Traditionally limited to large CRT screens in Airports and Public Transportation Terminals, digital signs can now be found almost anywhere. With the advancement of LCD technology, and tiny powerful computers, digital signs have evolved from basic DOS-like graphics, to bright, ultra high resolution displays. Even at my local movie theater they’ve replaced the traditional menu boards with displays that not only show pricing, but movie previews and HD animations of food and drinks. You can find them playing advertisements and offering specials in stores such as Target and Wal-Mart, I’ve even seen touch-screen digital displays replacing the entire front of soda vending machines.

For this Martin’s Corner, I’m going to discuss one such software package used to implement digital signs, and how we used it in the Corvalent lobby at our headquarters here in Texas.

Basic or Complex

We frequently have visitors come to our facility, and most often they spend at least a brief time in our lobby. We wanted to have something in that room that offered some information about our company, while also providing a “painless” way to pass a short amount of time. Several months ago we mounted a 48″ Samsung LCD HD Television on the wall. That particular TV is equipped with a USB port, that is capable of playing a slide show using .jpg image it finds USB memory key inserted into the side of the monitor. This is one of the most basic and simple forms of a digital sign, and almost anyone can implement it. All you do is load a USB key with photos or screen captures of your power point presentation, and name them appropriately (knowing that they will typically play in alphabetical or numerical order). In the beginning, this is what we had playing in our lobby. But it was decided that we needed to find a better and more advanced solution that was not extremely expensive.

After asking Google some questions, and a little searching, our marketing department found a company called: mediasignage (Note that we don’t partner or work with them in any way, this is simply our experiences with their service). They offer a solution based on Adobe Flash Technologies. And best of all? For the 1st digital sign, it is 100% free. No ads, no restrictions, no credit card required, no fees, no overage charges, nothing. It’s a way to completely test it and run a sign indefinitely at no monthly cost.

They are a “cloud” based service, where all of the files and saved presentations live entirely on their system. This allows for easy expansion and management of hundreds of remote signs anywhere in the world there is an internet connection. On the actual sign, you place a Windows or Linux computer that will act as the sign player. (you can run (1) of these under the free license)

Making the Sign Presentation

This isn’t .jpgs anymore. Everything shown on the screen has to be made and designed and placed there intentionally. We started out with the same slide show, and over a few days of off and on playing around with the service, watching their “how to” videos, and asking questions, our marketing department started to evolve the presentation. Ultimately, we ended up adding some RSS video feeds to play from Fox news and Discovery channel, we have an text based news scrolling on the bottom (from an AP news feed), Flash animated weather displaying on the upper right, and our corporate presentation playing on the main screen. Updates can be made from anywhere in the world from the mediasignage web site, or from the desktop studio application. They even have a lot of pre-made elements like weather players, clocks, etc. so you don’t have to spend time developing in Flash.(We’re probably using less than 1/4 of the software’s features and capabilities, and it’s meeting our needs).

The software isn’t perfect by any means, on the user interface side there are still some bugs and glitches to work around, particularly when compared to much higher end solutions.To be honest, it feels a little like a Beta or early version of the software. Key features like copy and paste are lacking, resulting in development becoming tedious in some cases. But overall, the value and “bang for the buck”, even after licensing multiple signs, is really hard bargain to beat.

The Corvalent Sign

If you would like to see the presentation our lobby is playing today, just click here. Note that the presentation is designed for our lobby monitor at 1920×1080 resolution, if your screen size is smaller, the formatting of the presentation won’t be perfect.

For our signage computer, we set up one our compact CorBrick 945MIT industrial computers for the task. It was perfect for the job because aside from it’s compact size and on-board memory, it was well ventilated, easily outputs the required 1920×1080 native resolution for our monitor, and has more than enough “horse power” for the job.

Good Luck, and be sure to call us at 888-776-7896 or contact us, if we can help you out with your digital signage or kiosk hardware needs.