Rob Suffoletta from Seneca came up to Toronto from Buffalo last week for some meetings and to catch the DSE mixer. We pre-gamed a beer before the actual mixer, and he pulled a gadget out of his briefcase he wanted to show me.
The specialty PC company, which is owned by distribution giant Arrow, makes a lot of playback devices for the signage sector, including some small form factor devices that tend to improve on popular consumer devices, like little Intel NUCs and PCs on sticks.
He pulled out a little 4 by 4 by 1 inch (roughly) box that is solid state, runs full Windows, plays 1080P at 60 frames per second, and will cost $250 USD. And it comes with a three-year warranty.
I followed up on that chat with Jami McGraw, the product manager for Seneca and the guy behind this and other recent devices. McGraw says the commercial-grade spin the company did on a PC stick, and released this year, went over well – but he got some customer feedback that steered him toward what has a working title of HDS v2.
A PC stick is cool, he says, but most clients using them for signage weren’t plugging them in like sticks in the monitor’s HDMI port. They were sticking them in behind and running a cable. So the tiny form factor thing was not terribly important. They also talked about wanting something a bit more ruggedized and heat-tolerant.
This new unit is not a stick, but more like a set-top box. It has a latest generation Intel Atom (Cherry Trail) processor, so it can run Windows or Linux, and not force software companies to develop to Android if they don’t really want to. The product comes out next month, but the testing’s all been done and guys like Rob are showing it around already to clients.
It’s really interesting to watch the evolution of this stuff. Small form factor devices have been available for a long time now, but the commercial-grade, fanless versions tended to cost way more than the consumer versions, which were affordable and cute, but tended not to last when asked to run hard 16/7 or 24/7.
Now, the proliferation of mobile and IoT devices – and general technology advances – means it’s genuinely possible to get an industralized x86 box with good graphics, with an OS, for what will probably be (and Seneca did NOT say this) $200 when ordered in decent numbers.
What’s also interesting – and confirms my thoughts in recent years – is that there’s a point when devices got small enough for signage, and there was no compelling need to go all the way down to a stick. A box the size of a couple of slices of bread, tucked in behind a display panel, is small enough.