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Digital Signage: Cutting Out the Cacophony

Aug 17, 2007
This article could just as easily have been entitled "Everybody's talkin' at me, I don't hear a word they're sayin'," but that was already taken. So I'll stick with "Cutting Out the Cacophony."

As digital signage technology enters its next phase as a hybrid, interactive medium combining the power of linear content with branching interactive functionality, volume is likely to rise, literally. Hybrid systems increasingly will find their way into places like retail stores and museums where multiple displays are spaced in close proximity to one another and the sound from competing signs becomes bothersome.

Imagine a natural history museum with multiple interactive digital signs spaced a few feet apart. One focuses on carnivorous dinosaurs, another on herbivores and a third on pre-historic fish. If all of these digital signs have accompanying audio playback that loops during their presentations or plays back specific clips when accessed interactively, the result will be a cacophony of competing sound that actually drive visitors away rather than accomplishing the goal of imparting knowledge.

Imagine a similar scenario in a retail store, where audio from a cosmetic counter digital sign is competing with audio from the fragrance counter digital sign and the handbag counter digital sign across the aisle. Shoppers would quickly give up on watching the promotional video or finding their desired information they're seeking if they were immersed in this distasteful audio soup. Who could blame them for walking away in disgust without making their purchase? Not exactly the goal of digital signage technology.

Fortunately, technology exists in the form of proximity sensors that can be interfaced with digital signage playback servers to determine when someone is near a digital sign. Upon receiving notification from the sensor, the digital signage player can ramp up the audio level. Similarly, when visitors leave, it can inform the player to turn down the sound level so that device's audio source does not compete with audio from adjacent digital signage displays.

Based on infrared detection, sonar or radar technology, these sensors typically use standard RS-232 or RS-422 serial communications ports to interface to the digital playback server. If the playback server recognizes input from the sensors, competing audio problems can evaporate.

One example of where these sensors came in handy is the new University of Tennessee Football Hall of Fame. The university recently replaced several DVD-based kiosks that looped video and audio content continuously. Creating a cacophony of kiosk audio, the stations became such a distraction that the school's coaches finally turned them off to escape the audio mess.

However, the university recently replaced the hall of fame's old kiosks with new interactive digital signage stations that recognize input from strategically placed proximity sensors. With that source of data, the digital signage playback servers can increase volume or shut off audio depending on whether or not someone is standing within range.

Not only did the new approach create a pleasing audio experience, it more importantly allowed the school's football coaching staff to once again use the hall of fame as a useful tool in recruiting new athletes and soliciting contributions from program boosters.

Certainly, competing audio sources won't affect all digital signs, but when they do it's good to know there's a technology that can come to the rescue. Without proximity sensors, it would be easy to feel like "everybody's talkin' at me, I don't hear a word they're sayin'."
About the Author
David Little is a digital signage authority with 20 years of experience helping professionals use technology to expand their marketing messages with alternative media . Visit http://www.keywesttechnology.com and find how you can expand your marketing horizons.
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