New Barix Solution Pushes Digital Signage Audio To Smartphones

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Barix is at ISE and DSE over the next couple of weeks demo’ing what it says is a unique solution to get audio into retail and other digital signage environments by sending the sound to smartphones via WiFi.

I’ve seen stuff like that before, so I don’t think the concept is unique, but perhaps the way it is done.

Says the news release: A free Barix smartphone app called Barix Audio Point, to be available in traditional App Stores, prompts consumers to scan a QR Code for stream access, which provides relevant and captivating audio content in synchronization with on-screen video. The combination brings higher awareness to promotions, store branding and other messaging through deeper engagement with shoppers – and addresses the retailer’s goal of increasing basket size.

Barix will be at the pair of shows with screenFOOD.

I asked the guy who now runs the company, ex-Minicom exec Ronni Guggenheim, to field some specific questions about the company and the tech.

Q: Can you give me a rundown on Barix, like what it does, history, size of company and so on?

Guggenheim HeadshotA: The formation of Barix in 1999 signaled the birth of Audio over IP, at least in the commercial sense. The company was formed from the vision of Johannes Rietschel, an IT and security systems expert who had the foresight to see how businesses in many industries could benefit from audio transport over networks.  The company has flourished since its inception, especially as IP networks grew more reliable to cleanly accommodate audio transport.  Its Instreamer encoders, Exstreamer decoders, and Annuncicom two-way audio devices are at the core of many IP audio systems in AV-related entertainment, broadcast radio and security; as well as facilities like hotels, schools and corporate campuses for paging, intercom and background music.  Similarly, these products are used across retail shops and consumer businesses for in-store radio systems, which continues to be a growing emphasis for the company.

Separately, Barix offers its Barionet range of IP control and automation devices, which are popular for building automation, data collection and sensing among other tasks.  Combined with a healthy OEM business, Barix has shipped more than 300,000 devices to date.

Q: How does the Audio Signage solution work?

A: We believe that audio has always been somewhat undervalued in the digital signage space.  The bring your own device trends we see across various digital signage verticals introduces an attractive opportunity to bring audio streams related to video content to mobile phones.  Retail shops are an especially ideal environment to offer this multi-sensory approach, for the purpose of establishing deeper engagement with shoppers.  This is what we mean by giving screens a voice.

A typical Barix Audio Signage solution marries a high-quality audio stream with a video feed playing out to screens inside stores.  A Barix Instreamer encoder delivers the audio stream to a WiFi access point in the main store area, in synchronization with the video from a digital signage player.  Shoppers inside the store – or potential shoppers watching the video screen in a display window from outside the store – are presented with the opportunity to scan a QR code to access the stream.  Access is provided through the Barix Audio Point app, and users are directed to App Stores if they are requesting a stream for the first time.

Once downloaded, Audio Point opens up single or multi-channel streams aligned with the video feed.  The multichannel capability is particularly interesting for retailers serving multi-lingual customer bases.  So, a shopper could potentially choose an English, French or German language audio track.  And once downloaded, that app remains on the phone for use during future visits.

Q: What do retailers or other venue operators need to install, how many and at what range can they broadcast?

A: A single Instreamer encoder and digital signage video player is all that is typically required, along with a content management system.  There is no major infrastructure required around the stores beyond the screens, as a Wi-Fi access point marries the audio feed with the screen content. Each audio channel needs to be encoded by an Instreamer but they can all be streamed wirelessly via a single Access Point.

Q: How easy or hard would this be for a software firm to layer this in to their offer?

A: One of the most attractive aspects about Barix to longtime customers is the openness of its solutions.  Many of these customers enjoy adding custom software to Barix devices, and downloading Barix firmware to their own devices. In fact, Barix has recently made strides in simplifying how new customers deploy our systems, moving more toward a plug-and-play model and eliminating the DIY challenges.

That said, that flexibility of yesteryear remains for Barix customers who want to layer our software into their systems.

The Audio Signage solution is a standalone solution that easily interfaces to a Digital Signage CMS, or even a simple television setup. The mobile App and the Instreamer can be integrated in any system through a simple audio interface. At a second step there will be an API that allows third party systems to integrate the Audio Signage solution directly.

Q: How does this differ from some other stuff I have seen out there, like Hear My Lips?

A: I don’t want to speak to other services out there, but the Barix solution offers a number of attributes that we don’t believe exist today or are well-served in these solutions.

First, audio quality reigns supreme with Barix.  The Instreamer encodes and streams audio at very high quality, and is in fact a very popular device for broadcast-quality services, from large AM/FM radio networks delivering syndicated content; to churches and organizations streaming live content to internet radio channels.  That same dedication to audio quality in broadcast, which is an absolute requirement in that space, translates to our Audio Signage platform.

Another advantage of using our own encoding device is that we can optimize its parameters to stream the audio with very low latency. This way we don’t need to add a video processor that delays the video to compensate the delay introduced in the audio stream. Our solution provides a seamless real-time experience without adding any artificial delay in the video, and minimizes audio stream delay.

Q: What’s the argument for this over directional speakers?

A: As an in-store radio supplier, we obviously believe in the power of great sounding audio from directional speakers in retail shops and businesses.  At Digital Signage Expo, we are launching SoundScape, our next-generation in-store radio platform, alongside our Audio Signage solution.

We don’t see this as an argument over directional speakers, at least in relation to audio-only streams. Certainly, we think it a more effective way to align audio content with video streams and capture the customer’s attention from both senses, in equal measure.

But in reality, we see this as a new opportunity to engage with shoppers.  It is an opportunity to personalize the shopping experience for consumers with mobile phones in retail and other environments, based on streaming multichannel audio content to shoppers on the move in alignment with relevant video content.  We see it as important part of a retailer’s omnichannel strategy.

Q: When did you join Barix?

A: I joined Barix in September of 2013.  It has been an exciting ride in the early months.  We’re altering our strategies to better meet the needs of our customers, but the Barix that our customers know is not changing significantly.  We have retained, and promoted, a number of longtime employees to fill out my executive team.  And Johannes Rietschel, the company founder and former CEO, remains as executive chairman and VP, business development.

Q: What will you de demo’ing at DSE?

A: Visitors to our booth will see a completely re-imagined booth design from Barix, simulating how our IP audio and control technology works in the retail environment.  We’ll demo the Audio Signage solution, which attendees can experience as the mobile audio stream in sync with video; as well as SoundScape, our new in-store radio platform.  We’ll also demonstrate our Paging and Intercom solutions for Retail environments.  The value of marrying Barix IP solutions to the central network will be abundantly clear.

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I asked, but didn’t get any pricing.