Digital Signage Has Entered Its ‘Talkies’ Phase

Sound is increasingly part of the picture for digital signage as demonstrated at Digital Signage Expo 2014.

Dan Daley

If booth after booth featuring demo mock menus for restaurants real and imagined didn’t make you feel constantly famished on the floor at Digital Signage Expo 2014, Feb. 12-13 in Las Vegas, then the ubiquitous pictures of food in glorious Ultra HD certainly would have.

But in between cravings for food at the Sands Expo, the show revealed some interesting trends that will be impacting the digital signage market for months and years to come.

One of the biggest of those was ongoing integration of audio with digital signage, so we talked to several exhibitors about audio’s emerging role.

Peerless-AV
Peerless-AV’s HD Flow, the company’s wireless (802.11n) content transmission system, now offers stereo, linear PCM sound, with analog-to-48-kHz/16-bit conversion.

Brian McClimans, Peerless’ VP of business development, pointed out that the effort to combine audio with digital signage is nearly as old as the category itself. But, he said, lack of directional speakers and endlessly looped audio content doomed it a decade or so ago. Now, he believes, with the greater availability of highly directional audio systems and sensors that gauge listener proximity and interest, audio integrated with digital signage is making a comeback.

That sound, though, he added, has to also be aware of its environment. “The signage has to be able to monitor the level of ambient sound around it and adjust its volume levels accordingly,” he said. “Sound has to be sensitive—if it’s too loud, it gets annoying; if it’s too quiet, it gets ignored.”

Peerless
Peerless’ HD Flow wireless content transmission system now offers stereo sound.

Planar
Jennifer Davis, VP of marketing at Planar, says her company has seen interest in audio for its Simplicity Series of digital signage products increase “significantly” in the last year. Rear-firing speakers are used to deliver audio with images.

She noted that early digital signage hardware often used conventional televising sets whose internal speakers were poorly suited for delivering highly focused content, slowing uptake of sound with images in signage. She agreed that the increased availability of directional audio systems is partly fueling renewed interest, but pointed out that audio is effective only in smaller signage applications, those with one-on-one levels of scale that can “talk” to one individual or a small group at a time.

“Larger videowalls don’t work well with sound because they scale to very large numbers of viewers at a time,” she explained. “But on the personal level, sound in digital signage works very well.”