The Android Digital Signage Invasion Continues
March 6, 2014 by guest author, Tom Graczkowski
Guest Post: Bryan Mongeau, BroadSign
I saw a lot of people and handled a lot of questions about Android at last month’s Digital Signage Expo, and one of the most persistent ones was whether we were selling many Android boxes and licenses.
Yes, BroadSign has been selling a lot of Android devices. In the year since we started marketing what we called BroadSign Xpress, we’ve sold some 4,500 units. I don’t know how other vendors are doing, but our little blue boxes get snapped up as quickly as we can get them manufactured.
From my perspective, there are three reasons why Android has been a successful pivot for the company:
- technology (we ported our native player to the platform with the full feature set);
- timing (the hardware coming out of China in late 2012, early 2013 finally began to meet our requirements);
- price point (we got it to $99).
I remain convinced that the set-top box form factor we settled on is superior to that of HDMI sticks. Anyone who has seriously used an HDMI stick will tell you that it is inconvenient in many use cases, and requires add-ons such as adapters for Ethernet and USB hubs for USB peripherals. You end up with what I call “the squid.” Squids is what these devices look like once you attach all the required adapters to them.
Stick solutions have other drawbacks, as well. They are often under-powered because they run off USB power. You trade convenience for something that provides only 0.5 watts of power, and leads to instability. The WiFi antennas on sticks also tend to be small and weak. No serious digital signage network operator wants to be hobbled by these limitations.
So what’s on the horizon for Android?
You’re going to see more sophisticated features brought to Android platforms that better fulfill the potential. I’m talking about Android-powered, low-cost video wall controllers, mixed-mode software and hardware video decode, multi-resolution kernels and a dynamic transition engine.
In terms of the operating system, Android is evolving into a mature OS that is adding more desktop features like multi-window. That’s the sort of thing my developers and I have been looking for. I would like to see better multi-display support at the OS level. If I could bring a dual or quad head Android product to the digital signage market, it would be truly disruptive.
When it comes to hardware, I have my eye on the roadmaps of three major chip vendors: Amlogic, Rockchip and Allwinner. The next generation SoC’s coming from these vendors provide the best solutions for our industry. I’d like to see higher clock speeds, cheaper prices, higher frame-buffer resolutions and more VPU features. Did I say cheaper prices?
We are entering the next phase of digital signage hardware evolution. The move toward ARM-based technology is real, the hardware has been field-tested and it’s applicable to not all, but a majority of use cases I see on a weekly basis.
Our own development efforts, and probably those of others, will focus heavily on expanding on use cases and evolving solutions that blend great hardware, custom firmware and a full-featured, native ARM player.
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