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Digital Signage Buyer’s Guide

Everything you'll need to get started

Who is this guide for?

This guide is for the absolute newcomer to digital signage, looking for a way to clear the fog and get to work. It covers the very basics of what’s needed to get up and running with your own digital signs.

It’s always possible to hire a “white glove” company to handle everything from purchasing, installation and ongoing maintenance. But an ever increasing number of small businesses are finding that they are able to do it themselves, with high quality and excellent results. All that’s needed are basic Internet skills and the willingness to mount and plug in the hardware. New systems on the market are remarkably easy to use as well as cost effective.

And while getting started with digital signage may seem daunting at first, the benefits are compelling.

  • improve visitor experience 80%
  • increased sales 50%
  • brand recall 40%
  • increased foot traffic 33%
  • repeat buyers 33%
  • improved branding 33%

%

of buying decisions are made on-premise

Costs

About how much does it cost to get started?

Up front costs*

*varies by vendor and region

  • TV – approx $600 70%
  • Media Player – approx $200 24%
  • Accessories – approx $50 6%

Ongoing costs*

*varies by vendor and region

  • Internet – approx $40 / mth 36%
  • Service fees – approx $40 / mth 36%
  • Content creation – approx $30 / mth 28%

Basic equipment

First, the obvious: you are going to need at least one TV.
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You might want to use an existing TV that is already installed, or you might be in the market to buy and install new panel hardware. (BTW – The terms ‘TV’, ‘display’ and ‘panel’ are generally interchangeable.)

While there is a wide range of products and display technologies available on the market today, the bottom line is that, depending on your particular use case, most modern TVs will do the job. All large format displays that support HDMI (basically all of them) are candidates to be used as a digital signage display. However, depending on the conditions you are dealing with, you may want to think about the long term benefits of sourcing the right display that fits well with the requirements of your particular project. Industry experts will advise you to use a commercial panel, rather than a consumer TV. This is often good advice! What’s the difference?

Commercial panels are designed to operate for longer periods, over a longer lifetime, in more challenging environments (a public space next to a hot kitchen 18 hours a day, versus a private climate controlled living room for 7 hours a day). Warranties can also matter; consumer warranties often don’t cover failure after commercial use. However, the not-so-well-kept secret of the industry is that many of the “panels” you see in public are in fact just consumer TVs.

For many people, the advantages of going commercial aren’t that compelling; for what they need, consumer TVs do just fine. The choice is up to you, but it pays to go in with your eyes open.

A media player is the computer device that runs the digital signage application, displays the results on the TV, and connects to the Internet for regular updates.
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However it’s packaged on the outside, on the inside it’s something familiar to most consumers. It’s likely running an OS like Android, Windows, (or maybe Linux). It’s likely either a small PC-style desktop (with Intel / AMD style chips), or an ARM-based device that is very similar to a smartphone.

Your choice of CMS (content management software) will likely define your options for media players. Most software makers have optimized their applications to run on a distinct range of media players.

ScreenScape’s “Connect” is a great example of a compact, reasonably priced media player suitable for a wide range of professional digital signage use cases, built to work alongside great CMS software.

A solid Internet connection is the lifeline of the modern digital sign. Always make sure your sign is connected!
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Digital signs use the Internet to download new content (images and videos, news and weather) and report status back to whatever signage network they’re connected to. Some media player hardware will support only “landline” connections (aka RJ45 ports), others work like a smartphone with over-the-air Wi-Fi, and some hardware supports both connection methods.

The simple question to ask any providers is “What happens if the Internet goes down?” and listen closely to their answer.

Things to consider about Internet connections include:

  • Does your location have an Internet connection? If yes, who controls it?
  • Are special permissions required to get access? (typical for many corporate IT networks)
  • Will the network passwords change over time? If yes, you will need a strategy to keep the passwords on your signs current.
  • Is it a so-called “Public” network? Many of those types of ‘Free’ networks are advertising driven. They may require a live user to engage a fresh connection (read: look at ads) every day. Your digital sign may not be able to use these ‘free’ networks reliably. Check in advance, and identify a Plan B.
Content management software (aka “CMS”) describes the computer tools used to deliver images and video to your screens. Your CMS will help you create the content, publish the content to specific screens, and schedule it to play at specific times.
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There are many CMS providers out there. When evaluating the providers, look for “self service” options. Self Service implies that much of the content management can be done by non-experts. With a little bit of effort, you may be able to do the content setup yourself. With self service, ease of use and simplicity of both the hardware and the software are absolutely critical. You won’t be saving any money if no one in your organization knows how to use the new system, or if it’s costing you an arm and a leg in fees just to get decent looking content up on the screens.

ScreenScape’s CMS software is free, easy to use, and is designed to work with the ScreenScape Connect media player.

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What else do you need? When your new media player arrives in the mail, you’ll probably want to hook it up right away. Here are a few odds and ends that might save you an impromptu trip to the store:

  • a keyboard for setting up your Wi-Fi password
  • an AC USB adapter to provide electrical power (like the one used to charge your smartphone), if your TV doesn’t have MHL or USB ports
  • a USB extension cable to go with the AC adapter, if there’s no power source with 2ft of your TV
  • an HDMI extension cable, if you need some extra length between your media player and your TV
  • a VESA compatible TV wall mount, if your TV isn’t already permanently mounted