Digital signage common sense:  When NOT to mount the player behind the screen (Commentary)

Dave Haar

VP, Business Development-Media Distribution Solutions, ComQi

Picture this — you enter into a burger joint (ahem: chain) to relieve yourself of those afternoon hunger pangs when you take notice of the attention-grabbing digital menu boards. Images are alternating between three of the four screens displaying the menu items and food being prepared. The last screen is stagnant at blue. Distracted by the blank screen, you politely ask the manager why it's inactive and he replies that the failed player is awaiting service. You ask where the player was located and he reveals that it's behind the screen.

It doesn't always pay to place a player behind a screen in a digital signage network. I've been in the digital signage industry for 15 years and have seen ill-conceived networks and well implemented ones. As a representative of a company that sells both signal extension and distribution, or E&D, hardware and players on screen, I am well positioned to argue where players belong in digital signage installs.

There are three distinct situations where placing a player behind a screen is always more expensive in installation costs and/or operating costs, over the life of a network.

When you are in a venue sending the same content to multiple screens, signal extension and distribution equipment will be less expensive and have higher performance than a player on screen. The reasons for this are:

  1. Signal receivers cost less than most players.
  2. Player and/or software licensing costs are reduced because only one player is required for E&D equipment.
  3. Multiple players showing the same content on each screen can result in inconsistent clock, thus causing messages to be out of sync. Images may not appear at exactly the same time causing the content to look jerky.

E&D equipment is also advantageous to player on screens when the installment is placed in either difficult to reach locations or servicing the player will disrupt the business flow and potentially annoy customers. Examples include a service line at a quick service restaurant or an amusement park.

For instance, a shopping mall has screens placed eight to 10 feet off the floor, which require lifts or ladders to reach them. The large equipment cannot be present during business hours, so servicing entails overtime, security and labor costs. On the other hand, having a player in an accessible location would cut servicing costs and downtime of the messaging considerably over the life of the network. Installations will be comparable, as the cable used to bring network connectivity to the player at screen is the same cable used for signal extension.

Finally, E&D equipment is ideal in digital signage installments when screens are placed in harsh conditions. Such environments include outdoor locations such as transit platforms, amusement parks, drive-through menu boards or stadiums. Additionally, QSRs where fumes, heat and oil are prevalent, or manufacturing plants where dust, heat and dirt are present will influence performance of the player. In each of these scenarios the servicing of players happens more frequently, costing more than servicing players placed in safe and environmentally friendly locations with signal extension.

The underlying message of this piece is this: The decision on where to place players in a digital signage network will have an impact on the total cost of ownership of that network over its four or five year lifespan. Players, while becoming more reliable, still require the most maintenance and upkeep over time than any other element in the digital signage network ecosystem. Placing a player in a safe, secure and accessible location will ensure that the network's uptime will be maximized while the costs of maintenance will be minimized over the life of the system hardware. And those savings can be substantial. It's digital signage common sense — think about it!

ComQi is a provider of multichannel message management in the digital signage and digital out-of-home industries, providing content and network management platforms along with media distribution technologies.

Read more about digital signage hardware.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Kris Vollrath
    53643100
    As usual Dave, you're dead on! One of the biggest responsibilities of a good DS integrator is doing the right install for their client. Anyone can do a hang-n-bang install. The trick is knowing the right way to integrate all the pieces and S&D is a major part of that. Great explanation why...
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