Last year, I reviewed the Noventri Digital Signage Suite and Player, which included the SF-100e player. I was pretty impressed and have since deployed this in several scenarios. I recently got my hands on a pre-release version of their latest player: the SF-200 and took it for a spin.
I reveiwed the Noventri digital signage products last year, and wrote about how impressed I was after deploying in a manufacturing environment. I’ve since deployed them in several applications (from database driven visitor boards to information displays in manufacturing plants). I recently got my hands a pre-release version of their latest player: the SF-200 and took it for a spin.
While the SF-100e was all metal with a very angular design, the new SF-200 has transitioned to polycarbonate and inherited some attractive looking curves in the process. I like to think of it as having transitioned from Humvee to Italian sports car styling. The material is pretty thick and feels like it wouldn’t break if dropped.
Compared to the SF-100e:
- The DVI connector is replaced by HDMI, Composite Video (CVBS) and Component Video (YPbPr). The latter two are for future use.
- An Optical Audio Port (S/PDIF) has been added. Also for future use.
- A second USB port has been added (replacing RS232 by using a RS232 to USB cable)
- An SD slot has been added. Also for future use.
- A high speed 4GB thumb drive is included
- An IR Remote has been added. Current functionality is limited to reboot and reset to defaults, but will be expanded in the future. For example, on screen network setup via remote is planned to be added shortly.
A mounting plate is available for mounting to the back of a monitor with VESA hole patterns.
Like its predecessor, the SF-200 is a fluorescent green, solid state device and can be used as a standalone player (Sneaker Net), as part of a LAN, WAN or via the internet. The player is still diminutive in size at 5.1”W x 3.9”D x 1.5”H, can still be buried in a wall without overheating and still consumes 4W.
Noventri dosen’t publish the hardware specs of their players, but I was informed that a hardware video decoder is included in the SF-200, and will be enabled in a future software release. This will allow features such as true alpha dissolves, etc. to be added in incremental, no charge, software updates. I’m glad to hear this, as I do feel that the current dissolve function is very PowerPoint 1.0-esque, so I’ve never used it.
Other future features include
- Kiosk mode with touchscreen control
- Video of up to 1080P. This will be rolled out in stages: full screen, scaled in a zone, files uploaded from Noventri server, player streaming directly from URL’s, etc.
- There is also a plan for animations and text over video. Although this is some way off, the SF-200 hardware has been designed with features in mind.
Version 2.8 of Noventri Suite should be used with this player. Other than having to swap DVI for HDMI, and RSR232 for USB-RS232 (if used) the SF-200 is a straight swap for the SF-100e. Version 2.8 of the software brings many performance optimizations that significantly improve performance. One of the major improvements for database driven systems is ODBC connection pooling. Previously, all SQL Select statements would open their own ODBC connection, even if connecting to the same database. For example the following would result in three separate ODBC connections.
SELECT Operators FROM ShiftsAssignments WHERE ResourceID = 1
SELECT Operators FROM ShiftsAssignments WHERE ResourceID = 2
SELECT Operators FROM ShiftsAssignments WHERE ResourceID = 3
With the new ODBC Connection Pooling, the software looks for queries against the same database and groups them all into one connection. (In the above example, only one connection would be used.) This technique reduces connections and authentications to the database, reducing network traffic, and significantly reducing the time to retrieve the content and display it on screen.
Another welcome feature is automatic updates of Noventri Suite (client design application) from the server. When connecting to the server, it will detect if it is running a later version than the client. If so, the user will be offered the opportunity to download the upgrade. If they choose to update, the installer is automatically downloaded from the Server and installed on the PC. This feature is especially helpful for large digital signage networks with many different users/departments connecting to a server. Not only does this make it easier for the users, but it also gives the network administrator control over which version users are running when they are connecting to the server.
The player still retails for the same price as the SF-100e ($599) and a trade-in program is planned for users wishing to upgrade.
As mentioned early, with the exception of changing a few physical connections, the SF-200 is a straight physical swap for the SF-100e. To test, I took one of my 1080P True Color projects with a number of large images, opened it in 2.8 and deployed it to the SF-200. The first thing that leaps out you is the update time. This project took an average of 2m20s to update on my SF-100e, on the SF-200, it took seconds: the progress indicator flashed on 12% briefly and then went straight to 100%.
I spoke to Noventri’s President, David Linetsky, about the performance and he said “Our first goal for this player was to release it as a replacement for the SF-100, so the functionality on release is very similar, except its much faster and more stable. Everything is in True Color. You will see a great difference using database driven projects, incredibly fast content downloads and page rotations. Manufacturing operations are a large number of our clients, so we wanted the player to be enhanced for them out of the box. In real world testing, where the network is not a bottleneck, a very large project that would take the SF-100e almost 60 minutes to download, downloads to the SF-200 in just over two minutes.” David also shared a picture of their test network, where they are able to a test a network of over 200 players. I like to call the “Noventri tree”.
On the outside, the SF-200 appears to be a cosmetic make-over with some future interfaces added, but under the hood, the engine has been upgraded to a V12 and few turbochargers have been added. My test player performed perfectly with v2.8 and I was amazed by the improvements in performance. Having used the Noventri products for several projects, I reiterate the conclusion from my previous articles: bang for the buck with Noventri is amazing. I’ve used several much pricier products that don’t come close to Noventri, especially when integration to SQL data sources is required. While the world of digital signage has charged headlong into the cloud, with barely a thought for users who need secure access to local data sources, Noventri has kept its feet firmly planted on the ground (but still embracing the cloud), by producing a solid, easy to use, and easy to integrate product for wide range of markets.
When it comes to the content that’s used on a digital menu board, many times it’s felt that video and animation are the best use of space and that they will attract the customers’ eyes. It is the best way to interact with them. Well is that really the case?
Sometimes it can actually present a speed bump in the whole ordering process. People want to get in, order their food, and get it quickly. Video and animation can slow that process down. Here’s something that we’ve noticed with some QSR’s. They will have the regular menu board items displayed, then suddenly the whole menu board will change out to a video promotion or advertisement. Once that’s over, the regular menu boards will reappear.
Now put yourself in the customers’ shoes. Here they trying to order their items, and maybe they have kids with them and they’ve got to get them to soccer practice. Perhaps there are other people in line, and now they have to wait for an advertisement to be over with to continue ordering. Really, that can hinder the whole ordering process and certainly is very frustrating.
When designing menu board content, one of the first things you should take into consideration is the customer. What do they really want? They want to be able to order quickly, and you certainly don’t want to do anything with your menu boards that would hinder that process.
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Watch a video of this blog.
Moving food is not what most of us want. But we are not referring to something you might see on a TV show about extreme diets or survivalist conditions where people have to eat grubs, beetles, or worms. Rather, let’s discuss QSR’s and digital menu boards.
In a QSR, the most important thing is to move food from behind the counter out to the customer. You want to be able to do that in a fast and efficient way. A great tool that we now have are digital menu boards. You see this cropping up all over the place. Many people view digital menu boards as nothing more than glorified televisions. They figure, “Well, it should have video and animation on it because it is a TV”. Is playing videos and commercials the best use of menu board space?
The number one argument that we get is, “Video attracts the eye. It makes people want to look up at the menu boards.” If you’ve ever been in a QSR before you already know where to look when you want to order food. When people walk in, they may look at the seating arrangement or maybe use the restroom, but when they come up to the counter, the first thing their eyes are fixed on is the menu boards. Usually they’re not even making eye contact with whoever is taking the order because they’re busy reading from the screens.
So video and animation to catch the eye of the customer really isn’t necessary. Actually it can be a poor use of the space on the digital menu boards. We will examine this further in our continuing series of How To: Move Food In a QSR With Digital Menu Boards.
This is becoming common place on websites. You’ve seen it. And I know you’ve used it. The link to opt out of an ad.
Have you ever NOT looked for this option when a commercial pops up on your screen?
Clicking it gives you a sense of relief and satisfaction. “You thought you were going to tell me to buy something, but you were wrong!” Then, with a smug look, you navigate to the information you really want.
This conditioned response is more pronounced while watching TV. A commercial comes on, and if you have a DVR, you fast forward. Or you channel surf. I know I’ve seen my share of 5 minute snippets of various Lifetime Original movies while waiting for the game to come back on. Let’s face it. Watching some mushy show about a love lorn frontier woman who is married to a man that treats her bad is better than a commercial. Barely, but still better.
Let’s carry this philosophy over to digital signage. Does it make sense for business owners to put commercials or video content on digital signage in hopes of improving the customers’ shopping experience? Consumers are already trained to ignore and avoid anything that looks remotely like a commercial. While they may see your signage, they won’t look at it for long. In fact, they will quickly “Skip This Ad” and move on.
We believe it is vital to remove the association between TV commercials and your digital sign. We want your message to reach the targeted audience. Wouldn’t it be a shame if your investment in digital signage went to waste because you were encouraging your customers to “Skip This Ad?”
Sadly, some organizations choose to go for the “wow factor” and end up sacrificing what really works. Poor results mixed with the high cost inherent with video usually ends up giving the illusion that digital signs don’t work and the entire concept gets discarded.
Avoid this scenario like the plague. Or in this case, like it’s a commercial!
Use content that works—do it in a way that people would want to look at it —this way you and your digital signs will be a success!
“I’m remodeling the kids’ room. May I get a gallon of lead-based paint, please?”
Before 1978, lead-based paint was deemed to be good practice and a great value. Now, in the US, a company can be fined and possibly face criminal charges for failure to comply with regulations regarding removal and disclosure of lead-based paint.
Why? Because we are now aware of the unintended, yet harmful health effects. Today, how would you react if you overheard someone asking the above question? They must be joking, or have no concern for the well-being of their children.
In like manner, it has become standard in the digital signage industry to promote video as the ultimate medium for reaching customers. Conventional “wisdom” says it’s good practice and gets the best value out of your signage. This is because many choose to ignore the harmful side effects video has upon customers.
For example, imagine yourself in a store. You notice a TV suspended from the ceiling near the checkout area. It’s playing a video. What instantly comes to mind?
“Hey, there is going to be some interesting information I really need to know.”
Nope. Most likely it’s, “Oh no! It’s a commercial.” You make the association between a TV showing video and being sold to. You quickly turn away. That’s what customers do.
At Noventri, we embrace the universal truth that people hate watching commercials and will avoid them at every opportunity. How could we, in good conscience, tout the effectiveness of video in digital signage applications? We cannot. We do not. It is a source of pride to stand up for the truth.
Despite these facts, the geeks and crooks of the digital signage industry continue to push “lead paint” as best practice.
“You must have video to have great signage!”
Or “Using lead makes for superior paints!”
A new coat of paint does brighten a room, makes it feel warm, clean, and inviting. Digital signage has the same effect. Isn’t everyone much better off without the lead and video?