I like to cook: My best dish is chili. I recently entered my first chili cook off (of which I received honorable mention). In order to enter, I had to submit a list of ingredients. I never wrote down the recipe before, as I had just thrown a bunch of stuff together. When I finally wrote it all down, I was astounded at the number of ingredients it took to make an award-winning chili.
The same holds true for a digital signage project. It takes a lot of ingredients to make it work properly. Once upon a time not so long ago, a digital sign in a retail store was a monitor, a player (DVD or VHS) and the content. Now, it’s so much more involved.
Because of this, I decided to list the number of ingredients you can expect to work with in a digital signage project:
Hardware. The monitor, mount and player all count as hardware. You have to decide what size screen, what manufacturer and screen type. Since a screen does not float in air, you have to mount it to something. Is it shelf stand, a wall mount or a free standing mount? What kind of player do you want? Is it a DVD player, a dedicated media player, a computer or a networked digital signage player? Put together the combinations of options and manufacturers you have to choose from. It’s like going to a Sunday morning buffet at the best restaurant, and only being able to choose three dishes. Which is the best for you?
Software. The operating system and content management system are both software products. Linux or Windows are most likely your choices. What version of either one would work best for your application? If you write your own program, you choose the one that you are more comfortable with. However, you can also choose the complete management system. If you do, your operating system (OS) decision is probably going to be made for you by the manufacturer of the system. There are many to choose from. Who installs the software? There are businesses that specialize in just installing software. Think of the choices you will need to make here.
Purchase Partner. Where do you go to buy these products? Should you buy each one individually, or go to an integrator for a turnkey solution? Or, do you contact a distributor, and buy everything from them and install it yourself? It’s kind of like doing a kitchen remodel at home, there are many ways to get it done, depending on how handy and experienced you are. And, how much free time you have.
Content. Now that you have digital signage in place, you need to have content to play on it. You obviously want it to look nice. Is the content for advertising purposes, or institutional? You will need some sort of artist to design it. Attractive content will get people’s attention. Isn’t that the whole purpose of this?
Physical installation. Someone has to actually place the hardware on a shelf or wall, and wire the system. Is this the integrator, or do you have someone in your organization who can do it? There are electrical requirements, and architectural requirements to make it all look nice. Do you hire a contractor, or is it the integrator who puts the system together? Maybe the integrator specializes in the development of the system, and a different one does the physical install.
IT. If the system is part of a network, you will need an IT expert who can make sure that the system will accommodate the information flow. If the content is too robust for your system, it will shut down. The IT expert should be part of the design from the beginning, so when it comes time to turn everything on, all the network hardware is in place.
I think I included everybody, but the combinations and options are endless. Make sure you study them before you make a decision. It’s complicated, especially for the first time. In many cases, it’s best to hire a consultant to walk you through the process. They have the experience to make sure you get exactly what you need. See, I did forget someone!
By the way, the ingredients that made my chili stand out were cinnamon, unsweetened chocolate powder and coffee. What special ingredients will you add to you digital signs to make them stand out?
Perry Goldstein is a veteran of the electronics industry. After spending 30 years in consumer electronics, he has transitioned into the Pro AV industry. Currently, he is sales & marketing manager with El Segundo, Calif.-based Marshall Electronics, where he heads the company’s Digital Signage and MXL Pro Audio division.