There’s no cheap ticket to the future

July 24, 2007

The increasing number of publications devoted to the burgeoning out-of-home electronic media market and recent industry tie-ups such as Mitsubishi Electric’s recent deal with Icion certainly add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that the long-heralded digital signage revolution is at last upon us. Most manufacturers and integrators involved with display technologies would, of course, welcome that as a potentially huge new market for AV technology. But just like any revolution, there are always losers as well as winners – most often, the guys standing in the front row as the first shot is fired! But today’s business relies on change and growth to survive, and this is particularly true in any technology arena. However this is not the first time business has faced these challenges, and there are some important lessons from display technology history that could do with being bought to the fore again.

Like any new technology frontier, there are always risks associated with being an early adopter. In this case, the risk comes not so much from the technology itself but from the practicalities of turning that technology dream into reality. The problem is, technology is expensive: In the case of display technologies, very expensive. There are always cheaper solutions, of course. But, like everything else in life, you tend to get what you pay for. Cutting costs and sourcing the cheapest equipment possible is usually a shortcut to catastrophically expensive mid-term failure. Those of us old enough to remember the early days of videowall have seen it all before: screen-burn, monitor failures, unintelligible control architectures and rapid obsolescence.

Yet, the demand for technology is unstoppable, and this places facilities like transport terminals, shopping malls and sport stadia into a very tricky rock-and-a-hard-place situation. On the one hand, they need the whizzy new toys to keep the customers happy, but on the other they need to keep tight reins on what is often and extremely significant capital investment. Some, unfortunately, take the path of least resistance using the cheapest technology available. A few years down the line, the cost limitations on the development and manufacture of budget products becomes all too apparent and the golden calf of technology rapidly turns into a white elephant. Or worse, a high-tech albatross that actually devalues the brand it was intended to promote. If you’ve ever squinted at barely visible POS display or tried to find that all-important departure time on rolling TV monitors at a train station, you’ll know what I mean.   

The truth is that there is no cheap alternative to quality products that have been properly developed and properly engineered to last the distance. A professional grade solution is the only solution that will work long enough to deliver a return on investment. The many false-dawns of digital signage have in part been caused by the unwillingness of the market to invest in properly engineered solutions. But let’s hope these lessons have been learned well, and that quality production and design will once again become the main driver for change.  

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Growth in UK manufacturing

July 24, 2007

Source:Manufacturing Digital Date:05/06/2007 11:41:04

More UK manufacturing companies are seeing a rise in output and orders than at any time in 11 years, according to the EEF manufacturing group. The balance of firms seeing a rise in orders and output for April, May and June of this year was plus 23 percent, with companies enjoying ‘healthy trading’.The EEF said the balance was at its highest level since 1996.

However, the group warned that the high value of the pound had become a concern for some companies.

It said this was evident by the fact that the balance of export orders for the second quarter of this year had dropped from plus 16 percent to plus 10 percent.

EEF chief economist, Steve Radley said: “Manufacturers are continuing to enjoy healthy trading conditions at home and abroad and this is being translated into better prospects for investment and employment. However, we may be seeing the first impact of the strength of the pound against the dollar and this is affecting expectations for the rest of the year.”

The EEF added that the manufacturing sector should continue expand both this year and in 2008.

June 5 2007


A new direction for HMI

July 19, 2007

Microsoft are rumoured to be rolling out their Surface product early next year. Here is a sneak preview of where they see this technology going, and I must say, I’m pretty excited by this. Judging by the number of companies working on this idea of multi-point interactivity, it seems that this is the technology vector for the next stage of the digital revolution. Aside from being rather cool, it raises some interesting  possibilities for digital signage and personalised POP communication


Get in touch with your data

July 17, 2007

It may not be as fancy-schmancy as Microsoft Surface or Jeff Han’s demos but this video of a Linux-based MPX multi-touch table shows that things are moving full speed ahead in the land of the free penguins. We talked with developer Peter Hutterer, who gave us his insight on the project, the iPhone and the ongoing multi-touch craze.

MPX or Multi-Pointer X is a modification of the X Windows Server that allows multiple input devices to be used at the same time. You only need a normal computer plus any number of keyboards and mice attached to use it. The system lets multiple users interact with one or various applications simultaneously. The software is still in development and there are a ton of bugs to fix according to Peter. However, it will give you a good idea about what you will be able to do.

Things get a lot more interesting when you connect a MPX-enabled Linux system to a Mitsubishi Electric’s DiamondTouch display table. Like Microsoft Surface, the DiamondTouch is also a “multi-user, debris-tolerant, touch-and-gesture-activated screen for supporting small group collaboration” surface.

While the DiamondTouch employs a different technology than Microsoft’s TouchLight or Han’s FITR hardware, the final result is even better because the MPX-DiamondTouch combination actually recognizes four different unique users. Microsoft Surface and Jeff Han‘s developments allow multiple users to interact with it, but they don’t recognize as unique yet.

However, there are drawbacks: This solution requires “each user to touch a different conductive pad” for the system to recognize them and according to MPX’s developer: “The DT is good for detecting multi-touch from different users but not good at detecting multi-touch from the same user.” Still, it will be interesting to see MPX evolve, specially if they can get it to work in other kind of Minority Report-style hardware interfaces.

Here’s what Peter, PhD Student Wearable Computers Lab at the University of South Australia, had to say about its future as well as what is cooking now in the multi-touch user interface space.

Jesus Diaz: Have you got MPX working with other control surfaces similar to the DiamondTouch, but without the limitations of MERL’s hardware?

Peter Hutterer: Yes and no. I only have a DT right now, but the first X driver I wrote for the touch support was just listening on the network for touch events. My first touchscreen was a ~50 line perl script. We’re also in the process of building an FTIR table, but it got delayed due to too many interruptions. I still use a little C program to test stuff the DT can’t give me. Once you have a driver, it really doesn’t matter much what hardware you’re using.

When I designed the events, I mostly aimed for what FTIR tables [the type of table that Jeff Han uses]/MS Surface can do hardware-wise.

JD: Does MPX only run on Linux or does it work as well on BSD?

PH: My main test box is a Ubuntu Feisty box, but we do have a FreeBSD 64 box running MPX as well. In theory, MPX should run on anything the X server compiles on, but I guess you know how it is with theories…

JD: Is anyone working in a MPX port to Windows or Mac OS X?

PH: Not that I know of. You have to understand that X under Windows and OS X is significantly different. X servers under Unix actually render to the screen and do input as well. Under Mac/Win all the rendering and device handling is done by the respective OS. The X server translates the OS events into X protocol events and forwards them to the clients. Without native support for multiple devices, porting MPX to Win/OS X would be a waste of time. How much development is going on at Apple/Microsoft to switch their windowing systems over to multiple devices? I don’t know.

JD: What do you think about the iPhone’s use of multitouch in its interface?

PH: It’s good to see multi-touch in a popular product. This may drive the demand up for standard desktops, which is what I’d really like to see.

But it also requires a bit more explanation. Let’s just say there is the “perfect touchscreen.” It registers who’s touching, the exact touch area including a detailed image of the touching object, and even what object is touching. This is what I’m trying to orient myself on.

The iPhone’s screen is capable of doing some of those things, but the software doesn’t seem to use it. The touch input is reduced to the coordinates of the touch. Apart from the absolute coordinates, this isn’t any different than a standard mouse.

MPX puts in the abstraction layers to deliver high-detail touch events to a client, and provide a standard interface for touchscreens that provide more than just coordinates. All the smart things still need to be done by the clients. MPX just removes is the hardware-dependencies. So a gesture-app should work with any touch screen. Including the perl script I mentioned before.

This is from a technical point of view. From a user-point of view I think that multi-touch gestures increase usabilty a lot, and it is a good idea to use them as a standard interaction method.

JD: So do you think the iPhone is going to popularize your research efforts and maybe get them in a real product one day?

PH: I’m working on getting MPX into the upstream X.org repository. When I can get it in (and there’s a lot of work left), this would affect pretty much any Linux distribution, BSDs etc. For me, that counts as “get them in a real product.” : )

The iPhone main accomplishment is to make users aware of multi-touch input. Gestures and multi-touch have been in the focus of research for quite some years now. From a research point of view, the iPhone isn’t very special.

But the fact that it made a lot of people aware of technological alternatives to the standard mouse/key interaction methods makes the iPhone very important.

JD: Do you feel there’s now a race in the multi-touch, multi-user User Interface space? I mean, starting with Han’s efforts but now really booming with the iPhone and MS Surface…

PH: My page hits went up quite a bit after announcing touchscreen support, so I think there is quite some demand for touchscreens.

How much of a race is it? This is difficult to answer. Being the first one isn’t necessarily the most important thing.

Jeff Han’s input technology was impressing me because it was such a simple idea and it is really easy to build yourself. Multi-touch hardware was suddenly very affordable. He wasn’t the first, but he had a huge impact.

The iPhone is very similar. Not the first in what it’s doing, but definitely a huge impact.

And there’s also a difference between the latest craze people go for and what they actually would want to use. Maybe the “race for multi-touch” is over in a few months and the focus has switched to something else. At this point it will be good to review what technologies we have and why they succeeded or failed.

From Gizmondo


Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my…. office!

July 11, 2007

EIDO PR has recently introduced some powerful new tools for clients to interact directly with their PR programmes. Adrian Jones, principal of EIDO PR, explains the methodology and the advantages that these facilities bring.  

Businesses have traditionally been dependent on a bricks-and-mortar presence for their livelihoods. Yet, in the Western economies, knowledge-based business is fast becoming the prevalent form of commerce. Knowledge business, as the name implies, relies much more on the software that we all carry around with us in our heads than physical assets such as machinery or office hardware. The demands of business have changed, and with it, our response to those demands.

There is now a far greater reliance on work outside of the traditional workplace. It’s tempting to think of this as a new phenomenon, but it’s actually no more than the logical progression of a trend that started with the arrival of the mobile phone. In business terms, the significance of the mobile phone was that it freed people from reliance on the office phone system, and for the first time, allowed them the freedom to work effectively away from their desks.

The internet allows us to do that far more effectively, and arguably, has had an even more dramatic effect on business practices than the mobile. It has, however, proved a good deal more challenging to integrate into the business landscape. Certainly, technology was a factor in that development process, but the internet as a business medium has also required some time to gain acceptance as a concept. This was quite a different process than the route that the mobile took in becoming a de rigeur business tool. The concept of the telephone was already well developed long before the advent of the mobile phone; the internet, on the other hand, had the business community scratching its head for quite a while before they worked out what to do with it.

The majority of people now accept that the internet is a powerful – if not indispensable – tool for business, and its use in the shape of websites and email is now pretty much universal.  However the internet –like business – has not remained static over the last decade. The growing confidence in the underlying technology and the increasing demands of knowledge business in the 21st Century means we are now on the threshold of another conceptual shift in how the internet is used.

As personal computing and personal networking have become increasingly sophisticated, the ability for people to work remotely has increased dramatically. The average household now has the computing power that businesses of a decade ago could only dream of. Many businesses now accept remote working as a fact of life, but in reality, remote working is already becoming inadequate to cope with the demands of today’s knowledge business.

The word “remote” implies nothing more than something occurring away from its usual location. However the reality is that business is now moving away from dependence on the physical office environment altogether. Consequently, the phrase “remote working” has very little meaning in knowledge business because “knowledge” IS the business. Therefore the “business” can only exist where the knowledge is. The challenge for us – and for any knowledge business – is to get that raw material in front of the people that need it. We call it “distributed working”.

For us, distributed working is the only business model that allows effective day-to-day management of complex interactions between individuals who certainly don’t share the same physical space and – more often than not – are not even in the same time zone! Distributed working recognises that the business world in a knowledge-based economy is hugely more dynamic and fluid than that for which our “traditional” business structures and practices were invented to serve. We also recognise that most knowledge workers have to deal with a vast array of inputs simultaneously, coming at them from all angles and it is no longer possible to process these effectively in a linear “inbox-to-outbox” fashion.  Distributed working allows many people to collaborate effectively in a non-linear environment, completely irrespective of their physical location or time zone, and yet to participate much more fully in the interactions which are the life-blood of knowledge businesses.

At EIDO, we have embraced distributed working as a core philosophy of our business. From July 07, we are rolling out a programme of powerful new online facilities which will enable all clients to take advantage of distributed working in their interactions with us and with colleagues, wherever they happen to be. We are tremendously excited by the possibilities that these developments will bring, and look forward to exploring them more fully with clients over the coming months.

Adrian Jones

Principal

EIDO Public Relations

  

For more details about this – or any aspect of our services, please contact us at enquiries@eido-pr.eu or call +44 (0)1227 762244


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Boosting LCD performance and LED sales

July 9, 2007
The news that Samsung has developed an LCD screen which harnesses the responsive performance advantages of LED (see our AV Technology section) has made this story from LEDs Magazine even more topical. If proven in practice, this novel approach to boosting contrast and eliminating ghosting on pro LCD displays may well provide a significant growth factor for LEDs in backlight applications. – AJLED backlights poised to penetrate larger liquid crystal displays
Display segments such as laptops and LCD TVs present a strong growth opportunity for LEDs in the next several years, reports Alan Mills.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles chapter of the Society for Information Displays (SID) hosted a meeting with invited speakers on the subject of LEDs in liquid crystal displays (LCDs). LED backlighting units (BLUs) have already penetrated almost all LCDs in hand-held devices (phones, MP3 players etc) and were recently introduced into larger (3.5 to 7 inch) portable displays, for example global positioning and rear-seat automotive displays. Rapid growth is now being seen in the large LCD display market, including laptops, LCD TVs and, to a lesser extent, desktop monitors.While the hand-held device market has been very successful for LED-backlit displays, significant dollar growth in this market (above 10% per year) will be much more difficult to maintain due to intense price competition among LED makers. Also, there is a decline in the average number of LEDs per small device – typically 2-3 LEDs are used in a mobile phone BLU — as higher output, higher efficiency white LEDs are introduced. However, the phenomenal demand for Apple iPod music players, which contain three LEDs per BLU, and the introduction of 7-inch displays with four or more LEDs per device, are helping to reverse this trend.

Bill Kennedy from Toyoda Gosei, the conference chair, provided an overview of the backlit display business, where large-area LCDs lit with white and RGB LEDs have become a significant growth area. The main market segments are 11 -17 inch displays for laptops (all using side-view white LEDs) and 17 inch and higher displays, some using RGB LEDs, for computer monitors. By 2009 or 2010 this market could also gain added growth from large LCD TV sets, as less expensive LED-backlit TV models are introduced, based on the availability of higher brightness LEDs. The capability to improve NTSC color gamut (up to 147%) and make higher definition LED BLU TV sets has already been demonstrated by various manufacturers in the 50 to 80 inch range.

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This article was published in the June 2007 issue of LEDs Magazine.


Genesis concert backdrop uses 9 million LEDs

July 3, 2007
From LEDs magazine
03 Jul 2007
Phil Collins and his mates have pulled out all the stops on their comeback tour, with a massive LED stage backdrop.

An astonishing backdrop containing more than 9 million LEDs has been created for the Genesis “Turn It On Again” world tour. XL Video UK has supplied 15,089 Barco O-Lite LED panels with 270 control boxes, plus 102 Mitsubishi 16:8 high-resolution LED panels.

The O-lite panels make up a spectacular back wall measuring 13 metre high and 55 metre wide. This is surrounded and topped by 7 lighting towers (“ribs”) reaching heights of up to 28 metres, with the entire structure resembling a giant conch shell. This was designed by Mark Fisher/Stufish.

The screen provides a 3D-curved wall and an elegant architectural backdrop immediately behind the performance area. It is an interactive canvass for video playback, graphics images and IMAG which are integrated with lighting effects (designed by Patrick Woodroffe), helping to create the show’s unique visual identity.

The O-lite modules are fitted into customised touring frames designed by XL Video and made by Brilliant Stages. They are populated at different pitches to give multiple resolutions across the whole surface.

The O-Lite screen ends with two elliptical Mitsubishi LED screens at either side of the stage.

According to Stufish’s project executive designer Jeremy Lloyd, the O-lite screen is by far the most complicated that’s ever been created in terms of engineering and processing,. It presented a real challenge to the video boffins who take care of the processing, mapping and programming of the hard drives that feed it with provocative and engaging images.

The show also incorporates a few interesting video special effects, one of which is a head shot during the song “Mama” for which the band wanted to replicate an image from the track’s original 1980’s promotional material. This is done live by Phil Collins activating (via foot pedal) a small light positioned at his feet while his face is framed with a tight camera shot – giving a ghostly shimmering halo of light around his face. The XL crew has rigged up a little camera in the pit so Collins can see the image this is producing and tweak it to his liking by moving his head in relation to the light.

Stuart Heaney of Blink TV, leads a video team of 14, has been involved in the Genesis project since January, and part of the overall video brief was the design of special dollies to house and transport the O-Lite sections on tour. These were built by Brilliant Stages, and are an important part of some extremely meticulous pre-planning by Heaney, the XL Video and Stufish teams and tour riggers.

The entire video setup takes three and a half hours each day to install, and 2 hours and 40 minutes to pack up ready to move to the next venue. With 90 trucks and over 250 crew, the Genesis tour is wending its way through Europe, before going to the US until the end of the year.