IT firms promote interactive digital signs at retail show

By Joab Jackson, IDG News Service |  

Could the venerable color poster in the retail store window be replaced with something more high-tech and interactive? Microsoft, Intel, IBM and others are trying to convince the retail industry to upgrade their in-store placards to interactive digital signage.

This year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) Annual Convention and Expo was awash in IT company presentations designed to display the visual and interactive power of computer-run electronic signs.

Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel and NCR all either demonstrated flashy digital signage prototypes or announced new initiatives and early customer wins around the concept.

The idea of using digital displays in stores has been around for well over a decade, at least in high-end stores. But these IT companies touted how a digital sign could act as a two-way communication medium, allowing customers to find more information to aid purchasing decisions.

"Most digital signage to date has been a video feed or a slide-show, where it is almost like a poster replacement," said Joe Jensen, general manager at Intel's embedded computing division. "Those two ways of delivering content are not catching consumers' attention any longer. So we think these digital signage platforms will need to keep escalating their capabilities in order to maintain the eyeballs."

Your eyeballs have probably already been exposed to multiple digital signs, even if they haven't captured your attention. They're at gas stations and sports stadiums, and in subway cars, elevators, bars, movie theaters and airports.

In the U.S. alone, approximately 155 million people have seen some form of out-of-home digital video display, according to research firm Arbitron Inc.

For the NRF conference, Intel demonstrated a state-of-the-art display (Windows Media File), one 2.3 meters tall and 3 meters wide. Half was a multitouch-capable LCD and the other half was made of transparent holographic glass. The user could flip through different ads on the LCD screen. The holographic side of the display, embedded with a camera, could adjust the height of its menu to the height of the viewer's head, and serve content based on the viewer's gender.

Part of this new push has come about because the latest processors are powerful enough to undertake display and video analytic duties that previously could be done only by dedicated and much-more-expensive DSPs (digital signal processors), Jensen said. Whereas a DSP that could do video analytics would cost in the range of US$3,000 to $4,000, the latest multicore server processor can do the job for somewhere between $100 and $200, Jensen said.

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