Intel’s Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) Takes Hold in Digital Signage

Intel released the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) to eliminate communication/integration problems between a host computer and its displays, with the goal of easing integration challenges.

With its rising importance, digital signage has been praised as the next-generation marketing platform and a competitive tool for companies seeking to extend their global reach and to become more widespread in daily use. In retrospect, however, digital signage development has often been deemed difficult due to a lack of standard specifications. In terms of multimedia specifications, digital server synchronization or integration between multimedia player and display, system integration remains a challenging task.

As application technologies continue gradually to mature, the outlook for digital signage remains promising. However, the integration between the player and the panel has never been an easy task due to a long-standing absence of an industry-wide standard. In response, Intel released the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) with the aim of eliminating communication/integration problems between a host computer and its display screen(s).

The OPS was developed to simplify the installation, use, maintenance and upgrading of small PCs that are installed with display panels in locations as widely varied as medical offices and fast food order counters.

The idea is simple enough—have manufacturers all develop small PCs with the same dimensions, connectors and mounting characteristics, and have display panel makers build in slots that readily accept and work with those units. It means, for example, an OPS PC that is used for a network that has NEC displays could also work in a sister network that uses Philips display panels, without any modifications.

The first salient point of the OPS is its universal hardware specification, which requires the size of the integrated device and display to be 200 x 119 x 30mm. This enables hardware to be seamlessly integrated. Secondly, the OPS standardizes signal definition. The use of HDMI and the JAE 80-pin connector, which serves as a bridge between the device and the display, facilitates communication and further simplifies device installation, usage, maintenance and upgrades. The OPS enables digital signage manufacturers to deploy interchangeable systems faster and in larger volume, all while lowering costs for development and implementation.

Figure 1: The use of HDMI and the JAE 80-pin connector, which serves as a bridge between the device and the display, facilitates communication and further simplifies device installation, usage, maintenance and upgrades.

The concept has a strong list of benefits.

Interoperability. Sticking to just one hardware specification for growing, evolving digital signage networks is very challenging. A network’s technical team can find itself having to support several different PC set-ups and multiple display panels. It happens through merger and acquisition, consolidation and, often, for budget-trimming reasons.

With OPS, network operators can settle on the standard, and then evaluate PC and display choices based on price and performance, knowing they can switch things around or easily add new units as long as they meet the standard.

Installation and Maintenance. OPS units are slot-loaded devices that slide and lock, or snap, into place in all-in-one panel PCs. They are zero-footprint devices that are integrated within the actual LCD enclosure, meaning no external mounting kit, no cable runs and no special connectors.

All-in-one units install easily, and when on-site servicing is required, one technician just needs to be able to reach up, release the securing mechanisms and slide the PC out of its slot. Upgrades are just as easy, as long as new units meet the same OPS.

There have been all-in-one PC/displays on the market for a few years, but they have custom specifications for swappable PCs or, in some cases, are PCs hard-wired into the units and serviced only by taking the whole unit down.

Figure 2: Advantech’s ARK-DS262 adopts the 3rd generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor, built-in advanced graphics engine, with support for HDMI output for full HD content display and 3D animation applications. The ARK-DS262 also supports one internal Mini PCle interface for add-on functions such as wireless cards, so that material can be saved and uploaded to the central server by WLAN, without any USB disk.

Costs. Standards introduce predictability, and start to remove some of the uncertainty around developing PC products that need to align with always-shifting market needs. The OPS will start lowering costs for development, and also allow for higher production volumes. Those things tend to reduce end-user costs.

Marketability. As the use of digital signage grows in the vast small-to-medium business marketplace, there is considerable demand and opportunity for products that simplify what can look quite complicated. An all-in-one display and slot-loaded PC, pre-installed with an operating system and digital signage management software, is very attractive to resellers and end users.

Some of the first OPS PCs that came on the market met the technical requirements for dimensions nicely, but didn’t necessarily have the CPU and graphics processing power needed to meet the needs of all network operators.

The OPS specification released by Intel is an effort to help standardize the design and development of the digital signage industry, featuring a standard slim form factor, standard pluggable interface and standard signal output for easy installation, operation and maintenance.

It was not that long ago when using small form-factor PCs for digital signage reduced the physical footprint of installations but did so by sacrificing some of the performance delivered by larger PCs. Those days are now over. When standards develop and get adopted in an industry, it’s a sign the sector is starting to mature, which can reduce the amount of fragmentation. OPS just makes sense, and we see its continued development as very important to the future of the digital signage business.

Weihsu Huang started her career with Advantech in 2008 where she is now the senior product manager for the Embedded Computing Group and focuses on digital signage business development and its global marketing strategy.

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