How to evaluate digital signage media players

There are many different solutions on the market for digital signs and buyers can have a tough time selecting the right technology for their needs. In this post, we will outline the key components of a digital sign network and a few factors to consider when considering which digital sign solution to invest in.  

There are a few different types of digital media players to choose from. The most popular categories are streaming devices, “Built-In” style media players on displays, and full PC solutions.  

Streaming Devices 

Some digital media players simply stream content via WiFi or ethernet and do not store content internally. Think of commercial streaming media players as a more advanced version of a consumer product like Roku or Google Chromecast.  

Streaming devices are a good solution for lightweight content like simple text, lower-resolution images, and some social media posts. A streaming device, like a BrightSign player or a Chromebox, is an affordable way to create digital signs. A streaming device can turn almost any screen into a digital sign.  

One shortcoming of most streaming devices is they will automatically scale the resolution of high-resolution content down to accommodate for a weaker video infrastructure. Streaming players cannot render high-resolution video content consistently and are not a reliable choice for video wall projects. There is a security concern with some streaming devices that still utilize Flash for video.  

Additionally, some streaming-based players also allow users to upload content from an SD card or a USB drive. It is important to make sure the media player is not in a position where passersby could insert an SD card or USB drive with content that is not approved by your business.  

Streaming devices often cannot integrate with 3rd party software, hardware accessories, and some do not support audio at all. Be sure to choose carefully, especially if you anticipate expanding the network to include additional features in the future.  

Lastly, most streaming-based players do not yet have a player network management software that allows for remote control and management of connected devices. Network management software is essential for the long-term growth and health of a network, but may not be necessary for a single display or a single sign. 

Streaming devices   

Best for: text, low-resolution photos, quick solutions, some free content management software offerings that come with the player 

Price: $$-$$$ 

Shortcomings: scales down resolution of video content, limited internal storage, limited/underdeveloped options for management software 

 

 

Built-In Players 

Display manufacturers like Samsung and LG have developed an offering of media players that are built directly into the display. Similar to streaming devices, SOC systems typically use a network connection to stream content directly on to the display.  Though the player is built directly into the display, they are often sold separately and assembled before shipping. One benefit of the built-in approach is it eliminates the footprint of the digital media player behind the display. This is great for installations with limited space.  

The main downside is built-in models can not support multiple screens off of one device and should not be used for video walls or any mutli-screen installation. One downside of using built-in/SOC units is their video acceleration power, which can vary greatly. It is important to test the media player with the content you want to use before deploying the solution.  There are also limited options for management of the network. A lack of management software can make it difficult to manage security and growth long-term. Some of the built-in options run into the same issues as streaming-based players; little to no internal storage and scaled-down resolutions.  

 

Built-in players  

Best for: single screen photos, text, some video depending on the player model, projects with limited space  

Price: $$-$$$  

Shortcomings: no multi-screen capability, huge variety in video acceleration power, limited internal storage, no management software available  

 

 

Full PC solution  

Full PC solutions, like the SureVue, are completely functional computers built for digital signs. This solution allows users to store large amounts of content on the player itself and uses graphics processors and custom-engineered software to power 4K or ultra HD video content.

  

SureVues are excellent for enterprise-grade video walls and highly-interactive touch screens that can be managed and controlled with Active Network Manager. SureVues are very robust and may be “overkill” for some digital sign projects. SureVues have server-grade hardware components and are designed, assembled, and engineered in the United States.  

The benefits of using a SureVue or another full PC solution are huge capability for video acceleration, ample internal storage, advanced management software to manage all end-points, and ongoing updates for improved features and security. SureVues or other full-PC solutions are ideal for enterprise-grade video walls, large interconnected networks, and secure environments. SureVues, and some other PC solutions, work with numerous types of software and hardware, which expands the potential capability of the system beyond just video streaming.  

 

PC solutions 

Best for: video walls, interactive kiosks, increased security, better management, integrating 3rd party hardware and software  

Price: $$$-$$$$ 

Shortcomings: Not necessarily the right choice for every budget 

 

In the next part of the Beginner’s Guide, we will introduce options for software for digital sign ecosystems.  

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