Watching TV broadcasts like CNN, The Weather Channel and other shows has gotten us used to densely-packed information that combines video and graphics with text-and-icon “crawls” along the screen top, bottom and/or side, mini-graphics at a corner, sidebars and more.
Digital signage content can be similarly sophisticated, incorporating video along with text slides and crawls, and photos and graphics.
Some video may be “canned” — short or long segments stored in the organization’s digital signage content management system (DS CMS) or on the player computers associated with displays.
But other video is “streamed,” similar to how video comes to your home cable TV box, or when you watch a YouTube video on your computer, tablet or smartphone.
Here’s a look at why and how organizations are incorporating streaming video into their digital signage content.
Video Streams: What and Why
Streaming video typically refers to video coming from a “live” source, such as a video camera on your premises, from a cable/broadcast source with the appropriate permissions or licenses, or from stored video files.
Andre Floyd, product marketing manager, Professional Displays, Sony Electronics Inc. points out, “Video streaming can also be used in situations where the content file would be too big to transfer and/or store locally on some player devices.”
“Most of on-demand streamed video is looped,” notes Mike Galli, vice president of Marketing, ViewCast Corporation, whose H.264 products include its Osprey video capture cards and its Niagara streaming appliances. “Although I’ve seen some that’s interactively triggered, like by touch screen or RFID.”
Like any content, the video stream has to be encoded in a format that the various components in the digital signage system and network “understand.” The most common video format is the ITU standard H.264, which supports HD content, allowing video streams to be broadcast, recorded, distributed and displayed.
Video typically using H.264 includes digital television, and Blu-Ray and DVD disks, as well as a lot of videoconferencing, Internet video, and mobile TV. Computers, set-top boxes, mobile phones and other devices all “speak” H.264.
Typical types of video stream content include local events like meetings, classes, sports, and ceremonies; emergency announcements; and feeds from an external video source like news or weather. Much of this video content is often available through a facility’s internal cable-TV channels.
Increasingly, digital signage is incorporating streamed video into its content mix.
“By adding live streaming video content to your digital messaging you can add a more compelling component to an already eye-catching visual medium,” says Jim Colquhoun, chief technologist at A/V integrator Avidex.
“The streaming content can also include broadcast programming as part of the overall layout to provide an ‘attractor’ to get people’s attention and then expose them to additional content on the same screen,” says Sony’s Floyd.
Where multi-language audiences are expected, video also has the advantage that it’s more universally understood.
Streaming for digital signage can be used by any market segment, reports Floyd. “For example, many stadiums and arenas will stream the live game or event taking place from the in-house control room to the displays located throughout the venue — luxury suites, menu boards at concession stands, concourses, etc. — as part of an advertising display with marketing content in the borders.”
Video helps get people look at and watch your content, compared to simply having text or static images. “Video is also good because it’s an international way to communicate with people, which text or PowerPoint isn’t,” notes ViewCast’s Galli.
“Everybody has come to expect video as part of the content, compared with a decade ago,” says Galli. “We used to talk about doing video in colleges and universities, now it’s everywhere, even elementary schools are using our capture cards for video production.”
By including live video into digital signage and by using the DS CMS to incorporate other static and dynamic content with the video, “Anybody can look like CNN, with the crawl on the bottom and edge, and live video in the middle,” says Perry Goldstein, director of Sales and Marketing, Marshall Electronics, whose products include digital signage displays and IP video encoders.
Incorporating Video Streaming into Digital Signage Content
To incorporate streaming video into digital signage content, the signal needs to be converted into computer-usable format, via a codec, just like a sound card (or sound-card features on a motherboard) does for sound. This codec may be part of a video capture card, or software running on the user’s machine, or a separate outboard appliance. Once this has been done, the video signal can be stored, edited or sent over an IP network.
Many digital signage systems will support streaming media, but it’s important to check whether using those features in the DS CMS or digital signage player will cost more.
“Streaming is a capability that’s already inherent in Sony’s digital signage technology and network players so if a customer prefers that method, it is there for them to use,” notes Sony’s Floyd.
Otherwise, you’ll need an H.264 video encoder/decoder, which takes broadcast or other video sources as input and produces streamed video that your content management system or player can accept.
“There’s no limit to the type of content that can be used, as long as it meets the technical requirements for streaming in the most efficient manner,” says Sony’s Floyd.
“Using video has become much easier and less expensive,” ViewCast’s Galli emphasizes. “There’s no reason to not consider it as part of your digital signage content.”