This is the third in a series of closer looks at digital signage solution providers who have started working with the Android operating system and low-cost, ultra-small ARM processors.
At least 20 companies have introduced products based on the open-source Android operating system that is very widely used for smart devices like handsets and tablets, all of them using CPUs based on ARM reference designs. Most smartphones and tablets use ARM.
It is likely that much of the industry will shift to ARM-based devices using Android or Linux in the next 1-3 years because ARM devices now rival the processing power of lower cost x86 personal computing devices, but at a fraction of the cost and, in most cases, size.
My last full-time gig was with BroadSign, more than four years ago now. Even back then we were talking about how small, cheap processors and lower display costs were going to eventually change the business. After a pretty rough financial patch that saw the Montreal-based company go through the Chapter 11 process (business is now booming, I am told), a much leaner but re-building team has been developing a product specifically built on ARM and Android.
BroadSign Xpress, as it has been dubbed, is a little box with a lot of power under the hood.
As I noted a few weeks ago after Xpress was announced at DSE in Las Vegas, VP Technology Bryan Mongeau is a bear when it comes to development and Quality Assurance, and went through almost 50 different Android media playback units before finding one he felt was both stable and sufficiently spec’d out to do the job.
His team also wrote scripts designed to jackhammer the players and see if they combusted, melted or ceased up. The one settled on will have at least a three year warranty because Mongeau’s team is confident that with no moving parts and proper design, it will just run and run and run.
The thing that the BroadSign is steadily reinforcing is that Xpress is not BroadSign Lite – something that does some but not all that a Windows or Linux-driven BroadSign player can do. It’s a native application that does all that a box running on an x86 Intel or AMD PC would do. I have had the unit in my hands but not seen it running. However, the specs are solid and (as noted) Mongeau and his guys would never settle on “getting something to work” and calling it a product.
BroadSign is heavily (not not solely) focused on the Digital OOH sector, and my guess is network operators with a lot of sites and a higher than normal need to keep capex costs down will welcome this product.
BroadSign and Android
|Question||Answer and Description|
|Where is company based?||Montreal|
|Android product name?||BroadSign Express|
|When released?||Q3 2013|
|Product page online (link)||http://broadsign.com/broadsign-xpress/|
|OS version?||BroadSign Xpress OS (based on Android 4.1)|
|Native player or browser-based player?||Native player|
|Highest video resolution fully supported?||1080p HD Video|
|Remote monitoring, diagnostic and recovery capabilities?||Yes, same functionality as standard BroadSign players|
|Remote control capabilities, like RS-232 screen control?||Device has RS-232 capabilities. Requires USB-R232 dongle.|
|Remote upgrade capabilities?||Yes|
|Browser pop-up controls?||Yes|
|Video file support, ie .mp4, .wmv?||AVI / WMV / MOV / MP4 / MPEG / MPG|
|Player side API, so you can work with sensors and other triggers?||Same functionality as standard BroadSign player|
|Multiple content zones?||Yes|
|Support for live data feeds?||Yes|
|Extensibility||Same functionality as standard PC-based BroadSign player|
|Describe the cost of the hardware and software, whether bundled or itemized||Bundled, $99 per player|
|Descriptions||Android based digital media player with all of the functionality of the pc-based BroadSign players.|
|What’s next||New product|
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.