Electronic Design

Digital Sign Q&A With Logic Supply

Digital signage applications are increasing significantly as the availability of HDTV displays increases and price continues to decline. The flat-panel nature of the hardware allows signs to be placed almost anywhere. Driving these panels with networked PC platforms allows maximum functionality with minimal support. It supports streaming video and, potentially, interaction with viewers. Since the project article focused on implementation details, I chatted with Scott Hayden of Logic Supply to address other issues. Bill Wong: How big is digital signage becoming in your marketplace? Scott Hayden: Our customers within the Digital Signage market are the system developers and integrators. These customers had begun to take advantage of the mini-ITX form factor since its introduction in 2003. In 2006, Digital Signage developers and integrators represented about 25% of our business and we expect our revenue in this segment to double in 2007. BW: What is a typical digital signage application? SH: The applications for digital signage seem to be endless. Our customers provide systems that display real-time employee information for corporate communication; allow people in fitness centers to access the internet while monitoring exercise parameters; provide product information at a store display; provide interactive video for museum tours; and just about anything you can think of that could take advantage of dynamic information. BW: What are the basic components that Logic Supply provides for a digital signage application? SH: The basic components of the system vary by application, but the major piece of hardware that we provide is the media player. The media player will consist of a system or embedded board that will display static or dynamic information. A network connection typically delivers the content, and the system is selected based on the complexity of media being displayed, hardware footprint constraints as well as the operating environment. BW: What kinds of services do you offer for digital signage applications? SH: There are many new players getting into this market. Our job is to assist them in getting the correct system for the application. This begins with a review of the performance requirements, which include the type of information is being presented, the operating environment, the operating system, and mounting constrains. From here we can recommend the hardware solution that works best for the application. If there are questions about the performance of the information to be displayed, we can evaluate the customer’s application on a mocked-up system and provide OS consulting. BW: What issues are there for wired and wireless connectivity and digital signage environments? SH: The majority of our applications are taking advantage of an existing wired infrastructure. All Mini-ITX boards offer LAN as well as options for gigabit LAN. Wireless (802.11 b/g) operation is accommodated through PCI or an on-board USB header with the antenna mounted on the outside of the enclosure. One major challenge with wireless is that the indoor range is about 35m (114 ft) and assumes a path with minimum interruption. Installations within existing buildings can be interrupted by walls or other sources. Antenna placement will also need to be considered when mounting wireless systems behind LCD panels or within enclosures and kiosks. BW: You installed a flash memory disk in the project we built. What are the tradeoffs of this approach and what guidelines can you give for the use of flash versus hard drivers versus network-based storage? SH: The main advantage of using flash memory lies in the ability to configure a systems to run completely solid state. This translates into increased reliability. In addition, flash memory uses less power, has a higher operating temperature (70ºC vs. 40ºC for a HD), and utilizes a ‘wear leveling’ algorithm that allows for up to 4 million read/write cycles. There are trade-off that need to be considered when using flash and our web site has more details, but factors to consider when comparing to a hard drive include; Boot time: slower with WinXP, comparable with XP Embedded and Linux. File access speed: smaller files are faster (BW: The project you built for Electronic Design utilized conduction cooling with heat pipes. What are the heat related issues with digital signage applications? SH: Digital Signage applications are showing up in a variety of locations. One of the challenges that our customers face in these installations is providing a reliable solution that can operate in dusty environments while managing the need for silent operation. Fanless systems are well-suited for these application as long as the ambient environment does not exceed about 36-45ºC (97-113ºF). Environments with positive airflow can help to transfer the heat more efficiently and may allow for operation at the higher end of the range. If the application requires a custom enclosure, a custom heat pipe and heat sink can be integrated into an enclosure to allow for adequate heat transfer. Processor selection and additional hardware requirements need to be considered when determining the total amount of power to be dissipated. BW: Do you have any other recommendations for developers looking into digital signage applications? SH: As I mentioned previously, it is important for developers to take the time to understand the operating environment, type of information to be displayed and additional connectivity requirements of the board or system. This will assist us in providing a solution that fits the application. The Mini-ITX form factor offers many options for boards, processors, I/O and enclosures while supporting a variety of operating systems. Related Links Digital Signage Today Logic Supply Viewsonic VIA Technologies

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