Digital Signage: Not Just About Visuals

TinersTakeDS-featuredIn January of 2014, we will be hosting a grand opening of our new Digital Media Center. This is a fabulous space that includes top line editing suites, a professional studio and a Mac computer lab. It is an amazing place for our students to be creative and experience new ways to communicate. We decided that a great addition to this space would be a digital sign in the lobby.

Our hopes for this sign were to be able to use it for showing off the work of our students and faculty, along with showing off the capabilities of the space. One major hope is that we can stream to the sign from our studio during recordings. We think it will be a cool way to show off what happens in the studio. A really neat feature will be when we are using the green screen and people watching the sign see the down stream chroma key. They then can walk up to the studio and peek into the window and see how the green screen is working. While some of the uses of our digital sign were new and interesting, we ran into a familiar problem that we have with digital signs in other spaces on campus — namely, sound.

Several other lobbies on campus have digital signs and we had talked about how we would handle audio. Yet, we never really had a situation where it was important to use. This is different though. We need sound to go along with our videos; after all, we’re not trying to recreate “The Artist.” We also have the problem that our sign is right in the main lobby of the space. We want audio, but we don’t want that much audio. Plus, our editing suites are right down the hallway, and we don’t need to be creating noise for those users.

So, we decided that since we were techies, and even better, AV techies, we should be able to figure out a solution. My AV engineer and I both remembered being at InfoComm and seeing speakers that were directional. Our memories included speakers that were extremely directional – as in, you could stand underneath them and hear them very clearly, but when you stepped out of the speaker range, you heard nothing.

This would be a perfect solution for this install. It would work well without all the extra noise. Most importantly, it would create the environment we were looking to create. Except… it didn’t.

So that I do not attack any one company, I am going to leave brand names out of this column.  We ordered a product that looked kind of like one of those things at a beauty shop that they put over the old ladies heads when they sit in chair. Or, it could have been a clear Tupperware bowl. Either way, it did not work. We hung it off a suspended ceiling about 10 feet high. The speaker hung down about a foot and a half. We anxiously put some music to the speaker and… we could hear it across the room. We could hear it pretty clearly too. OK, we thought. Once we get underneath the speaker, it will sound so much better and clearer. But, it really didn’t sound much louder or better.

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We obviously looked at the documentation, called tech support and called our dealer. They all gave us pretty much the same answer: “Yeah, that’s about right.” I sent out an email to a listserv that I am on. I got a couple of responses back, and they both said, “Yeah, that’s about right.” One response went on to explain that essentially these speakers are designed for fairly noisy environments, where the ambient noise will hide the audio bleed from the speaker.

So why am I writing about directional speakers in a digital signage column? Because I think that one of the great uses of a digital sign is to create an environment. Whether that environment is what I described above, or some other environment, it’s a great use for digital signage. In fact, the speaker system that we tried out even included an optional scent module. Picture being in a car dealership, watching a video of the cars you are deciding between, hearing the roar of the engine, and smelling that wonderful new car smell. Last month, I wrote about selling advertisements. Think about an ad for that local pizza joint that had the smell of fresh pizza and french fries, with some good jukebox music playing over the speaker. A QR code on the screen that links to an online order form, and you have a real winner!

I am writing about the speakers, because there seems to be a hole in the market for this particular product. Does it exist? Is it out there somewhere and the people (the many, many people) I have spoken with have just never seen it? Or, do all the directional speakers out there not quite live up to the expectations? I would love to hear from you about whether you have experienced speakers that would fit this need. Have you been able to use digital signage to create an environment like I have described? If so, I would love to hear from you.