What do we mean by entry-level? In what areas can costs be minimised (hardware, software, content or support? We take a look at the changing nature of entry-level digital signage.
When we last considered this subject, Thomas Walter, Section Manager Strategic Product Marketing, NEC Display Solutions Europe argued that “an open and modular signage player approach is the best solution for digital signage as it allows a smart upgrade of the signage player and screen both in terms of scale and performance.”
But is ‘openness’ a luxury that budget precludes at the entry-level? Thomas Walter argues that this is far from the case. “A basic integrated media player for simple media playback is ideal for single screen installations or small companies. With an open modular solution, performance levels can be upgraded should future requirements change.”
“The NEC Open Modular Intelligence (OMi) platform is an open and modular computing intelligence concept that allows the integration of a broad range of computing power from RaspberryPi to Intel Core i7 Slot-in PCs. Supporting all the common OS such as Windows, Linux, android and Raspbian, this solution provides compatibility with all major digital signage software providers.”
“Full performance media playback is fully integrated in the screen for a holistic approach which is neat and cable free whilst customisable for current requirements and remaining compatible for future upgrade.”
A year later
In February this year, NEC launched the new E Series for entry-level, UHD professional digital signage. Featuring an integrated Media Player for native UHD content playback, a 10W USB interface to power external devices (such as Raspberry Pi) and a playback scheduler that enables users to programme auto-play content. This latest generation of the E series is ideal for standalone cost-sensitive signage installations.
With a modern design, high-definition brilliance and multiple input source options, the plug-and-play E Series displays are perfectly-suited for digital signage applications in smaller retail outlets, hospitals, small museums and other public places, as well as for meeting and conferencing in small and medium-sized businesses. A quality solution from a recognised digital signage supplier at budget prices must be a good thing, right? Yes, but the display costs don’t tell the whole story, even if the media player is integrated.
And what about the software? Walter argues that: “The best system for digital signage is the one that provides the most flexible solution to the wide range of different customer requirements and an open and modular system can do that best. The OMi concept allows all kinds of signage applications including cloud-based software solutions. Cloud based signage systems provide fast availability, quick adoption and low operational efforts. We recommend our partners to be clear on their requirements and then recommend the best fit solution which might differ from case to case.”
NEC’s collaboration with RaspberryPi is intended to bring embedded affordable and upgradable computing power to its large format displays. RaspberryPi is a true IoT device that can be smartly integrated into cloud-based systems.
NEC argues that this solution is not a closed system – an allegation made about SoC solutions which can be limited by compatibility issues. Also, compute power is entirely available for media playback and not diverted to power the on-screen menu or display operation. NEC contends that its solution is the most cost-effective open and modular choice on the market.
But entry-level buyers with limited ambitions to upgrade and scale-up have other options. Both LG and Samsung have entry-level solutions. LG’s SuperSign, for example, was first launched in the UK as an SMB solution with applications in large retailers, hospitality and education, offering affordability to invest and simplicity of operation.
“For SMB retail and commercial outlets looking for customer-engaging and cost-effective ways of gaining a competitive edge, LG’s new SuperSign digital signage solution provides the hardware, software and additional features in an easy-to-use and install package.” At the time, LG’s own research shows SMBs comprising the largest proportion (31%) of the European digital signage market. It also reveals that SMB operators are seeking the same quality and reliability from displays as larger operators but at lower costs.
LG SuperSign is designed as a highly scalable solution that includes displays, a media player (PC) and powerful but easy-to-use software. The solution allows an operator to transmit media and data files through a local area network (LAN) from a PC server with the SuperSign software installed.
A broad range of format support includes photos, PowerPoint presentations and HTML and Flash content. It also packs in a full diagnostics system, anti-theft system and fault monitoring along with monitoring features that enable a single server PC to monitor multiple displays.
Last year, it was announced that popular cloud signage software Signagelive release was compatible with the remote control supplied with Samsung D and E Series Smart Signage Displays. This new feature allows any supported piece of media, playlist or multi-zone layout to be selected and displayed on screen using the 0-9 buttons on the supplied Samsung Remote Control.
The Signagelive / Samsung solution supports interactivity with the displays without the need for a touchscreen or any other device, just the supplied remote control. This enhancement turns passive displays into multipurpose interactive media devices, unlocking lots of great use cases, in retail, hospitality and meeting rooms.
It’s said to be simple to setup and use, all the user needs to do is publish content to interrupts 0-9 in Signagelive, set a duration on the interrupt and the job is done is done. Not for every body perhaps, but for a simple reception display, perhap,s it certainly had us tempted
Content and maintenance
Digital Signage in advertising is used to stand out from the crowd and successfully impact on target customers. The consensus among digital signage professionals is to steer away from a standardised approach with templates which appear similar to all other signage installs. While customisable products allow tailor-made solutions in terms of performance, system integration, management and maintenance and are the basis for a good return on invest in the signage system they can command a price premium.
4K UHD content is fast becoming the de facto standard and undoubtedly brings huge advantages when it comes to shorter viewing distances. In digital signage the viewing distance constantly changes, as the viewer passes by he will approach from a distance then be in close proximity. In both instances, the content needs to be crisp, readable and appealing, no matter what the budget
As digital signage content becomes more demanding, we hit upon perhaps the basic problem of the entry level customer – the absence of a professional system manager or “signage champion” to ensure that the content is fault-free and continuously updated.
Solutions at the entry-level, but with potential to scale, include the Black Box iCOMPEL interactive digital signage platform – a system-on-chip technology empowering users to build eye-catching signage, stream content from websites and visualise timetables, events, and useful wayfinding or emergency messages. Users can play, upload, and share images, presentations, videos and audio media files on any HDMI screen. The platform supports 4K Ultra HD/HD and simplifies creation and playout of HTML5-based content. To facilitate updates and system management, iCOMPEL allows for remote device management and configuration and provides on-screen diagnostics and error alerts.
TrouDigital has also picked up on the emerging demand in education. They offer a simple ‘drag-and-drop’ software enabling users to create and manage their own content. This can be videos, photographs, news-feeds and more. This content is then put into a playlist and applied to a screen. Customers are provided with design templates and offered other help with regard to the design of their content. Each customer is provided with a team viewer license free of charge. This means that if there are any software issues, TrouDigital can log-in and fix them proactively.
The software is run on an Android Media Signage PC box which is attached to the back of the screen. It will work with any screen, although TrouDigital can supply High Bright screens, designed to run a 24/7 duty cycle. Software updates automatically download to the box, Using Android rather than Windows means that content shown on the screen will not be interrupted by updates. This hand-holding is great for novice users or new recruits to ‘signage champion’ role.
Anything else to consider for the signage newbie? Keith Dutch, Peerless-AV’s EMEA MD, says: “Understanding that the mount is a vital part of almost every digital signage project is key. By selecting the right mounting solution for the display(s) at the start, the installer, systems integrator and end user will save valuable time and money.”
Peerless-AV specialises in “fully serviceable” LFD and LED mounting solutions, which means if there are any issues with the hardware, the key electrical components can be immediately accessed for service or “swap out”. This is especially important for 24-hour critical information systems within transport hubs like airports and rail.
Peerless also maintains that, for video wall projects, installation times are also massively reduced by using our ‘unique’ Video Wall Mount Locator App so installers can get ‘in and out’ of the project in less time. It has been noted by installers that Peerless-AV mounting solutions can often be up to 4 times faster to install than other brands, thus reducing time on site and labour costs significantly.
Key factors for consideration include compatibility, ease of installation, post-installation adjustment, serviceability, UL safety and aesthetics. As display configurations have become more complex, it has become critical to integrate the mount options into the initial design specification. Whichever way your customer chooses to go with an early venture in digital signage there is a solution to suit everybody but be sure their intentions are clear for the medium and long-term.