In the last few years, almost every digital signage hardware manufacturer has transitioned into making “smart” screens, or displays with a “system-on-chip”. In this post we will look at what SoC technology is in the digital signage industry, and why you should be taking advantage of your smart screens.
Prior to moving forward, you should know that these are all terms for System-on-chip displays:
- Smart displays
- SoC displays
- Embedded computing displays
- Embedded smart displays
- Plug-and-play displays
What is a system-on-chip?
An SoC or system-on-chip is an integrated circuit that creates a micro computer on a smaller PCB (printed circuit board) which is then placed within a device, much like what’s in any smartphone.
Household names like Raspberry Pi and Arduino are a low-cost kind of SoC, and can be used in smart displays. When a display is manufactured with an SoC, it is a plug-and-play device that content can be pushed to without any external media players. Let’s look at how this tech ended up in the realm of digital signage.
System-on-chip is exactly what its name reveals. It has a graphical processing unit (GPU) to manage and boost graphic and video performance, for digital output to flat panel displays. Its central processing unit (CPU) reads and executes program instructions. Media is stored in random access memory (RAM), which allows data to be stored and retrieved very quickly, unlike ROM, EPROM, or flash memory which is read-only and stored sequentially. There are many components that are not necessary to memorize. Just know, an SoC is often a small multi-core processor on a chip that offers computing power similar to what is in a cell phone.
SoC in Digital Signage
The SoC is also programmed by the manufacturer before distribution, usually with their own proprietary software and firmware. The software for SoC refers to applications, scripts, programs, and any other operating information that is built onto the SoC and runs with the device. What should come to mind when you think of the display manufacturer’s input to SoC displays are Samsung’s Tizen, LG’s webOS, BenQ, ELO, Sharp, and Philips’ Android-based, or Raspberry Pi digital signage displays. They have all implemented their own software and firmware directly onto the display’s built-in SoC and then created a platform around that. Regardless of the device being based on Android, Linux, Windows, Raspberry Pi, etc.
In case you didn't know, the signageOS operating system can be built directly onto the SoC too! By building signageOS directly onto the SoC, the display would immediately be universally compatible with signageOS, signageOS partners, and all of the features signageOS offers. For more information regarding this process, please contact us.
In 2013, Samsung became the first major display company to manufacture SoC displays for commercial/professional use. Back then, the tech was so new (remember what phones looked like back then?) that there was fair concern about limited processing and graphic power, and they were not very popular. But the introduction was enough to get the industry buzzing, and a year later LG launched its LG smart displays. Fast forward to 2017 and computing power has increased tremendously and Panasonic, Philips, Viewsonic, Finlux/Vestal, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba have all entered the scene with SoC-based product lines.
Why is SoC Important?
Only a few years ago it was estimated that just 10% of SoC displays were being used as smart screens, with the other 90% using content pushed from a media player. This means the majority of displays were built with the plug-and-play SoC but only 10% of those were taking advantage of the technology built inside. But the majority of digital signage experts agree that this is technology that will be with us for a long time. For Sixteen:Nine’s Signs with Smarts special report, Nick Fearnley of Sign-Stix said “I’m not sure I see the future as being anything other than SoC… IoT is now a recognized term and DS SoC solutions really do form a part of that.”
Overall importance of SoC in digital signage can be attributed to the savings that is delivered with SoC displays. SoC displays remove many points of failure that are often the cause of maintenance calls or complete replacement of the player. Once you add the cost of the player + the average cost of maintenance and upkeep to that of SoC displays, the smart displays win. Many still debate this and whether SoC displays will continue to improve in performance to be able to handle all digital signage use cases. The outcome of such a debate should lead to a decision based on the needs of each individual project with enough research to make informed decisions.
Now, firmware cannot be downgraded; once a firmware update is accepted there’s no turning back. A major challenge facing hardware manufacturers is backwards compatibility and their customers keeping up with firmware versioning and feature support so there is incentive to try and solve this problem.
Adoption rates have consistently climbed and will continue to rise as performance increases to offer optimal functionality with the additional external peripherals. An example of this is having a SoC display that is powerful enough to adequately display the content while processing data gathered from an external device like a sensor or camera. In the past, SoC displays did not offer adequate performance levels to show exceptional content while controlling a peripheral device, but that is certainly changing.
The price is right! The tech is getting cheaper as it's getting better, and end users can feel it. Smart displays are an all-in-one digital signage solution that just does away with the extra cable, maintenance, and media player costs.
Lastly, a common concern with SoC in digital signage is security. As the world of IoT and digital signage grows, so does the importance of security. Companies like Samsung have already begun to certify their SoC displays through government-certified security systems like Samsung’s Knox security. We feel this trend will only continue to gain traction and soon become a standard.
At signageOS, our aim is not to persuade our partners or their customers to use a certain technology over another. Rather, our aim and goal is to provide our partners and the digital signage industry with enough information and resources to make the best informed decisions. Our goal is to support as many hardware types as possible so our partners can win new deals by offering a wide variety of supported hardware.
What is pretty clear is that SoC technology is not going anywhere any time soon but will only continue to improve. There are certainly areas for improvement but this is the same for all newer technology. As the technology continues to improve and display manufacturers see SoC technology as a non-negotiable characteristic of their product lines, it will be difficult to continue to argue against SoC in digital signage.
If you want to learn more about SoC or your digital signage solution, the signageOS Team is always willing to help. Feel free to request more information, subscribe, and follow us to learn more on updates, new releases, and upcoming events.