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A sign of the times

Modern digital signage solutions are smarter and more intuitive than ever, claims Tayla Ansell.

A sign of the times
NEC digital signage in an airport departure hall

Providing a smart, effective way to communicate with customers, staff and passers-by, large format displays are used by more and more organisations for advertising, promotions, product information, wayfinding, entertainment and other digital signage applications. So much so that market research company Technavio is predicting a compound annual growth rate of 6% between 2016 and 2020, when the digital signage market is expected to be worth $14.23 billion globally.

Christopher Parker, senior product manager for visual solutions at Sharp, has seen this growth first-hand, especially in the retail sector.

“The market for digital signage displays is continuing to grow globally. Currently we’re seeing particular growth in the adoption of entry-level displays, which is recognition that digital signage displays help increase sales. This advantage should not be restricted to large retail players with large budgets, but be available to smaller retailers with more restricted budgets,” he said.

NEC video wall in Harrods
NEC video wall in Harrods

“Digital signage is a great way for businesses to ensure that their particular stock or brand is given the visibility it deserves and that sales are made based on a heightened sense of awareness from potential customers. Research from InfoTrends found that digital signage adds an upswing in overall sales volume by 31.8%. No company is going to want to miss out on that.”

Gareth Day, UK group manager for visual systems at Panasonic, also highlights strong demand in retail where digital signage has been shown to boost customer engagement.

“Companies are increasingly seeing value in multi-channel marketing, and are realising that having dynamic and varied ways for customers to interact with and learn more about their products and services in a showroom or retail environment is a sure-fire way to help nudge customers towards making purchases and improve visitor experiences and engagement,” he said.

More generally, Thomas Walter, product manager for public display solutions at NEC Display Solutions Europe, points out that digital signage can be cheaper and have more impact than printed posters and signs in any sector.

“Going digital means lower operational costs because printing, shipment and changing paper posters is very costly. Interactive and moving images demand attention, making digital signage more successful than static posters. Digital signage screens are ‘people magnets’,” he said.

Brighter, bigger and smarter

Constant technological developments mean that digital signage is much more than just a screen on a wall. The most significant of these, says Day, have been in picture quality.

“LED displays are unbeatable in terms of brightness and energy consumption. Panasonic is investing a lot in 4K, both in displays and projection. For customers looking to future-proof, 4K is the next step,” he said.

NEC’s Thomas Walter highlights a trend towards high brightness and high resolution displays, adding that greater detail supports larger screen sizes.

In addition, displays are becoming smarter and more intuitive. Philips has integrated the Android operating system into its digital displays, providing access to Android apps and integrated player functionality. Content can be played directly from the display, meaning there’s no need for an external media player.

Panasonic AF1 display
Panasonic AF1 display in retail

Panasonic’s new AF1 display series also runs on Android and the OpenPort Platform, which, according to Day, is a big improvement on previous external ‘Wintel’ systems.

“For a long time Wintel setups have been the main way content has been pushed to displays, but now with the flexibility of Android, System-On-a-Chip technology and open source software, displays have become more standalone and there are vastly more options in terms of user interactivity and overall flexibility for customers,” he said.

For Samsung, the Internet of Things is another key development. Phil Gaut, commercial director Display at Samsung UK, said: “The big development in digital signage at the moment surrounds integration with the Internet of Things (IoT), which is driving us closer to our ultimate goal of creating seamlessly connected venues. One that we’re excited about is the pairing of digital signage with an IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) distributed system. This combination lets customers distribute different content to different areas of the same venue. For example, within a stadium, box holders and VIPs would receive content different to that broadcast elsewhere. It enables end users to receive experiences that are more personal and relevant to them.”

He added: “With systems like IPTV distributed systems in place, it’s becoming easier for venues to display relevant, targeted content to their customers. This content can take the form of advertising, live displays of sporting events and even up-to-date special offers available at the venue. As further developments in IoT technology emerge, we will see a rise in venues adopting connected signage and an improvement in consumer engagement.”

Creative digital experiences

The sector that’s arguably making the most of these developments is retail, where, according to Sharp’s Parker, digital signage is getting bigger, better and more creative.

Sharp PN-H801 for wayfinding
Sharp PN-H801 for wayfinding

He said: “Increasingly we’re seeing retailers experimenting with smart digital signage, installing Internet of Things-enabled displays and displays with touch capabilities. The focus is very much on displays that will reach out to the shopper and enable the shopper to reach back.”

In retail, digital signage can be used in increasingly interesting ways to deliver memorable experiences for the customer. For example, at ISE 2016 NEC was exhibiting an interactive mirror screen that combines the functionality of a digital screen with a mirror, giving retailers more opportunity to engage customers and drive sales at the point of interest.

In another application, Panasonic is supplying displays to Toyota dealerships across Europe so that they can stream marketing content and customise product offerings with the customer’s choice of colour, interior upholstery and accessories.