On a Web page crowded with banner ads, moving signs get the most notice. Likewise, dynamic billboards grab more eyeballs at airports and in waiting rooms, storefronts, and other public areas than static signs do. Staking a larger claim to the digital signage real estate market, NEC Display Solutions of America earlier this month released the S521, adding a 52-inch model to its line of LCD monitors aimed at always-on applications.
The S-series, which began shipping in April, also includes 40- and 46-inch models. It's designed to handle numerous input scenarios and includes features to extend component life and simplify remote control and maintenance. Street pricing for the high-end S521 starts at $2,699.
For testing, NEC sent the CRN Test Center the S461, its 46-inch model, plus a table stand and side-mounting speakers.
Fully assembled with those options, the unit measures about 50-inches-wide by about 27-inches- high by nearly 14-inches-deep (at the feet). There's about an inch-and-a-quarter clearance between the bottom of the lower bezel and the tabletop. Without the feet, it's about six-inches deep.
Setup was quick; the feet slide into position and each is secured with a single thumbscrew. A few more screws secure the speakers, which include wire and a felt strip to minimize vibration. Within minutes, testers were able to view content from a laptop using the included VGA cable. No special software was needed to drive the display. Tests were conducted at 1680 x 1050; the S461's maximum native resolution of 1920 x 1080.
By default, brightness is set at 70 percent, and the remaining variables of contrast, black level, color saturation and so on are at 50 percent. These settings were fine for a brightly lit room. For darker environments, testers preferred the "Ambient 1" setting, which lowered brightness to 31 percent for a room lit with a single 60 watt bulb. The "Ambient 2" setting did about the same, but with a bit less contrast. There are a few other preset modes, which also vary speaker volume, as well as a custom setting.
Next: The on-screen display controls numerous settings, including border color; OSD transparency, location and orientation; and the selection of which screen to display the OSD when two or more screens are tiled.
As many as 100 monitors can be tiled in a 10x10 array -- all controlled from a single OSD. What's more, one or many S-series monitors also can be controlled via RS-232 or Ethernet port, both included.
Other input ports include VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, S-Video, RGB (BNC), DVD-HD component, composite and three for stereo audio. There are also outputs for RGB (BNC) and stereo audio. Picture-in-picture is supported for any combination of video and audio inputs, and can be accessed via OSD or the included full-function remote control. There are several PiP modes, including window and side-by-side (scaled and unscaled). The remote also has a "change" button, which swaps one with the other. Audio can either follow the larger screen or a particular program.
Digital signage networks have been sprouting up for years, but unless they can reach a certain threshold, operators have had trouble signing large advertisers.
"The big brands want reach and they want frequency," said Gene DeLibero, president of Digital Mindshare, a Long Island-based developer and network operator. "The agencies don't want to hear about 300 screens. They want 2,500 minimum or they can't be bothered."
Further, the nascent industry has been stunted by a lack of standards for just about every aspect, including ad distribution, pricing and results measurement.
To help spur the industry, NEC recently launched VUKUNET, a service that aggregates these smaller networks into larger ones that would, in theory, be more attractive to larger advertisers, as agencies find it inefficient to do business with many small firms to reach large numbers of viewers.
"You register your digital signage network on the site, indicate where your screens are and who's viewing them," said Luke Bruschuk, product manager for NEC Display Solutions. "That network of screens then becomes available to get offers of advertising. When accepted, the reseller gets a piece of that recurring revenue stream."
Building an inventory of networks since November, Vukunet will "open its doors" to advertisers this spring, said Bruschuk.
"This is going to empower the little guy," said DeLibero of the service.
The ENERGY STAR 5.0-rated S461 consumed 195 watts when displaying full-screen motion video. After 12 hours of operation, the screen temperature measured 101.5 degrees at its hottest point near the top center and about 95 degrees everywhere else, including at its top exhaust vents.
Internal cooling fans can operate automatically or manually, and can be monitored remotely. All available now through two-tier distribution, the S-series displays are designed to run 20 hours per day, seven days a week and include a three-year warranty on parts and labor. For its versatility and supporting programs, the CRN Test Center recommends the NEC S461 display.