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What is a digital signage solution?

Digital signage solutions are built on multiple hardware and software technologies.

The CMS Server Software

The digital signage CMS server is a back-end component that performs a range of duties:

  • Content storage.
  • Content scheduling.
  • Content rules and meta-tagging.
  • Content proof of playback reporting.
  • User access and credentials.
  • Administrative access and credentials.
  • Player communications.
  • Player status tracking.
  • Remote Player rebooting and management.

The CMS Server software should be scalable.

The User Interface (UI or dashboard)

The user dashboard provides the front-end services for the digital signage software.  The dashboard can be delivered as a locally installed software application or a multi-user accessible web based application.  Dashboards perform a series of critical functions:

  • The dashboard must be easy to learn and use.
  • It must be simple to install and maintain.
  • It should be compatible with a wide range of hardware devices and operating systems.
  • It should be accessible by multiple users at a time and provide real-time synchronization.

The Media Player Software

The digital signage media player software is a critical part of any solution.  It’s the software that renders all the scheduled content, and displays live data reliably, 24/7 – all year round.

  • The Player software must support a wide range of multimedia file formats.
  • It must be reliable and efficient.
  • It must communicate its status to the CMS server so users know what’s going on at all times.
  • It has the ability to monitor the hardware’s resources and, if necessary, take corrective action on its own.
  • It must be compatible with a range of hardware platforms and operating systems.

The Server Hardware

Server hardware products vary in processor power and storage capacities.  Each CMS Server software will have its own hardware requirements so it’s important to review these beforehand and acquire the computer components that will provide the best performance according to the predicted size of the digital signage player deployment.  This applies to both physical and virtual servers.

The Media Player Hardware

Media Player hardware should match the technical requirements of the digital signage Player software.  There are many requirements that you should consider.

They are:

  • The operating system (OS), such as Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, ChromeOS, etc.
  • The type of hardware that matches the OS such as:
    • PC
    • Android Media Player
    • Android Tablet
    • Mac
    • iPad
    • Google Chromebox
    • Raspberry Pi
    • System on Chip (SOC) display

The Media Player hardware is also selected based on the predicted end-use.  Non-interactive digital signage can run on a variety of hardware listed above.  Interactive kiosks and wayfinding will require a touch or motion enabled device such as a tablet or touchscreen connected to a suitable PC, Mac or Android device.

 

The Other Components

Digital signage solutions usually require LAN or internet access.  Some secure applications will also require the use of encrypted communications (HTTPS), proxy servers, and firewalls to ensure all communications remain secure from end-to-end.

 

How Does It All Work?

Most Digital Signage Solutions work as follows:

  • A server or content management software is installed on a local PC or server. This can be a physical or virtual machine.
  • The CMS software is then configured according to the number of media players and end-users that will be accessing the system. Note the hardware requirements will usually vary according to the number of connected devices.
  • The content is uploaded to the CMS server using the dashboard app. Depending on the digital signage software, end-users will either assemble content into playlists, and then schedule the playlists over time, or rules and schedule programs are assigned for each content to be shown on screen.
  • The Media Player software is loaded on the proper hardware as per the technical requirements. In some cases, various add-on modules may be required (video codecs, Adobe Flash Player, etc.)
  • Scheduled content is pushed to the Media Players from the CMS server. Systems based on the “forward and store” method will transfer all required content to each Media Player.  Streaming based systems will need to convert all content to a video stream.
  • Each Media Player will periodically send back a log file. Some log files will include player status information and content playback statistics.

What are the best features to look for in a digital signage solution?

There are a multitude of products on the market, so it’s important to find the right solution for your digital signage needs.

Here are some tips…

  • Digital signage solutions that are based on content “forward and store” tend to be more resilient and less prone to issues in case of unreliable internet access or when there is a lot of network traffic on a LAN. Furthermore, these products will continue playing content if the network connection is lost or interrupted.  Any remote content such as web pages, streaming video and live data may not play but the local content will still be shown on the displays.
  • True multi-user solutions are preferable, especially if you plan to have more than one person accessing the CMS server to manage content, or prepare schedules. Single user products will either kick other users off or simply refuse to let more than one person access the system at any given time.  This is unacceptable for situations that require multi-user access.
  • Your digital signage Player software should support more than one type of hardware or operating system. Look for Microsoft Windows PCs, and Google Android based media players/tablets as these are the two most popular hardware/OS platforms for digital signage.
  • Smart displays that rely on System on Chip hardware are also becoming extremely popular for digital signage. Look for digital signage solutions that support this technology or risk being left out.  The System on Chip display market is poised to grow exponentially as more manufacturers embrace the technology.
  • The CMS Server’s dashboard should ideally be delivered as a web-based service. Locally installed dashboard software are more difficult to install and maintain.  Web-based dashboards don’t require any local software so there are no issues with having to upgrade the dashboard app over time.  Also, end-users can access the CMS system from any PC or tablet.  This can prove to be extremely useful, especially if you are dealing with a mobile or decentralized workforce.
  • Look for full-featured digital signage solutions that are scalable, since these products make is easier to add more users and media players as your needs grow. Very large networks should also consider solutions that support content delivery networks (CDN) and server load balancing.  Otherwise you could be facing file transfer bottlenecks, slowdowns and other types of issues.
  • Consider a digital signage software that uses native instead of interpreted languages. Native software is more efficient and makes full use of the machine’s hardware resources such as graphics processor units (GPUs) and CPUs.  You will experience smoother content playback and enhanced performance on any hardware platforms.  Interpreted software simply won’t provide the same level of quality or efficiency.

Unless you’re looking for one or two displays, be sure to take a close look at all every component before settling on a digital signage solution. Not all software is created equal and not every hardware is designed for reliable 24/7, 365 operation.  Make sure both digital signage software and hardware are built to provide trouble-free service for the long run.

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