Over the past several years, SoC displays have become an essential part of the digital signage industry. Let’s take a look at how this happened and why, along with some educated predictions on how it could continue to progress into the future.Getting the Terminology Right
First things first, what exactly is SoC?
While we cover this in depth in a previous article, here’s a brief overview.
In this case, we’ll be looking specifically at system-on-chip displays, also commonly referred to as smart displays. To put it simply, SoC displays are displays that have a built in GPU and CPU as well as RAM built in. Even more simply, SoC displays have a little computer inside them. This is important because it allows these displays to display HTML5, videos, images, streaming, and much more.
Previously, this was only possible with the use of an external media player. The media player used to be required for this type of playback as it would function as the computer necessary to play the content. Though they do have their benefits in certain scenarios, thanks to advances in technology, external players are no longer the only option and haven’t been for years.
Origins of SoCs
SoC displays first came onto the scene in 2011 where they were shown off at trade shows by some relatively small companies from Taiwan and China. It wasn’t until early 2013, when Samsung announced its Smart Signage program, that the digital signage ecosystem started seriously paying attention to the idea of SoC displays.
An Ever Growing Ecosystem
Since then, many other hardware manufacturers started developing and releasing their own smart displays. From LG and Sony, to NEC and Panasonic, It wasn’t long until the SoC ecosystem truly expanded in form.
While there’s quite a lot of growth in the overall number of smart devices, that doesn’t quite show the full picture. For a bit more insight, the digital signage industry as a whole was worth about $13.5 billion globally when SoCs first hit the market in 2013 and has grown to nearly $27 billion today in 2022. That is nearly 100% growth over the past 9 years. This growth is expected to continue with the industry achieving a value of $36 billion by 2026.
Beyond this, the market share of system-on-chip devices has grown tremendously. From 10% of total digital signage devices in 2015 to 33% in 2017 and now up to 80% of mainstream digital signage is powered by SoC technology. The majority of displays already come with an embedded SoC and some brands have over 90% of their portfolio equipped with SoC. Nowadays, mainstream digital signage content consists of 80% HTML5, Videos, Images, and Streaming, with the remaining 20% going to 3D / webGL, Wayfinding, and Computer Vision. It has also found a solid vertical, with 80% of digital signage being a part of QSR, Retail, Banking, or Transportation. The remaining 20% of digital signage devices are used as Kiosks, LED Walls, or for Interactivity.
The digital signage ecosystem today.
Boxes Performance Evolution: Closing the Gap
While SoCs are relatively new, before them, digital signage was operated mainly by external media players. Initially SoCs were less powerful and capable than their external media player counterparts. This gap has certainly closed over time. This timeline can show the difference in capabilities between the two.
As you can see here, in the early days of SoC in 2015, they were able to play static image slideshows. The following year, in 2016, the capability to show video was added along with images. The following year expanded to include animated images. Over the next few years, 2018-2021, the addition of animated and dynamic HTML5 expanded use cases dramatically. This year, 2022, this can now be done with multiple videos. signageOS Research Center conducts performance reviews of these capabilities - more information on there here.
These evolutions in capabilities are segmented into designated generations.
The SoC generations are as follows:
- Gen 1 & 2 - plug and play without dated performance characteristics
- Gen 3 - connected signage with large-scale control over devices
- Gen 4 - business critical signage where content and timing of content is crucial
Currently, about 60% of SoC digital signage installations are Gen 1 & 2 with Gen 3 being in the phase of replacing 1 & 2 and Gen 4 gaining traction rapidly, especially in industries such as QSR, transport, and medicine.
SoC displays are a force to be reckoned with and becoming increasingly the norm. Not only are they growing in market share of an industry that itself is growing quite rapidly, but its capabilities are increasing at quite the rate as well. It can only be assumed based on current data that this trend will continue into the future. The future looks bright for SoC displays.