How can you meet the diverse requirements of digital signage applications?

August 01, 2010

How can you meet the diverse requirements of digital signage applications?

Digital signage hardware with extended availability pays for itself through reduced repair, management, and inventory costs.

While attending the recent InfoComm 2010 show, I had the opportunity to discuss the requirements of digital signage solutions with vendors serving the market. It’s no surprise to hear that the requirements are as diverse as the number of vendors. So how do silicon providers formulate a strategy to meet the requirements of a market that doesn’t agree on what the requirements are?

Digital signage hardware, software, and solution providers have very diverse business models that often lend themselves to vastly varying features and requirements for their applications. Drilling down to the hardware requirements, one digital signage application might require a single display, while another system might integrate two or more HD displays with a Point-Of-Sale (POS) terminal. Some systems only require basic 2D graphics, while others leverage HD video and 3D. Systems might be integrated into or mounted on the back of a display that requires them to be compact and low power, while others might have the luxury of a ventilated cabinet.

Meeting the requirements for all of these different implementations might seem easy to accomplish by putting together the right combinations of off-the-shelf commercial hardware. But as simple as it may seem, experienced vendors assert that this strategy will quickly drive people out of business through recurring management and service costs.

To begin with, off-the-shelf hardware used in PC applications is only available for sale for about 12 months on average. Hardware picked from the bargain bin might already be near the end of its life with limited availability. That means that a large digital signage installation might use more than one hardware configuration, resulting in the need to manage and maintain multiple software images with updates and bug fixes in the operating system, drivers, and middleware.

Imagine doing this at multiple installations, each with a unique set of requirements, for just five years. By that time one might be supporting more than 10 different hardware configurations and maintaining even more software images. Which systems in the field have which hardware configuration, and which of those were updated to the latest software level during a repair or service call? Managing this becomes a major fixed cost even for companies that do it well.

What about maintenance and repair? If a system fails, should the entire system be replaced, or just the failing motherboard? Are you going to keep an inventory of matching motherboards on hand for each installation so you don’t have to create yet another software image for that particular installation? How many? Since typical PC hardware is not designed for 24/7 operation in these environments, how high of an annual failure rate is acceptable – 20 percent?

While signage player hardware from embedded vendors supporting extended availability and designed for 24/7 operation is more expensive than commercial components, experienced vendors will testify that it quickly pays for itself through reduced repair, management, and inventory costs. Managing a single hardware solution that is available for several years with limited variations to meet specific price, power, and performance requirements can enable the long-term support of a single software image. Compared to the overall installation cost and ongoing operating expenses, the player hardware is a small portion of the investment.

AMD offers a full range of embedded graphics solutions to meet the diverse price, power, and performance requirements of digital signage applications and is working closely with embedded vendors to provide reliable, low-power and high-performance ATI Radeon™ graphics-based solutions (see Figure 1). Moreover, it is AMD’s goal to maintain the availability of these Radeon-based solutions for 5-plus years*. So why settle for anything less than ATI Radeon™ Embedded graphics for your digital signage application?


Figure 1: The ATI Radeon E4690 GPU offers 512 MB GDDR3 and 5-plus years of availability.




*Part availability is planned for 5 years from date of announcement, subject to change without notice.

Cameron Swen is a senior manager of product marketing in AMD’s Embedded Solutions Division. His experience includes technical marketing positions at National Semiconductor and AMD. Cameron holds a degree in Engineering from Colorado State University.