An ongoing client project has me back in Johannesburg again, and this time I went through London, which gave me a sufficiently long layover that I was able to run into the city.
I did a meeting (honest) at a pub and then headed over to Regent Street to the packaged office space where Silver Curve has a team working on a very interesting project involving the Raspberry Pi. I wrote about it last week and the company’s innovative approach to raising capital.
I wanted to stop by because I have corresponded quite a bit with Bryan Crotaz, but we’d not actually met. I also wanted to see if what Bryan said his modified Raspberry Pi and software did was real or hopeful.
I saw this little $45 micro PC playing multi-zone content with a busy ticker that wasn’t chugging, even slightly. I saw gradients, transparencies, layers and stroked fonts. I also saw the Pi used as an interactive piece and moving a carousel style set of icons, using a touch overlay, very smoothly.
There is a lot going on here and the nut of it is that SilverCurve is providing a graphics engine called Aperture that is something akin to an operating system for a modified Raspberry Pi, and that engine acts as a kind of middleware that would allow most digital signage software companies to get a LOT out of a low cost advice without investing in the time and money for R&D.
Crotaz went into much more detail, but to be honest, I was so wiped after the flight (I have a hell of a time trying to sleep on planes) that I actually nodded off for a few seconds during the meeting.
Yup. Did it. Lordy.
So the fact that I even remember the meeting is significant.
On the web, it’s explained this way: The Aperture graphics engine allows your existing Windows based signage software to be converted to play on mobile phone chip technology. Aperture does this by substituting the existing graphics programming with a much more efficient engine that is optimised to run on small, low power chips. Hardware devices powered by Aperture allow you to replace the PC player yet retain the same render quality and flexibility of graphics at a radically lower price. All this while retaining the same familiar front end scheduling system that runs your existing PC-based signage network.
The key thing I got out of it was that while the Raspberry Pi is mostly viewed as too underpowered to handle digital signage jobs, it just takes a lot of study, thinking, testing and tweaking to make it into a very powerful box. Crotaz says the board has very good graphics capabilities, and with the right design, the demand on processing can be minimal.
I also learned the $45 Pi – when properly tooled out for digital signage purposes – will be more like $250-$300 USD because of the additional components Silver Curve has added and the tweaks made. So it is not crazy cheap, but at $300 would be the cost of an Intel NUC mini PC, BEFORE adding a hard drive and RAM and operating system.
Something to watch. It has the potential to disrupt not only the x86 PC driven side of digital signage software development, but also all that new activity with Android.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for more than 13 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.