Why The Digital Signage Industry Will Grow In 2013

As I peek at 2013 coming just around the corner, I cannot help but notice how downward price pressures are intersecting with demand and driving digital signage market growth. As many benefits continue to be realized, I believe some are more important than others and point to what we can expect in the coming year.

As in any tech-fueled market, reducing cost while increasing efficiency are major factors that come into play when talking about market growth. This fact is highlighted by realizing that digital signage fits well into the corporate mantra of "doing more with less."

With digital signage, doing more with less is certainly one of the big benefits. And with noticeable price reductions in 2012 that are certain to continue in 2013, I concur with recent reports from IHS iSuppli, Platt Retail Institute and others who believe the demand will continue to build at a healthy pace.

Price reductions are being realized in every area of digital signage. For example, as hardware is getting more specialized for media playback on consumer-type products that are mass produced for a worldwide market, the digital signage industry either directly or indirectly benefits from the use of this mobile and media-centric technologies that have a considerable scale of economy in production. This scale of economy is being reflected in today's prices of media players and displays used for digital signage. Even on the software side, the use of Linux and the recent emergence of Android on media players leads the way to extremely low cost albeit more basic offerings, putting a small turnkey system at about the same price as taking the family out for a nice dinner.

Walmart moves "Black Friday" earlier on Thanksgiving

"Black Friday" arrives earlier than ever at Walmart this year, with customers barely getting to digest Thanksgiving dinner before holiday shopping kicks off at 8 p.m. local time.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc is loading up on electronic gadgets in a big bet that shoppers are ready to spend during the critical holiday season at its Walmart U.S. division. The holiday season generates more than a quarter of annual sales for the world's largest retailer.

"We bought deep, very deep, and we bought deep on items that matter to our customers," said Walmart U.S. Chief Merchandising and Marketing Officer Duncan Mac Naughton.

U.S. retailers are devising new ways to entice shoppers this year, as holiday spending is expected to rise only 4.1 percent, according to the National Retail Federation, down from 5.6 percent growth in 2011.

CEDIA Releases "Using Mobile Devices as a Control Platform" White Paper

The Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) has released the third white paper in its Mobile Devices in Residential Systems Integration series. The new white paper, Using Mobile Devices as a Control Platform, discusses the current landscape of using mobile devices for integrated system control applications and provides system designers and technicians with guidance on design considerations in integration and automation with mobile devices.

Mobile devices have become a ubiquitous part of everyday life. High-end and budget-conscious consumers alike are increasingly requesting their mobile devices be integrated into their automation systems, making it necessary for electronic systems contractors (ESCs) to adapt and learn to properly integrate mobile devices within the home.

“Many consumers want to use a device they are familiar with such as a smart phone or tablet to control their home,” said Dave Pedigo, CEDIA Senior Director of Technology and Learning. “This can sometimes be challenging for the ESC to integrate, but the considerations outlined in this white paper can help ESCs create a seamless control experience.”

First OLED TV Releases Seen This Year

The first OLED (organic light emitting diode) TV displays, while delayed, are still expected to reach the market late this year, although the category is elected to make up less than ten percent of the overall market for at least the next four years.

That's according to a study released Monday by research firm NPD DisplaySearch. The Quarterly Global TV Shipment and Forecast Report stated that LG and Smaunsg's versions of the technology will debut in "small volumes" by year's end.

“If we do see OLED TVs hit the market within 2012, the shipments will be used primarily for retail demonstrations in developed regions like North America and Europe.” DisplaySearch vice president David Hsieh said in a statement. “4K × 2K LCD TVs have has become a focus and are currently available, and OLED TV needs to demonstrate its technical superiority.”

Panasonic May Cut More Jobs as $9.6 Billion Loss Forecast

Panasonic Corp., Japan’s third-biggest employer, eliminated almost 39,000 jobs in the past year, and its chief financial officer said the TV maker doesn’t plan another round of cuts. Investors say it has to.

Even after reducing its workforce by about 11 percent --almost double the reductions at Sony Corp. and Sharp Corp. combined -- Panasonic will post a 765 billion-yen ($9.6 billion) loss in the year ending March 31, the company said yesterday. Panasonic plunged the most in at least 38 years in Tokyo trading today, making it the biggest percentage loser in the MSCI Asia-Pacific Index (MXAP), and Moody’s Investors Service said it will review the company’s debt for a potential downgrade.

“They have to cut, cut, cut,” said Edwin Merner, president of Atlantis Investment Research Corp. in Tokyo, which manages about $300 million in assets. “They’re not doing it fast enough. You have to be lean and mean.”

The projected second-highest loss in Panasonic’s history prompted the Osaka-based company to skip a dividend for the first time since 1950 because of an “urgent need” to improve its financial position.

Digital Health and Fitness Technology Expands by Nearly 25 percent at 2013 International CES

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® today announced the nearly 25 percent growth of digital health and fitness technology at the 2013 International CES®. More than 215 exhibitors will showcase the latest digital health and fitness technologies at the world's largest annual innovation event. The 2013 International CES will run Tuesday, January 8-Friday, January 11, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

"Health and fitness technology is booming, and will continue its dominance on the CES show floor with the future of fitness tech that combines data aggregation, social elements and convenience," said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CEA. "Health, wellness and technology converge at the International CES where there are solutions for diagnosing, monitoring and treating illnesses with games that let people take responsibility for their own health and reinforce healthy behavior."

More than 215 exhibitors will showcase devices beyond weight, body mass index (BMI), exercise and calorie tracking. The next generation of health and fitness devices and apps offer access to complete medical history, comprehensive biometric data and remote access to medical professionals. The companies displaying these technologies will be showcased in the FitnessTech and Digital Health Summit TechZones and conference tracks, plus Silvers Summit.

iPad Mini's Smaller Size Makes It Ideal for Home Control

Just as the original iPad made touchscreens commonplace in the home two years ago (has it really only been two years?) due to its features, apps, and yes it’s price, the iPad Mini’s reduced barrier to entry will almost certainly lead to a new boom in the proliferation of touchscreens in the home. Before the iPad, home touchscreens were generally only sold as part of much larger home automation systems. They were the remote control interfaces for advanced home theater, lighting, climate, and security control. And yes, they made it easy to see at a glance what was going on around the home, as well as activate sophisticated, complicated home control scenarios at the touch of a button, but at upwards of $1500 apiece, they were also a significant investment, especially when you consider that home control and monitoring (and maybe rudimentary web browsing) were all they could do.

At first glance, it isn’t obvious how the iPad Mini plays into (or changes) this paradigm. But what you may not have noticed is that in the couple of years since the iPad launched, the few remaining companies who still manufacturer dedicated touchscreen remotes for home automation have changed their offerings quite a bit in response to Apple’s paradigm shifter. Touchscreens have gotten smaller, for one thing, and in fact, most new dedicated home automation touchscreens are of the seven-inch variety. So the size of the Mini certainly isn’t a surprise. It’s the perfect middle-ground between the smart phone and full-sized tablet: still small enough to be held one-handed, but large enough that you don’t have to squint to read the screen (or, especially in the case of home control apps, flip through multiple control screens to get to the page you want).

Microsoft is risking an $18 billion empire on Windows 8

Windows has been Microsoft's most reliable cash cow for nearly three decades. The software giant is gambling all of that success on what it deems to be the company's future: a radically redesigned Windows 8.

Microsoft had two choices: Do something radically different to win the future or risk a slow death by cleaving to its past.

Microsoft picked the first option and created Windows 8. The touch-based operating system works both as a desktop PC and a tablet platform, and it's not hard to imagine Windows 8 running on a dizzying array of other devices, including table tops, wall screens, kitchen monitors and whatever new touchscreen gadgets we will be using in the future.

"This is an absolutely critical product," said Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman, on a company video blog. "It's key to where personal computing is going."

Perhaps Microsoft's most radical change is opening up the Windows platform to devices powered by ARM-based processors. About 95% of tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices run on microchips designed by ARM (ARMH). With Windows RT, the ARM-compatible cousin to the Intel-based Windows 8, Microsoft gains access to a whole new array of mobile devices.

Windows 8 is Microsoft's attempt to set the tone of the next several years. Consumer acceptance is the big question mark.

 

Consumer Electronics Industry Announces Ultra High-Definition

The next generation of so-called "4K" high-definition display technology for the home - giant-screen TVs with more than eight million pixels of resolution, four times the resolution of today's high-definition televisions - will be called "Ultra High-Definition" or "Ultra HD," connoting its superiority over conventional HDTV, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®.

CEA's Board of Industry Leaders unanimously voted yesterday to endorse the consensus opinion of CEA's "4K" Working Group recommending the term "Ultra High-Definition" and related performance attributes. The name and related minimum performance characteristics are designed to help consumers and retailers understand the attributes of this next generation of superior television and display technology beginning to roll out this fall. The vote came during the Board's meeting at CEA's annual CEO Summit and Board Retreat held here through Friday.

The Working Group, now known as the CEA Ultra HD Working Group, was formed earlier this year to bring a wide array of stakeholders together to discuss how best to define and educate consumers about this new technology.

ARC 2012: Digital Signage Winner - ViewSonic

ViewSonic is this year's Annual Report Card winner in the Digital Signage category, topping out rival NEC for the third year in a row--and both left Samsung in the dust. Similar to last year, ViewSonic came out ahead in the areas of support with a score of 74.7 and a 78.9 in partnership. NEC's 83.1 in product innovation, narrowly edged out ViewSonic's 82.6.

"ViewSonic has spent 25 years as a channel company and has supported the channel from new product line innovation, and has dedicated support with new ways to grow and sell products," said Sarah Kearns, ViewSonic marketing manager, adding that being "born in the channel, when our partners win, we win. We constantly strive to support partners with award-winning customer service."

The vendor's long-term relationship with the channel has resulted in product loyalty. The company is gearing up for the debut of the new VSD220 computing system, which runs Android. Kearns said the device "is not a PC replacement but a supplement of a PC. It's an ideal all-in-one, family-friendly device that's perfect for sending quick emails, checking Twitter and finding recipes."

Infinity Group Buys Altec Lansing Name, Plans To Rebuild Brand

Infinity Lifestyle Brands, which specializes in acquiring and turning around struggling or bankrupt consumer brands, purchased worldwide rights to the Altec Lansing brand for $17.5 million at auction.

The company purchased the Polaroid and Linens ‘n Things brands in 2010, purchased the Sharper Image brand in 2009, and later sold it off, and is part of a joint venture that owns licensing rights to the Miss America brand.

Altec Lansing, founded in 1941, was most recently owned by an affiliate of Prophet Equity, which purchased the company in 2009 from Plantronics and, in 2011, moved the company to San Diego from Milford, Pa.

As it has with previous brands that it purchased, Infinity Lifestyle Brands will develop a business plan and strategy for Altec Lansing, then license the brands to various companies that will adhere to Infinity’s marketing and positioning guidelines. These include the types of retailers to be targeted, said Ike Franco, principal of Infinity Group. Infinity Lifestyle Brands is one division of Infinity Group. Another division manages real estate in 13 states

FCC Rules on Encryption of Basic Tier Cable

Cable providers have wanted to encrypt basic cable for some time now, allegedly so that service can be enabled and disabled from head end instead of having to roll a truck and to reduce theft, which was estimated to be $5 billion in 2004. Funny how they always fail to mention it will fatten their nest eggs somewhat.  

Part of the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 prohibits cable operators (but not satellite operators) from scrambling or encrypting signals carried on the basic tier of service, but the FCC has now ruled that this encryption is permitted, as long as certain consumer protection measures are put in place, but there are a several caveats.

Basically the FCC ruling says that the six largest (caveat one) cable providers (who service 86% of subscribers) are “to comply with additional requirements that are intended to ensure compatibility with certain third-party-provided equipment used to access the basic tier”. These “additional requirements” boil down to offering equipment (or technology to third parties) that is compatible with IP-enabled clear-QAM devices provided by third parties.

In order to limit costs, the cable companies are required (for a limited time—caveat two, and to existing subscribers—caveat three) to:

(i) offer to existing subscribers who subscribe only to the basic service tier and do not use a set-top box or CableCARD, the subscriber’s choice of a set-top box or CableCARD on up to two television sets without charge for two years from the date of encryption;

 (ii) offer existing subscribers who subscribe to a level of service above “basic only” but use an additional television set to access only the basic service tier without the use of a set-top box or CableCARD at the time of encryption, the subscriber’s choice of a set-top box or CableCARD on one television set without charge for one year from the date of encryption; and

(iii) offer existing subscribers who receive Medicaid,82 subscribe only to the basic service tier, and do not use a settop box or CableCARD, the subscriber’s choice of a set-top box or CableCARD on up to two television sets without charge for five years from the date of encryption.

In addition the six largest cable providers have committed to adopt, prior to encrypting, a solution that would provide basic service tier access to third-party provided IP-enabled clear QAM devices (such as Boxee, Hauppage, etc.)

These six cable operators will make basic cable available either via connection from operator-supplied equipment or by providing access to the operator’s security technology. This will be accomplished either by:

(i) Option 1 - providing a converter box with “standard home networking capability” that can provide IP-enabled clear QAM devices access to basic service tier channels

(ii) Option 2 - enable IP-enabled clear QAM devices to access basic service tier channels without any additional hardware through the use of commercially available software upgrades

The fact of the matter is that all this does is potentially defer costs as a sunset in proposed on these commitments three years after the Order is adopted unless the Commission extends them. On a positive note, the FCC has committed to reviewing this in future: “We believe that a future review of these rules is warranted because the market for these IP based devices is nascent and it is unclear whether consumer demand for this equipment will flourish. Accordingly, we delegate authority to the Bureau to initiate a review two years after the release of this Order to decide whether these IP-enabled device protections remain necessary to protect consumers or whether it is appropriate to sunset the IP-enabled device protections.”

Manufacturers, such as Boxee, are offered some protection, as they will be provided a license for any technology to access the basic service on a “good faith” basis and cable operators must “publicly disclose the DLNA profile or other protocol that is being used for the home-networking (Option 1) capability on such operator-supplied equipment.”

Any telecom or cable bill is always peppered with additional fees, but the FCC is clear on this when it comes to having to hand out free devices: “Out of an abundance of caution, however, they suggest we affirmatively state that cable operators may not impose service fees (such as “digital access fees” or “outlet fees”) in lieu of rental fees for the free devices. Consistent with Public Knowledge and Media Access Project’s suggestion, we clarify that boxes provided by cable operators that choose to encrypt the basic service tier must be provided without any additional service charges related to the equipment.”

For existing cord cutters who may rejoice, don’t get too excited. If a box is required, you’re not getting it for free. The change clearly states: “We do not agree that free equipment is necessary for new subscribers: given the movement to digital services, many subscribers have become accustomed to leasing set-top devices, and that trend seems likely to continue”.

While Boxee, who have a new DVR coming to market, rejoices, for the most part all the changes do is defer costs and force cable providers to provide free basic service for a few years. After that, unless the review extends the sunset date, you’ll be looking at a monthly fee. My advice: if you live near a transmitter, get a digital antenna, or better still a Dishtenna. I put up a new antenna and cut the cord a few years ago and have never looked back. I also get a much better picture to boot. Of course, the cable companies are also trying to kill OTA altogether under the guise of “freeing up that part of the frequency spectrum”, so who knows how long anything will be free.

Flat Panel Display Price Erosion and Performance Improvements Drive Increased Demand

After struggling in 2011 with a challenging market environment due to sliding demand and price erosion, 2012 marks a year of recovery for the flat panel display (FPD) industry. According to the latest NPD DisplaySearch Quarterly Worldwide FPD Shipment and Forecast Report, worldwide FPD revenues will reach $120 billion in 2012, up 8% from $111 billion in 2011, and exceeding 2010 revenues. Among the various FPD technologies, TFT LCD accounts for the majority of revenues at $107.7 billion in 2012, up from $99.4 billion in 2011. However, AMOLED displays once again showed the strongest Y/Y growth, as manufacturing capacity and market players continue to expand. However, with the exception of LCOS (liquid crystal on silicon, a form of microdisplay) all other display technologies, including plasma and passive matrix forms of LCD and OLED, are declining in 2012. In a sharp reversal, AMEPD (active matrix electrophoretic display), which is used in monochrome e-readers, swung from strong growth in 2011 to even stronger decline in 2012, due to competition from TFT LCD-based tablet PCs.

Google Play Music and Movies purchasing reaches Google TV.

It's been one of the more conspicuous omissions in the media hub space: despite Google Play being the cornerstone of Google's content strategy, you couldn't truly use the company's music or movie services through Google TV without depending on content you'd already paid for elsewhere. As of a new upgrade, the ecosystem has come full circle. Viewers with Google TV boxes can at last buy or rent directly from Google Play Movies and Google Play Music, and the content will be indexed in the TV & Movies section alongside third-party video services and traditional TV. The upgrade also helps Google's TV front end play catch-up with its mobile counterpart by adding automatic app updates and subscriptions. While device owners may have to wait a few weeks as the upgrade rolls out, the addition signals a big step forward for a platform that has normally leaned heavily on others for help.

Why Microsoft and Apple Should Combine Hobby Products?

Microsoft confuses me. They have one the best DVR’s on the market with Windows Media Center (WMC), yet they seem disinterested in adding features and are continually sending out signals that its life is almost over.  Apple has pretty much treated the AppleTV as a hobby from day one and according to Tim Cook it’s still a wait and see product. Maybe Apple and Microsoft should get serious, combine their two hobbies (or red-headed step children) and make the best set-top box/DVR on the market.

Many were left wondering about the future of WMC when Microsoft announced that Media Center would not be an integral part of Windows 8. Now, according to Ceton, “it is still unclear whether Media Center will be offered in the next version of Windows Embedded”. (Windows embedded is an OEM version of Windows used to develop customized systems/products such as SlingCatcher, Ford SYNC, etc.)

Consequently, Ceton has announced that “it’s possible the Q will launch in 2013, either as initially envisioned or perhaps re-envisioned, but we can’t guarantee that at this point.  We know there is a ton of interest in the Q and that this news will be disappointing to a lot of you but we think it’s important to be upfront about where things stand.”

Top marks to Ceton for being up-front with their customers and prospective customers; failing grade for Microsoft for muddying the waters further.

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