Guest Post: Tim Griffin, Userful
Video walls are everywhere and companies are looking for creative ways to use them. Gone are the days of slapping together a grid of a few displays and playing content around them. Customers are looking for artistic layouts, interactive content, dynamic content switching, immersive experiences, and more.
All too often, when people think of interactive video walls, they think only of touch screens. There are are many more ways to deploy interactive video walls that AV Pros need to know about and understand. That’s the focus of this article.
There are many times a touch screen video wall is desired, but there are limitations to what a touch overlay across a video wall can do. It’s an expensive approach and sometimes isn’t very pleasing aesthetically. It also makes mounting even more of a challenge because when overlays get slightly out of place, the optical frame can fail. And of course, with touch frames, fingerprints get smeared across the displays.
Beyond these concerns, touch interactivity isn’t always an option for deployments–many video walls are placed out of easy reach and many customers don’t want to have bodies crowding around a video wall, reducing visibility to the wall itself.
So, what are the interactivity options for video wall without actually touching it?
Programmatic interaction through APIs
Many video wall solutions today offer Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that provide the interface to a software application, and act as the digital glue that links services, applications and systems. With the Internet of Things (IoT), we have created a massive network of interconnectivity that allows us integrate the physical world with the digital world. With a surge in software-based video wall and digital signage solutions, APIs are becoming an important aspect when deciding on a video wall platform.
An API provides OEMs, ISVs, AV integrators, consultants and end users with an easy-to-use programming interface to quickly and easily access advanced control and interactivity on their video walls. Through a solution’s API you can interface your video wall with external sensors—motion or presence detection sensors, temperature sensors, etc— and change the content or layout of the video wall in response to when people were detected in front of certain objects, for example. This supports lots of great potential interactive use cases.
Added interactivity by switching content and layouts in video walls
Just as an API can provide a way for audiences to interact with a video wall automatically — through external sensors — there are other tools that would allow people to interact with their customers using a video wall. Some video wall solutions allow tablets or smartphones to change the content or even the configuration on a video wall in real time based on presets which can be created by an administrator.
For example, in a retail environment, video walls can be used as sales tools. A video wall by default perhaps may be showing video content about the brand/store, but when needed, salespeople can showcase a specific product for a customer based on that customer’s interests. All using a smartphone or tablet.
Administrators are able to curate the content and control what layouts and what videos are available, and then non admin staff, in this example a salesperson, can invoke that content from a smartphone or a tablet just pressing a button (here’s a video example of how this works in one particular solution that does this from Userful, the company I work for.)
This is a great example of interactivity with a clear ROI. And it can be used in many other environments–a receptionist can change the video wall in a corporate lobby based on which guests are coming through when. A tour guide at a museum or a someone giving campus tours can change the content on a video wall when needed to enhance the tour.
Controlling interactive content on a video wall without keyboard and mouse
For video walls running desktop environments, or web-browsers — such as control and command centers, meeting rooms, and interactive digital signage applications — staff need to be able to interact with the web browser or desktop. Traditionally that’s done with a keyboard and mouse or sometimes with a touch screen video wall, but there are other options. New approaches to video wall interactivity allows staff to control of a video wall’s mouse and keyboard from a smartphone, tablet or from another computer.
This means a single person can quickly switch between different content sources on a video wall, use the same touch tablet or phone to control different browsers on different zones within a video wall from a single device. Again, here’s a great video of how this works from Userful.
For a lot of people interactive video walls mean touch screens, but that shouldn’t be the case. There are other, more flexible, and less expensive options to consider that in many cases will better meet the customer’s needs. Smart phone or tablet based control of video wall content and layouts gives us access to a video wall without having to actually come in physical contact with—or even be close to—the video wall. Programmatic interaction opens up a whole new realm of possibilities, and introduces the world of video walls to the Internet Of Things.