Interview with Mitsubishi's James Chan about Digital Signage Displays
James Chan | Mitsubishi Electric Visual Solutions
How is Mitsubishi involved in the Digital Signage Industry?
Mitsubishi Electric is a manufacturer of premium display products for both indoor and outdoor signage. Mitsubishi Electric has an office in Warrendale, PA that specializes in high-end LED boards used in many stadiums and outdoor displays, and Mitsubishi Electric in Irvine, CA offers a line of LCD public display monitors ranging from 32” to 65”. We also offer video display walls as well as front projectors that are widely used in digital signage displays.
Is the business model different than the Home Theater marketplace? How does it work?
Yes, it is very different. The obvious difference is that home theater products target the home and the consumer, while digital signage is a business application used for business.
Home theater can be quite simple compared to digital signage projects. From a display manufacturer’s point of view, home theater involves satisfying a single consumer’s (or his family’s) idea of how moves and other content should be viewed at home for maximum enjoyment. We focus on color accuracy and richness, compatibility and connectivity to available players and other devices like gaming consoles typically used to provide home theater content. Sometimes, we also focus on the aesthetic of the display device itself as it needs to blend into the overall design of the home it’s used in.
Digital signage is very different. Here, there’s no personal ownership, the device is not so much the focus: the message being displayed and communicated is most important. As such, the project usually starts differently, and carries through a very different “eco-system”. It usually starts from a marketing or a communications department that wants to communicate or distribute messages effectively, economically and electronically. Assuming that the originating department is already doing some kind of messaging and/or communication via different media such as print, or digitally over the web, the next step for them is to pull in the IT department to see if there is a way they can use the existing infrastructure to support their communication needs electronically.
If most companies have IT departments like mine here at Mitsubishi, they would probably look at the security level required for such an implementation, then, the budget and the resources needed to support such an undertaking. In the end, they might request for outside help. So companies who develop software and hardware will be brought into the mix in this needs-analysis phase. Once that is determined, everybody works together to roll out the digital signage project. There are usually multiple services or goods providers in a digital signage project that need to work together for it to be successful.
Why are the display products different for Digital Signage than they are for the Home Theater?
They are significantly different because Digital Signage displays need to be more robust and have more inputs that are appropriate to an enterprise environment. Hopefully, one does not sit around watching movies or TV all day, but the display for digital signage has to work continuously, sometimes, even 24/7. So the display device has to have better a cooling system and a more robust panel that can withstand the long hours of continuous use.
Product design and form-factor wise, digital signage displays should be unnoticeable, except for its intended message on its display or screen. It is usually matte black and as plain and modular as possible. Home theater products appeal to the home owner aesthetically, so its form factor may have finishes or curves that are part of major design elements to make it look attractive as a home appliance when not in operation.
Is Digital Signage growing at a pace comparable to other aspects of your display business?
With the proliferation of larger size LCD panels available at a more affordable price points, digital signage continues to be an aggressive growth segment or our display business.
What does it take to compete in the Digital Signage market?
Products have to be reliable, durable and priced right. Reliability and durability is necessary because it will be used in a public place and operating hours will be long and sometimes, continuous. The display needs to be priced right because it is usually the very last piece of the project to be considered. As with most projects, budgets tend to over-run towards the end of implementation and one of the worst mistakes a project manager can make is buying a regular TV just so he or she can put up the digital signage and finish the project. But in a few months, when that TV breaks down because it’s not designed for continuous use, no one will remember all the hard work of bringing the whole digital signage project up to that point of implementation. All someone would see is… Darn, the display went bad again and the screen is blank.
Tell us a bit about some of the products that Mitsubishi builds for this market?
We build some of the most durable and reliable LCD monitors suitable for digital signage implementation. We have an MDT series that ranges from 42” to 65” diagonal, and an LDT series starting from 32’ to 55”, all designed with public signage usage in mind with features such as CAT5 video connectivity, LAN ports, and multiple input connectors and types. Installation versatility is engineered into every monitor: Inputs range from DVI-D, D-Sub 15 and HDMI™ as well as DisplayPort™. Some of our monitors also offer optional single- and multi-touch screen interactivity, one of the easiest PC interfaces to use. With the optional touch screen interface, the monitor recognizes up to 36 distinct actuation points, including touch, gesturing, squeezing and pinching. This makes computing resources more available to untrained or disabled computer users. And, unlike many digital commercial displays on the market today, we brought one of the first monitors to offer both front and rear ambient light sensors that detect lighting conditions in two areas to market. These sensors adjust the monitor’s brightness level based on its readings and automatically balance image brightness for optimum viewing, regardless of the brightness of the ambient light either in front of, or behind the monitor, making them ecological and more cost effective.
Do you think touch screens and 3D are going to make an impact in Digital signage?
Touch screens are already having an impact on digital signage; more work is needed for 3D before it is fully embraced and implemented. Touch screen has practical implementation when digital signage includes a certain level of interactivity. 3D on the other hand is only necessary when there is a very specialized application. Unless 3D content can be displayed in acceptable levels of performance without the need to wear special glasses, digital signage in 3D will continue to be a novelty…
Are there other technologies that you feel are going to make a showing in the near future?
I think streaming content will continue to grow as bandwidth permits, so more and more streaming devices will show up in smaller form factors with easier to use interfaces for use with digital signage. I also think that more and more artificial intelligence software such as voice and intelligent word parsing will be built into digital signage software, enabling future digital signage to be even more engaging and interactive.
As vice president of marketing at Mitsubishi Electric Visual Solutions, Inc., James Chan oversees product and brand marketing as well as marketing communications for its projectors, televisions, professional-grade LCD monitors, display wall products, and medical and photo printers. Chan, a 20-plus year marketing veteran, joined Mitsubishi in 1999 as product manager for projectors, later promoted to director and subsequently senior director of product marketing, while the breadth of the product line under his management expanded. Prior to Mitsubishi, he worked at Panasonic and Viewsonic. Chan holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from De La Salle University in Manila in his native Philippines, and received his MBA in 1999 from California State University, Fullerton.
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