Thursday, January 10, 2008

Digital furniture is next from Microsoft

Having just tried its hand at developing a digital music player, Microsoft is working on something new: digital furniture.

In advance of its formal unveiling Wednesday by Steven Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, the company described Microsoft Surface as featuring a screen embedded in an acrylic tabletop with its electronic guts hidden in the low-slung table's thick pedestal. The cost of the device was not disclosed.

At first glance, Surface is reminiscent of an old-fashioned game table around which people sat playing Pac-Man. But there is no joystick here, and no mouse or keyboard, either. The device is controlled by touching the tabletop display, which has a diagonal measure of 30 inches, or 76 centimeters.

Microsoft says the touch screen will allow people to "interact with digital content the same way they have interacted with everyday items such as photos, paintbrushes and music their entire lives: with hands, with gestures and by putting real-world objects on the surface."

For example, when a digital camera with Wi-Fi capabilities is placed on the display, the table recognizes the camera and, at a touch of the screen, downloads its photos and video clips. The digital pictures can be sorted and sized by "handling" them as if they were physical prints.

The device uses cameras under the display to detect touches, and unlike traditional touch screens, it can handle multiple touches at the same time, said Jeff Gattis, director of product management for Surface.

Similarly, Surface can read bar codes and identification tags embedded in objects like hotel chain membership cards.

Microsoft hopes this technology will someday be common in homes, but its first uses will be commercial. By the end of this year, Surface will appear in hotels, restaurants, retail stores and public entertainment sites, where it will serve as an information kiosk and handle things like basic customer service.

"With Surface, we are creating more intuitive ways for people to interact with technology," Ballmer said in a statement. "We see this as a multibillion-dollar category, and we envision a time when surface computing technologies will be pervasive, from tabletops and counters to the hallway mirror."

At The Wall Street Journal's "D: All Things Digital" conference in Carlsbad, California, Microsoft also named several partners that will be among the first companies to use Surface, including Harrah's Entertainment, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and T-Mobile USA.

Microsoft reveals more details on the Surface touchscreen at CES

Microsoft Reveals More Details on its Surface Computing Platform

CES 2008 CoverageBill Gates touched on Microsoft's upcoming Surface Computing platform in his CES 2008 keynote address on Sunday, but today the company is offering more details on its touch-sensitive table-top system. By adding Windows live support, Microsoft plans to use Surface not just as a novel way of interacting with digital content, but a way for consumers to create a persistent digital identity.

Slideshow | All Shots
"Fundamentally, we are trying to change the way people interact with digital content," says Mark Bolger, Director of Surface Computing Marketing at Microsoft. "We are bringing technology into places..."

At the moment it involves retail and hospitality locations. This fall the Surface Computers start showing up at Harrah's Entertainment's Las Vegas properties, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, and select T-Mobile stores. "Surface is a great way to customize and personalize the customer experience at retail," Bolger says.

Microsoft's Surface is a digital interface that you navigate via touch. It is a flat, table-like display that measures 30 inches diagonally, and is designed to make it easy for multiple users to reach across and touch the screen. Images are projected onto the display via a custom DLP engine. Five infrared cameras set below the display detect contact with the display and enable users to navigate the interface.

Bolger takes care to point out that although the system is based on Windows Vista, it is not intended to replace the personal computer. "When you write your novel, you are still going to use your PC," Bolger says, "but right now when you go shopping for a snowboard there is not technology there."

By using a system of domino-like tags, objects can be identified simply by placing them on the Surface. Bolger walked me through a demo in which we selected a snowboard, decorated it with images, and then stored that information on a Windows mobile smart phone. That way when you come back to the store, you can retrieve your profile and continue your shopping experience. The connections take place instantly via Bluetooth.

The only significant improvement in the Surface platform is the Windows Live support, which will allow you to access your images, email, and account information online. Bolger says, "We want to make it easy for users to interact with all of their information out there in the cloud.",2704,2246846,00.asp

Samsung debuts 70-inch display for digital signage at CES

LAS VEGAS – Samsung Electronics America, a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics Corp., introduced its newest MagicNet Pro-enabled LCD display for digital signage, the SyncMaster 700DXn, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The SyncMaster 700DXn large-format display is designed for digital signage applications in airports, retail locations and other indoor venues.

The panel allows for a high brightness level that was specially designed for high ambient light conditions. It is equipped with fans as well as an added heat dissipation panel, helping decrease internal temperature allowing for longer hours of operation than other models, more than 20 hours per day.

Leveraging Samsung's proprietary MagicNet Pro software, the SyncMaster 700DXn large-format display enables users to control content across several displays using a single computer, eliminating the need for a dedicated PC for each display. With MagicNet Pro, content creation and distribution is simple for all network operators — users can simply drag-and-drop existing content files, requiring minimal supervision and training.

Featuring a 5000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, ultra-high brightness levels and 1920 x 1080 full HD resolution, Samsung said the 700DXn display is equipped to deliver clear, precise imagery in even the brightest of environments. The large format display also incorporates a 178/178-degree viewing angle achieved via Samsung’s proprietary Super Patterned Vertical Alignment.

The SyncMaster 700DXn will be available in February for an MSRP of $29,989.99 through Samsung resellers and distribution channels.

Digital signage gears up for 2008 Beijing Olympics

BEIJING and SAN JOSE, Calif. ― AirMedia Group Inc., operator of one of the largest digital media networks in China dedicated to air travel advertising, and DT Research Inc., have announced the deployment of the WebDT Signage System in the Beijing Capital International Airport. Advertisers can purchase advertising time slots from AirMedia and their advertisements will be shown to airport passengers and visitors in HD LCD screens through DT Research’s WebDT Signage System.
538 digital frames have been installed in the Beijing Capital International Airport, the ninth busiest airport in the world. The airport served almost 50 million passengers in 2006. In 2008, this airport will accommodate the influx of travelers who come to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Over the coming months, AirMedia will install additional digital frames in other major airports powered by DT Research’s WebDT Signage System.
“With Beijing hosting the upcoming Olympic Games, the Beijing Capital International Airport will house one of the most desirable audience groups that advertisers desire to reach in 2008,” said Mr. Xiaoya Zhang, director and president of AirMedia. “We want to ensure that our airport advertising is delivered through a state-of-the-art system that could effectively and securely manage dynamic content remotely, which is why we chose DT Research’s WebDT Signage System.”
The WebDT Signage System being installed in the airport is a comprehensive system comprising industrial-grade signage hardware, content management software and device management software. The WebDT System runs dynamic advertising, information, news and training displayed in up to eight zones on each screen. Content scheduling and playback are controlled remotely by secure wireless media players.

Digital signage

Digital Signage in the Warner Village Cinemas in Taipei
Digital Signage in the Warner Village Cinemas in Taipei

Digital signage is a form of out-of-home advertising in which content and messages displayed on an electronic screen, or digital sign, can be changed without modification to the physical sign, typically with the goal of delivering targeted messages to specific locations at specific times. Digital signage offers superior return on investment compared to traditional printed signs[1]. Digital signs may be scrolling message boards, LCD or plasma display panels, electronic billboards, projection screens, or other emerging display types like living surfaces or Organic LED screens (OLEDs) that can be controlled electronically using a computer or other devices, allowing individuals or groups to remotely change and control their content (usually via the Internet).

The content displayed on digital signage screens can range from simple text and still images to full-motion video, with or without audio. Some operators of digital signage networks, particularly in the retail industry, regard their networks as comparable to television channels, displaying entertaining and informational content interspersed with advertisements (see also Retail Media).

Digital signage is used for many different purposes:

  1. Information – examples include flight information in airports and wait-times for the next train
  2. Advertising Related to the Location to Uplift Sales – examples include in-store promotions in a retail establishment
  3. Advertising by Third Parties – "Digital Advertising Companies" that sell advertising space to local merchants/service providers, media resellers and national advertisers.
  4. Enhanced Customer Experience – examples include digital signage in restaurant waiting areas to reduce perceived wait-time and recipe demonstrations in food stores
  5. Influencing Customer Behavior – examples include post office digital signage that directs patrons waiting in line to automated stamp machines and retail digital signage designed to direct customers to different areas of the store, increasing the time spent on the store premises (dwell time)
  6. Brand Building – examples include Niketown stores where digital signage in video form is used as a part of the store d├ęcor to build a story around the brand
  7. Follow through campaign information to store manager - examples within chain establishment
  8. Environment enhancing - such as using digital signage to increase the customer experience with the building itself, examples of this are where digital signage panels are used on the floor and react to how and when an individual moves over them.
Digital Signage in a pharmacy store.
Digital Signage in a pharmacy store.

Content scheduling and playback can be controlled by a number of technologies ranging from simple, non-networked media players that can output basic loops of MPEG-2 video to complex, N-tier player networks that offer control over many displays in many venues from a single location. The former is ideal for small groups of displays that can be updated via sneaker net (the practice of physically transporting data to each location on a disc or CD-Rom, usually by walking), while the latter allows Digital Signage Network Operators to either push content to many players at once or have each player pull content from a server as needed.

Rapidly-dropping prices for large plasma and LCD screens and wide availability of Internet connectivity have caused digital signage deployments to gain in popularity, and displays can now be found in such diverse locations as retail outlets, transit hubs (like airports or bus stations), doctor's offices, fast food restaurants and even gas stations.

The recent introduction of free digital signage software will further expand the "pool" of potential users of this technology. It will now be attractive to smaller businesses (that may have otherwise found this technology too expensive), as well as to "non-profits" such as schools, universities and churches.

While the term "digital signage" has taken hold throughout North America and most of Europe the same technology in the Netherlands (only)is often referred to as Narrowcasting or Narrowcast networks. There are some companies who prefer ScreenMedia, Place Based Media, digital merchandising or "Digital Media Networks" or in some cases "Captive Audience Networks", or "CANs". The large number of terms that have emerged to describe the nascent industry led Point of Purchase Advertising International (POPAI) to form a digital signage standards group in 2005. This group is currently tasked with assembling a list of standard terminology for describing digital signage technology and business models. It is expected to release a final list of its recommendations in 2006.

A Norwegian company, RightOnMedia AS [1], has from Oct 06 to June 2007 conducted a $3 mill study within the Retail industry to identify ROI based on optimal number of screens, wether screen size matters and which zones wthin the store giving the best results measured by sales uplift. By combining these findings and advertising for the products and categories showing highest sales uplift, RightOnMedia find ROI by sales increase alone.


Digital signage in the broad sense has been in use for decades in the past in the form of LED ticker signs and LED video walls. However, it has yet to become a major public medium, mainly due to the following factors:

  1. Uncertain ROI – the costs of deploying digital signage can be high. Not only are large outdoor screens expensive - for example, the LED sign in front of the Las Vegas Wynn Resort cost $15 million - but the much more common, and much cheaper, digital signs based on LCD and plasma screens can still represent a significant investment when a large network is planned: the cost of installing one screen in, say, each restaurant in a large fast-food chain could run to millions of dollars. Any investment of this magnitude has to be justified by a clear ROI plan before receiving approval.
  2. Unproven advertising effectiveness – like the Internet in the early 1990s, the digital signage medium has not yet been widely accepted as an effective advertising medium when compared with traditional means (TV, radio, flyers, etc.).
  3. Lack of proven technology – much of the technology used today originated in consumer-grade personal computer and DVD technology, which has not been designed to stand up to 24x7x365 usage demanded by professional digital signage. Often under stress these systems can break, resulting in damage to brand image and liability disputes between advertisers and network operators.

The issues are being addressed today in the following ways:

  1. ROI – studies have shown digital signage to be effective in aiding customer recall and retention of displayed information[2] in large-scale merchandising applications, especially taking into account the downward trend in LCD panel and playback device prices. Today a small-scale retail or restaurant digital signage installation can be implemented for just $4-6,000, whose ROI may be realized immediately.
  2. Outdoor advertising picking up momentum – advertising dollars have been consistently shifting from traditional media such as TV and radio into outdoor advertising, creating a double-digit-growth new advertising segment which includes digital signage. However, ad agencies are still slow to explore the potential of out-of-home TV.
  3. Development of dedicated platform solutions – new technology has been developed that features reliability magnitudes greater than consumer-grade technology. Like professional TV broadcasting systems, the new technology enables worldwide content distribution and playback to stand up to the test of time.