Digital Signage Has Entered Its ‘Talkies’ Phase

Sound is increasingly part of the picture for digital signage.

If booth after booth featuring demo mock menus for restaurants real and imagined didn’t make you feel constantly famished on the floor at Digital Signage Expo 2014, Feb. 12-13 in Las Vegas, then the ubiquitous pictures of food in glorious Ultra HD certainly would have.

But in between cravings for food at the Sands Expo, the show revealed some interesting trends that will be impacting the digital signage market for months and years to come.
One of the biggest of those was ongoing integration of audio with digital signage, so we talked to several exhibitors about audio’s emerging role.

Peerless-AV

Peerless-AV’s HD Flow, the company’s wireless (802.11n) content transmission system, now offers stereo, linear PCM sound, with analog-to-48-kHz/16-bit conversion.
Brian McClimans, Peerless’ VP of business development, pointed out that the effort to combine audio with digital signage is nearly as old as the category itself. But, he said, lack of directional speakers and endlessly looped audio content doomed it a decade or so ago. Now, he believes, with the greater availability of highly directional audio systems and sensors that gauge listener proximity and interest, audio integrated with digital signage is making a comeback.

That sound, though, he added, has to also be aware of its environment. “The signage has to be able to monitor the level of ambient sound around it and adjust its volume levels accordingly,” he said. “Sound has to be sensitive-if it’s too loud, it gets annoying; if it’s too quiet, it gets ignored.”

Planar

Jennifer Davis, VP of marketing at Planar, says her company has seen interest in audio for its Simplicity Series of digital signage products increase “significantly” in the last year. Rear-firing speakers are used to deliver audio with images.

She noted that early digital signage hardware often used conventional televising sets whose internal speakers were poorly suited for delivering highly focused content, slowing uptake of sound with images in signage. She agreed that the increased availability of directional audio systems is partly fueling renewed interest, but pointed out that audio is effective only in smaller signage applications, those with one-on-one levels of scale that can “talk” to one individual or a small group at a time.
“Larger videowalls don’t work well with sound because they scale to very large numbers of viewers at a time,” she explained. “But on the personal level, sound in digital signage works very well.”

Barix

The Barix booth at the show was demoing its digital-signage audio solution, one that sends the sound to listeners’ mobile devices. This is transmitted over Wi-Fi to a smartphone app, the Barix Audio Point, which the viewer has already downloaded and which would usually be provided by the client, generally a retailer. The app prompts consumers to scan a QR Code for stream access, which provides relevant audio content in synchronization with on-screen video, a combination Barix CEO Ronni Guggenheim asserted brings higher awareness to promotions, store branding and other messaging through deeper engagement with shoppers.

The hook for Barix’s system is its zero-latency synchronization with the video in the signage, but its BYOD and ability to integrate with any digital-signage system are also benefits, he said. Multichannel audio capacity additionally supports multiple streams, allowing retailers to provide audio signage content in several languages.

“Audio used to be perceived as pollution when it came to signage,” Guggenheim told CI at the show. “Using their own mobile devices, the act of seeing and listening together raises the grade of perception, and through this solution retailers can give their customers a more complete experience that raises the potential to drive purchases.”

Turtle Beach
Turtle Beach was showing its Hypersound digital-signage audio solution, which consists of floor-mounted speakers that, using a combination of software manipulation of phase and aiming of the speakers, send highly focused beams of audio at a listener standing exactly in the beam’s sweet spot but, as importantly, keep sound out of adjacent areas.

The product, which became available last year, according to Todd Savitt, VP of sales & marketing at Turtle Beach, is targeted at brand managers in retail and can be installed at POS and POP locations in stores. This version of the product just made its debut in Build-A-Bear stores in St Louis; earlier versions of the product have already been installed in Wal-Mart stores in Mexico.
“This isn’t about lighting up an entire store with sound,” said Savitt. “It’s about getting a highly focused message directly to the customer.”

LG-MRI
LG-MRI is a newly formed joint venture between the Korean consumer electronics giant and MRI, an Atlanta-area developer of outdoor digital menu boards, mobile displays, kiosks and other electronic signage. CEO Peter Kaszycki was showing how even large digital signage can accommodate good audio.

The company’s largest, an 84-inch display that uses motion sensing to let viewers interact with it, has 4-inch speakers in its base that produce tones that give users the feedback they need to know that the touchless cursor is working. A slightly smaller 72-inch stand, currently installed in Manchester, UK, takes sound to the next level by using camera-based proximity alerts and facial recognition to choose messages aimed at either men or women.

The content, however, is usually delivered in a female voice for both genders. “Men like to be talked to by women,” Kaszycki quipped.


Veteran reporter Dan Daley is based in New York City and Nashville, Tenn.

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