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Picture This: Digital Signage That’ll Grab You

The 3D trend could position digital signage in a new light. 4/10/2009 8:00 AM Eastern

Picture This: Digital Signage That’ll Grab You

Apr 10, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

The 3D trend could position digital signage in a new light.




Philips’ WOWzone displays

The wow factor of 3D could be making its way to a public display near you. Several manufacturers are beginning to deliver products that are making multiple 3D viewing zones a reality, including Philips’ WOWzone displays.

One of the overt trends emerging in both the consumer and professional entertainment industries over the past year or two has been 3D. From Sony’s 3D broadcast of the NCAA Championship football game at CES to technology manufacturers of 120Hz (and faster) DLP and LCD imaging engines that can show can show left- and right-eye images without losing resolution, 3D seems to have reached the next dimension. Even front-projection-screen manufacturers such as Da-Lite and Stewart Filmscreen are getting into the space with 3D-specific screen materials.

Yet all of those 3D options require viewers to wear some type of glasses—increasingly common are polarized glasses—in order to perceive the 3D effect. That effectively rules them out for public-display use. However, a technology with much older roots, autostereoscopic 3D, does allow viewers to experience 3D without wearing any glasses or headgear. That could translate into real reach-out-and-grab-you attention-getting in the digital-signage market.

Autostereoscopic 3D isn’t a new idea. As a kid in the 1970s, I had 3D baseball cards that would produce a 3D effect if held at the right angle, and the technique is much older than that. Cards like those used a lenticular lens, similiar to an array of miniature magnifying glasses, in front of the image to direct different colors and light in different directions so the viewer’s two eyes see a slightly different image. This yields the appearance of depth. Some cards could also produce a moving image effect by combining two images in one card and using the lens array to create multiple visual sweet spots. Physically moving the card up and down or side to side would afford a view of one image and then the other image.

It doesn’t sound like a very sophisticated technology on those baseball cards, yet it’s very similar to—if more rudimentary than—what companies such as Philips, Akira, LG, and Samsung are doing with new 3D displays that don’t require glasses or headgear. A lenticular lens in front of a dynamic LCD or plasma panel affords 3D motion video, but that’s not the only difference. The lenticular lens can also direct the different red, green, and blue subpixels that make up each individual pixel to different viewing spots, thereby decreasing the resolution loss that otherwise occurs by creating multiple images at the same time.


Picture This: Digital Signage That’ll Grab You

Apr 10, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

The 3D trend could position digital signage in a new light.




Admittedly, resolution loss is still an issue, particularly with panels that try to create the many viewing sweet spots that would make public display practical. By definition, a public-signage passerby will rarely remain front and center long enough to experience 3D. Therefore, any autostereoscopic, glasses-free digital-signage panel will need to offer multiple viewing zones.

Philips has been able to produce an autostereoscopic 3D LCD panel with nine viewing zones, enabling a viewer’s eyes to experience the 3D effect even as they move past the display in a shopping mall, entertainment venue, or other public location. After showing autostereoscopic 3D LCD prototypes for several years, Philips recently began shipping three models: the original 1920x1080 42in. panel (which can be grouped in a 3x3 matrix to form a 132in. 3D WOWzone display), a 1920x1080 52in. panel, and a QFHD 3840x2160 56in. panel. Prices range from less than $10,000 to roughly $25,000, so there is a clear price premium for the 3D capabilities.

Insight Media, an industry analyst firm that has written a comprehensive report on autostereoscopic 3D for digital signage, estimates that these new 3D panels cost roughly 2.2 times as much as similarly sized 2D panels. However, Insight Media sees the potential for a much greater novelty impact in a digital-signage environment, and that’s what Philips and others are hoping will drive adoption. Although Philips is the only manufacturer that has actually come to market, several others—including LG and Samsung—have demonstrated similar technology at tradeshows. Others, including Apple and Sharp, are also working on comparable technology.

Grabbing What?

The wow factor of a 3D image in a public-signage setting is fairly easy to appreciate, but there are, of course, a few caveats associated with adopting the technology beyond just the displays. As with any digital-signage installation, capital expenditures are only one aspect to consider. Finding a continuing source of fresh content is critical for keeping public signage informative, eye-catching, and ultimately effective. That’s getting a lot easier at all levels for 2D content, with digital-signage vendors developing straightforward ways for administrators to generate content with templates and text. Yet 3D presents new problems.


Picture This: Digital Signage That’ll Grab You

Apr 10, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

The 3D trend could position digital signage in a new light.




3D content is becoming increasingly available now that movie, television, and commercial animation is created digitally. Although that likely doesn’t translate directly to appropriate digital-signage content except perhaps at cinema complexes and large sports arenas that would run trailers and broadcast-ready ad video. However, it is getting better and easier to create as 3D software matures, and the increased level of digital content creation at the high end means that there is an increasing field of 3D artists able to generate custom content. For large installations, retaining that expertise may be a cost-effective proposition.

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The fate of 3D digital signage probably isn’t inextricably linked to the success of 3D movies or any future trend toward 3D TV, since the digital-signage experience is more limited in viewing time. Yet there’s little doubt that the broader trend toward 3D should increase the awareness and appeal of 3D, including with public displays. Unlike other technologies, early adopters may be in the best position to capitalize on the wow factor.

Philips offers plug-ins for popular 3D creation tools, such as Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya, that reformat 3D animation into Philips’ 2D-plus-depth format, storing the Z-axis-depth information as a grayscale map that the display will use to build the multiple viewing spots. At the same time, Philips also offers two software products— BlueBox and WOWvx Compositor—that can add that same Z-axis-depth information to existing 2D content, including straightforward text-based material, thereby generating the 2D-plus-depth format that will produce the reach-out-and-grab-you effect on the panels.

That makes 3D digital signage sound possible, perhaps even promising. Although it remains to be seen whether there’s a broad market for 3D in digital signage. It’s also unclear whether broad adoption of 3D digital signage would ultimately decrease the critical novelty factor. Insight Media’s autostereoscopic 3D report takes an in-depth look at the state of the technology, with an independent analysis of the 3D-digital-signage business model for each of a large number of sectors. These include shopping malls, public offices, sports venues, theme parks and other entertainment locations, museums, and transportation hubs—each with its own set of goals and value calculations.


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