Digital signage components
The term digital signage refers to a number of different components working together:
- Hardware – which is made up of a media player (a micro computer), a screen or screens, and a mount or enclosure which holds a screen in position (and in the case of an enclosure, protects it).
- Software – this is used to decide what material is shown, when, and where it should appear on the screen
- Content – this is what actually appears on the display and can be a video, a static image/text, a live data feed (e.g. news headlines, weather forecasts, social media, a timetable or box office availability)
- Internet connection – whilst this is not 100% essential, most digital signage software is cloud-based and most organisations prefer to download content through a web connection rather than adding it manually using flash drive
- Audio – although the vast majority of commercial digital signage screens have in-built speakers, these will not carry sound far enough in noisy commercial environments, so if audio is required an additional sound system will usually be used.
Although three of these elements (hardware, software, and content) are almost always present, the appearance of digital signage can appear vastly different, depending on the type/size of screen and the enclosure chosen.
Screens & enclosures
Types of screen
Whilst they look similar from the outside, commercial digital signage screens and televisions are quite different. Commercial screens are designed to be accessed and monitored remotely, which a standard television doesn’t have the capability for. They are designed to be used 24/7 in a wider range of ambient temperatures and are much more robust than TVs. Furthermore, many screens don’t even have a tuner so they can’t be used to watch standard TV channels.
There are many different types/formats/sizes of digital signage screens. They can be one-way and used purely to display information, or two-way so that people can interact with it (usually by touching the screen) to obtain specific information, or to undertake a transaction, which could be financial or an exchange of information.
It can be a single screen (e.g. an advertising board) or multiple screens (e.g. a video wall) working together, which is achieved by using digital signage content management software to extend the content across a number of screens.
There are two key uses for screen enclosures. They can be used purely for decorative purposes to brand a screen, to make it to fit in with a specific interior design, or simply to make it stand out even more.
Alternatively, they can be used to make digital signage suitable for use in a range of environments (e.g. outdoors or industrial spaces), making the hardware weather-proof, dust-proof, and/or vandal-proof.
Enclosures can come in a range of formats to cater for different situations and are given a special two-digit IP (ingress protection) code to indicate what they are suitable for. The first digit indicates how dust-proof the enclosure is, the second digit refers to how water-proof it is. An IP65 enclosure rating, for example, means that it gives a high level of protection from dust/moisture.
The most common types of enclosures are wall-mounted or totems. Totems are freestanding and can be floor-mounted or they can be mobile, with wheels to enable the enclosure to be moved easily and containing a battery to power the screen and media player.
Managing digital signage
Digital signage screens, whether large or small, are usually controlled remotely via a cloud-based content management software which instructs the media player what to play on the screen, where and when.
It does this using a playlist, which is a list of the content you want to play in the order you want to play it, and a schedule. The schedule is used to tell the media player when to publish the playlist or newsfeed, and whereabouts on the screen it should appear. Screens can be split to show different content in different places. An example layout could be having the date and time showing at the top of the screen, a news feed along the bottom of the screen, and a video showing in the centre of the screen.
This ability to control a digital signage system remotely means a single person to manage an estate of hundreds of screens all simultaneously showing different content.
Some content management systems (e.g. SaturnVision) can even show whether all the screens in the estate are working properly.
Digital signage uses
Digital signage can be used to show videos and still images, but also display information from other software applications like social media or news feeds. This flexible functionality enables it to be used for an almost endless number of tasks. These can be practical, for example wayfinding within large buildings like hospitals or shopping centres, to show conference delegates information in hotels, or a digital menu board in restaurants or fast-food outlets.
Alternatively, it can be used to encourage behaviour change, for example showing health & safety information in industrial environments to reinforce best practice, or to shape and strengthen organisational culture in a large corporate environment.
As the use of digital signage increases in a variety of different sectors, it continues to evolve. Screens are now being used in conjunction with responsive technology (e.g. motion sensors, gesture control) and artificial intelligence (AI) to maximise engagement and effectiveness tracking.