lunch time or cocktails during happy hour.

It is scalable in design, points out Richard Brown, VP of Global Marketing, VIA Technologies, to provide “the functionality and flexibility that retailers and restaurant operators need to develop innovative new services that boost customer convenience and increase sales.”

The system is based around an Arm® 1.4GHz Cortex™-A17 quad-core System on Chip (SoC), and combines 2D/3D graphics with an advanced video engine that supports Open® GL ES 3.0 hardware acceleration and H.265, H.264, VC-1, and MPEG-2 video decoding up to 3840 x 2160p at 30 frames per second. There is also the capability for simultaneous dual hardware decoding of one Ultra HD and one Full HD video, and smooth HTML5 rendering for a rich, multimedia display.

Peripherals are integrated through the front and rear panels via one Universal Serial Bus (USB) 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, one mini USB 2.0 port, one Secure Digital (SD) card slot, line-out and mic-in audio jacks, and one 1.4 High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port with Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) support, one Committed Information Rate (CIR) receiver as well as dual Ethernet ports (one Gigabit Local Area Network (GLAN) and one LAN port).

There is also 2Gbyte Double Data Rate 3 (DDR3) Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory (SDRAM) and 8Gbyte eMMC Flash memory. For high-speed wireless networking, there is an optional EMIO-5531 USB Wi-Fi and Bluetooth module.

The system is compatible with the latest Android Signage Content Management apps. The company offers a signage software pack with the media player. This includes a customized Android 5.1.1 system image with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to protect against system crashes (such as a watchdog timer and real-time clock wake-up).

The compact fanless chassis measures just 6.9 x 4.65 inch and one inch high or 175 x 118mm and 25mm high.


Figure 2: Advantech’s DS-280 OPS signage player streams 4K content to three displays.


Another company offering 4K media content is Advantech. Its DS-280 (Figure 2) is the company’s first Open Pluggable Standard (OPS) signage player which offers 50 percent more display than conventional OPS signage players which support dual displays. The DS-280 can stream up to 4K media content on three displays through HDMI and DisplayPort (DP) interfaces.

The signage player combines 6th Generation Intel® Core™i7/i5/i3 Ball Grid Array (BGA) processors and Intel HD graphics 530, supporting HEVC/H.265, AVC/H.264, MPEG2, VC1/WMV9, VP8, JPEG/MJPEG, VP9 video formats, for true 4K (4096 x 2160) resolution.

It can be connected to an OPS-compliant display through a JAE TX-25A 80-pin connector supporting Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter (UART), HDMI/ DP, USB2.0/ 3.0, and audio with specific OPS displays, for minimum cabling, says Advantech. It is modular in design and slots into place to simplify installation, maintenance, and ease of upgrades to digital signage.

The integrated WebAccess/IMM content management and the Cloud-based WISE-PaaS/RMM device management software allow users to edit the layout of content and schedule data with real-time information and advertising management.

WISE-PaaS/RMM also provides an Intel security function to ensure on-screen content is secured, and Acronis functions to recover essential data as back-up.


Figure 3: The WEBS-13D1 is designed for digital signage in harsh environments.


German industrial PC provider, Portwell has also produced a fanless system, based on the Intel® Atom® processor E3900 series, which also relies on advanced graphics capabilities for digital signage and kiosks. The WEBS-13D1 is also suitable for harsh environments, says Portwell, citing factory automation, medical and IoT applications.

It has the company’s PEB-2773, 3.5-inch form factor embedded board. The low power Intel Generation 9 graphics engine supports faster 4K encode and decode operations and has up to 18 execution units to improve 3D graphics performance, says the company.

To support the performance characteristics of a retail, healthcare or factory environment, the embedded system is equipped with DDR3L Small Outline Dual In-line Memory Module (SO-DIMM) up to 8GByte supporting 1866/1600Million Transfers per second. There are also six USB 3.0 ports; one DP and one HDMI I/O with resolution up to 4096 x 2160. Also at the rear of the unit are one smart COM port for RS-232/422/485 selected by Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) and three COM ports for RS-232. For storage, there is 2.5-inch Hard Disk Drive/ Solid State Drive (HDD/SSD) and mSATA, as well as a Mini PCIe interface for wireless connectivity options including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Near-Field Communication (NFC) and Long Term Evolution/ Global Positioning System (LTE/GPS) functionalities.

The compact system measures 7.9 x 5.9-inch and 3.15-inch high (200 x 150mm and 80mm high) has a Thermal Design Power (TDP) of less than 12W for fanless applications and supports an input range from 12 to 24V for operation in harsh environments. Operating temperature range is -20 to +60°C.

Housed in a rugged box PC, it can be wall or panel mounted and can be customized to meet different board form factors to suit the applications. As it is fanless, it is reliable and silent in operation for sensitive consumer or medical areas.

Caroline Hayes has been a journalist covering the electronics sector for more than 20 years. She has worked on several European titles, reporting on a variety of industries, including communications, broadcast and automotive.


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