I made my escape from New York last night just before Snowpocalypse 2 debuted in the Big Apple. I was in the city for a whirlwind of meetings in and around the NRF Big Show at the Javits Center, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year. I can still remember when the show took place in the New York Hilton, which had its advantages, including taxi service, fewer indoor pigeons and a lobby bar. But growth pushed the show to the banks of the Hudson years ago, and there it will stay. I had hoped to spend more time wandering the floor, getting beyond the smattering of digital signage stuff and into my retail technology roots, but that didn’t happen.  Here are some observations from on and off the floor:

HP: “Has Partners”? HP had, by my count, four digital signage companies represented in its booth. I spent some time talking with good guy Matt Schmitt, CEO of Reflect, while Jeff Porter of Scala stood four feet away managing his space. They were separated by a giant color plotter that was spewing out a map of the US on what looked like expensive paper stock. YCD was demonstrating its RAMP product in an outpost on one corner of the booth. I believe there were BroadSign displays somewhere in there as well. Their pre-show release also mentioned C-nario, Omnivex and Four Winds. I am sure there is a really simple process for HP salespeople to go through to determine which partner to include in any given deal.  Somehow I didn’t feel left out, although I must applaud HP for clearly seeing digital signage as a strategic application. An aisle away, the Dell booth featured Nanonation. I have to believe that the sales process is simpler there. The contrast in approaches was interesting.

Pavilion Oblivion: The Digital & Outdoor Signage Pavilion was certainly well marked on the exhibit hall floor.  There was a giant banner overhead announcing DSA’s sponsorship for the space. Inside, Omnivex had a nice sized booth and Stratacache had an in-line 20-foot space. DT Research, Christie and Planar had 10-foot spaces, and that was pretty much it for software and hardware crowd. In the actions speak louder than words department, missing in action were any vendor members of the DSA Board of Directors. I think the take away here is that digital signage vendors see more value in being inside the booth of a giant partner company than in having their own space in a digital signage ghetto. POS companies don’t cluster on the floor, and neither to merchandising companies or hardware companies. The partner piggybacking is simply a precursor to digital signage vendors staking out their own space, and that day is coming.

Flexible and Cool: I had a chance to meet up with Kyle Porter (@KyleGPort) and Will Amos of NanoLumens. Really bright young guys who know their stuff.  I had heard about NanoLumens, but wanted the details. Their customizable, lightweight, flexible LED displays are constructed from wallet-sized bricks without visible seams or bezels. They are managed by a controller that can take input from any standard media player. These are large format displays, clearly for high traffic venues that can provide proper sight lines to optimize LED viewing. Kyle’s iPad was loaded with install pictures and videos, and it is clear that in the proper venue, these displays could be a game changer. Given their low weight and flexibility, it is not a stretch to see those exhibit hall signs that dangle from the ceiling becoming NanoLumens displays with killer video. They’ll be at DSE next month, check them out.

Intel Throws Down: The Intel booth was huge and very busy. They are just brilliant at demonstrating what you can do with their primary product, a product that very few people actually ever see. Lots of retail of the future conceptual stuff. I did not get a chance to experience the whole thing, but did sample the interactive displays that incorporated Cognovision into the app. The app was all about meal ideas, and offered to detect and extract your shopping list and suggest menus and even offer you samples. At the end the embedded cameras took your picture and presented you as a football bobblehead, complete with eye black. The app was just a conglomeration of capability that was stitched together to show off for the show, but it was executed fairly well. The booth person sort of glossed over the Cognovision stats that I really wanted to see, but it seems clear that Intel is going to push it, almost certainly at the embedded level. I think it was a wise purchase by Intel.

Lights, Camera, Action!: Another technology utilizing cameras and intelligent software was on display across the aisle in the Verizon booth.  BVI Networks‘ RetailNext product utilizes video, video analytics and transaction data to provide valuable insights to retailers. It is typically driven by high mounted cameras that can scan entire sections of a store. It is not a stretch to see it analyzing foot traffic and dwell time for digital signs and measuring effectiveness of the content. Worth watching.

The Buzz: The general temperature of the retail folks was pretty warm, in contrast to the frigid avenues of New York. Vendors reported pretty brisk activity, certainly up from last year. Retailers who would talk seemed funded for various projects. It may bode well for a busy year. The 101st Big Show next year promises to build on the momentum.