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Cisco launches device for digital signage

Jan 16, 20073 mins
Cisco SystemsComputersLinux

Digital Media Player streams IP multimedia content to displays, digital billboards

Cisco today launched its Digital Media Player device for pushing real-time, multimedia content to large computerized displays.

The device, demonstrated at Cisco’s analyst conference last month, is a small Linux-based gadget aimed at delivering IP-based video, digital signage content or other information to large LCD and plasma displays in retail stores, public spaces, such as airports, or other outlets. Cisco says the device, combined with a back-end content-management system, eliminates the need to deploy PCs in order to deliver high-quality digital content, as well as the security risks, space issues and power consumption involved in this practice.

But at $1,500 per device, some question whether companies, governments or other organizations will be interested in large-scale deployments of the Digital Media Player.

The DMP, about the size of a cable modem, plugs into an Ethernet network and streams video content to digital billboards or displays. Examples could include flight arrival/departure screens in airports, flat-panel monitors in retail stores showing advertisements or promotions, or information displayed in public spaces, such as government offices. The DMP would sit under or behind a flat-panel plasma display or LCD and connects via standard audio/visual inputs. An Ethernet jack, or WLAN link, ties the device back to the network for centralized control. The DMP also includes a hard disk for caching digital content.

Controlling the content is Cisco’s Digital Media Manager appliance software, introduced last September, which is used to select, schedule and control the delivery of content to individual DMP-attached displays, or logical groups of displays. (Both the Digital Media Manager and DMP are technology acquired when Cisco bought partner company Tivella in December).

The DMP device lets customers deliver high-definition MPEG video over IP, as well as static digital images and other data. The DMP can split up areas of a screen, showing video, images or real-time data — such as stock tickers or other information feeds — in various areas on the screen. Cisco is also partnering with NEC as its preferred vendor for high-definition LCD and plasma displays.

The DMP also works with Cisco’s existing Application and Content Networking System (ACNS) products, used to deliver digital content across a WAN and cache content locally in branch or remote locations. (ACNS gear includes Wide-Area Application Engine appliances and Content Engine Network Modules for Integrated Services Routers). In some instances, Cisco says, the new DMP could take the place of a Content Engine Network Module in a Cisco router, which caches locally content pulled from a WAN and distributes it over a LAN.

While Cisco touts the DMP over the use of PCs to hook displays with IP-based content, the device itself costs as much the latest high-end Windows desktops from Dell or HP. However, Cisco says users will see superior uptime from the DMP over a PC — the devices can run for several years without failure, Cisco claims. The embedded operating system also minimizes the risk of viruses and allows for better centralized control.

Users considering a DMP deployment should also examine whether their IP network infrastructure can handle the increased use.

“Video will impact the network,” says Thomas Wyatt, director and general manager of Cisco’s digital media management business unit. He says routers and switches that support IP Multicast and , will allow for better video performance in most cases.

The DMP and Digital Media Manager software are available.