Digital Signage: Choosing the right systems

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Photos courtesy Peerless-AV

By Brian McClimans
Digital signage is growing in tandem with technological advances and changes in communication styles and processes. For those new to the medium, however, decision-making can prove quite overwhelming.

Upon the advent of colour photography and films, the public quickly preferred, gave more attention to and came to expect signage in vibrant colours, leaving black-and-white messaging behind. The same holds true with regard to digital signage; people want to see messages conveyed in a medium they know and expect. In this day and age, that expectation is for fresh, updated information.

Digital signage can meet this expectation, whereas static signs may appear out-of-date. This is one reason many companies and other types of organizations have turned to digital signage to get their messages across.

Indeed, the main purpose of digital signage in any setting is communication. In corporate settings, for example, it may be placed outside the front of a building to welcome employees, clients, customers and guests. Other corporations use it inside their buildings to share company-wide news in lunchrooms, cafeterias, lobbies and production rooms.

It is crucial for sign shops and audiovisual (AV) integrators to understand their clients’ needs in terms of how they will use digital signage. What will the content communicate, to whom and where? Understanding a client’s goals will help determine which digital signage products and systems are right for the situation.

A plethora of options are available for implementing digital signage, including liquid crystal displays (LCDs), light-emitting diode (LED) arrays and projectors; wall mounts, kiosks, desktop mounts and outdoor-durable cabinets; and audio components.

There are a variety of considerations that need to be taken with regard to the setting for digital signage. After determining a project’s communication goals, for example, one of the most crucial distinctions is whether the signage will be displayed indoors or outdoors.

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Indoor digital signage
Not all indoor environments are the same when it comes to digital signage installations. Office buildings are usually better-equipped than factories, by way of example, for fully wired technologies.

That said, adding AV systems to any facility that is not a new build can prove troublesome. Wire concealment, in particular, is a fine art among professional installers who are often limited by a system’s wiring integration challenges. Multi-room, multi-device installations are especially tricky. Traditional cable runs can be almost impossible in situations where sealed walls cannot be opened up, e.g. to run cables that distribute sound.

In such scenarios, going wireless is the ideal solution, but this has presented a multitude of challenges to custom AV integrators. For one thing, robust wireless signals are often hard to obtain. For another, wireless transmission is intrinsically less reliable than copper wire for audio signals, especially when spanning multiple zones across both concrete and metal construction.

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Office buildings are usually well-equipped for fully wired digital signage installations.

To determine the right wireless networking configuration, the integrator must consider system range, scalability, audio quality and installation ease. The following are some of the factors that come into play:

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A system that allows (a) the digital signage transmitter or media player to be mounted on a rack and (b) the amplifier (if audio is part of the system) and wiring to be hidden in a wall cavity will help keep clutter down to a minimum.
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A combination of multiple inputs, including mono channels and stereo pairs, can help the network support multiple uses in the future, such as additional zones and surround sound.
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To ensure reliability is as consistent as possible with a wired system, setting up an independent wireless network is the best option, as it will help reduce interference from other existing networks and provide 
a secure channel for streaming content to multiple zones.
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Two-way communications between the transmitter and the receiver can offer ‘forward error correction,’ ensuring there are no crackles or pops if the signal weakens. In addition, there should be low to zero latency—i.e. delay between cause and effect—from one component to another.
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A high-quality audio system should be able to reproduce sound at 16-bit depth and a 44.1-kH sampling rate.
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Industry codes and ratings for commercial applications can help give an integrator peace of mind when selecting and installing wires, tie wraps and other components of the digital signage network.
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