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June 6, 2022

8K Media Players Debuting for Digital Signage & Retail

As recent news from ISE and Infocomm suggests, media players supporting playback of 8K content are starting to appear in the ProAV space with 8K digital signage. For example, Brightsign LLC has announced two new media players that can support 8K operation, which will be available in Q4 of this year. Usually, it would publish information closer to the release; the firm told us in an interview with Ann Holland, VP of Marketing, and Aaron Rollins, VP of Product Management. However, the firm wanted to ensure that it had full support from its many CMS partners at shipping time and also that it had a chance to discuss the products with partners and clients at Infocomm.

The new media player was developed after some demand from clients, both in digital signage and retail stores. 8K TV sets are being sold through various retail outlets, and retailers need a straightforward and reliable media player to support demonstrations. There was a similar demand when the market moved from FullHD to 4K/UltraHD, and Brightsign stepped in then. 

The firm has included an HDMI 2.1 output on both models and additional HDMI 2.0 ports to ensure that the players are suitable for this application. There is one on the XC2055 and three on the XC4055. The systems can both output 10-bit HDR to ensure impactful demonstrations.

Brightsign sees its products as ‘purposeful appliances’ and has not detailed a lot of the speeds and feeds for the new boxes. Rollins told us that he aims to ensure that it is clear what the systems can do and deliver on that, rather than selling on numbers. The firm’s APIs mean that there is no need for users or content developers to have to ‘dig down to the hardware level’. 

In the case of these units, the critical capability is the ability to support 8K video or graphic/user interface content or multiple 4K feeds. The  XC4055 can support either a single 8K display (via HDMI 2.1) or content spread over four UltraHD/4K displays in a 2 x 2 or 4 x 1 video wall. The XC2055 supports one 8K display or two 4K displays. 

Figure 1 There are two new models, one with four outputs and one with two.

Because the devices are intended to do just one job well, they are designed to work as well as possible when things go wrong. If, for example, one of the displays fails for some reason, there can be real problems with more general-purpose devices, such as PC-based systems, Brightsign said. As Rollins pointed out, if you have many menus – one on each screen – if you lose one display, you still want clear menus on the remaining displays. 

The systems can show a stream of 8K video, which would typically be compressed with H.265 HEVC or VP9. The content can arrive on the player through ‘sneakernet’ on a memory card or via the cloud using the ethernet connection. Different workflows are available depending on the CMS being used. One aspect that needs checking with a move to 8K is file size and, where content is made available remotely, potential costs for data transmission of the larger files.

LEDs Increasing

A recent development in signage is the increase in LED-based video walls. Often these are of non-standard sizes and shapes, but they typically take a crop from a standard resolution canvas, such as 4K or 8K. The cropped image is then mapped to the display. Brightsign can work with LED controllers that would typically sit between the media player and the LEDs.  Having said that, there has been an increase in the number of ‘monolithic’ LED walls that are on the market, and these are typically happy with an HDMI input directly from this kind of player.

We asked about pricing, and Holland said that the firm had surveyed the market and that they would be ‘competitive’. The firm sees an advantage compared to other devices in the market at the moment as the few 8K players that there are (we spotted one from iBase*) tend to have four UltraHD/4K outputs rather than being able to support a single connection via HDMI 2.1.

Brightsign also has a business supplying modules designed to be fitted inside displays with several brands as clients. Brightsign will likely provide the 8K module to those partners if there is sufficient demand.

* iBase has a new signage player, the SI-654-N, that can also support 8K but uses four HDMI 2.0 ports, so it is designed to run four UltraHD/4K displays or an 8K monitor with four inputs. It is based on an 11th Gen Intel Core / Celeron U-series (TGL-U Platform) processor with a TDP<=15W. It supports Windows 10 IoT Enterprise RS5 64-bit or Linux Ubuntu 64-bit. Features include dual Ethernet ports and HDMI-CEC control. It is also said to have hardware EDID emulation that prevents distorted or black screen due to display and cable connection issues.

Figure 2 The iBase 8K player supports four HDMI 4K outputs

Other developments in 8K Signage

Other developments are also happening to support 8K in digital signage. Sharp/NEC Display Solutions showed a 120” 8K display at the recent ISE event in Barcelona*. The display was reported to be running an 8K version of the Intel Smart Display Module (SDM) that the chip vendor has been developing to build on the older OPS format’s wide adoption and market success. The idea of OPS and SDM is that the specification allows display vendors to put connection and housing facilities into a ‘dumb’ display without a significant cost penalty, which then allows a processing system to become integral to the display. That can convert a dumb display to an integrated Smart Display.

Figure 3 An example of a smaller SDM module – there are two standard sizes.

The aim is not to add too much cost or take up too much space (there is a larger and a smaller version – the smaller SDM module is shown above). Making the intelligence upgradable means much more flexibility for customers and brands. OPS and SDM modules have been made with a wide range of different processors, operating systems, and interface options. Although developed and supported by Intel, along with NEC, Sharp, and others, an Intel processor is not mandatory. Developers of specialized modules can offer them to be used in a range of display brands.

OPS even made it to a desktop monitor at one point. NEC had a unit that might have had a small market in broadcast, so needing an SDI interface. However, that is an expensive component to put in as standard. Using an OPS slot kept the cost increase down for those that didn’t need SDI while allowing the firm to sell the monitor into the market with an optional board fitted.

* We’re planning a more detailed report on the 120” display in a couple of weeks and are also hoping and expecting to get more news on SDM soon.

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