Driving force: top-end media player options

Is the future of media players in HTML5 or NUC, or will technology remove the need for media players altogether?

Is the future of media players in HTML5 or NUC, or will technology remove the need for media players altogether?

Media players are media-processing modules that play digital content onto digital signage screens. But with hundreds of options available in the market, finding which one is the most appropriate can be a bit daunting. We spoke with experts in the industry to see what they think and asked them what they consider to be the top-end options.

Kevin Goldsmith, director of Digital Media Operations at USA-based Ping HD defines it: “A top-end media player will have more memory, a faster CPU and sometimes a dedicated, discreet graphics card. As performance increases so do the capabilities in terms of multiple video zones and the smoothness of animated and scrolling ticker playback.”

“For Intevi, there is no such thing as a top-end player, it depends more on the application and project requirements and finding hardware that fits,” says Adam Wilson, director at Intevi. “From knowing the project requirements we will then source, or build, a player that has the right operating system, size, heat output, power consumption and number of outputs. We also ensure the hardware is fully tested and support by the software package it will be operating. We use a range of different players for different projects. Spinetix manufactures some great products and we have recently been building our own Scala media players based on the Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) bare bone, very powerful and cost effective.”

Spinetix’s HMP200 is a non-PC based media player with no moving parts and no need for maintenance. It can display a full HD video combined with multiple live news feeds and animations. The HMP200 comes bundled with the embedded Fusion software, a multi-lingual browser-based content manager that provides instant results, out of the box.

The Intel NUC is a 4 x 4″ (10 x 10cm) box with a third generation Intel Core i3 processor. At ISE 2013, Ingram Micro was also very enthusiastic about this mighty player. The NUC DC3217BY can be daisy-chained with Thunderbolt technology connecting several displays and the DC3217IYE can drive two digital displays at once with dual HDMI.

Inurface Media director Josh Bunce says: “One of the top-end options we sell is the Advantech ARK-DS762. Powered by the latest Intel i7 processor it can handle HD content on three independent displays thanks to its three HDMI outputs. This is more cost effective than using three separate media players and easier to configure. This is typically used with digital menuboards, and when you are looking at stretching content over several screens.”

An alternative for installations that require sophisticated video capabilities is BrightSign’s recently launched XD media players. Its advanced video decoding engine delivers up to two 1080p60 signals simultaneously, supports 3D content and is capable of displaying live HDTV content using an ATSCor Clear QAM tuner or HDMI input. All of the new XD models support HTML5 for easier content creation. BrightSign’s usual touch-screen interactivity has been enhanced on the XD players with the addition of swipe and gesture control.

AV distributor Steljes uses MediaTile’s Media Player, a cloud-based display-independent solution that integrates everything you need to run a digital signage network, allowing interactivity, HD and SD content and standard audio.

Steljes’s head of product management, Sam Baker, gives as an example a digital signage installation that Steljes carried out at Oldham Council. The council wanted to have an innovative modern approach to communicating with its residents, so the company advised on MediaTile’s cloud-based digital signage solution which uses a combination of mobile phone 3G connectivity and a web-based software offering.

“A key benefit of the MediaTile solution is its flexibility – the type of messages delivered by Oldham Council vary widely from day-to-day information about core services to more specific and localised communications, such as charity fundraising events,” explains Baker.

Goldsmith comments, “We consider a media player based on the expected content the customers think they will want to playback. When we get involved with multiple screen arrays or interactive content we spec higher performance media players that can cope with this type of content. Key is making sure we provide a media player that meets today’s objective, but also has the flexibility of what might be required in the future.”

So what next? Baker likes the options that MOOH (mobile out-of-home) offers; Goldsmith is excited about a new wave of HTML5 based media players that are standalone boxes or integrated within some of the newer LED monitors; Williams is looking out for signage on a chip. But then, some say no media player is the future.

First published 18 March 2013 – Output

Cloud’s ahead for UC&C

InAVate, technology - Cloud’s ahead for UC&C

InAVate, technology – Cloud’s ahead for UC&C

Is cloud video conferencing the silver lining for the unified communications industry? Well, it certainly seems so. Geny Caloisi interviews the main players in this industry to find out how using cloud VC is opening new doors.

For a long time users have been polishing the genie’s lamp making these wishes: we want a reliable video service, that is as good as the TV in our living rooms; we don’t want to worry about what VC system our clients, partners or employees have in order to talk to them face to face; we want cheaper; we want everywhere; we want flexible and scalable; we want simplicity… Can you blame them? Well, no. The fact is that until now not all these wishes could be granted, at least not all at once.

Follow this link to see the PDF: Cloud’s ahead for UC&C Oct12

Head in the cloud: digital signage and cloud computing

As digital signage grows and companies implement it, the big question they face is: should we have our solution on the premises or should we place it in the cloud instead? Having your system in the cloud means taking a scalable computer resource and placing it outside of your organisation, rather than having it inside your own network. It represents a shift in the way companies allocate resources for IT, integrated security, recovery and increased capacity or capabilities. It allows remote content and software updates.

The cloud can offer advantages for digital signage network owners

“Before, customers’ only option was to purchase expensive servers, install software and employ the skills necessary to configure and manage an on-premises digital signage network,” explains Jason Cremins, chief executive of cloud-powered digital signage solutions provider signagelive. “Now, thanks to the internet and cloud computing, customers can purchase a range of internet-enabled digital signage devices that are preloaded with the necessary software to play back full-screen and multi-zone digital signage. Alternatively, many cloud-based digital signage solutions, such as signagelive, also offer a software only option, so that you can install the software on any PC with the operating system of your choice.”

There are five main advantages offered by a cloud-based digital signage solution: scalability; lower cost; stability; flexibility and enhanced security.

An example of a familiar place where one can get cloud services is the huge online retailer Amazon. Attila Narin, senior manager of Amazon Web Services (AWS) EMEA, says of scalability and security: “AWS has companies of every size and in virtually every industry. Today we have hundreds of thousands of customers in over 190 countries – both start-ups and large companies – including many in advertising and digital signage.

“One company using AWS is digital advertising and marketing firm Razorfish. Razorfish uses AWS to run big data analysis to better target consumers with advertising-based on data from online browsing sessions. A common issue Razorfish found was the need to process gigantic data sets which resulted from holiday shopping traffic on a retail website, or the sudden, dramatic growth on a media or social networking site.

“Normally crunching these numbers would take Razorfish two days or more. By leveraging on-demand services such as Amazon Elastic MapReduce, Razorfish is able to drop its processing time to eight hours. As there was no upfront investment in computing hardware, no procurement delay, and no additional operations staff needed, Razorfish is now able to increase its return on ad spend by 500 percent.”

But what type of security can companies get on AWS? Narin expands: “AWS provides the same, familiar approaches to security that companies have been using for decades. Importantly, it does this while also allowing the flexibility and low cost of cloud computing. There is nothing inherently at odds with providing on-demand infrastructure while also providing the security isolation companies have become accustomed to in their existing, privately owned environments.

“We often find that we can improve security using AWS. Amazon’s scale allows significantly more investment in security policing and countermeasures than a smaller company could afford. We have also completed certifications such as ISO 27001, FISMA, SOC-1 (formerly SAS-70) and PCI. We’ll continue to pursue certifications that are important to larger customers and those in the federal space.

“With AWS,” says Narin, “customers have full control over their data – they own it, not us; they choose where to store the data and it doesn’t move unless they choose to move it. They can encrypt their data at rest and in motion, and regardless of whether customers choose to encrypt or not, we never look at the data.”

Cremins points out another advantage: “Our cloud-based offerings are provided as a service, which means that signagelive customers will get all the support they need from trial to full roll-out.”

OK, but how much does it cost? While signagelive offers free trials, AWS has a free Usage Tier to help new businesses get started, which gives anyone free access to an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) Micro Instance for one year. This includes free Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon Elastic Block Store, Amazon Elastic Load Balancing and AWS data transfer. In January this year Amazon extended the Free Usage Tier to include Windows Server Instances.

First published 3 April 2012 – Output