With Moves By Intel And Microsoft, Maybe Digital Signage’s Future Isn’t All About ARM
August 2, 2014 by Dave Haynes
Maybe ARM isn’t entirely going to take over from old school x86 PCs for digital signage …
When I was in Taipei at Computex a couple of months ago I saw a lot of computing devices and talked to a lot of people who were showing off low cost boxes that could ostensibly play back videos in a schedule, using cheap mobile CPUs and free Android software. But the conversation that stuck with me was one about ARM processors, and how Intel was catching up in terms of costs and capability with its own teeny, low cost microprocessors. I talked to some folks who weren’t going ARM and Android because Intel and good old Windows were getting competitive.
Something called the Bay Trail processor, I was told, was capable of serving digital signage video playback needs, at a cost competitive with ARM devices.
Oh, really, I said.
Fast forward two months and I get a note from Broadsign‘s Bryan Mongeau, who is waaaaaaay more technically sound than I will ever be. Mongeau has for many years run Broadsign’s development team and as VP Technology for the company, invested a huge amount of time and resources making his code work on ARM and Android. But he keeps an eye on the larger market.
Microsoft, Mongeau tells me, has started licensing Windows 8 at VERY competitive price points in order to compete at price points that Chromeboxes and Android devices are at. Combine that with the new Bay Trail designs coming out, and we are looking at an imminent shift in playback devices.
- Windows is now completely free for phones and tablets less than 9 inches. Believe it or not, we are now seeing 9-inch quad core 1.8 ghz Bay Trail Windows tablets hitting the market at 99$, almost less than what JUST the OEM Windows 8 license used to cost. A 9-inch tablet certainly will not be usable in most types of digital signage deployments, but could be usable in some use-cases like shelf-edge and vending. So now, for $99, you can get way more performance and a more flexible OS than anything ARM/Android-based.
- For devices that retail under $250, Windows now only costs $15 for OEMs. Yes, $15. Combine that with new devices based on Bay Trail-M, such as the tiny but still every capable ECS Liva (165$). I’ve been testing the Liva for a month now and it can drive dual 1080p screens well, using hardware decoding and H.264, of course. This is an x86 box that is powered by USB, believe it or not.
Mongeau thinks the market will soon see a rush of new windows-based devices that are both price competitive AND highly capable.
Naysayers can say what they will about Windows, concludes Mongeau, but at the end of the day, the OS is still very relevant for digital signage. Looks like (new CEO) Satya Nadella is making the right decisions to ensure that it stays relevant and competitive in the future.
These are very interesting times. There was a massive rush of companies working to get their platforms working with ARM devices and running Android, Google’s version of Linux. There was definitely chatter out there about how Intel stayed relevant when ARM devices were competitive in capability but dramatically lower in cost.
The new Intel CPUs appear to change that conversation, and when Microsoft chips in with free or nominal license fees for its OS, there’s reason for software companies that have stuck with Windows to be smiling.