Jumping Into Digital Signs – Ideas on Where to Begin

I wrote a blog article recently about total ownership digital signage Sydney, and I want to offer a few more thoughts to help anyone who is a little baffled or feels that a digital sign network might be a bit daunting.

Most of us come in touch with digital signs on a regular basis these days and looking at them you might wonder at the size of the infrastructure underneath that makes it all tick. Whether it’s a huge outdoor digital screen or a menu board in a mall, these are some of the signage systems that we’re most familiar with. So it’s maybe not surprising that we associate digital sign networks with huge complexity and massive investment. However, if this thinking is putting you off using digital technology for your own circumstances then you might be relieved to know that your options for making your own network are very flexible and not as difficult to achieve as you might think.

Let’s look at what we’re familiar with first. The big networks – they’re everywhere and they look the business. As a business you can get involved with these by simply calling the company and talking with an account manager. I recently attended a Screen Forum event (digital signage industry forum) and a representative from CBS Outdoor (a very big signage network operator in the United Kingdom) was showing examples of how they bend over backwards to help clients get network time and a creative that will work, even to very tight schedules. So in this instance you can be sure that for your money you’ll be well advised and looked after. She even explained that in some cases they won’t let prospective clients use the digital signs as it is not the appropriate medium. You’ve got to love it when they’re not all about spending your money. This is top end public signage and costs can be considerable, however it works perfectly if you’ve got the budget and the right campaign.

A step down from these larger networks are more localized installations such as a network of screen in a department store. There could still be a vast amount of screens to look after, but there are a few more questions to ask. These can pretty much be boiled down to the following for starters:

  1. Do we need live information to be updated constantly?
  2. Are screens going to be integral to the environment design?
  3. What are the goals for the signage network?

If you are for example an investment firm then you might need live financial news for your visitors and employees, so a live feed, tickers and up to the minute video content is a big deciding factor. In this case you need to consider using a digital signage network provider, such as Scala, Signagelive, EnQii or Delivering Digital, as these companies will put in place a content management system that will give you control over the external content you require. Of course, you will be paying a monthly fee, but for hassle free delivery of quality services this is worth it usually.

The next point is often a slightly glossed over area of a new network, but environmental design is becoming more and more important to successful business operations. You’ve decided to have screens, but will they be free standing, mounted to walls or built into the architecture of the space. The reason this is important is that there are so many horror stories of poorly built signage implementations, which can over heat and cause damage to the screens, sometimes ruining them completely and even starting fires. There are basically two types of players, solid state and normal PC’s. Solid state devices do not have any internal moving parts, so apart from the advantage of consuming less power (up to 10 times less than the alternative) they do not require as much ventilation nor generate as much heat. A PC installation will require more ventilation as when the device does heat up due to processing power usage, the fans will begin to cool the unit down, and this requires cool air. You will also find that there are complete solutions available which ever way you decide to go. Not only can you buy just a media player to drive your existing screens, but you can have all-in-one media player and screens, purpose built for the job. If you want your screen embedded into the environment then you can get ready made screen and media players with no frames on, so that your designers can just screw them into the custom enclosure that they have built (your designers will check with the manufacturer about technical requirements). The choice of technology should depend entirely on the environment design and kind of content you will display, but there are complete solutions available to facilitate this, so the real question should be, ‘how creative are you feeling?’.

Going back to our example of a department store, you really need to use a network, so any equipment you buy must be network enabled and be managed from a central PC. This makes it easy to schedule and update content and makes managing the network a much easier task, saving valuable time. At this point you’ll be pleased to know that you have a choice for total ownership. What do I mean? Remember I mentioned paying monthly fees for live content? Well if you don’t need live content and instead you want to promote products of deals, basically deploy your own video content, then you will find that the top manufacturers will provide content management software for you to control your media, scheduling and more, and some of them provide it for free. Can’t beat that price now can you. Again this makes managing the network easy (once you know your way around, but usually it’s not that complicated).

The final point, and I think this applies to any signage deployment, are your goals for having digital signs in the first place. This is usually where you should start and it is very important. Don’t skip this as it will feed into every other aspect of your implementation. So what kind of goals do I mean? You should ask seriously whether you’re trying to increase sales, awareness, branding or brand values. Are you trying to provide a better experience or educate and inspire onlookers. These questions can find better answers when coupled with the work your marketing department has done. If you don’t have a marketing department, then you need to define the type of viewer that will be in front of your screens and address the issues that they face. That’s a bit crude and you can find out much more on the subject, but I just want to give a little context to goal setting. Once you set your goals, how will you measure success, will you monitor sales after deployment, do customer surveys etc. Most media player devices incorporate a data logging feature, and it’s worth looking for one that has this as it will show you what was playing and when. This coupled with other sales data for example can give you some revealing results. Where touchscreen or other types of interactivity are appropriate this data will show you what viewers looked at most. This is useful to show you how well received your content has been.

Lastly, but by no means least, you may be considering just a single sign. Things to think about here are whether or not the one sign may become many at some point and whether the content needs to change or be updated regularly. Most media players (standard definition or high definition) will allow update by flash card or USB stick, where you just plug in the media storage and then turn the device on. The player does the rest and then executes playback. Some companies offer the capability to upgrade stand alone units to network players by performing a short field upgrade. This means if you buy a cheaper model that doesn’t connect to a network and run a screen with you media content stand alone for some time, you still have the option at a later date to just upgrade the player and take advantage of the network capabilities. This is of course cheaper than buying a new player.

As a final thought I want to explain a little about whether to choose High Definition or Standard Definition models. There is a lot of debate about this, but some rules of thumb are: if you are using quite small screens, i.e.. a 10″ screen at the till, then you may not need high definition, as standard definition video will display well in these circumstances. However if you are putting together a large video wall that viewers will see from a fair distance away then you need the crisp, un-jerky image quality that high definition video will give. This is well worth adding to your discussion early on with the designers. Generally speaking the larger the display and the further away viewers will be looking at the content from the more likely it is that you should use HD (high definition).

If you are just starting on your journey into digital signage, I know I haven’t answered all your questions, but I do hope I’ve uncovered a few mysteries for you. My article on total ownership digital signage is at the digital view website if you want to find out more.

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