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August 8, 2022

Intel Has a Solution for Clever 8K Signage

Digital 8k signage is a tough market for display makers. Buyers like integrated solutions that put all the necessary electronics and intelligence into one box to make integration and support more accessible. On the other hand, a wide range of performance levels is needed, from simply SD or HD resolution video playback to interactive intelligent 8K solutions supporting multiple video and network feeds.

To get the costs of a display down to a level that makes sets accessible to buyers, you need to be able to take advantage of economies of scale. If you build in all the power you might require – so that everybody has what they need – you make sets too expensive. If you leave it out, you can’t handle all the eventualities and can’t address the whole market.

Either way, you don’t get the scale you need to keep costs down.

In the early days, set makers tried a range of solutions – one, I remember, just left a guaranteed flat square area with some bolt holes on the back of the displays near the video input to make it easy to attach media players or small PCs. However, what was needed was a standardized modular solution. That would allow set makers to drive down the cost and include it in all but the most price-sensitive entry-level solutions. It would also let module developers be able to support all the brands in the market and win volume that way.

A Solution is Developed

The solution was OPS (the Open Pluggable Specification), developed by Intel, NEC, Microsoft, and the Taiwan Digital Signage Special Interest Group, which was announced in 2010. The aim was to allow support for a wide range of different processing systems, and the system allowed faulty modules to be upgraded and quickly and easily swapped out. Although Intel drove the standard, the signals were very standardized, so modules were developed that also used ARM processors and a range of other operating systems in addition to Microsoft Windows and Intel chips. OPS Modules were even designed that allowed alternative and specialist video inputs such as SDI.

The specification caught on with display and module makers, and soon displays with the OPS slot were dominant in the market. However, the market has continued to develop, and processor systems have got smaller and less power hungry while displays have become slimmer, so an alternative update was needed. Intel came up with the Intel® Smart Display Module (Intel® SDM) in two sizes (SDM-S – 60mm x 100mm and SDM-L – 175mm x 100mm). The PCIe connector was used as an interface between Intel® SDM and the display to ensure the longevity of the standard. High bandwidth allowed 8K signage, which is why we are interested.

This is the concept of the IO between the Intel SDM and the Peripheral Interface Board (PIB), which handles the connections in a relatively simple system.
This typical configuration adds intelligence to a display and is a simplified representation of Armor Mine. Source: Intel®

From Theory to Practical in Barcelona

To highlight the support for 8K signage, Intel worked with Sharp NEC Display Solutions to make a demo of 8K at the ISE event in Barcelona in May 2022. This was an early ‘proof of concept’, so Sharp NEC doesn’t yet have a commercially available 8K display with an Intel SDM slot. The demo was done with an external module connected to the display using an HDMI 2.1 cable. However, the technology was the same as what would be used if there was an Intel® SDM slot in the display, so it was a sound proof of concept. There is a video of the demonstration in Barcelona here.

This is one of Sharp NEC Display Solutions’ SDM modules, which uses an Intel® Core i5 processor
The Sharp NEC 120″ 8K display shown at ISE in Barcelona. You can just see an SDM module by the bottom left corner—image Sharp NEC Display Solutions.

Intel has developed a reference design to allow the display of 8K. Armor Mine is a codename of Intel Reference Design for Intel® SDM using an 11th Gen Intel Core™ U series processor. The Architecture allows output of either DisplayPort 1.4 or HDMI 2.1 via the Intel® SDM connector at up to 8K with 60fps with SDR content.

We asked Intel how the 8K data got from the source to the display. They explained it as we have shown in this process chart. It doesn’t look straightforward, but it’s the optimum way to move things around to stay within the capabilities of the different interfaces. It’s helpful to reduce the data rate using VESA’s Display Stream Compression (DSC) but to do this, you need to be in RGB format rather than in YUV video format.

The Video Pipeline for 8K video display

The key result, though, is that the 8K content can be output along with any computer-generated content to the display, and, as we said, the user or integrator does not need to be aware of any of this!

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