Digital signage - More than just a few screens

Digital signage allows your audiovisual content to reach your audience quickly and effectively. Digital signage is used everywhere in everyday life, for example on advertising and info screens in cities, shopping centres or airports. What used to be posters, billboards or large banners and boards are now digital screens and large LED walls. They are used for product promotion, brand presentation, guidance, entertainment or information. Through dynamic content, they ensure increased attention, user-friendliness and comfort and thus also contribute to productivity in an organisation.

The solutions are particularly well represented in the retail sector. They are designed to optimise the shopping experience, improve customer loyalty and promote interaction, thus contributing to increased sales.
In the corporate environment, digital signage is also important for communication and organisation, for example in the context of room and workspace booking. With the advent of flexible, distributed forms of work, the need has increased even more.

In order to successfully implement digital signage solutions, there are a number of things that need to be clarified in advance. It is not enough to set up a few displays. Behind this is a centrally managed network of infrastructure, hardware, software and, of course, content. When setting up such a system, there are a number of decisions to be made in order to be optimally prepared for use and operation. Depending on the use cases, the application becomes more complex.

Technical requirements for digital signage solutions

The prerequisite for the system is a corresponding infrastructure. Hosting can either take place “on premise” at the customer’s premises or in the cloud. There is a strong trend towards cloud-based solutions. Here, the responsibility for operating the system lies entirely with the external provider. Payment is made by subscription model. Investment costs only arise with “on premise” solutions. The cloud also offers the possibility of integrating additional services more easily. In the cloud, the system can also be scaled up without great effort if required. Network and security requirements must additionally be coordinated with internal IT or the service provider.

Content management

At the heart of every digital signage solution is a content management system (CMS), i.e. software for managing and controlling the playout of content in various formats. When which content appears on which channel or playback element can be precisely set and automated here. There are many providers of software solutions. As far as the basic functions are concerned, there are few differences. Only for more advanced applications or special solutions should you take a closer look at which platform is the most suitable. Our experts are happy to help with a detailed requirements analysis.

The CMS is accessed via a corresponding interface, usually via a web browser. Additional external services (advertising, live TV, apps, …) can be integrated via a programming interface. In planning, this often means extra work. Which features make sense here depends on the content formats. The use cases should be clarified beforehand.

The operation is essential for content management. There must be a person or group of people who are in charge of the content. If no one takes care of it, the potential of the installed system will not be reached. Without a content strategy and changing content, the system is not worthwhile in the long run.

Content playout

There are also various aspects to consider when playing out the content. Here there is the possibility to choose between external or integrated players.

Our experts usually advise to use a separate player. The advantages are a high degree of flexibility with regard to the operating system, hardware performance and corresponding installations of additional software. An external player PC can also be integrated into existing IT management tools and replaced at any time if necessary. On the other hand, higher costs and a higher maintenance effort have to be taken into account.

With proprietary players, there is no need to maintain the operating system. They are compatible with the common CMS solutions and the selection is sufficiently large to cover the necessary requirements. On the other hand, the players are less scalable and their operating systems are sometimes limited in their range of functions. These players can also be easily replaced.

The “system on chip” variant is recommended only to a limited extent. Despite lower costs and space savings without an extra device, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages for most applications. The performance is low and only sufficient for simple applications. One has little influence on updates and compatibility with other systems and is dependent on the manufacturer’s operating system. Subsequent replacement or extensions are not possible.

The operation of the system ultimately determines success or failure. It is necessary to create an operating model for each digital signage system to ensure functionality and define responsibilities.

Where is the digital signage industry heading?

Overarching technological developments such as 5G, artificial intelligence and data analytics are influencing the possibilities for solutions, applications and products.

Improved connectivity and accelerated data transmission, for example, favour the playout of high-resolution digital content in 4k or 8k. In general, signage solutions increasingly rely on high-quality content in the form of videos, animations, live streams or interactive applications and less and less on static content or text. Features such as AI interaction, touch, voice or gesture control bring new possibilities with them.

Hardware must of course be correspondingly more powerful. New LED technologies (OLED, microLED) are on the rise. They offer improved energy efficiency, weight reduction and higher image quality. Transparent LED displays are in vogue. Holographic technologies are also slowly finding their way into the signage sector. Cloud-based applications are becoming increasingly popular, as they are generally more flexible and efficient for operation.

In the future, users should be more involved via smart phones, plug-ins and social media to further increase engagement. QR codes are a popular and simple tool for this. The two-way communication should create the feeling of “dialogue” and the user himself should experience more control in the selection of the desired content. User-generated content thus also becomes more relevant and attractive for use.

With more and more smart IoT devices and data sharing, content can be personalised even more precisely and tailored to individuals in an automated way. With content updates in real time, it is possible to respond to the needs of users. However, without a suitable content strategy, this potential will not be realised.

The evaluation of data by intelligent tools can also increasingly be used in other areas, for example in building automation. Facial recognition can be used for access control, for example. In the course of this, the importance of cybersecurity and data protection will become increasingly important in the future.

In the retail sector in particular, developments could lead to less customer contact in the medium term through automated digital processes with intelligent and interactive software. Otherwise, the topics of sustainability in hardware and operation, as well as accessibility, are on the agenda of developments.

The opportunities are great. This is also reflected in the continuous economic growth in the industry. Digital signage is more in demand than ever before and will remain so.

Author: Felix Niedrich, Editor macom GmbH