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Digital Signage in a Box

Everywhere we go there are digital screens selling this and directing you there. Harry Mottram finds out if the average sign-maker can offer the technology as an extra service

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In Canada, Toronto’s transit shelters are equipped with 84-inch HD digital signage screens designed by Kramer Design Associates and are controlled by a central control hub

Racing ahead

The good news is that digital signage boxes are easy-peasy to set up and install. A child could do it. Well, perhaps not that easy but according to Pascal Cintract of Airgoo Wireless Media in Cambridge, a basic system is not exactly rocket science.

This is an HD player that can transform any flat panel TV into a remotely managed, wired or wireless digital signage display say Airgoo

The digital box expert says: “They are not as complicated as they appear. You just plug a box to a TV and then you have a remote access on a cloud based interface and you can then control and upload your content and decide on which screen it goes. Our solution is very easy to use. There are more complicated systems but for a small set up, then anyone could set it up.

There are more complicated systems but for a small set up, then anyone could set it up

“There are ones where it goes through a distributor and a reseller, who sells to an end user who is the sign-maker or customer. They take the unit out of the box, plug it in, read the instructions, email for an account and that’s pretty much all they need to do. The advice is you don’t need to be very savvy to use a digital signage box. The more expensive ones you may need to go on a training course or something like that but in our case it is very easy.”

Decide who inputs

Digital signage in a box is essentially only as good as the content. If the content remains the same for days or is less than inspiring, then the message is lost.

Simon Carp of Onelan in Oxfordshire feels it is important to decide who uploads, and what and when content is uploaded. He comments: “A common issue with digital signage projects is the failure to plan for who can update content and how often this will happen. When content is not updated regularly enough, it becomes part of the wallpaper again and engagement drops off. This highlights how important it is to have a simple to use platform which allows more people to contribute to.”

He says: “For requirements where only a few displays are needed in one location our standalone player would be ideal. These are easy to manage on a one-to-one basis. If there are more displays or displays across multiple locations we would recommend one of our content management systems which can publish a ‘channel’ of content to multiple players. This allows you to make updates centrally which then publish to a large number of displays in remote locations.”

O Factoid: Piccadilly Circus is transforming its digital displays to LED and first showed electrical signage in 1908. O

Although digital signage in a box is becoming a twenty-first century standard fixture for many retail outlets, airport concourses, football stadiums, and colleges, the idea has been around for more than a century. In 1908, the first electrical signs appeared at Piccadilly Circus in London, although the first truly all electric billboards were introduced as part of the sign-maker’s armoury in the 1920s. Piccadilly Circus is currently being refitted with a single screen making it the largest LED signage box in the country, if not the world.

Large scale digital signage proliferates in city centres and tourist hotspots such as Times Square and Piccadilly Circus or here in the centre of Toronto

Defining the media

Digital signage uses LED, LCD, and projection, and uses basic information like a PowerPoint file, digital images in most formats, along with video clips, and streaming information and images. Exhibitions have favoured the technology along with places where the public pass in large numbers such as railway stations, but for the average small scale sign-maker, the more basic digital signage in a box is the most likely form to be added to their list of services. In the past, digital signage was largely one off items with limited flexibility in terms of message which meant costs were higher and harder to quantify, but with content management systems costs have fallen. More importantly, the content can be continually updated.

Carp continues: “Content is becoming more sophisticated, 10 years ago content resembled a PowerPoint presentation or a digital version of the same static media which would otherwise have been printed. Now we’re seeing web technologies drive ever more creative, interactive, and engaging signage content which directly engages what was previously a passive audience.”

The options for digital signage in a box are considerable with cloud-based management control giving the ability to update and change content for the end-user. Advanced scheduling and multiple channels give the flexibility along with built in HTML templates which you can use or adjust to suit your messages. The system usually has a map to show where all the screens are located with a live screen in the control centre to indicate what is being shown at any one time. Cloud-based systems connected by Wi-Fi mean a local server is not needed, although customers can run their own systems with a dedicated server to which they simply plug in and play.

Screening systems

A simple online search brings up umpteen companies offering the entry level models of digital boxes but the software and delivery system is the more important part of the set-up. A sign-maker could either simply set up a system for a customer putting in all the hardware, wiring, Digi-boxes, and screens, or they could control the content by using one of the internet-based cloud systems run by a variety of firms. They charge a monthly or quarterly fee for the use of the system meaning unlimited information can be streamed on the screens whenever it is needed.

Most end-users such as shops and colleges want to be in control of what goes on but some smaller businesses may prefer an outside source to undertake the input, which could be a sign-maker if they have the capacity. Alternatively, some systems are stand alone and do not access the internet for content, but by using an internet network everything is possible including adding social media updates.

Pascal Cintract of Airgoo Wireless Media says: “For an end user it might be only £20 a month to have the cloud but the ability to upload content but for larger screens and systems it would go up to £50 or more a screen. So it’s not big money. The hardware can be expensive but like all markets there is a high and lower end in terms of money. It’s not just the cost of the software or the hardware, it is also about the cost of maintenance.

Airgoo offer a range of mini players, all-in-one displays, and remote content management systems

“If it is a large expensive system and it goes down, you have a contract to repair it but with a cheaper one off box it won’t be expensive to maintain it. The speed at which it can be repaired at is what will affect the price. If it goes wrong and you don’t mind waiting a day or two for a technician then the cost will be lower if you want immediate call out for a business like a shop.”

Most people will have seen digital signage boxes at airports giving updates on departures and arrivals or at point-of-sale locations in stores pushing the latest offers. But in essence nearly all of the applications are the same as traditional signage. These include public information such as the aforementioned airports, and internal information such as meetings and seminar times and locations in a university. There is the obvious equivalent of the billboard giving product and advertising information as well as brand building.

A corporate use of digital signage in a box is seen here at Zurich Airport where travellers cannot fail to see the message which changes throughout the day

Influencing human behaviour such as directing the populace to another location, or to help them find their way and finally enhancing the experience of shoppers and visitors to an attraction with images, graphics, and video. We have not even mentioned outdoor fan zone set-ups and broadcast screens at events.

A digital future

Yes, there are limitations with digital signage such as maintenance which becomes critical for outdoor digital signage boxes, although this is true of traditional signs as well. But it seems the march of progress will see more digitalised signage replacing vinyl, built-up letters, neon, and handpainted signage in many circumstances.

Carp feels the future is wide open for sign-makers wishing to offer digitalised signage as the market can see the advantages and it offers a return on investment due to its flexibility. If there is an analogy, it could be comparison between the printed word in newspapers and the news formats offered on the internet. Print will never disappear but like traditional signs, it will lose market share.

Amscreen point-of-purchase digital signage box in a small store shows the intimacy and neatness of the system

Carp comments: “What future trends do I see in digital signage and IPTV solutions? We’re really starting to see the industry mature to the point where very large scale adoption is the norm. Marketing professionals understand the advantages, cost savings, and potential revenue streams that digital signage can offer and are investing. This growth makes it all the more important that organisations choose scalable solutions, it’s critical to select a platform which not only supports the current scale of the project but also its potential growth over time. This applies not only to the number of screens but also complexity in terms of the content/creative strategy.”

Genee World, the Midlands-based manufacturer of interactive displays and devices, has announced the launch of the G-Display range of high-quality digital signage displays

With digital tile signage, interactive signs that can be asked questions by mobile phones and touchscreen digital signage boxes, the technology is clearly racing ahead. It is up to sign-makers to make the quantum leap required to take a slice of this growing market.

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