Digital signage is a fast evolving industry enriched by many emerging digital media technologies. From the traditional proof-of-concept pilots using personal computers (PCs and Macs), new advances are making it far cheaper and reliable to deploy highly capable media appliances built using the latest multimedia chips.

An example of a media appliance is the latest Apple TV device which sells for $99 (greatly subsidized by revenue from iTunes) and plays vivid 720p HD content. The device is not designed to be easily customized for digital signage applications. So while it offers great technology for a very low cost, the Apple TV is probably not a viable option if you are looking to deploy the device in a digital signage network.

There are a number of media appliances coming on the scene that ship with proprietary digital signage software. Such devices feature similar hardware found in consumer media players such as the Apple TV, but in a ruggedized metal or aluminum enclosure for better heat dissipation. The key concern with these devices is that you are locked into the software provided by the box maker. If you find the software insufficient, you will have to throw out the hardware when you try to switch the software.

One new category of media appliances appears to address the above concerns. Using the same or higher-end core engine as the Apple TV, wrapped up in industrial enclosure, these devices further feature an “Open API” based on open standards such as the XML-based W3C SMIL format to provide a free, non-proprietary programming interface to access the underlying hardware. Companies including IAdea and Mitsubishi deliver a number of open API media appliances available at a very attractive price point.

Many digital signage software companies have announced support for open API media appliances, including Scala, signagelive, digitalsignage.NET (from Dynamax), etc., providing you a great selection of software options to run your media appliance-based network.

Open API further gives you the opportunity to implement custom software on-top of media appliances. For the market of digital signage, this possibility provides the maximum room for you to add value to your project.

Digital signage media appliance with open API combines power and economy in a very flexible package. It is arguably the best hardware option if you are a system integrator, IT manager, or venue owner looking to leverage the latest and best technology available for your project.