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The Emerging World of Digital Signage

Full-video digital billboards provide video producers with opportunities

They are seen everywhere: Full-motion digital billboards running commercials and short features in stores, restaurants and airports.

by James Careless

The interactive displays at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Total Health in Washington, D.C. attracts viewers. Photo courtesy of Brand New School Now the revolution known as digital signage is turning up in schools, public safety centers and other government installations, as the following examples show.


Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Total Health in Washington, D.C., is a location designed to generate discussion by employing interactive multi-media displays to let the public, medical professionals and others learn more about that company in a setting that takes digital signage to the next level.

From a video presentation standpoint, the star of the show is an 80 foot-long mural that is actually one of the world’s largest multi-touch digital signs. That digital sign can simultaneously support multiple users accessing different feeds at different locations all at the same time. There are numerous other multi-monitor digital signs throughout the complex, all equipped with touch screen capability.

“A major part of Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to total health is sharing best practices and facilitating discussions that will improve the health of our nation,” said Bernard Tyson, Kaiser Permanente’s president and chief operating officer. “We are excited to open the Center for Total Health, where we will create opportunities to explore new ways to advance health through innovation and technology.”

Brand New School (BNS) created seven custom-built interactive applications for the center, featuring more than 100 original video segments and a great volume of animated content. They were created using a combination of Adobe Creative Suite, Autodesk Maya and Adobe After Effects, and programming in a combination of C++, PHP, and a handful of other languages and protocols.


The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) for Miami-Dade County has installed five plasma television displays at its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that are controlled by digital signage software produced by Scala, the software of which ensures that the real-time status of public safety, fire and medical services, road traffic situations and shelters for displaced residents are immediately available to the EOC’s 72 desk positions.

Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Total Health provides data on the health of the nation. Photo courtesy of Brand New School “We gather all of the information to get a true picture of the disaster, assess the needs of the community, and then distribute scarce resources,” OEM Assistant Director Bill Johnson said. “Scala’s software allows us to respond to information as soon as it is available, something that becomes incredibly important in times of disaster.”


World Media Net has done a number of digital signage installations for government clients, including the 111th U.S. Congress’ Men’s Wellness Center, which used part of its membership dues to have World Media Net put in a digital signage system to show specialized exercise videos. The system includes two 75-inch plasma screens, four professional grade JBL loudspeakers, commercial audio amplifier, graphic equalizer and a video switching system to utilize DVD, VHS and iPods as sources.

World Media Net has also installed digital signage-based Patient Information System for the McConnell Air Force Base 22nd Medical Group Facility, and provides Base Commander/Emergency Alert Channels for a number of U.S. military installations.


The University of Colorado at Boulder knows how difficult it is to reach the media-saturated 20-something generation. To achieve this goal, the university made two strategic decisions: First, it decided to target students as they enter the new Center for Community Dining (CCD), because a high volume of passing eye (about 6,000 pairs daily) was guaranteed. Second, the University installed an eye-catching video wall that is two monitors tall, by eight monitors wide over the CCD’s entrance. Thanks to careful edge matching, that digital sign provides a near-seamless, nearly 200 square foot video banner for full-motion messaging.

That digital sign was designed by Digital Roads, an audio/video system integrator based in Wheat Ridge, Colo. To create the wall, Digital Roads chose a Planar Clarity Matrix LCD Video Wall System comprised of sixteen 46 inch Clarity Matrix LCD displays. Each display delivers 3000:1 resolution 700 nits of brightness, and can handle 16.7 million colors. Both full-motion and still content is produced internally using Adobe After Effects, Flash and Photoshop. The content is stored on a university server, with the playout being controlled by scheduling software.

Such is the impact of this digital sign, that it has become known as the “WOW wall.” Students are definitely attracted by its images, which is why the university is now scrambling to expand its usage. “Every day we discover new ways to use it,” said Janice Torkildsen, the university’s director of marketing. “For instance, we put up some survey information and our students responded overwhelmingly more to the digital advertising, rather than the traditional method of print media. We [also] advertise break schedules, re-applications for housing, survey information and many others.”

In addition, the university “recently did a piece on the Peace Corps, to encourage students to volunteer,” says Dana Dziezawiec, one of the institution’s arts technicians. “We have also produced videos aimed at international students, promoted our studies abroad program, and posted a video that features the university ski team in action.”

The big question is whether the digital signage application is worth the time and money required to operate it, and university officials say it is. “Based on what we’ve seen to date, the WOW wall is living up to its name,” Torkildsen said. “It is drawing people’s attention to our messages, and it is still inspiring them to say, ‘wow!’”


The increasing clout of digital signage is indicated not just by the proliferation of digital billboards, but the growing requirement for production expertise. This demand has become so strong, that Texas State Technical College (TSTC) has launched the nation’s first digital signage technology degree program. Working with the Digital Signage Association and equipment/software providers such as Scala, TSTC and partner institution Western Texas College (WTC) have developed an academic program that covers content creation using Adobe Flash and Adobe Photoshop, plus system design and scheduling using Scala Content Manager and Scala Player.

“The incredible explosion of digital signage technology in the business community really spoke to us about the need for a degree program in this area,” said Patricia Lister-Gollin, TSTC’s program specialist in digital signage technology. “I think this is the first time anyone has paired a graphic design degree with marketing strategy and applied it to this new medium.”


Known primarily as a source for hard-to-find computer components, has developed a digital signage application that can serve up to 80 displays over conventional Cat5 cabling. The StarTech system consists of the DS Series Digital Signage Broadcaster (DS128) and Digital Signage Receiver (DSRXL). Collectively, they can extend distribution of high-resolution video graphics array (VGA) video and stereo audio over Cat5 Ethernet cable at distances up to 300 meters (900 feet).

“The DS Series is the perfect solution for anyone wanting to run VGA video over Cat5 cabling in a digital signage application,” said John Mardinly, product manager for “Plus you can fine tune the image or control audio volume over the RS-232 connection, making it easier to consolidate device control.”

The system supports daisy-chained installation for audio/video distribution to up to 80 monitors/ displays. It incorporates a Java-based utility that delivers system control over LAN and Serial control for A/V devices. The DS128 8 Port VGA over Cat5 Digital Signage Broadcaster with RS232 & Audio is listed at $599.99. The DSRXL VGA over Cat5 Digital Signage Receiver for DS128 with RS232 & Audio is listed at $399.99.


Digital signage is clearly a growth area for video producers, and a new market that governments need to consider for reaching audiences, creating new content, and even fostering new professional positions. Such applications can be achieved economically, as demonstrated by StarTech’s digital signage solution, or pushed to the max like Kaiser Permanente’s 80-foot video wall.