The Days Of The Player Being The Clever Bit Are Long Gone

Adrian J Cotterill, Editor-in-Chief

“The days of the player being the clever bit are long gone” so says Silver Curve’s Bryan Crotaz and a member of the OpenSplash Steering Group.

Silver Curve’s Bryan Crotaz

OpenSplash has continued to have tremendous interest from network owners, software vendors, universities and perhaps most of all from screen manufacturers.

DGScreen were of course, a few weeks ago, one of the first digital signage providers to integrate the OpenSplash software media player into their CMS system and they to have had lots of very positive response.

See also ‘ONELAN First To OpenSplash‘.

Our feeling along with signagelive’s Jason Cremins and Bryan Crotaz (signagelive and Bryan are both represented on the steering group) and many others is that OpenSplash will help the industry enormously – please use this post for discussion (see the comments below). It’s always better if folks do NOT comment anonymously but if that’s what people want to do then we’d prefer an anonymous comment than none at all.

We feel that there has definitely been a lack of innovation in the digital signage software space for some time (and the industry does not need 300 companies re-writing and re-working the same old player) and we believe that this open source initiative will really help spur the industry forward.

Look out for more news, well ahead of #ScreenMediaExpo in London in May.


21 Responses to “The Days Of The Player Being The Clever Bit Are Long Gone”

  1. Jim Stevenson Says:

    Releasing OpenSplash would be letting us down. Here’s the rule: stick to what you do. You’re a blogger, you’re not Steve Jobs. Don’t be like the screen manufacturers who all poked the software companies in the eye.

  2. Adrian J Cotterill, Editor-in-Chief Says:

    Jim. OpenSplash lets no-one down. It’s in the best interests of the industry. It’s not ‘ours’ either – we are merely helping to facilitate it. OpenSplash has a more than able and credible steering group made up of industry veterans…

    Howard Smith, Dynamax
    Jorge Garcia de Bustos, DailyDOOH
    Richard Markiewicz, Ayuda Media Systems
    David Street, signagelive
    Bryan Crotaz, Silver Curve
    Francois Hechme, Starmount Systems

    The initiative has already had tremendous interest from network owners, software vendors and from screen manufacturers.

  3. Eric Says:

    How can interested parties be notified of its release, or is there an approximate date? Is there a “beta” version available now?

  4. Bryan Crotaz Says:

    Adrian will let everyone know with an announcement on here when the release happens. We’re all ready behind the scenes to do so – we just need the lawyers to agree (and you know what lawyers are like!).

    OpenSplash is not a danger to the industry. We’ve had initiatives before which undermined our ability to turn a profit, but this is not one of them. And I speak as someone who used to run a signage software manufacturer.

    There are 400 (or so) companies who claim to have a signage software package. All of them claim to be “next generation” and “the best you can buy”. 20-30 of them are any good. 5-10 are very good. But apart from the top few players like Scala, Inspired, CoolSign and the like, the vast majority just play video, images and text in multizone windows on screen. This is the level OpenSplash competes at. It doesn’t harm the prospects of the more capable player manufacturers, where the client needs customised scheduling rules, scripting, complex rendering etc.

    And OpenSplash does not have a CMS. Out of the box it will only talk to an Ayuda server. The value for resellers and manufacturers comes from using it to build solutions. This is how Silver Curve is making money with it – by building bespoke add-ons to make it talk to various content sources – be that a database, a CMS etc.

    You have a choice when you build an new extension, thanks to the LGPL license. You can give it away as open source and use it as advertising, or as a free way to connect to your subscription service (e.g. this is how Signage Live might use it), or you can give away an extension and charge a connection fee to your CMS (equivalent to selling a player, but now it’s an industry standard player that everyone trusts), or you can keep the source private and sell the extension as a commercial product.

    Imagine if the OpenSplash player was built into every screen that was sold. You could add in your CMS connector of choice (e.g. Scala, Broadsign, OneLan – whoever had chosen to write one) and turn the screen on. If your needs were simple then you’d have a solution out of the gate.

    In the past a customer would choose a player because it was cool, or small, or the right colour, or played some esoteric file format. Then they would have to use the CMS that came with it because you couldn’t connect anything else to it. Or they’d choose a CMS that matched their business process, and then find that the player wasn’t rack mountable, or got too hot, or whatever.

    OpenSplash is the beginning of a new way of the industry working together. Scala have already started on that route – you can connect an iIdea or a Spinetix player to a Scala CMS through their bridge. In a year or two’s time I’d like to see customers choosing their CMS and their player separately, and the industry having agreed on standards such as Media RSS for the integration of those systems. Then we will see CMSes designed for particular verticals, and players designed to be robust, and customers will have a real choice. Today they have 400 suppliers who all do the same thing (read their marketing and tell me if you can see a difference in the first two pages, thinking as someone who is new to the industry).

    So. Open Splash is a Good Thing. Capital G, capital T.
    It will put some flames under the low end of the market which will trigger innovation
    It provides a starting point for new entrants with cool ideas
    It works across lots of platforms (Linux, Windows, iOS, Android)
    It’s not too hard to develop for (I recently modified it to use the Windows 7 video engine if available in just under a week)

    If you need help or advice, Silver Curve can train you or you can outsource to us. We are working with manufacturers who want a new player, with networks who want to upgrade software on existing hardware and on non-traditional signage projects such as scoreboards where we’re using OpenSplash just as a robust platform to put the graphics on.

    Bryan Crotaz
    Silver Curve
    London

  5. Hardnut Says:

    Poking in the eye, more like kicking in the nuts. Has Bryan or his colleagues properly all the DS software applications? I sincerely doubt it. So 360 of the software companies are not worth talking to? Please send me some of your magic mushrooms Bryan, I need a trip like yours!

  6. Hardnut Says:

    Oh Adrian, best of luck with the opthmalic surgery next month. Bring Bryan with you and drop him off at the neurosurgical unit for a lobotomy!

  7. Bryan Crotaz Says:

    Of course some of those 360 companies are worth talking to, but how does a customer choose? At the low end of the functionality curve there’s no distinguishing features *in the player*. There are plenty of differences in the CMS and OpenSplash doesn’t compete here – it doesn’t have a CMS.

    At the low end, customers need full screen back to back video (ad networks), full screen flash or html (real estate agent), simple split screen layouts (corporates). They don’t need streaming video, scripting, interleaved playlists etc which you get with higher end products (and some low end products).

    The majority of customers I deal with have complex CMS needs (multi-user, approval workflows etc) and very simple playout needs. They find the vendor space for signage players very confusing – every vendor claims all the same bullet points, and they have no idea how to choose between them.

    OpenSplash can become a standard – if each CMS vendor integrates with it then the customer still has choice and still has an upgrade path to that vendor’s bespoke player if in the future they need greater playout functionality. But screens can ship with Open Splash and the user can choose their favourite CMS (based on business process or whether it’s self-hosted or cloud) to plugin into them. Vastly simplified installation and system design without the need for expensive consultants like me.

    So, Hardnut, imagine that instead of MagicNet for example – you could take a Samsung screen out of the box and connect your own CMS (I assume you’re a vendor?) directly to it over the LAN. Would that excite you?

  8. DoohGuy Says:

    LGPL with a couple of “provisos” is not LGPL. You take the LGPL either as-is or you don’t. When you add “provisos”, you are creating a bastardized version of the LGPL. Please do not make the mistake so many people have already. The world does NOT need another open source license type.

  9. Hardnut Says:

    Apologies for the delay in replying to you Bryan as I was bronzing myself in the sun on vacation. I remain totally non-plussed by your concept. Magic Net aka Tragic Net would never figure in my consideration as a platform for starters. A Customer will choose on the basis of vendors demo’s, evaluations, references, performance, brand awareness and impartial consulting. There are multiple platforms to choose from. Your earlier comment of August 3rd demonstrated a limited understanding of the DS platforms available worldwide. Agreed Scala are probably the largest player in terms of licences sold. However Inspired, Coolsign and the likes as you say are not leading in any sense of the word. I won’t even guess at the total number of real end to end DS platforms available that meet all market needs for all verticals must be in excess of 65 , maybe even more. I agree with Jim Stevenson’s comments on August 3rd expressed in this blog. Being of a positive nature and wordly I wish you well and won’t engage in sniping at your initative as it serves no purpose.

    2 questions remain, is it true you are hiring Mike Fabian to head worldwide sales, it’s rumoured you know? And why did AKA.tv suddenly vanish. Good luck to you all!

  10. Jason Cremins Says:

    It is interesting reading through the above thread and in parallel reading the article by Dave Haynes over on sixteen-nine regarding the Raspberry PI http://www.sixteen-nine.net/?p=7414. The link between both OpenSplash and devices such as the $25 Raspberry PI is that both are leading the industry towards a point in time when there will be minimal value in the end-point playing media.

    The true commercial value will be in providing the software, content and services required to install and manage networks of Open Standard devices, regardless of their origin.

    IAdea with their SMIL initiative have led the way and provided the impetus for digital signage software vendors to embrace playback technology that are non-proprietary. OpenSplash should not be feared, it should be embraced along with any other hardware or software that drives our industry towards mass adoption.

    If digital signage software companies take the approach of ‘It is plays back media, let’s support it’, then customers will have true choice and flexibility, where playback technology is interchangeable with any digital signage CMS platform.

  11. Bryan Crotaz Says:

    I agree, Jason. The days of the player being the clever bit are long gone, and I speak as someone who developed a player for 10+ years. The CMS is where it’s at, and OpenSplash is a tool to be used by a CMS provider, not something they should be worried about. I’ve been watching raspberry pi for a while now and it’s looking very impressive as a signage platform. The demo of it running Quake bodes well for h/w accelerated Flash playback.

    Hardnut – Magic Net may not figure in your recommendation list, and it wouldn’t in mine either – but remember that 99.9% of potential customers for signage have never done this before – they have no idea beyond the marketing puff why one product is better or worse than another. I am constantly surprised at how many Magic Net installations I see in the real world. And at how many virus checker popups, blue screens, etc.

    Much as we would like it to be another way, the real volume in the signage industry doesn’t come through those of us who know what we are doing and have been doing it for years – it comes from IT departments, marketing departments, small creative agencies (who are still deploying DVD players) and other people who don’t know what we know. To them cost is everything – they don’t see the problems with their decisions until much further down the line when the cost of all the truck rolls involved in swapping out the technology is too great to consider it. So a free player that runs on cheap hardware, which can be driven by any CMS on the market, is a very useful thing. If they put the wrong (cheap) CMS in on day 1, and they then find its limitations, they can afford to replace it. They can’t necessarily do that with their players.

    The CMS of the future should (in my opinion):
    - support a mixed estate of multiple playout devices
    - fit a vertical market really neatly (using their terminology for example)
    - have the required scheduling complexity *for that vertical market*
    - have the required playout reporting *for that vertical market*
    - er…
    - that’s it…

    {Maintenance reporting and playout measurement reporting (e.g. EPOS, Quividi et al) should be separate tools to my mind. Reports should be available in XML so that turnkey systems can be built from multiple systems from different manufacturers.}

    Targetting your next CMS at a vertical enables you to compete much more effectively in that market against generic products. Having a tool such as OpenSplash/IAdea etc means you don’t have to develop a player – that’s a solved problem – get on and build the clever bit – the user interface.

    Finally – Adrian, why do I have a loch ness monster silhouette in my captcha box? Never seen that before!

  12. Hardnut Says:

    I need to digest your latest piece Bryan, it will take time but I shall respond. As for the loch ness monster silhouette in your captcha box, you were warned before about the effects of magic mushrooms………… Back to work now.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    PS – I do not say that Scala, Inspired, OneLan, CoolSign are high end players because they sell lots of licenses or have big marketing departments. These are the players that do more than play loops of content with scheduling – they have scripting, real time control, video wall capabilities etc that make them suitable for more complex technical requirements.

    Note that the need for these features is actually quite rare. The vast majority of rollouts need complex scheduling control capability at the CMS and quite simple playout capability at the player. By simple I mean simple playlists or metadata and time filtering rules attached to content, be that video or Flash. Almost all players on the market can do this. Huge lists of supported video codecs are much less important now that transcoding at the CMS is trivial and quick (e.g. Badaboomit).

  14. Jeremy Gavin Says:

    I agree that for most uses the player should simply be a utility. We’ve always held the view that in MOST cases the player should be as “dumb” as possible with all of the intelligence worked out at the server end. The player gets its instructions from the server. Certainly the player needs to be able to follow through with complext commands from the server – so it shouldn’t be without some features, but what I think the responses from Bryan and Jason point out is that we’ll be better off with a separation between the software and the player.

    We have customers who had installed large networks with proprietary player hardware that only works with the packaged software. Their too far in to change now, but their software/hardware combo has not innovated and do not have the basic features most have now. This is an example where a company trying to offer both the best hardware and software can’t do both amazingly well.

    Great CMS software companies should be able to build on the efforts of Brightsign, Spinetix and IAdea – as a few already have. Standards are needed and we’ve been pushing for Media RSS as a standard since day 1 in our company and worked with Signagelive to successfully implement a standard whereas our syndicated content can plug-n-play with any Signagelive player – wether that is a PC or IAdea SMIL based player.

    I’ll be interested in seeing how OpenSplash plays out – but I’m all for the notion of creating some standards for players as the end-points as it will benefit those implementing signage.

  15. DoohGuy Says:

    Great discussion, but I don’t entirely agree. Dumb players + smart servers = scalability problem in the datacenter. Smart players and dumb servers scale much better. When a network grows in size, spare CPU cycles also grow. Why not use them as a distributed computing grid instead of centralizing everything in the datacenter?

    Good luck with OpenSplash though, I agree that it might help clear out the low end of the market. However, you guys do know that this is nothing new right? An open source alternative has existed for years and this one actually *includes* the CMS.

    http://xibo.org.uk/

  16. Bryan Crotaz Says:

    I don’t believe there is a CPU scalability problem in the data centre. There would be if a CMS was a CPU intensive process, but it’s not. The O2 network in the UK is approaching 3000 screens – it’s run from a single server (with backups).

    The usual scalability issue is the network pipe at the CMS. The easiest way to sort this out is to host your CMS server on the same network as the clients. If the clients are outside the LAN, then host the server in an internet connected data centre. For example, in the UK Claranet provide ADSL and hosted servers where the server is on the same gigabit network as the ADSL endpoints, so can send to many of them simultaneously.

    The one innovation of the past few years that has massively improved scalability is player-side metadata and time based filtering of simple playlists (i.e. some content in each playlist is only valid for play at certain times, rather than the old way of an entire playlist being valid at certain times). This is a feature of almost all players available today as far as I am aware.

  17. Adrian J Cotterill, Editor-in-Chief Says:

    WIth regard Xibo. We reached out to them when we first started looking at what open source platform to adopt and help drive. The two guys behind it have day jobs, couldn’t take calls during normal work hours and frankly didn’t seem interested in talking to us. There is no community behind Xibo nor any impetus or innovation. Shame

  18. DoohGuy Says:

    > There is no community behind Xibo nor any impetus or innovation.

    Please Adrian, as a respected member of this community, I expected more from you than this FUD. So hopefully you won’t censor this comment as I feel the need to publically debunk your claims.

    1- Xibo devs have day jobs. Great. So do the Ayuda Devs.

    2- Trying to “call” an open-source developer is ridiculous. Join their mailing list to contact them.

    3- No community? Please. Let’s compare for a second:

    OpenSplash.net : Nothing but a WordPress placeholder page and blog posts.

    Xibo: Documentation: http://wiki.xibo.org.uk/wiki/Manual:TOC
    Active support forums: https://answers.launchpad.net/xibo
    5 developers: https://launchpad.net/~xibo-developers
    Commercial support and hosting: http://directory.xibo.org.uk/

    4- Not interested in talking to you? Are you surprised? They don’t want their project hijacked into being a marketing tool for Ayuda.

    5- Their player is even coded in C#, Ayuda’s favorite development language. They should have been able to contribute useful code.

    6- Comes with the CMS – Opensplash does not.

    Therefore, I am literally at a loss to explain why the world really needed yet another open-source digital signage solution, especially one that doesn’t even work on its own and has been consistently late on the release date.

    Where is the release Adrian?

  19. Adrian J Cotterill, Editor-in-Chief Says:

    Thanks DoohGuy. As I said we reached out to Xibo when researching the possibilities of Open Source. The Xibo guys straight out of university and with their day jobs were pretty hard to track down and converse with and they seemed to have little familiarity with the digital signage or DOOH industry. Xibo looks like and feels like a university project./ Ayuda on the other hand have spent over USD 1M on developing their player which they are donating to the industry. Once up on LaunchPad it is in the steering group’s hands NOT Ayuda’s

  20. Clinton Gallagher @virtualCableTV Says:

    D.) All of the above

    That’s the way I perceive this playing itself out but for one missing link Jason Cremin and others with several years of experience running their companies do not understand or do not want to talk about. I believe the latter as you don’t build a successful company like signagelive by not being able to read the tea leaves.

    That is digital signage and connected TV are converging and that in a nutshell will become the so-called future of digital signage as well as the success factor for connected TV which is on the precipice of B2C break-out for deployments on commercial premises. Most digital signage per se is on its way to existing and new TV sets.

    While I respect Rex Chen and the IAdea product line I have believed such product lines are temporary. Especially since so much is said about their use of SMIL but there is absolutely no IDE tooling to write and test SMIL. Hence SMIL once destroyed by Microsoft et al. has become a non-issue when the real dialog is about HTML5, asynchronous services and JavaScript libraries which provide more of what SMIL can do for us.

    Any arguments about media player devices and CMS and such are superfluous when considering the big picture and what to me has become glaringly obvious: the mobile phones, phablets and tablets are replacing most media player device functions on the client with a myriad of protocols that software developers have available to them to control what media player functions occur on a server or in the cloud.

    That’s how I see this playing out and as always remain interested in any other insights or cogent arguments…

  21. Craig Scott Says:

    In any segment there is never the concept of Free whether you choose Open Source or Commercial software. With Open Source its free now and you pay latter, with Commercial Software you pay now and don’t pay as much latter. At the end of the day the costs are the same, in fact Open Source could cost more if you pick the wrong path…

    Digital Signage is becoming a mission critical, 24/7 applications with large commercial risks attached if it fails. It has moved from an assembly of components to a Systems approach, that has to be managed from cradle to grave.

    The average business be it large or small is not in the Digital Signage SI business, they are in the business of selling or advertising what they do. Digital SIgnage Technology selection and integration is not their core business and making it part of their core is taking their valuable resources of their core.

    OpenSource is vital but the devil is in the detail, implementation, revisions, innovation still needs to take place and someone has to pay with their time. Software Development is a life long process and its not free…

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