Flexible signage by NanoLumens, on display at Digital Signage Expo 2012 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (Photo provided by DSE)

REPORTING FROM LAS VEGAS — The next time you look at an advertisement, you might want to ask yourself — “is that sign looking back at me?”

A new generation of digital displays now has the ability to scan and recognize its audiences, allowing advertisers to create detailed demographic reports and serve up customized content. Computer manufacturer Intel and software developer Rhonda both rolled out new prototypes of their audience-measuring applications during the ninth annual Digital Signage Expo, which drew over 4,000 attendees to the Las Vegas Convention Center, March 6-9.

The signs create a new paradigm for sponsors, giving them the ability to measure impressions while challenging them to use digital assets to create engaging content that stands out in a cluttered environment.

The Rhonda-powered system is capable of measuring the gender and the age of the audience, and delivers up detailed reports on demographics. To respect privacy “no videos are stored or sent to a backend server,” said VP of Technology Innovations Denis Pomogaev. “Every frame is being discarded after it’s been processed and only the meta data is sent to the backend server,” accessible from just about any web browser.

Smart signage was just one piece of new technology on display at this year’s conference. Below, Venues Today outlines the newest innovations that could impact the public facilities sponsorship market.

Transparent displays

Video by Venues Today

In an era where any unused surface is a missed opportunity, manufacturer Planar has come up with an application to turn ordinary glass into a digital video display.

At DSE, Planar rolled out a prototype beverage cooler with a 32-inch door, similar to coolers found at most grocery stores near the checkout stands to hold sodas and drinks. When the cooler door is closed, a vivid video display fills the transparent space, allowing viewers to see the contents inside the cooler.

One challenge of transparent LCDs is that the light inside the refrigerator doubles as a backlight for the video,” said Pat Green, who developed the product on behalf of Planar. “Light produces heat, not ideal for a space used to keep beverages cool. With this model, we placed the LEDs behind the edges of the display, sandwiched into the double-pane glass of the door, keeping the cooler insulated from the heat of our backlighting system.”

Green said the technology could have a number of applications at venues — any glass surface, whether it be the partition used at a box office window or the glass exterior popularized on the designs of new buildings, becomes a blank slate for messaging and sponsors.

Emergence of the iPad

Could one of the greatest display platforms be available for purchase at your local Apple Store, starting around $500?

A number of digital marketing firms are capitalizing on the public's familiarity with tablet technology. Silicon Valley firm 22Miles has released a new digital menu solution to both entertain and upsell patrons at sit-down restaurants with Touch Menu Signage for iPad.

“We are piloting 100 units now in restaurants,” said Jeffrey Tan, the company’s marketing manager. “We expect 5,000 units by the third quarter this year, and an additional 10,000 units by the end of year.”

Touch Menu Signage is a software program that can run on any iPad and includes an interactive ordering capability that could eventually make wait staff obsolete.

“There’s social integration and a two-minute-long game — it's time-limited because we don’t want them sitting in the restaurant playing games the whole time,” Tan said. “And we provide support to monetize the entire application with advertising.”

Tan said he expects restaurants to hand iPads to patrons as they walk in to eat — those less comfortable with handing over the fragile hardware can purchase specialty iPad tables with 42-inch touch screens powered by the iPad operating system.

Tablet table by 22Miles (VT Photos)

Growth of the Small Screen

Digital Displays like this one could become ubiquitous at retail locations (VT Photo)

While massive displays easily catch one’s attention, a number of companies at DSE are breaking out with smaller screens that can accentuate retail displays and accessorize outfits.

Pittsburgh-firm Black Box Network Services has introduced iCompel Wearable Digital Signage, a two-and-half inch, two-pound screen that can be affixed to clothing with either a magnet or a lanyard. A 256-mb hard drive on the wearable screen can hold up to two hours of video, powered by a battery with a nine-hour life. The device retails for $139 per unit.

“It’s literally taking the right message at the right time and making an interactive engagement, whether it’s used in a retail environment from a sales associate, a trade show environment or a greeter,” said National Sales Director George A. Borden.

The small screens were piloted at a pharmacy chain, with cashiers wearing badges encouraging flu shots. Messaging on the screens can be scaled for dozens, even hundreds, of users, or customized for different positions within an organization.

“It’s eye candy that will draw the consumer for anywhere between five to nine seconds,” Borden said.

Digital Signage producer Marshall Pro AV is also developing a fixed retail solution with a power cable and Ethernet cord for unlimited, fully networked messaging. The screens use strong, difficult to damage screens. Each sign has its own IP address which allows each individual sign to have customized content.

3D Screens without the Specs

Advances in 3D technology have allowed content producers to create fully immersive displays that explode with color, but often special glasses are required to view these screens.

MMD, a manufacturer of Philips-branded LCD monitors and commercial signs has launched a new line of no-glasses 3D displays that use an auto-stereoscopic viewing capability for 23-inch, 42-inch and 55-inch screens.

The no-glasses displays can be viewed at full 3D from 28 different viewing angles through MMD’s proprietary lenticular technology. The screens can play both 2D and 3D videos and come with a software suite to enable users to develop their own 3D contents.

Interviewed for this article: Denis Pomogaev, (224) 715-1154; Pat Green, (503) 748-1100; Jeffrey Tan, (408) 837-0589; George Borden, (724) 746-5500