Rich Ventura and Misty Chalk on the Evolution of AV Ecosystems

By David Keene

June 5, 2024 – Who doesn’t love controversy? But in the AV industry, we are (thankfully?) a relatively boring bunch in the controversy department. InfoComm 2024 has a session that is reviving the “Coffee & Controversy” theme that the Digital Signage Federation did several years running with their panel discussions at digital signage industry events. The InfoComm session is:

Coffee & Controversy: What Drives Your Display? June 13 @ 11:00 AM, at the XChange booth on the West Hall show floor (W2847). The XChange booth is right on the show floor, and events there are by design more informal, more conversational, and more interactive.

The theme of the panel session is: “industry experts to discuss the always-controversial topic of media players vs. SoC as they outline best practices for your digital signage deployment.” The panelists are:

Rich Ventura, Vice President, Sony Electronics Inc, Professional Display Solutions

Misty Chalk, Vice President of Sales, BrightSign

Michelle Montazeri, Director, Digital Signage, Legrand AV


AVIXA/InfoComm says on the registration page for the event:

“Have a question for a speaker? Ask the question in this Discussion thread, and the speaker may answer your question on-stage, or in this thread after the session.”

OK, but I jumped the gun, and I talked to both Misty Chalk, and Rich Ventura, pre-show, to get their in-depth thoughts on the issue, and more importantly issues that the black-and-white theme question does not address. Here below is what Misty and Rich shared with me, that might be good food for thought to complement the coffee on hand for the “controversial” discussion at InfoComm. Apologies to Michelle, solely my fault but deadlines prevented me including her here – but you can catch her at the live event. And apologies to those who love journalistic brevity more than even controversy – I wanted to give our guests here ample space to address the nuances of the market, and where we’re heading on multiple fronts.

Here are the conversations with Rich Ventura, and Misty Chalk (two separate conversations):

David and Rich Ventura of Sony:

• David: We’ve all seen how so many digital signage displays have evolved from a processor-based display to a SoC-based smart display. Do you think this has revolutionized the deployment of digital signage rollouts, beyond just an ‘internal media player (SoC) vs. external media player” choice?

Rich: The advent of smart SoC platforms combines all components into a single, integrated circuit. It streamlines the process of digital signage deployments, reduces points of failure by eliminating the need for an external device, and can result in a reduction of overall costs. With powerful processing speeds and more memory, SoC allows signage applications to run more efficiently and can be paired with APIs, enabling developers to build custom solutions that meet their needs and create a more frictionless interaction between hardware and software.

Digital signage rollouts should always be more than just a choice between SoC vs. external media player. It’s about understanding what your needs are, having a strategy on how to solve for the needs, and how to design, deploy, and manage based on the needs.

• David: For BRAVIA displays, Sony has gone with a new-generation, open source, Android-based OS. For those newer to the ongoing issues in digital signage, how is the OS issue part of the SoC/media player “debate”?

Rich: Using familiar and open software platforms, such as an Android-based OS, has helped facilitate the direct use of applications on a display to reduce system costs, increase reliability and support richer content. Eliminating a signage player saves time and creates a simplified installation process, as well. On the user side, Android OS can help ensure a smooth experience and allows CMS developers access to create more robust software that keeps development costs down. There are also inherent security features and peace of mind built into the Android platform to help mitigate security risks.

• David: Sony has made news in the past year + with announcements of more and more companies being added to the Sony Alliance Partners ecosystem. How do you see that kind of capability to get together partner companies, on more common platforms, as key to providing a more flexible AV ecosystem, where hardware “talks to” hardware more seamlessly, and software talks to software with less programming needed?

 Rich: Yes, over the past few years, we’ve greatly enhanced our alliance portfolio. By partnering with CMS and digital signage leaders, Sony is committed to aligning with the industry’s preferred tools, vendors, and solutions for increased usability that promotes our collective strengths and provides great value to our users. In doing so, we’re creating a more flexible, interoperable and robust ecosystem that better serves our market, enhances the abilities of our professional BRAVIA portfolio and creates workflow and productivity advantages. These partnerships can also enable more creative freedom, collaboration, centralization, and compatibility.

• We’ve strategically expanded our Alliance Partners ecosystem to ultimately provide the best user experience to the end user, while simplifying deployment. We are creating connected experiences (hint: this is our theme for Infocomm2024) with a more flexible and seamless AV landscape. This is done by curating industry-leading software, technologies, and hardware devices. So, whether you’re setting up a meeting room or transforming an entire university, we’ve most likely got an end-to-end solution that already works well together.

• David: Sony has a new “Device Management Platform”. Why is that important and does it tie into any of the other issues above?

Rich: In the digital signage space, Mobile Device Management (MDM) allows for the installation of software or firmware updates, initialization of reboots, application updates, and provisioning of a system in seconds with the use of a no-touch QR code.  Using MDM also provides valuable data, insights, and reporting, whether you approach it from an integrated digital signage platform or a separate investment in an MDM that allows flexibility in providers. Another important aspect of MDM is the use of the cloud.  Having cloud-based digital signage platforms and MDM empowers users to do more, faster and smarter, from virtually anywhere.

Sony’s Device Management Platform (DMP) Sony’s DMP is a great digital signage solution that is available on our BZ series of our Pro BRAVIA displays. With the DMP, you can intuitively manage, maintain, and measure multiple displays securely and remotely. You can easily run updates, change your settings, and change content easily from one central location, in near real time. From issue resolution to monitoring analytics, users can oversee their network of displays without touching a device. Automated device provisioning removes complexity, ensures consistency, and saves time and resources. In fact, we’re showcasing our DMP and some of our partners will be in our booth W2201. We’re always innovating to solve our customer’s pain points, whether that’s through hard technology or software.

Additionally, the platform allows for proactive and remote maintenance of signage, such as programming updates, scheduling behaviors and responding to alerts via desktop, tablet or smartphone, through Sony’s web-based DMP management console.  Operators receive device and network alerts, with location-based insights and can roll out network-wide updates or adjust device settings—programmatically or ad hoc.

• David: What would you consider a key take-away for folks that come to the Coffee & Controversy: What Drives Your Display session at InfoComm? About the SoC issue, other related display or CMS or other issues prominent in the industry today.

Rich: The discussions shouldn’t be SoC vs External player. It is defining objectives and laying out a plan which in the end will drive the technology and the use cases. Forcing an SoC versus external player decision before truly defining your objectives will prevent a successful deployment. By instead defining your objectives and use cases you are able to then define your software path needs and applications which in turn will define the complete needs for the deployment. Having the right tool for the job isn’t the right tool unless you have defined the job.

David and Misty Chalk of BrightSign:

• David: SoC has gotten better over the years, sure. But so have media players from BrightSign. What it is the most exciting development you see in the recent evolution of high end media players (including from BrightSign)?

Misty: We’ve seen amazing evolutions in hardware, enabling up to 8K resolutions, motion graphics with responsive engagement, advanced HTML capabilities, and more. The most exciting developments are on the integration side – what you can plug into and out of our media players, and the breadth of possibilities this opens for digital signage. We are very well positioned to integrate with technology partners that bring AI, ML, IoT, and sensory technology to the digital signage experience. The sensory capabilities enabled with our players is changing the customer experience and digital signage landscape, bringing dynamism and personalization through motion, touch, and more.

The best part – as will be evident at our InfoComm booth – is we’re giving customers the freedom to access the power of BrightSign in ways that suit their needs. New solutions, new integrations, and new partnerships give flexibility and a freedom of choice. And a big differentiator and a large part of our continued growth in the space is BrightSignOS – the only purpose-built digital signage operating system in market.

 • David: The black and white question of “external media player vs. SoC”, is probably not the most interesting issue today in digital signage. Should folks maybe reframe that “question” of “one or the other” and think differently, when they think of should they be thinking of BrightSign, and Sony and Samsung and LG, or any display provider?

Misty: I would agree. It’s all about flexibility and choice. It is rarely — if ever — about one versus the other, and on large roll outs it’s common to have a variety of use cases within the same environment. In these scenarios, it’s critical to consider how these options are managed and maintained. And, if you can do that identically, with BrightSign, for example, customers get the benefits of choice and simplicity.

Most importantly, which goes to the point about reframing the question, is that it’s less about individual hardware and more focused on full end-to-end digital signage solutions that connect entire ecosystems. We perform well on the strength of both our media players and our SoC offerings, and the breadth of software and services that keep customers up to date, and simplify the management of multiple devices.

• David: We think of media players and SoC, most often, when we’re talking about digital signage. But isn’t the “media player” category getting interesting in other pro AV applications, as more kinds of screens in more applications need content feeds for all sorts of activities?

Misty: What makes the media player category so interesting is what can be integrated, such as sensory technologies. There are many ways that sensory technologies can bring experiences to life. For example, if a signage application has a temperature gauge, when the weather becomes hot, it can display content such as ice cream and other cold goods that are more appealing to buyers in the moment. Sensory technologies integrated with digital media players stand out in what they can trigger, sense, and animate. It presents new opportunities to deepen dynamic experiences.

This is where the industry is going – and it’s why it’s poised to capture more attention over the next three to five years. Dynamic experiences, interactive environments, and immersive engagements can mix the physical and digital world in a way that’s almost indistinguishable to the individual at the center of it. That sounds like a solution that any industry can use to its advantage, whether transforming classrooms into state-of-the-art hospitals to simulate real-life training or modernizing sporting areas by reimagining customer touchpoints with interactive engagement opportunities.

• David: Any other point you’d like to convey to the folks that come to the “Coffee & Controversy: What Drives Your Display” session at InfoComm?

Misty: I want to continue to change the conversation to focus beyond implementation to include the full lifecycle of a solution. As we’ve discussed, the conversations around media players and SoC solutions are heavily skewed towards implementation. That’s one part of the equation, but it’s a mistake to ignore the bigger picture. It’s not one versus the other. It’s looking at the entire solution and platform, and everything that comes after implementation that can be costly or inefficient in the long run. The conversation must shift to talk about control, maintenance, support, reliability, and more. These considerations must factor into buying decisions because, unfortunately, too often they are realized when it’s too late.

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