A digital signage display is only as good as the content shown on it, and in order to show content, displays need digital signage media players. These can either be a standalone unit, much like a set-top box that you might have at home, while some systems come with a player built in to the display. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
With built-in systems – where content is held locally on each display – there are three main options: USB, OPS, and SoC.
USB: This requires content to be loaded onto a USB flash drive, which is then plugged into the side of the display. Some displays upload the content to internal storage while others will play the content directly from the drive. The on-board player software usually plays the content back in a loop, with rudimentary control over the order and timing.
This approach is nice and simple and can be ideal for basic signage solutions. Also, today’s USB drives can hold over a terabyte of data, which means they can store huge amounts of imagery or high-definition video.
The downside is that to update content someone needs to manually remove the USB stick, revise the content via a computer, and then replace it. If you need to refresh your content regularly or across multiple displays, USB isn’t a very practical solution. The ability to schedule content is also limited and in most instances, you’ll need something more flexible.
OPS: This is an increasingly popular solution and comprises a small form-factor PC which slots into the rear of the display and runs all of the layout, content and schedule from one device.
The advantage of OPS is that you have one system deployed across a network ensuring that all displays are programmed in the same way, and in the event of a hardware error, the OPS module can be quickly swapped-out, minimising screen downtime. OPS modules carry network connectivity and other inputs, and because they slot into the rear of the display, the need for interconnecting wiring is eliminated, ensuring a quicker, neater and more robust installation. They also provide a greater level of future-proofing, as a simple replacement of the module means the screen can be upgraded in seconds.
SoC: A display with SoC (system on chip) is a standalone unit that eliminates the need for an external player. Using a multicore processor, similar to those used in phones and tablets, the display connects to the Internet via cable or Wi-Fi, and can be updated remotely via a browser-based system. By removing the need for a dedicated player, SoC displays offer a smaller initial install cost and lower energy consumption over the lifetime of the system.
External media players
There is a range of external (non-OPS) units that plug into the display, usually via HDMI and which run the content remotely. These have much greater capacity than some of the previously mentioned on-board systems, providing the freedom to display whatever content you require, including hours of HD video. In addition they also have external wired or wireless Internet connectivity, so content can be updated remotely, and they can also be programmed to pull in live information feeds, such as news, travel information, weather and so on.
External media players are also more versatile if a network of screens is being installed, enabling content to be shown on a range of displays. Some external players also support multiple displays, and are used to feed images to video walls. The disadvantage of the external solution is higher project costs because you’re purchasing more hardware, with prices ranging from around £60 to £800. In addition, the need for interconnecting cables presents another level of system weakness, due to them being unplugged or becoming faulty, requiring a site visit.
One other factor to bear in mind is that many external players come with content creation software, either standalone apps or browser-based solutions that enable you to quickly create the kind of content you need. It might be worth seeing if you can demo the software first, to check that it fits your requirements in terms of style, templates, supported media and scheduling tools.