Creating a Digital Signage Network (41. Digital Signage and Directed Audio)

“Get Smart”… with Directed Audio !

Humans rely upon their five senses (hearing, seeing, touch, taste and smell) to interpret the world around them.  Message comprehension from one human being to another can be enhanced by any combination of the five senses being manipulated in a positive or negative manner.  For instance, when someone has the flu their sense of what tastes good may be impacted by the fact that their nose is stuffy and their sense of smell is temporarily not allowing their brain to receive the true taste of what they are eating.  Their brain does not receive or comprehend the correct message and instead tells them that their favorite foods no longer taste good to them.  Yet once their illness has passed, their true sense of smell returns and their brain receives and comprehends the correct message, food begins to taste better to them.  It can be similar when we discuss digital signage display content that is accompanied by audio content when your audience is viewing and hearing your signage messages.  Occasional additions of audio that accompanies your displayed content can add to the viewing experience or attract viewers attention to your screens.

Finding the best balance of the appropriate amount of audio to include in your loop of information or playlist is a challenge.  More audio is not always better.  Some videos simply need audio, some can get away without audio if the video presents a strong visual message or has some key text items to support the message.

Two options you will have are using the on-board audio features of your display monitors or using a directed audio technology feature.  Think of directed audio as the ability to shower a small area of your specific venue with your audio content in such a way that adjacent areas do not hear the audio at all.  We will look at both solutions.

There are a number of factors to consider when using the on-board audio and directed audio features with a digital sign:

If you have an Emergency Alert feature built into your digital signage network, does it play an audible alert tone for those that are visually impaired?  We created a unique audio tone and brief voice-over that announces an emergency event once per minute for the first five minutes initially in emergency mode, then once every five minutes thereafter until the network is switched back to normal operating mode.  We initially ran into some complaints that our digital signage located in hallways situate to dormitory rooms that played that tone and announcement every minute during an emergency event in the middle of the night overstayed its welcome very quickly.  Obviously, we then discussed how often we should let the audio play and arrived at the current play-time frequency, figuring that during the early period of an emergency event the message should play more often and then after people were made aware we could taper it back until the all-clear follow-up message could be issued.

Are there reasons audio should not be played at a particular location?  We designed our digital signage deployments in places such as our various campus libraries, study areas and healthcare facilities so that audio content was muted on videos and only played the Emergency Alert tone and message.  We have discussed the possibility of placing the Emergency Alert tone and message on the Right Channel of audio and all other standard audio on the Left Channel so that we can mute audio, if need be, on the Left Channel at certain venues but still maintain audio functionality for the Emergency Alert on the Right Channel at all locations.  This solution affects the content creation process when using audio for regular content with the audio within the video panned to the proper channel.

What is the appropriate volume level that can be tolerated at each deployment?  When reception desks, secretaries areas, classrooms, study areas and dormitory rooms are located near digital signage with accompanying audio people who spend a lot of time in those areas can become cranky about what they perceive as “incessant noise all day long” from the periodic playing of the audio segments.  Our content management software allows us to schedule video/audio segments at certain specific times of the day.  We usually play those items during breakfast, lunch and dinner timeframes to keep everyone happy.  You also can get away with playing more audio segments in a student union or commons area, sports facilities and outdoor deployments.  We also do not play audio segments after 9:00 pm in the evening in dormitory venues.  One thing to consider is that every deployment site has differing acoustical characteristics that need to be considered.  You will need to adjust the volume settings on each digital sign and then lock those settings down using the PIN Code of the monitor so that no unauthorized person can change the volume or change the channel of the monitor!  We use two of our campus cable television channels to deliver our content to various buildings in standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) and if you do not lock down your monitors with a PIN Code I will guarantee some ambitious college kid will switch the channels on you to watch ball games or soap operas.  It happens, if you let it happen.  If it does happen you will lose your Emergency Alert feature on that digital sign… and that is NEVER a good thing.

At West Virginia University our digital signage team uses the term “directed audio” to describe the concept of punching discreet amounts of sound from our digital signage into a small, limited area adjacent to a digital sign deployment.  The technology used to do this is truly amazing and it will surprise you and any listener within earshot of your display.  They will wonder WHERE the sound is coming from!  We are using products from two directed audio vendors to accomplish this goal.

The first unit is from Panphonics  (Sound Shower) and we use it in our library settings and at our College of Creative Arts lobby areas currently.  We have used the bar design (approximately 12 inches wide, 48 inches long and an inch thick) and the 24 inch by 24 inch ceiling tile design.  Both work wonderfully and will amaze anyone standing inside the tight cone of sound.  What is amazing is that if you step off-axis of this cone of sound by just one step the sound disappears!  It allows us to isolate the areas that we do not want sound to penetrate into.  At the library we have it deployed in the lobby near the elevators so that it does not disturb the public in the quiet areas.  At the College of Creative Arts it is located in the large lobby near the theater ticket office so that people waiting in line for tickets can enjoy samples of up-coming events and it lessens the perceived waiting time in line.  The audio from this technology is very subtle and not loud but it is certainly perceived by everyone and automatically adjusts to the ambient noise level of the room.  You want to test it out in each deployment for best placement based upon the areas reflective surfaces, angle of attack and carpeting.  You will need to run standard RCA audio cables and extender cables (possibly) from your monitor to the audio panel and have a standard power outlet in the vicinity of the small power unit for the panel.  The other thin and long panel can be placed just about anywhere to achieve covering the area you want to cover.  The 2’ X 2’ ceiling panel will look like any other ceiling panel.  You have some audio intensity range to work with when adjusting the perceived volume of the unit.

The second unit is from Parametric Sound  which we just purchased to test.  The initial test found it to work in the same manner as the Panphonics units but in a different configuration of 12.5 inches by 6.5 inches by 1 inch.  Both of these products have worked well and we are excited to install more of them to existing and future deployments.  Each site or venue for deployment will have its own unique requirements for what size and type of directed sound to install and we feel both companies offer us quality options and solutions.  Installation is not overly dramatic and stressful.  We have found the cost of directed audio to be quite reasonable for venues that are best suited by this technology.  If done correctly, these solutions provide an aesthetically pleasing appearance that everyone can be happy with and can add a unique and special experience for your audiences.

[ Here is an excellent and meaty article on “The Science (and a little Art) of Loudspeaker Placement” from HigherEd Tech Decisions website.  It will assist any facility in deployment of audio technologies!


About swgraham2

Mountain Mists is an opportunity to develop some thought processes individually as I journey through this wonderful world; as someone who values highly effective management techniques and the art of leading teams; and through my association with West Virginia University as a professional technologist and network manager specializing in digital signage.
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