Open Pluggable Specification Taking Hold

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A little more than a year ago, Intel unveiled a new hardware specification intended to make operating digital signage networks a little easier.

The Open Pluggable Specification was developed to simplify the installation, use, maintenance and upgrading of small PCs that are installed with display panels in locations as widely varied as medical offices and fast food order counters.

The idea is simple enough – have manufacturers all developing small PCs to the same dimension, connector and mounting characteristics, and have display panel makers build in slots that readily accept and work with those units. It means, for example, an OPS PC that is used for a network that has NEC displays could also work in a sister network that uses Philips display panels, without any modifications.

The concept has a strong list of benefits:

Interoperability – Sticking to just one hardware specification for growing, evolving digital signage networks is very challenging. A network’s technical team can find itself having to support several different PC set-ups and multiple display panels. It happens through merger and acquisition, consolidation and, often, for budget-trimming reasons.

With OPS, network operators can settle on the standard and then evaluate PC and display choices based on price and performance, knowing they can switch things around or easily add new units as long as they meet the standard.

Installation and Maintenance – OPS units are slot-loaded devices that slide and lock, or snap, into place in all in one panel PCs. They are zero-footprint devices that are integrated within the actual LCD enclosure, meaning no external mounting kit, no cable runs, and no special connectors.

All in one units install easily, and when on-site servicing is required, one technician just needs to be able to reach up, release the securing mechanisms, and slide the PC out of its slot. Upgrades are just as easy, as long as new units meet the same OPS.

There have been all-in-one PC/Displays on the market for a few years, but they have been custom-specifications for swappable PCs or, in some cases, are PCs hard-wired into the units and serviced only by taking the whole unit down.

Costs – Standards introduce predictability, and start to remove some of the uncertainty around developing PC products that need to align with always-shifting market needs. The OPS will start lowering costs for development, and also allow for higher production volumes. Those things tend to reduce end-user costs.

Marketability – As the use of digital signage grows in the vast small to medium business marketplace, there is considerable demand and opportunity for products that simplify what can look quite complicated. An all-in-one display and slot-loaded PC, pre-installed with an operating system and digital signage management software, has a lot of attraction to resellers and end-users.

The OPS was developed and is supported by Intel, Microsoft, NEC Display Solutions and the Taiwan Digital Signage Special Interest Group, which includes Advantech among its members. Our engineering team has embraced the specification, but has added what we think is a critical dimension to the end-product: performance.

Some of the first OPS PCs that came on the market nicely met the technical requirements for dimensions, but didn’t necessarily have the CPU and graphics processing power needed to meet the needs of all network operators.

OPS compliant digital signage media player

Advantech ARK-DS220

We’ve released an OPS-compliant digital signage media player: ARK-DS220, that uses Intel Atom single-core and dual-core processors and NVIDIA’s ION2 graphics module. The ION graphics processor takes the video burden off the CPU, and produces big performance in very small packages.

UK-based Remote Media Group is an Advantech partner and has its signagelive software running on the ARK-DS220. Jason Cremins, the company’s CEO, says the ION2 graphics produce incredible results.  “We are capable of running eight HD videos running concurrently on a single player, in both landscape and portrait – which is unthinkable with other digital signage hardware,” Cremins commented.

It was not that long ago when using small form-factor PCs for digital signage reduced the physical footprint of installations but did so by sacrificing some of the performance delivered by larger PCs. Those days are now over.

When standards start to develop and get adopted in an industry, it’s a sign the sector is starting to mature and reduce the amount of fragmentation. OPS just makes sense, and we see its continued development as very important to the future of the digital signage business.