Technology Showcase: Digital Signage Content Software

Create compelling content for one plasma or a whole digital signage network.
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Technology Showcase: Digital Signage Content Software

Jul 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney

Create compelling content for one plasma or a whole digital signage network.

Electronic digital signage is rapidly becoming the most dynamic outlet for digital visual communications. Digital signage, sometimes called narrowcasting, dynamic digital displays, electronic billboards, or even the Outernet, is rapidly differentiating itself from broadcast video entertainment.

Scala InfoChannel

Once considered just a pretty video opportunity for localized advertising or mass crowd communications, digital signage allows clients to tailor the content of digital signage to the specific needs of those who are watching it. In fact, sophisticated content creation software is transforming many forms of digital signage into “nichecasting,” gearing its messages to an ever more specifically identified segment of the populace. The software is enabling digital signage to carve out an ever-growing slice of the estimated $250 billion spent annually on traditional methods of advertising.

Most of the basic graphics of the images seen on digital signage are created in Adobe's After Effects and Photoshop, Microsoft's PowerPoint, or Macromedia's Flash. Moving video sequences, often re-purposed from other production elements, are usually generated by any of the nonlinear video editing packages available today such as Apple's Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro, or Sony's Vegas software. These digital files can then be stored on dedicated servers until they are scheduled and distributed with the help of software delivery systems to either a single display or an enterprise-level network of hundreds of CRT, plasma, LED, LCD, incandescent, and even DLP screens.

But to empower the displays with the intimacy and immediacy unique to today's digital signage, a growing number of companies are offering content creation software programs that can capture a passerby's casual glance by means of an attention-grabbing point of special interest. Here is a survey of the digital signage content creation software products that are currently available.

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MagicBox Aavelin

THE MARKET

Alpha Video offers CastNET content creation software, which allows both cable personnel and digital signage advertisers to compose ads through their web browsers. With a “fill out the form” approach, the message creation becomes simple enough for anyone to handle. Alpha Video's NewsJET, a daily content service designed to deliver news and entertainment throughout the network, keeps any audience informed with the latest news by combining NewsJET content with the existing CastNET content.

Back in 1991, Capital Networks was set up specifically to distribute software worldwide that was produced by the coding firm Digimation. Last April the company released the latest version of Digimation's digital signage content creation software, Audience version 3.3. Running on a standard PC platform, Audience 3.3 features an easy-to-learn interface and can automate content such as News, Weather, Sports, Financial, and Lottery data combined with programming and advertising messages. Its latest enhancements include Audience.guardian that enables setting up thin client displays just by browsing to the Audience.web playback server's web address. Uniquely, Audience.web can take an output of the video channel and automatically host an interactively searchable website. People mousing over that URL can click on any zone and access all of the approved content it contains. Audience 3.3 includes hundreds of professional templates and the full Corel Draw 10 graphics suite with Corel PhotoPaint.

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Chyron ChyTV

Lyric was originally designed by Chyron as a character generator for broadcast television. But since it can perform on any Windows XP platform, Lyric has also become a popular tool for high-end digital signage content creation. Canvas, its 3D composition and animation space, provides infinite manipulation of 2D objects, even those larger than the display area. Build in existing standard animations or, for a unique look, build your own using a keyframe method with a variety of interpolation modes. Chyron's new ChyTV device and software application lets you present your graphics and text message anywhere there's a television, without disrupting the video source. Display graphic and text information overlaying or surrounding the live video region. Recently introduced this past month at InfoComm, ChyTV 2.0 adds S-Video and component video inputs to the existing composite input.

Just last March, Clarity Visual Systems acquired CoolSign software and the services division of Adspace Networks. CoolSign Content Creator is an economical authoring software tool that lets you create dynamic moving ads to combine with your existing images. CoolSign Content Creator enables you to import and lay out media assets, set up keyframe animations, add text, and define data fields that automatically fill in later with information from data tables. Once the message has been composed, CoolSign Content Creator can supplement the standard MPEG media running on a digital media network with elements such as pricing that's geared specifically to each display location.

InfoCaster is a cost-efficient system from Inscriber Technology for out-of-the-box digital signage content creation. The software enables the creation of multi-zone screens that integrate crawls, rolls, and animations that can be tailored for different delivery regions. InfoCaster Workstation includes a single video output for use as either a live display system or as a preview before publishing to your signage network. The InfoCaster Network Manager publishes the necessary files to a specified file server location and notifies the specific players to retrieve modified presentations for display. Since the video output format may be chosen for each Workstation and Player system individually, one group of Players can be using S-Video output, while a second group uses progressive VGA and a third group simultaneously outputs SDI.

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Scala InfoChannel

MagicBox Inc. (formerly Sound Concepts) has been in business over 23 years, having started as a production company serving cable television operations throughout the Pacific Northwest. The company's Aavelin Composer software lets you create dynamic digital messages with a mouse-driven interface. Use your own images combined with TrueType fonts over a pre-built background. Pages can be scheduled by date, day of week, or specified time. With the new Aavelin RT software, you have the added ability to overlay Aavelin's crawl messages on top of live incoming video, and to control Adtec MPEG players for the playback of digital video clips. The Aavelin RT can even convert incoming analog video to VGA for edge-to-edge display on plasma monitors and LCDs.

Although the FRED (Foto-Realistic Electronic Delivery) system from Mercury Online Solutions is primarily a delivery software, it can ingest almost any format of digital imagery from Windows Media to HDTV natively without any compression or conversion. Thus it can be considered content creation software for digital signage. Boasting vector-based graphics, FRED also incorporates Customizable Active Information Modules for live data feeds, such as news, sports headlines, and current weather. The software can trigger the change in its content automatically. The messages in FRED's built-in, customizable ticker can be updated instantly via an online interface.

InfoChannel Designer 3 is the authoring module of the InfoChannel 3 Software Suite from Scala. It's capable of combining text, graphic, sound, and video into broadcast-quality multimedia on a desktop computer. Having been in the digital signage game since 1987, Scala has become the market leader at the high end of electronic signage content creation. Designer 3 is an open system that can be displayed on anyone's screen and can handle any kind of graphic, sound, or video file format in either 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios. Scala's Designer 3 offers real-time image processing and rendering, storyboard-style printing, and spell-checking in nine different languages. When completed, Designer 3's content is distributed to cable head ends, kiosks, or remote screens using InfoChannel Network Manager 3.

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Inscriber InfoCaster

Having purchased TargetVision late in 2003, Symon Communications has been able to incorporate broadcast-quality image processing into its digital signage systems. Symon's Design Studio software transforms workstations at any level of the organization into powerful messaging centers. Design Studio uses simple drag-and-drop content composition procedures. Thumbnail views of fonts, graphics, and text styles provide editors a streamlined workflow, and the software's docking toolbars enhance a customizable authoring workspace. Bundled with Symon Design Studio software are hundreds of ready-to-use graphics, including vibrant backgrounds and PNG (Portable Network Graphics) clip art graphics with built-in transparency mattes. The displayed content can be changed based on a predetermined schedule, or uniquely, a data event automatically detected by Symon's Design Studio.

The idea behind Xpresenter from VertigoXMedia Inc. was to combine the company's broadcast graphics creation system, Xmedia Suite, and its Vertigo CG rendering engine with Microsoft's PowerPoint to create an authoring system that would be familiar to anyone who's worked with that very popular Microsoft Office app. With Xpresenter, PowerPoint elements can be linked to live data sources, supporting popular 24- and 32-bit image formats including alpha channels, in any resolution or file format. Xpresenter can combine a real-time crawling ticker, multiple animated logos, and clocks, all from within PowerPoint.

One of the most innovative methods of content creation is from Watch It Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of Cotelligent. Make It lets you log onto a secure website where a wizard guides you through five simple steps for composing digital signage content in a selection of templates, right from your desktop. You can select from several themes such as entertainment, sports, or dining, and see your message being composed as you step through the process. Then Watch It Media renders the content and sends back a fully encoded MPEG-2 video file that you can upload onto any display for presentation or any media server for distribution.

For More Information

Alpha Videowww.alphavideo.com

Capital Networkswww.capitalnetworks.com

Chyronwww.chyron.com

Claritywww.clarityvisual.com

Inscriber Technologywww.inscriber.com

MagicBoxwww.magicboxinc.com

Mercury Online Solutionswww.mercuryonline.com

Scalawww.scala.com

Symonwww.symon.com

VertigoXMediawww.vertigoxmedia.com

Watch It Mediawww.watchitmedia.com

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