Those Special Codec Moments…

The following is not gibberish: A portmanteau is a blend of two or more morphemes. The word codec is a portmanteau of “compressor- decompressor” or, more commonly, “coder-decoder”.   Wikipedia explains: A codec encodes a data stream or signal for transmission, storage or encryption, or decodes it for playback or editing.

If you have been involved in dynamic sign content, you know those moments when the screen gives you a blank stare, and you fear that your beautiful video has fatal flaws? Well, isn’t it almost always the case that this is simply due to a missing “codec?” Then you go on the hunt to fix this embarrassing situation before the client sees the project. It’s pretty funny to hear audio and see nothing on the screen, and run to check the cables. Admit it, we all do that. A good hunch, but not relevant.

Codec for VideoLet’s talk about codecs, because making the move from digital print to dynamic signage requires that you know how to avoid those precious codec moments.  Although it has many other definitions, the term “codec” has become synonymous with digital video playback and encoding.

If you are in the business of graphics, digital print, advertising, or the sign industry, you are very familiar with lossy file formats, such as jpgs. The compression achieves a manageable file size, but there is data loss in the process. Images can look pretty pixelated after some edits and “saves.”  Well, the same holds true for codecs.Some popular codecs are “lossy” – losing some quality to achieve compression –  and some are “lossless — typically used for archiving data in a compressed form and keeping every byte of information present in the original stream.

What does this mean to you? Well, if you are rendering content for high-quality display (the good stuff all of your clients want), then like our media engineers at LobbyPOP, you want to use a lossless codec. All of those edits, text changes, music tweaks, video insertions, and saves, saves, saves, will create a pretty unpretty mess if you use a lossy codec in the process.

Of course, your final files will have to be decoded with the proper codec. We are familiar with one big name, popular content management system that doesn’t have the codec to decode MP4 files! The notion of AVI being a codec is incorrect as AVI is a container type, which many codecs might use (although not to ISO standard). There are also other well-known containers such as QuickTime, RealMedia, Matroska, DivX Media Format and containers defined as ISO standards, such as MPEG transport stream, MPEG program stream, MP4 and ISO base media file format.

Determining Codecs (thanks to Cisco for this information below)

Many tools are available to analyze a video file to determine what codec was used during encoding. One is AVIcodec, which you can download from http://avicodec.duby.info. The program recognizes most video file formats and delivers additional details in an easily viewable interface. Figure 3 shows a sample of the download output.

Figure 3. AVIcodecAnother program that is simpler is GSpot, which you can download from http://www.free-codecs.com/download/GSpot.htm. Figure 4 shows the output of the same file when viewed with GSpot.

Figure 4. GSpot 

Well, this blog was a bit more technical, but remember, we gave you risqué news in the last post!

Part 2: May Your Resolution Be Right

More fun with technology! If you are up to date, you have followed these posts for a while. Our Part 1 of this two-part series on resolution is very important if you plan to use the information provided here, so give it a good read.

Okay, ready?

HD Resolution (or Frame Size):

There are 2 standard HD video resolutions:  1280×720 and 1920×1080 (width x height).  Both are displayed in widescreen (16:9) image format and use square pixels (the tiny individual “dots” of color that collectively make up the full image).  In contrast, standard definition (SD) video is a single resolution of 720×480 (for NTSC), using different pixel aspect ratios (non-square) to create either widescreen (16:9) or standard (4:3) images.  The square pixel format yields a more consistent image on a variety of display types, whether it is a plasma screen, LCD, or LED TV (or computer monitor).

A third format exists, better known as HDV, that is common among consumer-oriented video cameras.  This format is 1440×1080, and uses a non-square pixel size to render a widescreen image.

 Now, factor in Progressive Scan (p) and Interlaced Scan (i) and entire world of bandwidth considerations comes into play. This post is just not big enough to cover the subject, so get the amazing Guide when you register to take the DSCE course. 

Here’s the scoop in a nutshell: In a perfect digital world, we could say that it would always be better to display full frames in a progressive scan format, since each frame is a complete picture … and since current technology is certainly capable of keeping up with huge amounts of bandwidth, why would there be a need to compromise?  Bandwidth is still an issue, however, especially in video transmitted over the Internet or through cellular service.  The other issue is that many consumer or “pro-sumer” video cameras can only record high-resolution (1920×1080) video in interlaced scan format, since the hardware can’t support the higher bandwidth required by progressive.  Don’t lose sleep over this – just use resources provided by your media house to guide in the right file rendering size.

The MP4/H.264/AVC format is capable of producing very high quality video in virtually any common resolution, including HD.  It has been almost universally adopted as the standard for streaming video … and HD video in general.  It is the preferred format for YouTube, Vimeo, and iTunes, and is the most common encoding method for commercial Blu Ray discs.  The H.264 codec can also be used to encode MOV files.  MP4 files can be played by the QuickTime Player on any Mac or Windows computer, the Windows Media Player on all Windows 7 based systems, and by most smart phones.  Most of the currently available digital signage systems are compatible, too … WooHoo!

Multi-tasking mp4For these reasons, we at LobbyPOP prefer to render final video as MP4 files, to ensure compatibility across the spectrum, whether it’s playing from a locally-controlled digital signage player, remotely controlled system, Blu Ray disc, or streaming via YouTube.  Of course, when the need arises, we can render in virtually any desired format … but generally speaking, an MP4 file will work for any computer or digital signage system. 

There are many further details that may be discussed in the future, such as the accompanying audio formats for video files, bitrates, encoding profiles, etc., but it is too much to cover in this installment.  Hopefully this crash course will help to gain an understanding of what HD video is all about.

For more: LobbyPOP provides an excellent Guide for LobbyPOP Pros and Digital Signage Certified Experts. Just sayin… 

 

Kiosk, You Ask?

We thank the Kiosk company for assisting with information on the subject of kiosks – a great product for many applications. KIOSK has many years of experience in working with customers to deploy small to medium to very large kiosk projects. They have found six factors to consider when choosing and deploying kiosks for your intended purpose. By no means is this list inclusive of everything -This is a summary of those six considerations:

1)  The Hardware Solution –

You want a kiosk that is build to ADA guidelines and UL specs. And you should choose a form and design that fits your environment, brand and size requirements. In addition, the enclosure and structure should be inviting. There is no reason in today’s market that you should sacrifice esthetics or durability. Every option imaginable is available!

2)  The Application –

Think about your experience when you check in at the airport. Your kiosk operation should be that simple! 2-3 buttons, a clear touchscreen, and simple graphic elements. Who will develop the content and application? You may be able to do that in-house, but there are several companies that do nothing but help companies develop applications, tie in with existing systems/databases and help remotely manage the kiosk.

3) Remote Monitoring/Reporting –

Without remote monitoring/reporting – how will you know what people are doing on the kiosk? Will you know if one of your 2500 screens is down? What about the screen saver- can it be updated to play store specials as they become available?

4) Service –

Think about the warranty, and who actually owns the hardware. If a service call is needed, do you need to outsource on-site maintenance where an outside tech will service the kiosk? You may want to keep spare parts on hand for common replacements.

5) The Kiosk Project –

What is the intended purpose of your kiosks? Decide on 2 or 3 priorities at least initially – you can always add on later. What does a good pilot program look like?  Number of stores? What types of stores?  What’s the budget for the pilot?  The MOST important part of the pilot is determining you success criteria.  What is the budget and who will own the kiosks? It may make sense to lease the hardware.

6) Employee Involvement –

Employees can sometimes feel intimidated or threatened by the kiosk. We’ve seen examples where a kiosk is placed in an existing environment without much employee involvement and the program will fail. 

So, in summary, a kiosk is a great tool and resource, useful for in-store surveys, product descriptions and applications, and guidance for customers. The most important moments in the life of the kiosk campaign are those before it is installed. When you think kiosk, think ASK – the questions above will help guide you to the right answers for you.

Media Creatives

By now you must be rolling your eyes as much as we do, whenever you hear things like “digital delivery ecosystem” “multi-screen, multi-zone” “no technical know-how required” “digital signage platform” “up-rez” “integrated hardware and software” “IP-based remote updates” and “place based media buys.”

Spend as much time deeply immersed in the electronic signage arena as we have, and you will be as certain about the following as you are about anything: That the two most important elements of electronic digital signage are the two aspects that are mentioned the least:

  1. Content. Real, quality, beautiful, targeted, creative content.
  2. Support. Real, quality, friendly, knowledgable, support.

This post is about Content. It won’t be long before business owners and marketing managers turn their noses up at pixelated footage, bad color, and poor sound quality. The kind of content provided by content providers like LobbyPOP is media house quality. Ninety-one percent of media companies report they supply agency-like services to marketers today, with campaign development, ideation and targeting creative to the right audiences topping the list. Creative development and custom content, cross-platform integration and execution come next. Surprisingly, supplying consumer insights is seventh on that list — and might be the area of most opportunity.  LobbyPOP places vertical market insights and solid research first, when creating new content for businesses.

This is a multimedia journey from static content, marketing silos, and disconnect between ad space and buying place, to instant delivery of targeted messages within engaging, “movie-like” content at the point of purchase – the last three feet of marketing.

Seek out media creatives, partner with them. Here’s a quote to note:

“Media companies are the most underleveraged resource for insights that exist,” said Kim Kadlec, chief media officer-worldwide VP at Johnson & Johnson, which owns a major online media property in BabyCenter. “They’re making the content that people are paying to see, they’re not paying to get away from it. We’d like to learn a little more about that.”

Focusing on new business models will be important for digital print sign companies. This “on the ground, at the front line” spot held by sign companies can be an invaluable asset when it comes to client expectations for their dynamic media delivery.

Next post: Custom, Relevant Content.