“How often does a digital signage network need to be updated in terms of hardware or software?”
Hardware refreshes in digital signage should be every three to five years. No longer. Typically, hard drives just don’t last that long anyway! I have had customers that have stretched that WAY beyond normal. A major sports arena did not update their digital menu boards for more than 10 years in the name of the motto “If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it”. The good news is that they finally got around to updating both the hardware and software for that network.
As for software updates, most software providers have regular software maintenance updates fixing bugs and adding features, but also have more major updates in the same three-to-five-year cycle. Again, often times, folks will avoid software updates for the same reason, but bug fixes are generally good (although one should review the release notes and test any software update before it is applied wholeheartedly to a network). Certainly, once a year, at a minimum, one should plan on applying software updates such as these.
If you’re replacing the LCD screens on a hardware refresh, you may wish to consider using the built-in media player of the modern displays from companies such as Samsung, LG, Panasonic and others. This can be a big cost savings (eliminating a separate media player) and also enhance the reliability (fewer “moving parts” — less components to fail). You’ll need to check with your software provider to make sure they support these built-in media players (sometimes called “SoC” for “System on a Chip”).
And lest we not forget…make sure your budget for content refresh is there as well. No matter how pretty your screens are, if the content is stale, you won’t be getting the effect you want.