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Digital Signage: Here Comes OLED!

Oct 12, 2007
I've often written in this space about the impact digital signage is having on how businesses communicate their marketing and informational messages to customers, workers and other constituents.

While the attributes of digital signage, including its similarity to television, the speed and ease with which content can be updated and its ability to integrate interactive elements, all have contributed to its success, there's another important reason for its growth that often gets overlooked.

Specifically, the size and weight of today's LCD monitors and plasma panels make previously unavailable spaces suitable for the displays. Simply put, the awkward size and heavy weight of TVs with picture tubes restricted where they could be used. True, the weight and size difference between TVs and flat panels isn't new, but it appears that as an industry, we may be poised again to see a change in display technology open up many new places where digital signage can be used and in so doing nudge forward the expansion of the market.

This time the technology is OLED, or organic light-emitting display. In R&D labs for at least the past 13 years, OLED technology finally will make it to market in the form of a TV set when Sony releases its new XEL-1 Dec. 1. While the OLED television will offer a 1 million to 1 contrast ratio, high brightness and wide color reproduction, its major claim to fame is likely to be size and weight. The XEL-1 panel is only .12 inches thick.

Please don't misunderstand me. The new XEF-1 is only an 11in TV -far too small for digital signage applications. However, undoubtedly it's a precursor of things to come. Like LCD and plasma panels, manufacturing technologies will improve. With time, yields will rise, and as they do successive generations of OLED displays -each larger than the last- will become available. At some point, OLED televisions will cross the threshold from "that's an interesting technology" to "I need 20 for my digital signage network."

The relevance of display size and weight to the growth of digital signage should not be minimized. Only a few years ago, using tube-based TVs in digital signage-type applications often required special industrial-grade wall or ceiling mounting brackets (think hospital room televisions). Those mounts by definition restricted the choices in the placement of displays because they could only be used in certain places that met the manufacturer's requirements. Alternately, if such mounts weren't used, special AV carts, TV enclosures or kiosks were necessary to prevent top-heavy displays from tipping over.

LCD and plasma panels radically changed that equation. The lighter panels didn't require the same sorts of mounts, which meant new a variety of previously overlooked spaces could be considered for use. The same will be true for OLED displays when compared to LCD and plasma panels. It's hard to imagine, but it probably is only a matter of years before LCD and plasma panels will be considered "too thick" and "too heavy."

In the meantime, OLED technology will begin to make its presence felt and market and likely exert price pressures of LCD and plasma displays, making digital signage even more affordable.

Sure, Sony's announcement of the XEF-1 is a first step, but it's an important one in the evolution of digital signage. One day, it is likely to be seen as an advancement in making digital signage a realistic communications vehicle for a greater number of businesses and institutions.
About the Author
David Little is a digital signage enthusiast 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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