Billboards are getting a makeover, and not just at the mall or your local bank: On university campuses from coast to coast, administrators are realizing there’s more to digital signage than just a pretty picture–it can enhance communication and maybe even help save lives.

Electronic digital signage (EDS) includes LED, OLED, LCD, CRT, plasma, digital, or e-link displays and digital projection devices.

Often, the technology uses a computer-routing system made up of hardware and software that channels content to the system’s director, who forwards the coded signals to the display.

From a central management distribution center, multimedia display systems are fed electronic messaging (created by image and graphics software) by either telephone or IP network lines or a wireless narrowcasting system to display changeable (animated, video, or still) messages from a real-time or prerecorded source.

Designers of digital signage projects look out for "dwell zones," or those spots where people pause to watch a video display and are likely to be influenced by the message.

Dale Smith, director of business development for Peerless Industries, says today’s ad dollars are being shifted from "at home" content to content viewed away from the home. "Content providers must take into account specific viewing times, repeat trips, and the need to inform, educate, and influence," he said.

In fact, spending on out-of-home video advertising in the United States reached $1.28 billion in 2007 and is projected to reach $3.22 billion by 2011. A study conducted last year by Online Testing Exchange said that digital signage catches the attention of more people than any other comparable advertising medium.

And that’s one reason a growing number of colleges, universities, and even K-12 schools are opting for digital signage.

According to Sanju Khatri, a principal analyst at iSuppli, the top three venues for digital signage use are retail, transportation, and indoor venues; however, many businesses and universities also are adopting the technology.

"More universities are looking at this technology," agreed Ron Snaidauf, vice president of commercial products for LG Electronics USA, "especially as a means of security and safety for students and staff. Digital signage also has great possibilities for [giving directions], scheduling, class information, and more."

John Holmes, marketing manager for public displays at Sony Electronics, says that while emergency warning capabilities make digital signage a smart choice for campuses, the signs also can help create school spirit. "There’s not one student out there who wouldn’t love to see rotating images from last night’s game, read news articles about [his or her] university’s achievements, or see ticketing schedules," he said.

Another perk is the reduced need for printed advertisements on campus. "It can really help cut down on waste from posters and signs that are thrown in the trash, helping a campus to conserve paper and resources," Snaidauf explained.

EDS products

Many new developments have occurred in digital signage that caters directly to the education market.

For example, AMX just launched Inspired-2-Go, a new line of solutions that includes pre-designed layouts, editing and scheduling software, and the IS-Player-200–self-contained hardware that delivers content to displays.

These new solutions include an Education Pre-Pak with pre-designed educational layouts, education-relevant images, and video clips to help with creating content.

C-nario, a provider of end-to-end, software-based digital signage solutions, recently released the C-nario Cube, a product for multiple displays that works well with large stadiums and sporting events.

The C-nario cube can deliver multiple types of content from a variety of sources, including live high-definition video broadcasts, to numerous screens with complete synchronization.

This new system can work with video walls, seamless projection, collages, multi-floor displays, and more, the company says. It is not limited by size and can scale to any size video wall. The Cube also can integrate with show control systems, enabling users to link multiple displays with other entertainment elements, such as lighting or sound.

Already, C-nario clients include Revere High School in Massachusetts, Washington State University, San Diego College, the Community College of San Francisco, and California’s La Jolla Country Day School.

For digital signage outside the stadium, LG Electronics has developed a new LCD touch-screen monitor designed for the classroom.

"LG’s monitors take lesson plans off the paper and turn them into visual and tactile experiences," says Snaidauf. "These models provide the ability for teachers to access unique programming, such as real-time news casts and interactive, web-based lesson plans in their classrooms, while also increasing participation by providing a fun and exciting way of learning."

LG’s touch-screen models for classrooms have a 20 millisecond refresh rate, and content populates quickly on the screen, maximizing class time, Snaidauf said. He added: "LG’s digital signage distributes information from one integrated controller, dispersing content from one centralized location to multiple screens–important in times of an emergency."

Sony is another company specializing in digital signage that promotes its technology for emergencies on campus.

"It only takes one push of a button on an admin touch screen" to broadcast a message across an entire campus, said Holmes, adding: "You might not know how to load programming, but you can push a button that says ‘fire.’"

Holmes said the ability of digital signage to spread the word quickly in the event of an emergency could help educators find the funding for these systems. "It’s a great way to pitch funding for digital signage–many schools have said they can get government funding for this," he said.

‘Smart’ digital signage

As campus administrators across the United States become more comfortable with using digital signage, manufacturers in Asia and Europe have taken ESD technology one step further.

For instance, Recruit Co. Ltd is delivering advertising videos for the cafes and restaurants in the underground mall of Tokyo Station by using the "Scent-emitting LCD Display System."

Developed by NTT Communications Corp., the signs emit aromas along with the advertising videos shown on a 42-inch LCD display. In front of the displays are coupon books that can be used at the restaurants advertised in the videos.

Another company, Immersive Display UK, has released a new range of 3-D digital hemispherical and spherical advertising signs. The signs have a 180- or 360-degree viewing capability and already are being used in airports, train stations, department stores, and banks.

In the U.S., Sony has just released FeliCa–an interactive card-based technology microchip for multiple applications, including electronic pre-paid transactions, access, interactive signage, and membership or loyalty rewards systems.

The chip combines processing, storage, and communication functions and can be implemented in a variety of forms, including cards, key chains, and mobile phones.

Holmes says this technology already exists in Japan and China. People store personal information on their ID cards, hotel room keys, cell phones, and so on and then place their device on a sign to access coupons and travel information.

"Students could use their personal campus ID cards to get coupons on textbooks or look at their class schedule, simply by touching their ID to the digital sign," said Holmes, explaining possible implications of the technology for campus officials.

Sony reportedly is in talks with universities about this technology, and Disney will be using it soon.

Digital signage can offer schools and colleges new opportunities for communication, manufacturers say. As the technology grows more common and prices drop, analysts predict digital signage is likely to become a familiar sight throughout education–soon a ubiquitous sign of the times. 

Links:

Digital Signage Expo/

LG Electronics

Sony Electronics

AMX

C-nario