Digital Signage Screens – How to drive your monitors

posted in: Blog

There are many ways to drive digital signage displays be it from a fully functional Windows or Linux PC, a Blu-ray/DVD player or more commonly a dedicated media player. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses so we thought we’d use this post to cover a few of these options and why you might choose one over the other.

When it comes to driving a high resolution monitor the obvious choice is to plug it into a computer. We are all familiar with PC’s and getting an image onto your public display screen is but a moments work. However there are many good reasons not to use a PC for your digital signage player. The first and most obvious is the cost. Tying up a Windows PC or a Mac for digital signage is an expensive option. Forgoing the cost of the OS by using one of the many available Linux distributions can save some cash. However you should not skimp on purchasing some good quality and reliable hardware if you intend to run your digital signage for extended periods of time. There are many options available for Small Form Factor PC’s which are ideally suited and small enough to sit behind a screen. Solutions like Intel’s NUC (Next Unit Computing) systems are low power, quiet and can happily drive a Full HD video screen or two.

When going down the path of using a PC you also need to consider the type of content that you want to display on your digital signage screen. Yes it is easy to use the screen as a computer desktop monitor but you are going to want to present a seamless presentation to your visitors and customers. Having the desktop showing, or worse an OS error message, is an immediate turn-off for visitors. At best they will tut and walk off, at worst they’ll take a photograph of your faux pas and post it all over the internet. So you will need some presentation software to handle your content. Having a system boot and play a video in a loop is easy enough to achieve but once you require scheduling, mixed media content and even live data feeds from Twitter, RSS News feeds or interactive controls from your guests, then you will need some dedicated software. There are many applications available ranging in price from free to expensive. Whichever you choose, remember that any PC will require maintenance especially if connected to a network or the internet. This can be a good or a bad thing. If you have the skills or an in-house IT department to maintain and upgrade the system all is good. If you struggle with these types of things then maybe you should consider a more plug’n’play solution.

Many people are familiar with optical disc formats like DVD and Blu-ray. As the mainstay of home entertainment for the last 20 years they are simple to operate and fool-proof in terms of the content they play. However these days people are moving away from physical media and turning more to streaming digital content. With the ease of remote updates and control over content that digital media files offer the use of optical media is rarely considered these days. Instead the industry has turned to the use of media players and streaming devices.

Media Players are dedicated appliances built to output content to a monitor. They range in price and complexity from a basic standalone box that will power up and playback video or image files stored on a USB stick, to fully networked devices capable of processing inputs and interactions from data feeds or operators (visitors/customers). As with most things you get what you pay for. At the lower end although on paper a media player may appear to do everything that is required for your presentation, in practice this is not always the case. The most common niggle we have found with cheaper units is their inability to playback a seamless video loop. Many of the entry level units insert a blank or black screen in-between looping a video file. When a digital signage screen with moving images goes blank it immediately stands out as having a problem. In this instance the only thing to do is create a long video sequence that contains your original material repeated as many times as possible. This reduces your blank screen to appearing once in every ‘x’ number of loops rather than every time. However spend a bit more on your media player and you can enjoy seamless looping videos along with a host of other features.

Having tested many media players over the years our “goto” media player is now the BrightSign units. Built from the ground-up specifically for 24/7 digital signage they are solid-state units which provide exceptional performance, capabilities and reliability. The range goes from standalone single screen players up to networked units for live data feeds, interactive inputs and support for 4k video output. Presentations are created using the free authoring software supplied with each unit. They can be as simple as a slide show or as complex as an interactive multi-screen, multimedia show. They provide an easy to use solution for any digital signage installation be it a shop window display, digital menu board or amusement park ride.