Gordon Feller, Meeting Of The Minds (Smart Cities)

July 18, 2018
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I can't say I've been all the enthralled by what I've seen so far with smart cities initiatives that involve digital out of home media companies. For the most part, they're just digital posters with some wifi and maybe some sensors tossed in so the things can be called "smart."

Those things exist to run ads, and the "smart" thing is largely a veneer to get the ad concession, and for city governments to get free stuff that purports to make their burg seem somehow innovative.

BUT ... there's a lot of potential there, and when you talk to someone who spends all his time thinking about and working on smart city initiatives, you learn there are some good things happening not only with broader smart initiatives, but also with efforts that DO involve media companies.

I wrote a mildly snarky piece recently about this stuff, and Gordon Feller sent me a note suggesting I have a look at a report he did for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. He's a longtime Silicon Valley tech exec and founder of Meeting Of The Minds, a non-profit public-private partnership that's all about creating smarter cities.

We had a frank talk about what's happened to date, where it really works, and what he sees as the vast potential for smart cities that work with media companies and digital signage technologies.

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Art Stavenka, Kino-Mo

July 4, 2018
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I've been to a few trade shows now where the fast-spinning LED light sticks - marketed as Hypervsn - attract big crowds and have a lot of people whipping out their phone cameras. The technology definitely creates buzz, so I wanted to know more about the technology and the company behind it.

 

It uses the phenomena of persistence of vision to create motion visuals that have dimension to them - a sort of hologram.

When these things were one-off blades - like wall fans - I saw no real commercial opportunity. But Kino-mo, the London, UK company behind Hypervsn, has now figured out a way to sync multiple units and create very large motion displays. That changes things.

I spoke with company co-founder Art Stavenka at InfoComm, and asked him some fairly pointed questions about reliability of devices that are furiously spinning all day long. Digital signage ops people don't like moving parts, and this has a lot of them.

It's a relatively short chat, by the normal standards of this podcast, but worth a listen if you've seen this tech and want to learn more.

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Greg Topel, Tanvas

June 27, 2018
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Imagine if you could feel what you see on a touchscreen. If, for example, you could unzip a zipper by drawing your finger down a screen and experiencing that familiar sensation.

That's the premise behind a Chicago startup called Tanvas, that is using haptics technology to enable users of interactive screens to have genuine touch added to their experiences when using touch technology.

As Greg Topel, the company's CEO puts it, smartphones have conditioned billions of people to experience information with flat, lifeless pieces of glass. His Tanvas team argues that's all wrong, and that the sense of touch is critical to real world interactions.

We all order stuff online and wish we could somehow get a sense of things, like the different thread counts of cotton sheets. Using a simple touch overlay on screens, equipped with tech from Tanvas, that would be possible.

I sat down with Topel at InfoComm in Las Vegas, and he explained the roots of the company, commercial plans and most importantly, how this stuff works.

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Brett Jones, Lightform

June 20, 2018
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One of the most interesting companies I saw recently at InfoComm in Las Vegas was Lightform, a San Francisco start-up that is making the once dark art of projection mapping available to just about everyone.

It wasn't that long ago that projection mapping was all about very ambitious, very complicated, very expensive projects that only a handful of companies had the chops to pull off.

Now we have a company with a $700 device and related software that makes it possible for just about anyone to do small-scale projection mapping on things like a merchandising display or a wedding cake.

Lightform calls this Projected Augmented Reality - the idea that AR is not something that needs to be seen though the lens of a smartphone.

I spoke with CEO and co-founder Brett Jones, and we did our best to describe to listeners what we were seeing as we walked around the booth.

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Mark Stross, ANC

April 24, 2018
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ANC got its start about 20 years ago as a rotational signage company that primarily serviced the pro sports business, and through the years, ANC has grown into a big tech services provider that's been putting in the visual systems for many arenas and stadiums.

If you see a big center-hung set of LED boards over an NBA or Division 1 basketball court, or a giant replay board at a ballpark, there's a decent chance ANC is behind it.

More recently the company has found itself getting into digital out of home media, creating the same kinds of visual spectacle you might see in live sports, but instead in public areas or mass transportation hubs. A lot more than a conventional AV systems integrator, ANC is doing a ton of R&D and using product that will do things like light up the whole 360-degree view of an area with sync'd content. You might think, "Well that's not all that new," but ANC's CTO Mark Stross explains why what he's cooked up is different.

I spoke with Stross recently about the idea of taking the spectacle and energy of live events into this new kind of arena of public squares and rail stations, and how he's constantly trying to push possibilities.

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Jenn Vail, E Ink

April 11, 2018
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E-paper has been around for 20-plus years and it has gradually been improving to a point that it makes operating, commercial and visual sense for digital signage applications.

There are companies like Slovenia's Visionect that do a really nice job of making small black and white displays look beautiful for applications that vary from meeting room signs and hotel reception greeters to solar-powered transit schedule signs. That company, and many others, use E Ink technology.

E Ink spun out of MIT's famed Media Lab more than 20 years ago and is the best known and most successful company in the e-paper field. If you have a Kindle e-reader, you are using Link technology.

The company is now based in Taiwan but a lot of R&D still comes out of the Boston area. They had a big stand recently at DSE - including new four-color large format displays. They looked really nice, though if you didn't know how the tech works you'd swear these screens were having 10-second seizures as they changed content. The refresh rate is still slow and something less than elegant.

I spoke with Jenn Vail, Director of Business & Marketing Strategy, about the past, present and future of e-paper.

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Reece Kurtenbach, Daktronics

April 3, 2018
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Reece Kurtenbach now runs Daktronics, the company started by his father and a university colleague 50 years ago - and has grown up seeing it evolve from electronic voting systems from state politicians to the maker behind some of the biggest and most iconic LED display boards on the planet.

That's Daktronics' tech, for example, creating a huge halo over the amazing new Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta.

We've been trying to make a podcast chat work by Skype - and we had more issues with Skype and Skype for Business getting along - so the opportunity came up last week to have a chat right on the show floor at DSE in Las Vegas.

Kurtenbach talks about the roots of the company, and how the abrupt onslaught of competition in his business is nothing new. We also get into the thinking behind the acquisition of Adflow, a digital signage software shop just up the road from me but way far away from South Dakota, where Daktronics is based.

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Bruce van Zyl, Sellr/Bev TV

March 21, 2018
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Booze is a complicated thing to buy. All the product categories look pretty much the same, so people revert to price, top of mind awareness or labels and names that catch their eye.

One of the ways to improve that situation is by putting digital right into the aisles of liquor stores, where people poke around trying to figure out what they'll like and should buy. A company up in the north Atlanta tech suburbs, called Sellr, is rolling out BevTV displays in stores, with the aim of helping consumers make more informed choices about buying wine, beer and liquor - and hopefully influence buying decisions.

The company got its start in retail hardware, but has transitioned fully into software and content - building up a massive 165,000 item library of curated information about booze that's tied to universal price codes. They make that interactive content available on commercial-grade tablets they install, on their nickel, at eye-level in participating stores.

I talk in this podcast with company president Bruce van Zyl about BevTV's experiences to date, and its plans to have 1,000 units running by this summer.

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Jason Barak, D3

January 31, 2018
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16:9 just released a Special Report called The Total Guide To Fine Pitch LED. It’s a big, 70 page look at the display technology, coming at it from all kinds of angles.

The free report (you can download it here) came together, in part, because of sponsors - like the major one, custom LED design firm D3. They not only contributed to the report, but two of their main guys went along with me when I went to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China in November to get a deep look into the companies and technologies.

They go over there a lot, and knew who I should talk to and what I should see. To their everlasting credit, the tour was in no way about them. George Pappas and Jason Barak just wanted to ensure I got a good look, and that I made the most of my limited time over there. Shenzhen is vast and bewildering, so that help was incredibly valuable. Stupid me thought I could get 4 or 5 meetings in per day, but I had no idea about Shenzhen traffic or the sheer geographic scale of the place.

Jason runs the business development, client-facing side of D3, and in the wake of the report coming out, I wanted to catch back up with him to talk about what’s going on in fine pitch LED, which is a LOT.

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Jin Fan, ClearLED

December 6, 2017
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One of my big takeaways from the trade show circuit earlier this year was my conclusion that transparent LED was starting to look really good.

If you're not with me on what that is, think LED displays that are a bit reminiscent of window blinds, with the LED lights on the louvers. What you end up with, when it's done well, are super-bright, full-color and full-motion LED displays that you can still kinda sorta mostly see through.

The indoor versions go into windows - so you don't have a solid mass like a normal LED or LCD display blocking the view. When they're used outside, they can turn a normal building into a multimedia facade - but again still allowing natural light into the building.

The company that's arguably doing the most in this emerging area is ClearLED, which is based in beautiful Vancouver, B.C. That owes a little bit to CEO and co-founder Jin Fan realizing the company that started in Shenzhen, needed a North American footprint for sales and support. But also because Vancouver is where she's from.

I chatted with Fan recently about the company and technology.

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Antoine Doublet, Deepsky

November 29, 2017
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The last interview and meeting I took on my recent trip to Asia, getting a crash course on the technology and manufacturers doing fine pitch LED, was with Deepsky.

The LED display startup is based in Hong Kong, but has deep French roots, as you’ll be able to pick up easily in the accent of Antoine Doublet. He’s the Head of Global Sales for the company, but an engineer to the core. I rarely talk to someone in a sales function who is as technically sound as Antoine.

Having visited a range of manufacturing plants in the suburbs of Shenzhen and Taipei, it was fairly weird to find myself in an office tower high-rise in the Western New Territories part of the city,  overlooking the harbor. That building serves not only as head office and R&D lab, but down in the basement areas as the core manufacturing facility.

Deepsky is not a typical LED company, nor is the product they are bringing to market. The fine pitch LED displays we all know are made of tiny LED lights surface mounted one by one on circuit boards. Deepsky is using emerging technology, called Chip On Board, that does things very differently, and from Doublet’s perspective, can change the whole LED sign market.

I just had my audio recorder going to spare me from taking notes, but I realized as we chatted that our talk had the makings of a podcast episode.

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Florian Kall, LightnTec

August 22, 2017
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LED billboards and signs are now commonplace, and not just in Times Square and other landmark locations in big cities.

But putting in LED has its challenges. Cost is the obvious one, but there are other issues, like the engineering needed to ensure a structure can handle all the weight involved with typical LED boards.

They’re a lot thinner and lighter than they used to be, but with all the metalwork, plastic and wiring, they still result in big, heavy walls.

So I was intrigued by a self-funded start-up out Germany, called LightnTec, that has developed technology that does LED on thin, lightweight plastic rolls of film. It’s light enough to just put up like a vinyl banner on some scaffolding or hang off a wall - without worrying about the weight.

LG showed a transparent LED film at a couple of trade shows this year, so if you were around, you might have a rough idea of what’s up here. But that was low-rez and one color  of light - white. What LightnTec is developing is the full RGB range of millions of colors, and it does full motion video.

I spoke recently with CEO Florian Kall about this Made In Germany technology.

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Curt Thornton, Provision

August 15, 2017
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Hologram is up there with artificial intelligence as one of the most abused terms in tech these days - with all kinds of stuff being labelled as holograms when they’re nothing more than reflections or projections. 

Provision has been marketing what it calls 3D holographic media for a bunch of years, and while purists might argue it’s not fully a hologram, it’s a lot closer to holograms than most stuff. Walk into a drug store chain and you might see a kiosk with a motion media piece floating in front of a coupon kiosk, visually and physically detached from any display device.

It’s eye candy. It’s wow factor. But it’s also media that’s making a difference, because they draw eyeballs and pull people over to machines that might otherwise get ignored. They put these things in and coupon redemption rates in the stores went from 1 to 2 percent to 17 percent - across multiple brands, and in the case of the drug store chain, across 500 stores.

I talk to Provision founder and CEO Curt Thornton about his company, the technology and where things are going, including big national rollouts and life-sized 3D holograms.

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Meric Adriansen, D3

June 27, 2017
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I find, more and more, that some of the more successful companies in this business are a bit like stealth submarines. They run silent and deep, and you don’t hear much about them or see them around.

That would apply pretty nicely to D3, a New York company that is in the LED display business. D3 started outside in New York’s Times Square - with some iconic LED boards. Now the company is indoors, with narrow pixel pitch displays in some premium retailers. I’d say who, but that will get the company in trouble with certain publicity-wary clients. Suffice to say, you’d reply, “Oh really …”

D3 is also doing corporate, including a job it CAN talk about - the amazing 13K lobby of the new Netflix offices in Los Angeles.

I saw D3 recently at InfoComm, and asked why the company just had a teeny booth and no LED displays, when it was surrounded by less successful companies with massive displays.

The management team did that because LEDs are already becoming a commodity, D3 Co-Founder and Managing Partner Meric Adriansen told me. The real secret is in the video processing and software and, of course, the idea and the content. It’s also, of course, waaaay cheaper to pull off, and easier for set-up and teardown.

Adriansen and I went to the back of a noisy InfoComm hall to chat, and you can hopefully hear us over the guys who decided to tear down some nearby scaffolding right after we started.

Sigh.

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Special Episode: Chats From ISE 2017’s Exhibit Halls

February 7, 2017
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This is a special edition of 16:9 Podcasts - interviews recorded in and around the RAI Amsterdam at Integrated Systems Europe this week in Amsterdam.

I am doing a bunch of sit-down podcast recordings this week in and around the giant pro AV show, to be streamed in the coming weeks, but I also wanted to grab some quick interviews about things I see in my travels around the many exhibit halls here.

On this episode, you will hear from a series of companies, large and small, including Sony, Sharp, NodeArk and Condeco. These interviews were recorded today and I am posting this as I wait for the press room happy hour to start.

Oh, it has! Yay. 

I'm heading back home this weekend, and next week's podcast will be the normal format.

Also, look for a new 16:9 Projects Podcast, with Michael Tutton, coming this Friday.

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Rich Ventura, NEC Display Solutions

January 4, 2017
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Rich Ventura now has the launch codes and the secret handshake instructions to act as the 2017 chairman of the Digital Signage Federation. He’s been active in the organization for several years, and has big plans for the year ahead.

He’ll go into that in the latter half of this podcast episode, but we spend the first part of it talking about his role as Vice President of Business Development and Solutions at NEC Display Solutions.

We talk about how NEC operates and what makes it different, newish technologies like Raspberry Pi, the overall state of the flat panel industry, the emergence of direct view LED and a pile of other topics.

We also talk about what the signage industry, and particularly the display side of it, looks like in 2017 and beyond.

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Daniel Siden, Lightvert

December 7, 2016
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This week’s podcast is a little tough, because I’m going to ask listeners to get their brains around something they really need to see. And something that’s just emerging from R&D, so you can’t see it.

But, it’s more than worth listening to Daniel Siden talk about Lightvert, a UK-based start-up that has technology that creates huge digital billboards that only exist in your vision. The company has come up with a way to use something called persistence of vision to safely print an image directly on the retina of viewers. But only momentarily.

Think of it this way. When you see something bright at night, and then look away, that bright image is still there in your eyes, for a heartbeat or two. So what if that was a logo?

It uses narrow reflector strips mounted on the sides or corners of buildings, and a thin, very high-powered laser beam to make it happen.

Siden was in London, and we chatted by Skype. Have a listen, as this guy does a way better job of explaining the hows and the whys of Lightvert.

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Iles Guran, Armodilo

November 30, 2016
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Software and display companies get a lot of attention in the digital signage industry, but projects don’t happen without the gear that holds screens in place and keeps them protected.

I travelled up to St. Jacob’s, Ontario - just outside the Canadian tech hotbed of Kitchener-Waterloo - to speak with Iles Guran, one of the two co-founders of Armodilo, which has built up a thriving little business making enclosures and stands for what you might call one to one digital signage.

Guran is a graphic and industrial designer first, and you can see it in the curves, material choices, colours and functionality of Armodilo’s products. They’re anything but tablets just protected by a bit of metal or plastic. Armed with not much more than an idea and some reference samples, they booked a big exhibitor trade show when they were starting up, and hoped they’d see some interest. They ended up being swarmed at their little booth, and left the show with one of the event’s big awards.

The company has seen steady growth in the last four years, and had to relocate a year ago to a new facility. They’re already wondering if it’s going to be big enough.

Guran talks about how tablets are being used for interactive digital signage in a bunch of interesting ways, and also goes into both the opportunities and challenges.

We chatted in the company boardroom, which was concrete, metal walls and lots of echo ...

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Phil Lenger, Show And Tell

November 23, 2016
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Phil Lenger of Show and Tell is a busy guy, but he slowed down long enough to sit recently for a chat in his company’s New York offices, near Penn Station.

He even offered a sip or two from one of the many, many bottles of seriously good bourbon he has stocked in the corner of Show and Tell’s meeting space.

But I behaved myself, and so did he. That allowed us to have a reasonably coherent talk about the background of his company, which definitely leads with creative but does a bunch more.

Show and Tell has for years and years developed and pushed content to many of the giant LED displays around Times Square. His team also manages some of them. But the company is in to a lot more than just spectacular ad displays, including retail.

One of the projects you may have seen in your travels is the Fashion Show Mall up by the Palazzo and Wynn in Las Vegas.  We had a good, frank talk about a lot of things, including the current state of much of what’s called digital signage creative.

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Michael Schneider, ESI Design

November 16, 2016
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I had a chance recently to tour the New York studio and offices for ESI Design, which has done some amazing experiential digital work in public spaces, as well as museums and in retail settings.

Michael Schneider is a senior experience designer and creative technologist at the company, and we spent time talking about the design process behind creating big, interesting and memorable digital canvases.

Among many, many projects through the years, ESI Design was the firm behind the giant fence board-like experience at the Wells Fargo office tower in Denver, and a sensor-driven ambient media wall in the lobby of a building in Washington, D.C.

To Schneider, and to the rest of the team at ESI, it’s not about the tech, it’s about the story.

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