Small Systems for Big Displays
Advanced digital signage has become a familiar part of modern life. But the technology behind the scenes driving those systems consists of high-performance computing integrated in reliable, compact platforms. Makers of signage players, smart displays and other technologies are continuing to evolve their building blocks for crafting impressive digital signage systems.
It’s almost hard to imagine the time before digital signage displays weren’t a fixture of modern life. Today’s systems provide users with the ability to easily update information on large, high-resolution displays in real time and in rugged, outdoor environments. The capability to rotate ads even on billboard-sized displays has multiplied revenue streams for stakeholders using digital signage systems. While consumers have seen improvements in resolution and video performance, the under-the-hood technology advancements have been even more impressive.
The main component of today’s landscape of modern digital signage are digital signage players that support advanced graphics and multiple streams of connectivity. There’s also some overlap with general-purpose box-level embedded computing systems that provide solutions for signage applications. Meanwhile smart displays and display computing modules have emerged to add functionality and performance within the digital signage display itself. A variety of board-level embedded computing products also target the digital signage market, but those are not included within the scope of this article.
Exemplifying these trends, in August Axiomtek introduced its DSP501-527 product, a digital signage player that embeds the 8th generation Intel Core i5/i3 or Celeron processors. It features support for the Intel Movidius Myriad X VPU and Intel OpenVINO toolkit, which enable high performance for imaging, computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI) applications, says Axiomtek.
The player provides a solution for the retail space and can display videos or animations on dual 4K displays through its DisplayPort++ and HDMI 2.0 ports (Figure 1). When bundled with an external camera and compatible AI facial recognition software, the DSP501-527 can also be used for user identification for a management system. The DSP501-527 is well suited for use in digital menu boards, digital directory boards, self-service kiosks, video walls and more.
The DSP501-527 includes M.2 Key M 2280 for SATA and NVMe storage, enabling the system capture and process massive videos, images or data. It is also equipped with two DDR4-2400 SO-DIMM slots for up to 32GB of system memory. The signage player offers multiple I/O interfaces including 1x Gbit Ethernet port, 1x RS-232, 4x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 2.0 port, 1x Mic-in, 1x Line-out, 1x SIM card slot and 4x antenna openings.
For expansion, the DSP501-527 has one M.2 Key E 2230 slot and one M.2 Key B 3042 for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or 4G LTE. Its other features include a lockable DC power input, a power button, a HDD LED and a reset switch. The DSP501-527 can withstand a wide operating temperature range from 0°C to +50°C and vibration of up to 3G. It has been certified with CE and FCC Class A and runs on Windows 10 IoT and Linux operating systems.
U-SERIES PROCESSOR PLAYER
Because signage players are often running displays that are outdoors and running day and night, ruggedness and high-reliability are important. Along such lines, last summer Ibase Technology rolled out its SI-642-N 4K, a digital signage player that leverages the 8th gen Intel Core U-series processors (Figure 2). According to the company, the platform can be used in commercial establishments to increase brand awareness and customer engagement or deployed in transportation networks to provide real-time information and advertising relevant to the traveler.
The fanless SI-642-N offers high performance and high reliability for 24/7 operation in an industrial grade design. It is integrated with the Ibase iSMART and Observer technologies for remote monitoring, power on/off scheduling, power recovery and low temperature boot functions. With the Intel HD Graphics 620, the system can simultaneously support two independent displays (1x HDMI 2.0 and 1x Active DisplayPort 1.2) with 4K (4096 × 2160) at 60Hz resolution as well as two independent audio outputs.
The SI-642-N houses the MBD642 motherboard populated with dual Gbit LAN, 4x USB 3.1, dual channel DDR4 with up to 32GB support and expansion slots including M.2 3042 B-key for 4G/LTE, M.2 2280 M-key for storage and M.2 2240 E-key (for Wi-Fi) to install optional capture cards. It also has the Intel vPro and TPM 2.0 features for increased productivity, remote manageability and data security. The SI-642-N has a 12VDC input and a 60W adapter. There is a 0 to 45°C operating temperature range with 10% to 90% (non-condensing) humidity tolerance and 5-Grms vibration resistance. The SI-642-N is currently available in four models that differ in the processor type and operates on both Windows 10 and Linux Ubuntu operating systems.
GAMING MEDIA PLAYER
There’s significant overlap between general purpose signage players and systems targeted for the casino gaming industry. Along those lines, last summer EFCO announced the VideoStar100, its first media player integrated with SecuBoot (Figure 3). Equipped with an AMD industrial-grade Ryzen Embedded V1000/R1000 APU, VideoStar100 supports three (R1000) or four independent 4k displays with an integrated AMD Radeon Vega Series Graphic Processor. The system can be used for applications ranging from slot machines to digital display walls, especially for those displays used to introduce the games.
ECFO’s SecuBoot is a technology that prevents “unauthorized” programs or viruses from USB devices and it safeguards against from Internet hackers changing the operating system during the system start-up process. SecuBoot provides a complete algorithm to cover BIOS Lock, Device Verification, Storage Checksum and Whisper Talk, which meets country and/or regional regulations. By including this extra level of security, SecuBoot also aids in the ability to meet the requirements of GLI (Gaming Labs International) or BMM Testlabs.
Other features include optional SmartBay, which supports SATA storage and USB2.0/3.0, up to 4x DP ports, 2xRS232 ports, 2xRJ45 ports and supports VESA Mount. Lifetime support until 2028 is also included. The VideoStar100 measures 200mm × 181mm × 49mm. The system runs Linux 4.10 or Windows 10 IoT on the Ryzen Embedded V1000 or slightly stripped-down AMD R1000.
SECURITY AND RELIABILITY
A lot of general-purpose embedded box-level systems are marketed as digital signage systems. That’s a valid approach given that many such systems can be used for multiple market segments. In September, Nexcom, for example, announced a Coffee Lake-based embedded system aimed at signage applications. Called the NDiS B560, the system runs Linux or Windows 10 on a choice of 8th Coffee Lake or 9th Gen Coffee Lake Refresh chips with Intel UHD Graphics 630 and Intel Q370 or H310 chipsets (Figure 4).
The company’s announcement dubs the fanless system as a signage computer with 3x HDMI 2.0 ports with triple independent 4K and iAMT support on one of the two GbE ports. That said, its product page categorizes it as a general-purpose embedded system. The computer is touted for its -20 to 60°C support and optional, heater-equipped -40 to 60°C variant. The announcement also mentions a lightweight, slimline version with 0 to 40°C support.
The 238mm × 192mm × 67.3mm NDiS B560 ships with up to 32GB DDR4 2666 RAM via dual sockets and offers a 2.5″ SATA bay. Storage is also available on one of 3x M.2 slots: The M.2 M-key 2242/2280 (SATA, PCIe x4). You also get an M.2 B-key 3042/3052 (PCIe x2, USB) with optional 3G, 4G or 5G modules and an M.2 E-key 2230 for optional WiFi. Four antenna mounts are included.
In addition to the triple HDMI ports, major ports include 2x GbE, 6x USB 3.0 and single RS232/422/485 and RS232. The 12V powered system ships with power and reset buttons and an external 96W AC/DC adapter with 100-240VAC output. Other features include 3x LEDs, 2x audio jacks and 10-90% non-condensing humidity tolerance.
For its part, OnLogic offers a wide variety of box-level systems, many of which are targeted for a broad set of applications. Some of the company’s most compact solutions are of particular interest to digital signage system integrators. In an example along those lines, in August OnLogic has released its first two systems as part of the new IGEL Ready program from IGEL Technology. OnLogic says the systems are built for distributed computing, virtualization and thin client applications in challenging environments
The IGL200 and IGL300 were OnLogic’s first systems to integrate IGEL software, but others of have been subsequently released. The IGEL Ready program opens up the company’s core enterprise software for any technology partner to integrate and validate their products. According to IGEL, technologies from over 90 companies are already integrated within IGEL’s platform, including Microsoft, Citrix and Zoom.
At 119mm × 56mm × 154mm for the IGL300, and 82mm × 34mm × 115mm for the IGL200, the new boxes are quite compact. As shown in Figure 5a and Figure 5b, the pens next to each product helps indicate the scale. And the IGL200 is even slightly smaller than OnLogic’s tiny CL200 mini-PC that measures 83mm × 34mm × 116mm.
The IGL200 is an ultra-small form factor industrial IGEL thin client endpoint with dual Gbit Ethernet LAN, dual Mini DisplayPorts, and it runs on a dual-core Intel Apollo Lake Celeron 1.1GHz N3350 processor and 4GB of LPDDR4 DRAM memory. The unit has 2x LAN, 2x Mini-DisplayPorts and TPM for additional security. The system comes certified for and pre-imaged with IGEL OS 11 Workspace Edition Trial.
The fanless IGL200 has a cast aluminum chassis that dissipates heat while allowing mounting options such as VESA-, wall- and DIN-rail mounting. Every side of the system has I/O. 2x USB 3.0 ports, 2x Gbit LAN ports, 2x mini DisplayPorts, and a 3.5mm audio jack are on the front. The bottom features one 9-pin RS-232 COM port and one USB 2.0 port. The top has antenna holes for Wi-Fi via the system’s half-height mPCIe slot. Storage options include a MicoSD Card slot and mSATA slot that’s shared with the full-sized mPCIe slot. As shown in Figure 6, the IGL200 is small enough to be mounted on the back of display screen for a digital signage or other display-based application.
A larger and more rugged system than the IGL200, the IGL300 is a compact rugged IGEL thin client endpoint that integrates CAN bus, 3x Gbit Ethernet LAN and customizable digital I/O. The unit is configurable with either the dual-core Apollo Lake 1.3GHz E3930 or the quad-core Apollo Lake 1.6GHz E3950 processor and up to 8GB of LPDDR4 DRAM memory. Like the IGL200, the IGL300 comes certified for and pre-imaged with IGEL OS 11 Workspace Edition Trial.
Designed for harsh environments, the IGL300 is tested according to IEC 60068-2-27 & IEC 60068-2-64/ MIL-STD-810 procedures for shock and vibration. Shock and vibration performance also meet the in-vehicle UNECE Reg.10 E-mark and rolling stock EN50155 standards. For security, the unit implements the Intel Platform Trust Technology (PTT) architecture, which implements TPM in BIOS firmware.
Other features of the IGL300 include a wide power input of 9VDC to 36VDC and operating temperature range of -25°C to 70°C. The IGL300 has the same mounting options as the IGL200: DIN-mount, VESA-mount and wall-mount. For I/O, the IGL300 is designed to be customized to meet the needs of a specific application. The system provides integrated CAN bus, customizable digital I/O and WiFi/Bluetooth capabilities. Other interfaces include 3x Gbit Ethernet LAN ports, 2x COM ports and 4x USB 3.0 ports.
DISPLAY MODULE FOR SIGNAGE
While digital signage players are the central component of digital signage systems, adding intelligence and functionality to the displays themselves is another important piece of the puzzle. With that in mind, in October AAEON, announced its ASDM-L-CFS smart display module, the first board built to the Intel SDM Large (SDM-L) form factor to support socket type 8th and 9th Generation Intel Core processors (Figure 7). The 175mm × 100mm × 20mm SDM-L form factor is a sleeker version of Intel’s OPS (Open Pluggable Specification). SDM-L is designed to offer easier upgrades by placing core signage computing components on a compact, removable module.
The ASDM-L-CFS supports the 8th/9th Generation Intel Core i3/i5/i7, Celeron and Pentium processors (formerly Coffee Lake and Coffee Lake Refresh). The board pairs those processors with up to 32GB DDR4 SODIMM memory. The company also claims the ASDM-L-CFS as the first SDM-L board to support Wireless vPro technology from Intel, allowing for remote management of the system without needing to connect directly to it. The 8th/9th gen Intel Core processors embed the Intel UHD graphics controller. Display output is handled thanks to HDMI 2.0 and DP1.2 support through the edge connector.
The ASDM-L-CFS board offers both an M.2 2242 B Key and M.2 2230 E Key, allowing users to quickly add storage and Wi-Fi capabilities. The ASDM-L-CFS also features an onboard Gbit Ethernet LAN port, and 2xUSB 3.2 ports (up to 10Gb/s support with Q370 socket). The ASDM-L-CFS runs on 12V DC AT/ATX power from the docking board via the edge connector. Aaeon estimates 72.96W power consumption at 12V/6.08A with a Core i7-9700TE at 100% loading. The system has a 0 to 55°C operating range with 0-90% non-condensing relative humidity resistance. A CPU cooler is optional.
BAR-TYPE PANEL PC
A key subset of digital signage are signage technologies designed for transportation platforms. Among such offers from Ibase Technology are its MRD-286 system. The MRD-286 is an EN50155-compliant all-in-one 28.6″ bar-type panel PC (Figure 8). The MRD-286 integrates an Intel Pentium Processor N4200 or an Intel Atom x7-E3950 Processor, powered by a 24VDC or 110VDC power input. Built with an ultra-wide TFT active-matrix LCD screen, the system can ideally serve as signage display delivering advertising and providing passengers with the current information on arrival and departure times at targeted areas in the vicinity of airports or train stations.
The MRD-286 complies with EN50155 international standards, ready to be deployed in various rolling stock applications where rigorous shock and vibration requirements should be met. The sunlight-readable, 1000-nits display panel provides enhanced graphical performance (1920 × 540) with a wide viewing angle of 178 degrees, ensuring excellent visibility from any direction. The unit has an IP-65 rated waterproof front panel and supports up to 8GB of system memory, a 64GB SSD storage, and useful I/O interfaces including an M12 GbE connector, an RS-232/422/485 port and two USB 2.0 ports.
Measuring 780mm × 278mm × 77mm, the MRD-286 features an auto-dimming function, Windows 10 and Linux OS support, and a selection of four models with different CPU and power supply configurations. You can choose between 24VDC or 110VDC inputs via an M12 A code connector, and there are membrane controls for power and dimming. Side- and VESA-mounting are available.
As you’ve probably noticed, most of today’s digital signage solutions are built around Intel processors. But Arm-based products are also available and leverage the generally lower-power benefits of Arm vs. Intel. In an example along those lines, Arbor Technology, offers a portfolio of Arm-based solutions that are powered by 64-bit Cortex Arm processors based on the Armv8 architecture. Among these offerings are a 4K Android Signage System, a price checker and an open-frame Panel PC. These are all are designed with application-ready features and capabilities for immediate application in vertical markets, says Arbor.
The AAES-RK391 is a compact fanless Mini Box PC with high performance and low energy consumption (Figure 9). Integrated with dual HDMI ports and dual LANs, a powerful video engine and rich I/O, the system is well suited for a number of digital signage applications. Examples include automated kiosks, vending machines, menu boards and signage billboards for a broad spectrum of retail, hospitality, education and corporate environments.
The RP-101K open-frame panel PC is powered by the Arm Quad-core Cortex-A35, 64-bit low-power processor. Featuring a 10.1” inch TFT LCD in an open-frame bezel and rich connectivity, the RP-101K is made to be easily integrated to existing industrial or retail environments like self-service kiosks, vending machines, control cabinets and other applications.
The 10.1″ Rockchip PX30, an Armv8-based multi-touch computer, is designed to streamline customer self-service in areas such as price checking, access control and self check-in/out for retail, grocery and hospitality sectors. A wide variety of features such as barcode scanner, NFC reader and camera, can be integrated into the RP-101P to fit the diverse needs of retail and hospitality segments.
The Intel module SDL form-factor mentioned earlier is seeing support from the display side. For example, in August, Advantech announced its DSD-7055, an Intel Smart Display Module (SDM) signage display solution (Figure 10). Equipped with Intel SDM-L interface, the ultra-slim (53mm/2.08″) DSD-7055 eases integration and maintenance in retail, self-service and conference room applications, says Advantech.
This industrial-grade monitor features a 55″ Full HD display that supports wide viewing angles, high contrast ratios and a brightness of 500 nits. The solution accepts varied signal interfaces including VGA, HDMI, DisplayPort, and SDM to fulfill requirements in diverse industrial applications. This industrial-grade panel and components deliver highly reliable 24/7 operation in both portrait and landscape modes. Additionally, DSD-7055 boasts a 50,000-hour backlight lifetime enabling sustained performance in a myriad of applications.
This solution is equipped SDM-L interface allowing Intel SDM-L compliant signage systems—including Advantech’s DS-200—to be easily integrated into monitors. This SDM-L interface simplifies DSD-7055 maintenance and upgrade, and saves space in conference rooms, classroom smartboards, signage solutions and other end applications. As part of an integrated system, Advantech’s smart signage solution helps fight the ongoing pandemic by safely displaying information and encouraging social distancing, says Advantech.
AAEON | www.aaeon.com
Advantech | www.advantech.com
Arbor Technology | www.arbor-technology.com
Axiomtek | us.axiomtek.com
EFCO | www.efcotec.com
Ibase Technology | www.ibase.com.tw
Intel | www.intel.com
Nexcom | www.nexcom.com
OnLogic | www.onlogic.com
PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • FEBRUARY 2021 #367 – Get a PDF of the issueSponsor this Article
Jeff served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxGizmos.com and its sister publication, Circuit Cellar magazine 6/2017—3/2022. In nearly three decades of covering the embedded electronics and computing industry, Jeff has also held senior editorial positions at EE Times, Computer Design, Electronic Design, Embedded Systems Development, and COTS Journal. His knowledge spans a broad range of electronics and computing topics, including CPUs, MCUs, memory, storage, graphics, power supplies, software development, and real-time OSes.