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Signs have been guiding mankind with information for centuries, with some of the earliest commercial signs being made out of stone and terracotta. Today, signs can range from simple metal panels with information painted on them, to electronic signage that lights up to convey signals (e.g., traffic control signals) or other information. Now, even the humble sign has gone digital with dynamic functionality including multimedia, interactivity, and artificial intelligence (AI).
Digital signage now spans a wide range of forms including kiosks, media players, electronic paper displays, and interactive smart screens. Collectively, they fulfill a growing list of use cases including display of real-time information updates, self-service check-in, and biometric security.
According to this report by KBV research, the digital signage opportunity is expected to reach $29.8 billion globally by 2024. With such growth potential, let’s take a closer look at what goes into the systems behind digital signs and how IoT developers can get started.
Digital Signage Systems and Form Factors
A typical digital sign is composed of three fundamental elements:
- Processor: Containing the hardware and software necessary to process data and render the appropriate experience on the signage screen.
- Connectivity: Internet connectivity to send and receive data. In the past this was often achieved using a wired connection such as Ethernet, but now wireless connections including LTE, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and Thread are becoming more prominent. 5G is also poised to offers additional advantages that could be applied to digital signage. Connectivity also encompasses components to handle the data such as protocol stacks, on-premise servers, cloud services, etc. For more information about connectivity options, be sure to check out our Connectivity eBook.
- Content Management System (CMS): A system and/or application to manage and orchestrate the data that is collected and stored. This could include a database or other storage format and may exist on the media player, on a remote cloud server, or on both.
In early digital signage, these elements were often provided by large PCs mounted in or near the digital sign. Over the last few years, digital signage has seen the growing use of smaller components such as media boxes, dongles, or even integrated modules or boards within the display panel. These smaller devices exist thanks in part to advances in embedded processors for mobile devices that offer high-performance edge computing, connectivity, and power efficiency, all of which benefit digital signage.
This has led to two general categories of form factors in today’s digital signs.
Flat panel displays can include or resemble consumer televisions, computer monitors, or tablets, and their size can range from very small all the way up to huge wall-size digital billboards. Smaller devices may provide interactive features (e.g., touch screen support). Flat panel digital signage can be found in many public places including airports (e.g., for flight information), event venues, roadway signage, and as interactive maps at shopping malls.
Interactive kiosks are systems that provide information and allow for user interactivity. They include many of the flat panel examples noted above that allow for interactivity (e.g., tablets), and also take on other form factors such as custom-built cabinets complete with cameras, credit card readers, pin pads, eye or fingerprint scanners, or other sensors. Interactive kiosks may also utilize other cutting-edge technologies such as AI (e.g., for facial or optical character recognition), connectivity with user devices (e.g., smart phones), augmented reality, etc. Interactive kiosks, especially those for self-service, can be found in many public places including airports (e.g. passport readers), restaurants (e.g., point-of-sale systems), and banks (e.g., bank machines).
Embedded Processors for Digital Signage
Application Processors from Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. (QTI) provide developers with a solid base for IoT solutions and the right amount of edge computing capabilities to power today’s connected digital signs. Most notably, the Qualcomm® APQ8096SG is well suited for this application. It includes features such as a quad-core CPU, 3D graphics, 4K resolution, camera and audio support, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and a variety of I/O interfaces. Developers can also take advantage of our Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ Developer Tools to optimize performance.
The humble sign, which began life as a simple stone tablet, has now entered the digital age, and the growth potential of the digital signage opportunity shouldn’t be ignored.
Our series of application processors supports a full line of platforms for a variety of IoT solutions, and you can find a summary of them here. For those interested in getting started with digital signage, we encourage you to visit the landing page for our APQ8096SG and click on the Selector Guide link under the Featured Documents section on the right. This provides a PDF with the device’s technical specifications and a list of OEM devices it powers.
If you need further inspiration, check out some of our digital signage projects. If you develop any digital signs using our products, we invite you to submit your projects to showcase your work and to inspire others.
Qualcomm Snapdragon and Qualcomm APQ8096SG are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.