Chyron ChyTV

Easily integrate text and graphics into digital signage.
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Chyron ChyTV

May 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

Easily integrate text and graphics into digital signage.

Digital signage can mean anything from a single animated kiosk to an entire sports arena full of panels displaying text, graphics, and video-based advertisements on a schedule and updated remotely. It's powerful technology for today's information-rich world and an exciting business opportunity for AV contractors, but it can also be intimidating. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be — nor does it really even require creating custom video content.

That's the idea behind Chyron's ChyTV ($1,395). It's a little black-box device that can create professional-looking digital signage literally out of PowerPoint text and backgrounds. When used in conjunction with a video source, like a cable news channel or DVD player, it can frame, animate, or crawl text and graphical messages around the video in a window, or even overlay them on the video.

Best of all, ChyTV is simple and dependable, and that's the right combination to bring a little flair to otherwise straightforward information dissemination. Of course, ChyTV can't switch between multiple video sources, can't play through multi-format content insertion, and can't repopulate its playlists automatically from a database, as higher-end digital signage software might. But it can turn a video monitor showing generic television programming, like you might find in a hospital waiting room, airport, or sports bar, into informative signage.

Chyron has been laying text and graphics over video for years at the highest levels of broadcast production. If you've noticed the score boxes, captions, or logos on a portion of your TV screen during sporting events or on a news channel, you've seen a Chyron titler at work. With ChyTV, Chyron is leveraging that expertise in mixing fonts and overlaying graphics and bringing it to the burgeoning world of digital signage.

SMALL AND SIMPLE

The ChyTV hardware is about as small and lightweight as a four-port Ethernet hub. And it's uncomplicated: The unit I tested has just RCA composite video and audio ports for video and unbalanced audio in and out. A USB port (USB 1 instead of the faster USB 2) interfaces with a computer, and a removable CompactFlash card holds the unit's stored files. A second version, ChyTV-IP ($1,495), adds an Ethernet port for computer network connectivity and gives the unit an IP address.

The choice of just composite video I/O, with unbalanced RCA audio, is a shortcoming. If you have a large flat-panel monitor, you'd really like to be sending it the best looking image you can, even if it's composed of just text and graphics. Thankfully, Chyron will introduce an S-Video and component version of ChyTV at InfoComm with BNC connectors, RS-232 control, USB, and Ethernet connectivity. It will have a durable metal chassis, instead of the current plastic, and is expected to cost a little less than $2,000.

Physical hardware setup couldn't be easier. With either version of ChyTV, the video and audio out cables directly feed a display. If an audiovisual source is connected to the in ports, the video can be positioned in an on-screen window or cover the full frame. The included ChyTV Tools software uploads files and playlists to the device. Either load them to the CompactFlash card and physically plug that into the ChyTV unit, or send the information via USB (or Ethernet with the ChyTV-IP). Your choice will depend on the physical placement of the unit and the infrastructure around the ChyTV.

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ChyTV offers an easy way to display and update digital signage information with minimal effort.

Software programming is a little more involved. Learning the conventions of Chyron's first-generation software requires some effort. Smartly, ChyTV uses standard HTML files for layout and formatting. Since PowerPoint can save individual slides to HTML, it makes that familiar tool the default design environment for positioning, selecting, and sizing fonts, and applying font colors and styles. An awkward caveat with PowerPoint: HTML export requires that you create a new project for each slide. Otherwise, PowerPoint will try to export an entire set of slides as one multi-page HTML document, and that gives ChyTV Tools trouble. If you're familiar with any other web-creation tool — like Macromedia Dreamweaver, Adobe GoLive, or straight coding — you can use it to build layouts for ChyTV as long as you plan for video's 720×480 frame size.

When you “Add” those HTML files to your ChyTV project, ChyTV Tools automatically converts the HTML to a proprietary CTV format. However, Chyron cleverly gives you “round-trip” editing capabilities by automatically opening CTV files again as an HTML in PowerPoint or the editor of your choice.

All that sounds pretty easy, and it is. Where ChyTV gets a little trickier, and more powerful, is in its use of text boxes/frames in PowerPoint et al as placeholders for information that you add later in ChyTV Tools. To do this, your PowerPoint slide might include text blocks that, instead of containing actual signage text or pictures, say things like “,” “ text.txt,” and “ {EF 1,M}.” Those are tags into which ChyTV can insert other elements. Naturally, is where ChyTV will insert the live video feed. You would create a separate text.txt file in ChyTV Tools that includes the actual text for a crawl across the frame. The {EF 1,M} syntax allows you to animate text and graphic elements in other ways than crawl — like slide in left/right, etc. (ChyTV doesn't use PowerPoint's built-in effects.)

It's those commands that create the learning curve for ChyTV, and Chyron's manual includes a lengthy appendix of advanced control commands. They're quite straightforward if you've ever done any control programming, but Chyron would be smart to include a collection of layout, text, and effect templates on the software CD-ROM to give less technical users an easy way to get up and running quickly. After all, that's the broader market for an easy tool like ChyTV.

The ChyTV Tools interface could also be laid out more intuitively, by offering a more concise overview of projects and assets and by keeping toggle buttons together with what they affect. There should also be a more consistent method for adding different types of assets to the playlist or time-of-day play schedule. Yet even those operations aren't complicated after you've done them once or twice. The playlists are just lists of elements to which you can add transitions and timing through simple pulldown menus. From there you simply upload assets and playlists/schedules to the ChyTV device and hit play.

Chyron says that in future software updates its planning to add support for about a dozen templates, including some for 16:9 displays to avoid the stretching you'd get from 4:3-oriented layouts. Also there will be greater support for transparency and for animated GIFs.

Those planned features would only give ChyTV users more options for distinctive signage, and that's great. But what's more important is that ChyTV already offers digital signage aspirants an easy way to produce and display information with minimal effort. At $1,395, ChyTV does cost considerably more than a computer or a DVD player that might feed custom information to a display. But neither of those solutions is going to be as easy to install, operate, and maintain for the task at hand: creating digital signage.

SPECIFICATIONS

Video Input 1 CVBS

Video Output 1 CVBS

Video I/O Type RCA

Impedance 75Ω

Format 1V p-p CVBS, 525 (NTSC) or 625 (PAL)

Audio Input 2 (R/L) analog stereo

Audio Output 2 (R/L) analog stereo

Media I/O 1 rear external slot CompactFlash (32MB-256MB SanDisk)

Interface USB 1

Dimensions (W×H×D) 7.5"×1.72"×11.5"

Weight 1lb.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Company: Chyron
www.chytv.com

Product: ChyTV

Pros: Easy setup and operation; works with PowerPoint and standard HTML files; animates and crawls text and graphics across and over video.

Cons: No component or S-Video in this version. First version software is a little clumsy.

Applications: Office and campus lobbies, as well as bars, restaurants, doctors' offices — any public location with a television.

Price: $1,395 ($1,495 for ChyTV-IP)

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