Picture This: Video at NSCA

The show floor in Orlando hosted more than just product introductions.
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Picture This: Video at NSCA

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

The show floor in Orlando hosted more than just product introductions.

When I wrote about video products at the NSCA Systems Integration Expo a year ago, I started with, effectively, a disclaimer that NSCA's history is more of an audio-oriented show than a video-oriented one. I mentioned, too, how the show's awkward timing — a month before the video creation industry's NAB and about two-and-a-half months before the display industry's InfoComm — made it difficult for video companies to break news at NSCA. None of that has changed, but what a difference a year makes for video at NSCA.

The Digital Signage Pavilion at the NSCA Systems Integration Expo 2005 offered a wide array of products to help integrators understand how to create a system that meets a client’s needs.

More to the point, what a difference a year makes in digital signage. NSCA has featured technology pavilions before, including one for digital signage, but nothing like the well-stocked Digital Signage Pavilion at NSCA 2005. Co-sponsored by ActiveLight, the major distributor of large-panel displays and other digital signage-related equipment, this year's pavilion included 20 exhibitors in a cordoned-off area of the exhibit hall floor, complete with lounge and refreshments.

Admittedly, only a small number of the products on display in the digital signage pavilion were actually new or newly introduced at NSCA, but that hardly mattered. Digital signage is a new business opportunity for most of the industry. For integrators, that opportunity begins with understanding the pieces of the puzzle and how they might be put together to meet a client's needs. The diversity of products in the Digital Signage Pavilion offered an excellent overview.

PIECES OF THE PUZZLE

For example, a basic digital signage infrastructure might be as simple as a monitor displaying the content from a single computer, or a DVD player sending static text images or looping video. One of the new products in the pavilion, Chyron's ChyTV-IP can add a level of sophistication and customization by overlaying custom text and graphics atop or around a live video feed, whether that's a local video source or a news channel like CNN's airport channel. With ChyTV, users can manually add text and graphics to video or schedule them over time. That includes text effects and font variation. (See my review on p. 104.)

To play back stored video content, like ad spots or other video clips, you might need a video playback appliance like ElectroSonic's new HD FrEND (short for Far End Network Device). With 40GB of internal storage, this self-contained device plays back MPEG-2 video files in standard or high definition. Files can be uploaded from a remote location and controlled by a play-list. Canopus, better know for video editing software, showed a similar set-top box still device, MediaEdge 2, that supports MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video but not HD at this time. Enseo sells expansion hardware playback cards that can be installed in a local PC or the expansion slot of Pioneer's plasma panels.

Larger digital signage installations — for example, a series of displays in a shopping mall, at a sports arena, or in an entertainment venue — often require more detailed control. Mercury Online, Scala, Philips, Webpavement, and, just outside the gates of the Digital Signage Pavilion, MagicBox all demonstrated software solutions for organizing, scheduling, and distributing digital signage content. Most of these tools include some sort of scheduling storyboard for creating playlists of video, audio, text, and graphics content. However, the methodology and the deployment options among them are often quite different.

MagicBox's Aavelin software is an easy-to-use graphical user interface for designing content for and programming the company's own Aavelin appliance. Webpavement's Sign Server, Sign Administrator, and Sign Host are programming, messaging, and scheduling software that all tie into Webpavement's digital signage hosting service. Scala's suite of InfoChannel Designer software includes modules for designing and scheduling content playlists, Network Manager administration, local content insertion, device control, data feeds, and more. Mercury's Fred software scales from the smallest signage installations of one to 10 screens with Fred Solo, all the way up to serving thousands of screens all over the world, controlling network management, scheduling content, monitoring and logging playout, and more.

And where does the actual content for digital signage come from if it's more than just text and company logos? The NSCA Digital Signage Pavilion even offered a little of that. In addition to the MediaEdge 2, Canopus also demonstrated its Edius video editing system and ProCoder, a video and audio file conversion utility. There was even a designer, Blue Pony Digital, which specializes in creating custom content for digital signage.

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The Digital Signage Pavilion at the NSCA Systems Integration Expo 2005, co-sponsored by ActiveLight.

BEYOND DIGITAL SIGNAGE

Digital signage wasn't the only video product news at NSCA. Extron always has something new to talk about and this year the company announced the CrossPoint 300 series matrix switchers. The new wideband design boasts a major increase in bandwidth to 300MHz and adds custom Advanced Digital Sync Processing to ensure the most robust signal and best looking image on the display. Extron has eight new configurations ranging from the a 4×2 version up to the 16×16 CrossPoint 300 1616. The CrossPoint 450 Plus series of matrix switchers handles video up to 1920×1080 with an even bigger RGB bandwidth of 450MHz. All new CrossPoint configurations also add audio gain control.

Extron also introduced two new picture-in-picture processors: the PIP 422 and PIP 444 can display up to, respectively, two and four fully customizable windows on a signal screen.

Analog Way announced the new VIO 1600 multi-purpose, multiformat scan converter, scaler, standards converter, and seamless switcher. It features three universal inputs and one universal output to accept and play to virtually any existing source and format, analog or digital, and in standard or high definition up to 1600×1200 for data and 720p or 1080i for HDTV. To accommodate all the possible connector types, the VIO 1600 spreads a plethora of connectors over the various input and output channels, including 15-pin, DVI, BNCs, S-Video, and composite. SDI and HD-SDI are optional. If you've ever had a problem connecting PCs with video displays, this is your universal translator. The cost is expected to be $4,500.

Although it has a slightly different model name, TV One's newly pre-announced C2-7100 is the HD-capable successor to the company's C2-770 multi-purpose video processor and uses the same CORIO2 technology. The C2-7100 boasts a similar Swiss Army knife set of capabilities, including scaling, up/downconversion, seamless switching, luma and chroma keying, logo insertion, and aspect ratio conversion — all for less than $8,000. TV One also debuted the CS-470 data-to-video scan converter with gen-lock and increased flicker filtering.

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