A digital signage solution is compromised of two elements: software and hardware.
When choosing the right platform for your needs, both need careful consideration as there are a number of options available.
Cloud-based vs native
The biggest decision to make is whether to go for cloud-based or native software. Native softwares, also known as ‘on-premise’ digital signage solutions, tend to be more sophisticated and resultantly more expensive. It allows you to send content directly to your screens via your media players. But the downside to this is the need for a server to host the digital signage software. For small networks, the cost of this usually is not worth the trouble. In-house technical expertise is also a must-have when it comes to managing a server database and updating content.
The alternative is a cloud or ‘web-based’ digital signage solution. These are increasingly popular due to the ability to remotely manage a network of screens from any PC with an internet connection. With these digital signage solutions all content is hosted, not on a local server, but in the cloud. The benefit of this is security. All content is backed up so cannot be lost in the event of a network failure or power-cut. Cloud-based solutions are significantly cheaper than the native alternative. This makes them a more accessible choice for smaller networks.
Another software consideration when it comes to selecting between digital signage solutions is content management. Different platforms offer differing levels of involvement for screen owners. Some companies take complete control of content management, creating the content for their clients and charging for the service. Others are completely DIY, where end-users are left to design their own content. Depending on the complexity of the software, this can mean needing in-house graphic designers to ensure content looks its best.
The TrouDigital solution aims to offer the best of both worlds. Our online creative studio lets end-users create and manage their own content in a way that is simplified for the non-technical. Drag-and-drop widgets ranging from social media apps to scrolling tickers make screen design effortless. On the other hand, TrouDigital have an in-house team of designers who can set up your initial content or manage it going forward.
Rather than having a connected PC power your screens, media players are recommended for digital signage. These devices are small computers that connect to any screen with a HDMI port and can be hidden out of sight. Alternatively, there are special ‘digital signage screens’ on the market with in-built media players. These smart TVs, however, cost thousands of pounds and are often excessive for the modest power requirements of digital signage. The other factor to be wary about is the lack of flexibility when it comes to in-built signage screens. Hardware vendors often make it difficult to move away from their preferred product suite, leaving you stuck with a software that might become outdated.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of external media players: those powered by Windows and those powered by Android. The former tend to be more powerful, but also more clunky and almost always more expensive. This could be a good choice if you are connecting to something like a video wall that requires more power than a standard screen.
On the whole though, TrouDigital favour Android players, also referred to as ‘Micro PCs’. After testing many products, we have found these the most powerful and reliable for their compact size. Android players are also known for their energy-efficiency, costing just £7/year in electricity.
We have already referred to screens with in-built media players. This is not, however, the only decision to make when it comes to choosing a display. The good thing about digital signage is that its content does not usually require high resolution screens. If you have the money to invest in 4K monitors – great. But this kind of calibre is far from necessary. Today more than adequate screens can be picked up for a couple hundred pounds. This has made expanding a digital signage network a lot more affordable.
The location of your screens should influence your purchase choice. Most notably, outdoor digital signage often requires industry-grade, weather-resistant IP-65 displays. They also need to be high-bright and anti-glare so they can adapt to differing levels of sunlight. This is crucial for indoor but external facing signage too such as displays in an estate agency window. The decision to take your digital signage solution outdoors naturally incurs more significant hardware costs although the software functions the same.