What is Digital Signage, Really?
We hear the term digital signage tossed around a lot, but not everyone knows what it really means. Much of the information that’s out there is either old or not very useful. It’s why we’re taking this opportunity to clarify what digital signage truly means.
The Navori Labs team has over 20 years of experience in digital signage software development and hardware design. Over the years we’ve seen our share of digital signage challenges. We know what it takes to deliver engaging content on a digital signage monitor.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an advertiser or venue owner. In the end, it’s all about delivering a positive, engaging, and inspiring viewer experience. Read on and learn more about digital signage. You’ll discover the technology that runs the show behind the scenes.
What is a digital signage system?
When someone talks about digital signage, they mostly refer to a digital screen, monitor or display that plays content. It’s an all encompassing term for the digital signs we see installed in public, commercial, and corporate settings.
Digital signage systems rely on networked media player devices to receive and display programmed content from a centralized server. Digital signage screens are connected to the media player devices so they can show the content to the viewing audience. When multiple media player devices are interconnected, you end up with a complete digital signage network.
Digital signage’s origins
Many people trace digital signage’s origins back to the printed sign. While print is still used in many settings, it’s becoming less and less popular. There are many factors behind the switch from print to digital signage. Obvious reasons would be print production costs and its impact on the environment.
Print vs Digital Signage
Print is essentially a single-use medium. Once a sign has fulfilled its purpose, it gets discarded and replaced. While many types of printed signs can be recycled, it’s still a complicated process before signage stock can be reused.
A printed sign’s life cycle can be summarized like this…
- Handling / Installation
Let’s not forget about all the printed signs that can’t easily be recycled, which end up in landfills. With the public showing more interest in green alternatives, the print industry is shifting production to more environmentally friendly processes.
While vegetable-based inks and recycled stock are now common, it will take a while before the industry fully converts.
- Shipping has a huge environmental impact and greener delivery alternatives are years away.
- Many areas lack the facilities to recycle print material.
- The cost of recycling print material can be very high.
It’s important to note there still are printed signs made from non-recyclable materials. These are mostly for exterior signs which are exposed to the elements and the sun’s UV rays.
In order to stay relevant, the print industry must constantly innovate, which puts pressure on research and development.
This helps digital signage’s appeal grow exponentially.
Digital signage’s advantages
Digital signage solutions offer all the benefits of old-style printed signs with the advantage of immediacy, updatability and interactivity. Digital signage only needs a power source and a network connection to function.
Over its entire lifespan, a single digital signage display can replace an unlimited number of printed signs. When you start factoring digital signage’s many advantages, you quickly realize how valuable and cost-effective the technology can be.
In terms of logistics, you only need to ship and install the equipment at the designated location. Once a digital screen is put in service, it starts showing content right away. It will continue to do so as long as you require it.
Today’s smart digital signage screens are designed to consume less electricity than ever before. You can also place screens in standby mode which helps reduce their energy consumption even more. Doing so extends the screen’s lifespan as an added bonus.
But digital signage isn’t just about a digital display. It includes many other types of devices.
Digital signage and corporate communications
Back in the 80’s, large corporations relied on closed circuit TVs to broadcast business content to remote offices. Eventually, these companies switched to satellite broadcasts to push out news, training videos and other useful information to their remote locations. The emergence of affordable and easy to use video production equipment made the process feasible, and business TV was born.
Next came inexpensive videotape technology, and the process evolved again. Small and medium sized businesses were now able to produce and distribute content more cheaply than ever before. This was followed by DVDs and eventually, the internet.
Digital signage for corporate communications is the latest iteration of business TV. The same process used to distribute ads and information to the public now informs, trains and motivates employees.
Wonder why? Digital signage networks can replace TV broadcasts at a fraction of the cost and provide many features TV can’t match.
- With digital signage, companies can deliver unique content and programming at each location providing for tailored messaging and instant updates.
- Digital signage lets businesses motivate and inform staff via real-time news and social media feeds. There is no better medium for corporate communications.
Digital signage hardware and software components
Most digital signage solutions have the following components:
- Backend server — This is where the system stores media files and sends out instructions to remote media players. It can be a single physical PC or a virtual machine running on a shared hosting service.
- Database — This is where information is stored. The database may be located on the backend server or on a separate device depending on the number of players involved.
- User interface (UI) — This is the software dashboard that people use to interact with the digital signage system. The user interface can be part of locally installed software or accessed via a web browser.
- Digital signage layout design tool — This is the software application users access to create layouts for their digital signage screens. This functionality is usually accessed via the user interface in most modern digital signage software.
- Media player software and related devices — A software app that you install on a media player device connected to a digital signage display. The software receives instructions and content to be played from the backend server via a network connection.
- Digital signage displays — The audience facing technology that displays the media player’s programming.
Types of digital signage solutions
Digital signage is typically offered in cloud-based or on-premise versions.
Cloud-based (SaaS) digital signage software
This is when the digital signage software’s backend server is hosted by the vendor themselves. It’s basically a subscription based service and customers are charged a monthly fee for each media player they deploy. The service includes a user interface and the ability to remotely update the content playing on each screen.
It’s called cloud-based digital signage, SaaS, or software-as-a-service.
Cloud-based digital signage features a web user interface. It makes it easy for users to access the system from any location. It’s great for companies who don’t want to tie-up a lot of capital to purchase software licenses.
It’s the quickest way to get into digital signage. There’s no need for your own IT resources, and you can scale up as your business expands.
On-premise digital signage software
An on-premise digital signage software is ideal for those who need total control over their data. You purchase a permanent software license for the backend server and individual licenses for each media player you deploy. There is no monthly fee for use which some companies prefer.
Instead, most on-premise software licensees pay an annual support and maintenance fee. These fees cover the costs of software updates and technical support.
Who uses on-premise digital signage software?
- Financial institutions, like banks and credit unions who must ensure their customer’s privacy and are obligated to protect their data.
- Large multinational corporations who have sufficient IT resources to deploy and manage their own network.
- Digital signage network operators who act as a hosting provider for their own clients.
- Companies who want to integrate their own internal processes using APIs.
- Any business who wishes to retain full control of their user’s data.
What is digital signage software used for?
In a nutshell… Communication, promotion, and advertising. Digital signage is a communication medium that sits between printed signage and live TV.
Outdoor advertising, or digital out-of-home (DooH) is a growing segment that includes many types of digital signage.
- Large format LED billboards by the side of the road.
- Outdoors LED boards mounted on the side of a building.
- LED signs mounted on pylons near retail stores, gas stations, or restaurants.
Information in public spaces
Retail signs and restaurant menu boards
What to look for in a digital signage software?
Perhaps you’ve been reading this article and wondering what makes a good digital signage software. Maybe you’re comparing between solutions and wish to make a better educated choice.
Here are some points to consider before making your selection.
Digital signage server software
- Pick the solution that closely matches your needs.
- Cloud-based for simplicity and lower initial investment costs.
- On-premise for complete server and data control.
- Consider solutions that let you perform your own custom programming using SDKs.
- Think of your future needs. Look for a backend server that scales easily.
Media player software
Digital signage deployments often use multiple types of displays and devices. Popular media player software apps such as QL Player can operate on a range of devices, including:
- Microsoft Windows PCs
- Navori QL StiX 3700 media players
- Google Android devices
- BrightSign media players
- Commercial-grade Smart TV models that use system-on-chip designs
Rely on a single software player to drive your programming across any hardware platform.
The best media player software like Navori Lab’s QL Player are based on video game technologies. It’s software that is optimized for the best content playback and a superior viewing experience.
Anyone deploying a video wall or digital menu board should look for a player software that supports modern video graphics cards. Look for 64-bit software that can render content at extreme resolutions, like QL Player IPR.
Combining powerful digital signage with large LED displays lets you captivate bigger audiences. Install LED displays on the side of a building or cover an entire ceiling to create more memorable experiences.
Digital signage isn’t just about a passive activity. Take for example touchscreens and interactive tablets that can be used in various interesting ways:
- Interactive meeting room displays that let you make a reservation on the fly.
- Information kiosks and e-commerce terminals that let people search for, or order products not available in-store.
- Wayfinding displays that let visitors search for a location in a shopping mall or on a trade show floor.
When considering interactive applications, make sure your media player software supports touch-enabled screens and tablets. QL Player supports all interactive content natively and can also trigger interactive websites and e-commerce apps on-demand.
Content Management Software
The content management software works hand in hand with your backend server and media players. As the name implies, the CMS lets users manage their content, but that’s not all. It’s also the tool you use to build your programs, manage user access, and manage your entire media player network.
When considering a CMS, or content management software, remember the following:
- Look for software with a user-friendly interface. It will make it easier to onboard your staff members so they can be productive with less training.
- Avoid locally installed software. Instead, look for solutions that offer a web-based interface. Since there is no software to install and maintain, you will save on support costs.
- Consider software with a mobile-friendly user interface. This way, remote staff will be able to use the system while they are away from their desks. Think of sales people who call up product specifications while they are on the sales floor. Or perhaps a plant manager who brings up a training video in a meeting room.
Why Navori Labs?
Navori Labs is totally focused on digital signage software development. We’re a global software provider to companies large and small. Our QL digital signage software powers some of the most exciting visual installations, making us an authority in the field.
QL’s web-based content manager provides access to all the software’s features from any web browser. Users can manage any content, create playlists and complex schedules in minutes. The built-in template designer lets QL users create sophisticated content without leaving the application.
The QL Content Manager UI is accessible from any smartphone or tablet. It lets remote users access a subset of features that are optimized for remote work. Authorized staff members can swap-out any content, edit data feeds and trigger content instantly from any location.