As the price for processing power in embedded devices has dropped, the market has adapted to take advantage of a new tier of performance, features, and novel capabilities that have become both affordable and available. With the advent of low-cost embedded chipsets like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon series, capable of cinema-quality 4K graphics, 802.11ac MU-MIMO and Bluetooth 5.0 wireless connectivity, and built-in support for cloud connectivity, there has been a marked increase in the features and capabilities included in devices like digital signage displays and wireless presentation devices that have not previously provided advanced cloud connectivity.
As the price of 4K UHD displays has also come down, their prevalence in signage and office presentation environments has dramatically increased, however the technology serving video to these devices has been slow to keep up, and has generally been much more expensive than the existing 1080p displays. We are now at a turning point where low-cost chipsets capable of supporting multiple 4K displays and video inputs at up to 60fps are readily available. Together with a design focused around power efficiency and a minimal form factor, OEMs can radically change their offerings in the digital signage and wireless presentation markets.
Now that it is possible to support simultaneous 4K input and output, it is easier and cheaper than ever before to deploy high resolution content. But how will that content be managed? With an expensive wired network? And how can you keep data usage within the bandwidth limits of a crowded network space, like those prevalent in offices or other public spaces? Modern video encoding and compression algorithms and wireless connectivity that is robust despite crowded radio frequencies and tens or hundreds of simultaneous connections are providing solutions.
HEVC, also known as H.265, is now the most commonly used video compression algorithm for 4K content. It is capable of reducing streaming video bandwidth sufficiently to make it feasible to live stream 4K video content, which allows for up-to-the minute content updating in digital signage, and continuous high resolution display sharing in conferencing and presentation devices. Modern media-focused chipsets include hardware accelerated encoding capabilities for H.265, as well as other algorithms like H.264, VP8, and VP9 for flexibility and compatibility with the widest variety of video sources. Hardware accelerated encoding guarantees smooth stutter-free video with minimal heat generation, allowing for compact, fanless, and thermally resilient designs.
SMART Wireless SOMs, like the 6701 SOM based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845, provide the flexibility required to bring cutting edge solutions to market with minimal up-front investment, while still allowing maximum customization and differentiation.
Since the technology is evolving quickly, there is a need for a way to reduce the up-front investment of time and resources required to bring a new product to market. Vendors are now providing extremely compact Systems on Modules (SOMs), which package the chipset with memory, power management, and wireless connectivity on a board that can be mated with a customized carrier. The carrier board can be a simple and flexible design matching any required form factor, and allowing for the inclusion of optional interfaces and peripherals. As new chipsets are released, rather than going through an entire redesign process, OEMs can migrate to a newer SOM, skipping the complex design around the compute board. As newer compression algorithms and updated wireless technologies like WiFi 6 and beyond become available, time to market will be a defining contributing factor to who dominates the market.
Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets are enabling new platform designs using low power high resolution video streaming capabilities. This has previously only been possible using expensive and power hungry solutions. Now that markets are changing we can expect to see continued development in this space. Going forward, features like machine learning, AI processing, and mesh networking will become commonplace even in digital signage and wireless presentation devices, powering our experiences and interactions, and devices like those based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipsets will be at the center of that innovation.