February means the beginning of trade show season for the digital signage industry with the ISE show in Amsterdam kicking things off followed by the Digital Signage Expo in March. We’ve already started to see a lot of new product announcements with more to come. It’s great to see all that activity. It’s a sign of a healthy industry that keeps innovating.
This is a great time to invest in digital signage because there have never been more choices and options available. There are more and more solutions for every vertical market and any business type. However it’s important to cut through some of the hype that circulates around this time of year.
#1- The PC is deadThe digital signage hardware market has expanded to include a wide range of devices in the past few years. A lot of this has been fuelled by Android powered devices that are based on tablets and smartphones. Now we hear about smart TVs that run various proprietary operating systems (Samsung, LG, etc…) and can display digital signage content. This is all good but traditional PCs will always have a place in the digital signage ecosystem. For example, multi-screen deployments and video walls require multi-output video cards that are only available on PCs. There is also a lack of remote access and maintenance tools for Android and other proprietary platforms. Most PCs can be upgraded in some way (memory, storage) while many of the lower end solutions can’t be upgraded.
#2 – Smart TVs are all we needAt first glance Smart TVs offer quite a value proposition. You buy the TV and you get everything you need to deploy your content. However it’s important to understand some of the limitations with these displays. First, the digital signage “brains” is baked into the TV so you lose everything if it ever malfunctions or requires servicing, You can’t just replace it with any other display. You must replace it with an identical one so it will talk to the digital signage software and receive its programming. This brings up the issue of proprietary operating systems. A Samsung Smart TV is not the same as a similar LG unit. They use different OSs so it’s not like you can swap one for the other and be back up and running. Next there is the question of the underlying player hardware. In most cases these are fine for basic digital signage applications but they are too limited for anything more involved such as interactive applications and multi-screen installations.
#3 – Raspberry Pi, the next big thingA lot of people are getting excited with the prospect of Raspberry Pi devices. They are very buzzworthy because of their low cost proposition and small footprint. It’s important to remember these small PCs were originally designed for hobbyists and students. We’re talking about a small circuit board that needs to be mounted inside a case, then you need to get your hands on the various cables and external power source so by the time you are done, you have spent as much as a fully assembled Android device. There are a couple of commercial Raspberry Pi based digital signage products available but they haven’t taken taken the market by storm. This may change in the future as newer and more powerful versions are released. There has been a recent announcement about an upgraded Raspberry Pi board which could run a free version of Windows 10. This will certainly be something to watch out for in the months ahead.