Modern digital signage (DS) media players do not use the usual PC architecture. This is a very important difference. Modern DS media players are essentially multimedia devices designed to access the Internet. They have hardware and software optimized for that purpose, and nothing else.
Of course, there are now displays in digital signage that contains a reader, called SoC (System on a Chip). However, SoC displays cannot be compared to a robust DS media player; SoC-based displays lack the processing power and software features needed to take advantage of advanced strategies.
For example, real-time data fusion and analysis, which are standard features of modern players, require considerable processing power. SoC-based displays typically lack the various I/O ports needed to collect this data. However, this article focuses on digital signage networks that require more than a limited out-of-the-box solution.
Here are some additional things to consider when purchasing a new digital signage media player. This will not only help you choose a device that meets your immediate needs but will also provide some “future-proofing”.
Check your media player’s connection options.
The connection of the media player is important, as it will be connected to the display you will be using for digital signage. Players with only VGA or DVI connections should be avoided, as both indicate an older graphics chip with lower resolution.
Look for a standard HDMI connection that supports high-definition video at 1920 x 1080 resolution. Even better: the best DS media players support HDMI 2.0, which supports Ultra-HD, commonly referred to as “4K,” based on a resolution of 3840×2160@60fps.
HDMI supports high-definition audio, but if your project requires it, it may be useful to have a separate audio connection for distributed audio; either a 3.5mm jack or an optical audio jack would be appropriate.
Another important port is provided for network connections. Ideally, it should have both multi-port Ethernet and built-in WiFi. For wireless connectivity, bet on 802.11ac, the latest WiFi standard, to connect to content sources with the best speed, reliability, and security.
A USB connection (preferably V3.0) is also useful, but not always necessary. It can be used to update the firmware offline or to set up playlists if the player needs to operate offline. It can also be used to integrate devices from other manufacturers.
Support for wireless interfaces moves from “Nice to have” to “Must have” status when the digital signage network needs to interact with the client in some way. To integrate seamlessly into a larger campaign, Bluetooth, beacons, NFC, or RS-232 (serial interface) can be used, for example. Each of these elements may be required for real-time interaction with sensors and smartphones. The best digital signage players have built-in support for these features, but your application may require pre-programmed widgets to meet your specific needs. This is usually done via industry-wide supported APIs.
Check memory scalability
Memory type and flexibility are often overlooked when choosing a media player for digital signage, but nothing can ruin a media player faster than a lack of available memory. Modern DS media players are ideal for installations that use a lot of high-resolution content (e.g. 4K) and therefore require expandable memory.
DS media players use an architecture that provides multiple storage options, far more robust than SoC displays for downloading and storing content locally. It can even be expanded to meet changing needs.
Avoid media players with standard hard disk drives (HDDs), however! They may cost less, but they break quickly in the harsh environment of a digital signage player. HDDs are one of the leading causes of failure. Instead, opt for a modern player that uses a solid-state drive (SSD) or flash memory.
Checking software and supported formats
Ideally, your Digital Signage Media Player should support all versions of the most common operating systems, including
- Windows 10 64bit
- Windows 8.1 64bit
- Also Windows 7 32bit / 64bit
- Ubuntu 15.10
- Ubuntu 16.04 LTS
- Android 5.1
All these platforms support third-party multimedia engines. However, care must be taken to ensure that SMIL and HTML5 are supported, as these are the most advanced methods of retrieving playlists from cloud servers; other methods such as FTP are also allowed, but this method is outdated and severely limits the choice of playlists. Newer digital signage players with multicore processors will likely support a number of third-party media playback engines, which may be either software-only or also hardware. The media engines that are most robust and require the least amount of processor power use SMIL or HTML5 programming.
Also read: Digital Signage Strategy for Beginners
This is especially important for high-resolution video playback. Playlists for digital signage are created with the native screen resolution in mind. It is therefore important to keep the resolution as high as possible to avoid unsightly pixelation of images on large screens.
The best DS players use advanced graphics processing units (GPUs) that provide hardware support for MP4, H.264, and H.265 codecs, reduce CPU load and enable smooth and reliable playback of ultra-high-resolution files. It’s true that this additional hardware support means higher costs, but for digital signage, it’s more important than saving a few bucks, because it significantly improves video playback. The best media players for digital signage will be certified to support ultra high definition (UHD) via HDMI 2.0.
Determining cooling requirements
Another important consideration is where the player should be installed. Of course, in some cases, it’s best to place the drive near the display, but no drive can withstand extreme heat and humidity for long. On-site failure can be costly, so it’s worthwhile to evaluate before proceeding with a permanent installation.
Most readers are designed to operate within a certain temperature and humidity range. Most will work well within these ranges. To ensure flexibility in installing the reader, it is best to keep these specifications in mind as they reduce the thermal load on the reader.
- Chipsets for mobile use
- A solid-state drive (SSD) or flash memory (not HDD)
- Integrated metal cooling fins (instead of fans)
- Fanless construction
- Less than 65 watts (working)
Theft of digital signage players is usually not a serious problem. This is mainly because the players are often placed close to or above the screen, so they cannot be easily seen by prying eyes. However,
If you need extra security measures, especially because your setup is easily accessible, you’ll find that most new media players come with a Kensington security slot. Try it this is a versatile locking system that effectively prevents most thefts.
However, if you must lock your media player, there are a series of screw-in locks (e.g. Key-Rex) that can prevent theft even in unprotected areas.
These are just a few of the important specifications and factors to consider when purchasing the best digital signage media player for your business. There are probably others that come to mind.
If you know the latest trends and technologies that are emerging in this dynamic environment, you can make your choice with more confidence.
Sara has completed her Master’s in marketing and started her career as a digital marketer. She is a content writer by profession. And she would love to add multiple things in her knowledge that she can add to her writing style. She writes about digital signage solutions for businesses in Pakistan like SMD screens in Pakistan