digital signage displays

How to drive multiple digital signage displays

If a single screen can help your business, just think what you can do with a whole group of digital signage displays.

There are many situations where owning more than one digital signage display can boost your business: you might wish to present the same messages across different parts of your retail store (or stores) for example, or each unit might need to show different information depending on where it’s situated. You might even have invested in four or more displays for the purposes of creating a ‘video wall’, where they’re arranged in a large grid-like array to deliver an eye-catching message across a large area.

Whatever your multiple-display needs are, in this article we’ll examine ways of getting them connected to your network or web server for the purposes of receiving the messages you wish to broadcast.

A one-PC solution
The most logical – and cost-effective – way of connecting displays is through a single server: a PC, digital signage player or OPC unit. This then controls what’s shown on each display, allowing you to run things from a single source.

If you want to transmit the same message to multiple displays in the same location (or create a video wall), then connecting them in series is the cheapest and simplest scenario. First, make sure your digital displays support this function – some lower end units don’t – by verifying the existence of audio and video out ports in addition to the expected inputs.

You’ll need plenty of cable – RS232 cable to connect your PC to your displays for control purposes, and then the HDMI (or separate video and audio) cables required to link the displays together.

If your display units don’t support being daisy chained together, then don’t worry: Nexcom offers two multi-display digital signage players that get around the problem. The NDiS B842 comes with four HDMI ports while the NDiS B862 offers six ports to save you the cost of purchasing individual players for each display. Both models support the use of video walls in 2×2 or 3×2 configurations.

Cable length is a critical consideration where your server is housed well away from your displays, or they’re dotted around your premises. While RS232 (and most HDMI) cables comfortably reach 15m, you may find that pushing the boat further degrades the signal being transmitted.

If distance is an issue, you’ll need to invest in Video over LAN extenders, which allow you to transmit the signal up to an additional 50m via CAT5 Ethernet cable. Expect to pay anything from £125 + VAT for a single transmitter and receiver from the likes of Adder or StarTech. StarTech also offers a wireless HDMI model, enabling you to transmit your signal up to 30 metres without cabling, although there’s a hefty premium to pay at £360.

Discover the digital signage that could help your business stand out from the crowd

Multi-player solutions
Having to run cable to each of your units may not be a practical solution, so another approach is to provide each display with its own independent player or PC. Although in theory this should be more expensive, it’s not always the case.

The most discreet way to deliver dynamically updated content is through an OPS unit, which is plugged into a special slot at the back of your OPS-compatible display. Prices start from around £500 for an entry-level model powered by an Intel Atom chip. External adapters are available for digital signage units that don’t come with these slots, but at £190 per adapter, they’re not cheap.

Once hooked up, the unit is automatically connected to your unit’s display (simply choose the appropriate input option from its remote control), and all you need to do is connect it to your network, either using an Ethernet cable or – if supported – the OPS’s Wi-Fi connection. Manufacturers providing OPS units include NEC, Nexcom, Axiomtek and Advantech.

Investing in multiple OPS units is clearly not a cheap option, but there are some innovative solutions for those shopping on tighter budgets. NEC offers its own Android-powered (and wireless) OPS Digital Signage Player for around £260, which can be used with services such as Xibo. Or, if you’re really strapped for cash, just shell out a measly £30 per display for Google Chromecast devices. Each Chromecast plugs into a HDMI port to display content delivered wirelessly over your network. Chromecast-friendly digital signage apps and services include the open-source Greenscreen as well as the more user-friendly (and relatively inexpensive) SignSimple service.


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