The lines between hardware and software makers in digital signage continue to blur, with news that Atlanta-based LED display manufacturer NanoLumens now has a content management and remote management software suite, and a dedicated Android media player that will ship with its new displays.
This is a bit along the lines of how the LCD display manufacturers have been introducing built-in System on Chip media players in some (or much) of their product, but there are some distinctions:
- This is for fine pitch LED displays;
- The media player under the hood doesn’t present compromises in terms of graphics or computing power;
- There’s a full remote monitoring, diagnosis and management toolset built in, as well as an Open API.
NanoLumens put together a software development team, sourced specific hardware and set up a cloud storage and distribution system using Amazon Web Services.
The product is called AWARE, and NanoLumens says it is an effort to address marketplace demands it was hearing for a simple, purpose-built software and player set-up tuned to the needs of its customers.
The vast majority of software CMS platforms on the market are designed, logically, to deal with large, scaled networks and offer things liked templates and all kinds of management tools. But the vast majority of LED-based signage jobs don’t need a fraction of what the more sophisticated systems offer. They tend to run a set of files over and over and over.
So end-users ask why they need to pay for all the extra functionality and complexity that will never get used.
On the flip side, a lot of the simplified options out there that are positioned as easy to use and low-cost don’t tend to have much in the way of remote management, and have buyers looking cross-eyed at a $150 set-top box or stick the vendor says is supposed to drive a $100,000 LED display.
“Probably 60 to 70 percent of our customers don’t need a robust CMS,” says Nate Remmes, NanoLumens Vice President of Corporate Development.
The other dynamic at play here is that end-users are increasingly motivated by solutions that are integrated, meaning they get all they need – software, hardware, services – from one source and invoice, instead of having to cherry-pick.
The AWARE system is built around:
- a cloud-based CMS that has scheduling and real-time diagnostics;
- a “blue box” media player with a Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core ARM 2.4 GHz processor, running Android 5.0 or up, that can be built -in or stand alone;
- full HTML5 support;
- HDMI pass through that is HDCP compliant (so you can legally run live video feeds).
The company is building up a partner eco-system and marketplace that includes CMS providers (like Navori), content services (like Screenfeed), audience measurement (like Admobilize) and IoT sensors (like Gimbal). The plan is to add more partners.
Remmes says the intention is not to disintermediate the CMS software companies out there. There is an open API that allows companies to marry their platform with AWARE and run things like blended networks that use AWARE’s CMS for the big displays and a third-party CMS for other LCD displays that require more sophisticated management, scheduling and targeting.
The demo I saw of AWARE down at InfoComm a couple of weeks ago was showing how the management platform was able to monitor and manage, for example, LCD panels on a blended network, using IP or serial controls.
“We built our system on APIs because we want to make sure that we are adaptable to existing AV eco-systems, while giving our AV integrator and service providers a wholly useful tool,” Remmes stresses. “We understand that our partners have a greater opportunity for choice in LED, and we want to make sure we are providing them with a solution that is easier to manage, easier to deploy, and provides more value to the end user.”
The platform was built up by Vishnu Rao, who was hired on at Nano last year and works as Director of Software Services and Platforms. Rao’s recent background, at Sharp, was focused on Smart TVs, so he had his head thoroughly around embedded media players, apps, and ecosystems.
“With AWARE’s architecture,” says Rao, “display interfaces across the world can now quickly deploy interactive and connected experiences that were extremely difficult to deploy before, due to fragmented nature of currently available technology.”
This is also a differentiation play for NanoLumens, which has seen the indoor LED business change wildly over the last two years. Nano, in some respects, had the indoor LED business somewhat to itself in its early years. But now there are scores of companies, giants and unfamiliar ones from Shenzhen, flooding the market with fine pixel pitch indoor product.
While I saw some stuff at InfoComm hinting at smart players and controls for LED, I didn’t see anything close to what Nano is putting out there with AWARE.
“Our software-enabled hardware creates a path that gives customers and partners a more useful solution for the entire lifecycle of their displays,” says Remmes. “AWARE is a win-win for the entire industry — customers, developers, marketers, and consumers. Everyone benefits from the development of this platform.”
Through the years, I have seen instances of hardware manufacturers getting into the software side of things. Typically, the software doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot, and integrators with experience and smarts take a pass. In some cases, the hardware guys just end up pissing off their software partners by introducing something that is possibly competitive, but at minimum muddies the waters in the selling process.
This is different on a couple of counts. First, the software guys out there are generally after deals of 100s or 1,000s of licenses, not the ones and twos that happen with big LED display buys. Second, from what I saw at a demo at Nano’s new Las Vegas showroom, this is a pretty robust piece of software, produced by a dedicated team within a company that’s engineer-centric.
Time will tell, but I’m guessing more and more of the larger LED display guys will go down this path. I saw, for example, something about Smart LED signage at Samsung’s booth.
But as with indoor LED itself, NanoLumens has some first-mover advantage.
AWARE is not just tossed in as a value-add carrot to channel partners and end-users. It’s an upsell sold as software as a service on a per location basis. There’s also a network operations center monitoring component to AWARE that buyers can opt in on.
The system will be sold with new product, but is also backwards compatible to Nano product dating back to Jan. 2013.
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.