Ask the Board – September 29, 2016 | SPENCER GRAHAM


Are there any appropriate applications for consumer displays in your experience? Why or why not?

This is a reasonable thing to consider based upon the application and INTENT of the digital signage you plan to deploy.  My best answer would be, “It depends.”  So let’s consider the question from several focal points.

First and foremost, what creative content will be displaying on it for audiences to consume?  Content needs to drive other types of decisions as to the size of the monitor, ideal placement, traffic flow in the venue, viewing distance, anticipated dwell-time of the viewer and the overall audience experience.  Define this prime goal before even THINKING about hardware and software! Too many times, I have seen folks install a nice digital sign, step back and smile with pride at how it improves the venue and then immediately say, “Now what do we put on it?”

Does this TV/monitor need to simply display concise textual messaging or does it need to have motion graphics, touch-screen interactivity or way-finding capabilities?  Does it need impressive audio to be associated with the creative content?  Will it have an emergency messaging feature?  How many hours per day or week will it be turned “ON?”  Will it be turned off for any period in a 24-hour span of time?  Will it “stay on” continuously 24/7/365? Where will it be deployed? If it will be an outdoor digital sign, will it need to be in a climate-controlled enclosure that maintains heat in the winter, cooling in the summer and maintains a certain level of humidity. And which way does the sun track during the progression of the day so that brightness can be adjusted accordingly?  (The sun’s rays WILL affect the performance over time too.)  What are the normal daily ambient temperature fluctuations during the seasons of the year in the installed location?  (Solid-state gizmos don’t enjoy lots of expansion and contractions due to large swings in temperature before they decide to croak.) These are typical questions that need to be considered for every deployment of digital signage BEFORE grabbing the checkbook.

Consumer-Grade displays (think of a standard bare-bones featured Box Store TV that can be dragged to your site on your own with non-touch screen technology) will tend to be several hundred dollars less of a dent in your wallet than a Commercial-Grade monitor. It will usually come with a standard 30- or 90-day warranty.  It will be rated for a duty cycle of 8-12 hours per day.  Now, if you religiously turn the TV off each day, you might find that the “mean time to failure” (MTF) will be a year or two before you see signs of normal attrition such as color fading, crispness of the images and on-screen performance of both your static and video content. Will you need separate speakers to direct any associated audio to the viewers?  Depending on the traffic flow of your audiences, if you have an emergency messaging feature… from a liability standpoint, do you dare turn it off, at all?

Full disclosure time: I manage a digital signage network at a large university that has three campuses spanning three-to-four miles in our city with 45,000 students, faculty, staff and visitors on those campuses 24-hours a day.  Our digital signage is “ON” always.  With an emergency messaging system, we never turn our digital signage OFF unless we are doing maintenance on the network because we don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing the time of a campus crisis. Evil people do their evil deeds at all times of the day and night.  When I speak at various conferences around the country, I always tell people that if you have an emergency messaging feature, you need to assume you also have a personal injury attorney attached to every digital sign if someone gets hurt in a crisis and your digital sign was “dark and busted.” Get that sign fixed yesterday! 

Commercial-Grade monitors will cost a few hundred dollars more than consumer grade displays but come with a three-year warranty and are rated for a 24/7/365 duty cycle.  This provides some solace as it is an integral part of our campus emergency messaging system.  Mean time to failure for commercial-grade monitors is five to seven years!  We have close to 150 standard digital signs, way-finding deployments, Walls of Honor, Donor Recognition Walls and video walls on our campuses, and in eight years of growth, we have had only a couple of warranty claims on our commercial-grade monitors.  Those warranty claims were handled fast and completely satisfactorily.  (Our signage is located in not only commons areas but also in student residence halls, specific college buildings, public transportation areas and other significant buildings on our campuses.)   Commercial-grade monitors usually have a security PIN feature so that we can “lock them down” to avoid some enterprising college student from changing the channel to some ball game.

In closing, consumer-grade TVs certainly might have their place and reasonable price points but you need to also have reasonable expectations for their performance over time based upon the need of every deployment of digital signage.  Sometimes, “cheap” gets expensive.


About Author

Manager of Operations, Information Stations, Interactive Video, Network & Web Services
West Virginia University

End User Council

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