The Digital Signage industry has been debating the deployment of traditional media player devices with commercial displays versus commercial displays with system on a chip (SoC) wherein the media player device functionality can be integrated for most Digital Signage use cases.
Over the past few years, SoC displays have evolved as a computing platform. The three leading SoC display platforms are: (1) Tizen OS based displays from Samsung, (2) Web OS based displays from LG, (3) Android based displays from several companies with Sony being a leader.
Now, the SoC based display category needs to be considered as display Platforms for Signage (and more). Key word here is Platform. Digital Signage is an application running on a Platform comprising SoC (CPU), Memory (DRAM + Flash) and Operating System. An important differentiation point is that some of the “SoC displays” are a better Platform for Digital Signage than the others by providing a robust compute platform and operating system infrastructure.
There has been a lot of discussion about the benefits of SoC displays, platforms, and uses. We gathered some questions and asked Dhimant Bhayani, founder and CEO of iRevo Multimedia if he’d help explain.
What does System on a Chip mean?
As the name implies, system on a chip (SoC) is a highly integrated system on a single IC (short for integrated circuit) component. Many computing systems use discreet components for CPU, I/O, and memory, but SoC combines all of the necessary components into a single integrated circuit. The advantage of using an SoC for a computing system is that it enables mobile applications, due to its smaller size and lower power consumption.
How has display architecture evolved over the years to incorporate processing power?
Non-smart or a non-SoC displays are based on display processors (a class of controller chips) with micro-controllers supporting limited memory and running on what is called embedded OS or control programs. This class of display processors supports functions such as remote control, push buttons on display and On Screen Display (OSD) features.
About a decade ago came SoC displays that incorporate higher performance CPUs, more memory and more software with operating systems, browsers and software support to run HTML5 applications for YouTube, Netflix and more.
So, over the past decade, the display has evolved from a processor-based display to a SoC-based Smart display to a display Platform which is really the combination of SoC, display OS, and app store.
Given all Smart displays are SoC-based, then is the OS Platform the differentiation point?
Yes, all Smart displays are SoC-based, and today they constitute over 70 percent of all displays sold. These Smart displays are based on various display Operating Systems and supported by App Stores. Solution providers and application developers, whether for digital signage or media and entertainment, should be thinking in terms of the display OS Platform.
What are the major technical differences between SoC-based display platforms?
A display Platform uses powerful CPU on its SoC, typically Dual or Quad Core ARM CPUs running at 1GHz or higher speed. It is supported by 1GB of DRAM or more, and Flash storage of at least 8GB. Peripherals and connectivity support range from USB interface for storage and camera connection, Bluetooth for voice remote, wireless headphone support and file transfer from phone or PC. Ethernet and Wi-Fi support Dual Band and/or MiMo for a much better reception and data throughput.
The hardware resources support running a variety of operating systems. However, not all operating systems are same. They have a varying degree of developer ecosystem and app store support, and some adapt and evolve much faster when it comes to supporting newer sensors and technologies like voice, artificial intelligence and machine learning applications. The display OS that leads the pack is Google’s Android TV.
What are some of the major display Platforms and how they are different?
The display as a segment has no clear dominant player like Windows and Mac OS for personal computers. Some of the major OS platforms for display are Android TV by Google, Fire TV by Amazon (Android derivative), Roku TV by Roku, Tizen by Samsung and Web OS by LG. I am excluding Apple’s TV OS here as it is only available on their device.
The largest of these platforms, Android TV (see the chart below) is the most adopted by display makers like Sony, Philips, Hisense and others. Android TV is also available from NVIDIA via its NVIDIA Shield TV devices as well as from Xiaomi and others. Android TV benefits from the huge ecosystem of device makers incorporating the latest in SoCs, sensors, peripherals, and newer software technologies like voice, speech to text, artificial intelligence (AI) [NVIDIA’s Shield TV uses AI for SD to HD and HD to 4K upscaling] and machine learning (ML). For example, iRevo’s iDS Digital Signage software uses Bluetooth beacon-driven sensors for controlling content displayed on displays and soon to be introduced AI/ML-based image analytics and text to speech for emergency announcements.
These cases and the continuous drive to add newer capabilities is what differentiates the Android Platform. And it comes with a better hardware infrastructure and operating system support than other platforms.
What’s the suitability of the Android Platform to Digital Signage?
Digital Signage is a fragmented industry without a dominant platform for displays. This is limiting the adaptation and growth of displays, be they for enterprises, production floors, work places, retail or public places. iRevo sees this segment evolving, just as embedded hardware and software evolved as IoT. We see Digital Signage evolving as Info Displays and Interactive Info Displays where viewers can interact in ways beyond touch, becoming much more dynamic and ‘personalized.’
There is no comparison of the Android platform with any other display platform, from hardware platform to operating system to developer ecosystem and from software development kit (SDKs) for payment to AI and Cloud SDKs and APIs. The ecosystem enables applications like real-time currency quote display across multiple locations with a cost-effectiveness not possible otherwise.
Today, Android TV platform’s baseline hardware is typically 1.4GHz Quad Core CPU + Quad Core GPU, 2GB Memory and 16GB of Flash with Bluetooth support. This compares quite favorably to most of the media players in use, excepting x86 based players for specialty applications. Furthermore, signage applications written in native Java for Android perform better, while supporting new or existing HTML designs, as does iRevo Digital Signage software running on Sony Bravia Pro displays.
Adapting the Android platform for signage safeguards your investment. If you want to switch vendors for signage software, there are multiple providers of signage software on the Android platform.
What about security concerns, updating of operating system and app management?
This is a very good question. Android is an Open Source operating system and platform and is available in two flavors: (1) Android TV certified by Google like Sony Bravia Pro displays and (2) Android AOSP (Android Open Source Project) that is used to build custom versions like Amazon Fire devices.
In case of Google Certified Android TV, Google ascertains that security patches are installed and that there is no malware app in the system. Android TV benefits from all the same protection and security that is brought to Android phones’ ecosystem. Updating the operating system is up to the customer, and in general it is not mandatory. Controlling desktop managing applications that run on Android TV platform is either handled via the display maker providing a “walled garden” operating environment like Pro Mode in Bravia Pro displays, or by signage application providers. Signage home screens can lock so users can’t launch apps from the home screen with a remote control. iRevo Digital Signage software supports such a home screen lock capability.
We hope Google creates an Android TV and tablet build for enterprise, where display and media player manufacturers can have better control of system apps and what is visible on the home screen. Google provides such capabilities on Chrome OS devices, which can run Android applications with varying degrees of compatibility.
The second flavor of Android is AOSP (Android Open Source Project) where anyone can take the Android OS release and adapt for their devices and target applications.
This has enabled companies like Amazon to adapt Android as a Fire TV platform. Many other companies take the Android for tablet devices and adapt on their display or media player and is not certified by Google.
When using an AOSP-based Android TV or media player, it is best to use newer Android OS and Digital Signage application software that can run on the company’s guest network, meaning not requiring any specific firewall or router setup.
Is it easy to migrate existing signage projects to a newer Android based signage solution?
In general, an enterprise class Android-based digital signage solution offers more media playback capabilities than other solutions. This is because the Android TV platform is designed to run media applications from many streaming services. The Android platform enables third-party companies to add their own media players, so we do not see an issue with being able to play specific format content, and one can readily bring content from one solution CMS (content management system) to the newer solution CMS.
The other consideration is how easy it is to run the signage layout/designs. Signage layout and designs that are in HTML can be readily run on solution like iRevo Digital Signage platform that supports native playback or HTML playback. In some cases, you may have to ‘redesign’ the project for content layout on screen and playback timing. With a good authoring tool where no HTML programming is needed, this should be a pretty straightforward task.
The Open Source nature of the Android OS along with continuous development by Google and ecosystem partners has resulted in a broad adaptation of Android as a Platform for SoC based displays. With the existing technology lead and support for AI and ML on the horizon, Android Platform for SoC displays will further solidify its leadership position, further bolstering the case for running Digital Signage applications like the one from iRevo running on SoC-Driven and Android-based Sony Bravia Pro displays.
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