By Chris Chinnock, Insight Media.
Let’s face it – digital signage is growing quickly and we have just begun to enter the growth phase of this industry. This is going to be a big business that will likely raise all boats. There are lots of opportunities and technologies to consider, but in this article, let’s look at the prospects for glasses-free (autostereoscopic 3D or AS3D) digital signage.
The big promise of AS3D is that can capture the attention and engage viewers much better than 2D digital signage. Many signage applications are driven by advertising, so finding ways to capture the eyeballs of passersby and engage them is the main objective of advertising. If 3D does this better than 2D, that should be music to the ears of advertising executives.
So is it catching people’s attention? Yes and no. There are some promising results and compelling statistics, but there are also issues with the image quality, content creation and system integration.
Nevertheless, the bottom line is that an experienced team can overcome these issues and deliver results that will be music to advertisers’ ears. The challenge is both technical and educational. Let’s explore these a little more.
The AS3D Digital Signage Solution
The components of an AS3D digital signage solution are not much different from a 2D solution. You need content, a content management system (CMS), a distribution channel, and displays. Additional devices to capture viewer information or interact with the viewers may also be a part of the solution.
The challenge for an AS3D solution today is that it requires all of the above pieces to support AS3D – something most mainstream solutions don’t do. As a result, AS3D providers must offer solutions that solve all of these issues. You can’t just buy an AS3D display, ask for some content and connect it to your existing network and expect it be a stellar performer. Much more thought and planning is required.
Multiview content creation
Consider content creation. Almost all ads and signage content today is 2D. There is some stereoscopic content that has been developed for theatres and entertainment which might be adapted for an AS3D display, but it is best to assume that you will need to create the content from scratch.
Perhaps the easiest approach is computer-generated (CG) content. This can be great for showing that bottle of beer floating in front of you, cold and sweaty – just urging you to drop everything and head to the nearest bar. CG works well for many applications and can be created in many of the existing software applications that are used today. However, there is another step – this content needs to be rendered as a multiview image. That is, the software has to create 5, 8, 9 or more slightly independent views of that bottle of beer. This is what is needed to drive the multiview AS3D display. Plug-ins and other software is now available from multiple vendors to do this, so many CG artists can create multiview AS3D content now.
Creating multiview 3D video is trickier. Think about starting with a 2D video frame. What you want to create are 5-8 additional views of this scene from slightly different perspectives. It is like moving your head sideways to see the scene – you need to create views at 5-8 head positions. But to do this, you hide objects and reveal objects, which requires intervention to create those pixels at just the right depth to have a good 3D effect. A trained AS3D content creator is needed.
Understanding the AS3D Display
But just because software programs and technicians have to tools to create AS3D content doesn’t mean they know how to create good AS3D content that won’t make you ill. To do this, creators need to understand the basic of human stereo vision and the 3D human factor issues in content creation that can lead to ill effects. In addition, they need to understand the AS3D display system this content will be played on. AS3D content created for an 8-view display will not play well on a 9-view display. Content created for a 42-inch 8-view display may need optimisation if played on a 65-inch 8-view display – even from the same company.
Placement of the AS3D display is very critical. AS3D displays have defined ‘sweet spot’ viewing zones. These zones have an optimum distance from the screen and fan out horizontally. Therefore, it is vital that you place your AS3D display so people can easily find or are led to the sweet spots to see a good 3D image. This takes coordination between the AS3D provider, system integrator and content creator.
Finally, one must consider how to distribute and manage the AS3D content. Often, content is distributed over the Internet. Depending on the type of AS3D content you are using and the image quality desired, this can have a big impact on the bandwidth needed and the CMS choice to support it. Customers will need to rely on providers to make the best choices here.
Today, the AS3D market is small. Insight Media has done a forecast report on this segment and we find that advancements in displays, CMS, content creation and other aspects are coming quite rapidly, allowing the market to grow considerably in the next few years (to about a US$45M AS3D market in 2015).
Several case studies have also been done to show the effectiveness of AS3D advertising. Perhaps the most interesting statistic was from one study that looked at the dwell time of viewers. Normal 2D signage dwell time (according to J.C. Deacaux) is 0.3 seconds, but with the AS3D display, that increased to 10 seconds. While more studies are clearly needed to confirm and refine these results, initial results are clearly enticing.
The digital signage industry is huge. There are multiple market segments and multiple venues within any segment. Compounding the issues, any one venue can have a mix of signage needs and applications. Some will be 2D and some could be AS3D.
Current AS3D providers are focused on providing solutions into a wide variety of these venues, but some of the more popular are casinos, retail kiosks, special event promos, shopping malls, transport centres, museums and sports venues.
Perhaps the biggest challenge the AS3D signage industry faces is one of education. As you can see, the solutions are still complex with trade-offs that require trained suppliers to solve to create a good 3D experience. Insight Media University, working with the AS3D industry, has now created a series of four basic courses and a certification program to help advance this education need.
So, is it time to get into the glass-free signage water? If you are a very conservative, late adaptor system integrators or have clients that are similar, then you should probably wait on AS3D. If you have staff that is eager to learn new technology, wants to create compelling leading edge solutions – and you have customers that are early adopter types, then yes, it is time to start looking at glasses-free digital signage.
Chris Chinnock is President of Insight Media. Insight Media is a market research and consulting firm focused on emerging display technologies and market opportunities. The company has a strong focus on 3D offering reports, news, live events, consulting and training (via Insight Media University). Insight Media is also the co-founder of the nearly 50-member 3D @ Home Consortium.