The centre of your digital signage infrastructure

The next time you’re standing in line at a restaurant and are reading a digital menu board, do you notice anything besides the image of the tasty cheeseburger? If not, then the content is doing its job. But of course, you also know that the cheeseburger image is coming from somewhere, so where is it?

Plugged into every digital signage screen is a device that receives a stream and then renders that stream into content on the screens. This device is commonly referred to as the media player. There are a diverse number of these media player devices in the marketplace, each their with various pros and cons. Finding the right one for your use case is a critical step in designing your digital signage infrastructure.

Before we begin, it’s important to know what we mean by a media player.

Typically when we’re talking about digital signage, a media player means a mini computer that is small enough to strap onto the back of a monitor and can run 24/7 delivering your content to the screens it connects to.

A media player is usually a lightweight computer that runs with a standard operating system (OS) such as:

  • ChromeOS
  • Windows 10
  • Linux

These media players also contain hardware components such as a central processing unit (CPU), a graphics processing unit (GPU) and a variable capacity of memory (RAM).

Where to begin depends on what you know about your organizations requirements. Most users adopt an OS that they are already familiar with and use with their other devices.  

Understanding the Components

All devices have the same basic components under the hood. The main thing you need to consider when choosing a device is what type of demand will your content put on the hardware.

CPU

The CPU itself is a core component of what makes a computer a computer, but it isn’t the computer itself — it’s just the brains of the operation. It’s a small computer chip that sits atop the main circuit board (motherboard) of a computer. At its core, a CPU takes instructions from a program or application and performs a calculation. At its core, a CPU takes instructions from a program or application and performs a calculation. Today’s modern processors are made up of multiple cores which allow it to perform multiple instructions at once. They’re effectively several CPUs on a single chip. Almost all CPUs sold today are at least dual core, but at the higher end, you’ll see four (quad) core CPUs.

GPU

The GPU is the part of the machine that will render all of your graphical elements, so if you’re using more video and complex effects in your boards, then graphics power is going to be important. Generally, you want to have at least 64MB of graphics memory available per screen, so if you’re running two screens off of one card, that card should have at least 128MB of graphics memory.

When it comes to running multiple boards or video walls, your machine will require more powerful purpose-built cards such as an Asus Eyefinity that is specifically designed for multi-screen digital signage. This card allows up to 6 displays to run simultaneously via DisplayPort connectors.

Remember that not every card can output 4K and UHD effectively. Check the card details to make sure it is designed to output the resolution you require.

RAM

Random access memory (RAM) is a form of memory within the computer that manages and manipulates quickly accessible information. In the context of digitalsignage, the RAM capabilities of your media player will determine how complex the content you run on screens can be.

Content is downloaded to your device via TelemetryTV’s Media Player app, and once it’s on your device, your computer will handle the heavy lifting. We recommend at least 8GB of RAM to handle most digital signage content applications.

Operating Systems

While the hardware may be similar, the main differences between media players are their operating system. TelemetryTV’s Media Player controller app has been developed to run with ChromeOS and Windows 10, so these are going to be your default hardware options.

ChromeOS

What you need to know:

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Purpose Built for Digital Signage
  • Scalable Infrastructure
  • Part of the Google ecosystem
  • Can Run as a Single App Kiosk
  • Can be controlled from Google's Device Management layer

Cons:

  • Google Device Management Layer has a 1-2 hr learning curve.
  • Unable to modify hardware
  • Devices are usually limited to 1 or 2 display outports

ChromeOS is Google’s lightweight web-focused operating system that can be found running on the diverse family of Chrome devices. TelemetryTV was built with Chrome compatibility in mind, and the Chromebox is an ideal single-screen signage media player for most users.

Chromeboxes are reliable machines that are the most affordable to deploy at scale, with many starting below $300. They are pre-built and come from a variety of manufacturers including AOpen,Acer, Asus, and HP.

Generally, they will only be able to run one to two screens at a time, but due to their size, they can discreetly be placed behind your monitors without impairing their ability to be mounted.

Provisioning your devices will require Chrome Enterprise, which is Google’s management layer for Chrome devices. This management layer is necessary to run TelemetryTV apps in single-app kiosk mode, which boasts several benefits like booting directly into the media player upon powering up, auto-firmware and software updates, and remote reboot if necessary. The Single App Kiosk feature require licenses that can be purchased at $24 a year at time of this writing. 

We have documentation about how to setup your Chrome devices here:

http://help.telemetrytv.com/devices/deployment-guides/chromeos-deployment-guide

Windows 10

What you need to know:

Pros:

  • A wide array of hardware options
  • Component Kits can be easily modified
  • Easier to get started with
  • Possible to run more displays from a single box
  • Video wall capability

Cons:

  • Often expensive
  • Can be difficult to determine the right machine
  • Requires more technical knowledge and maintenance

Windows 10 is Microsoft’s current operating system that runs on innumerable devices built by third-party manufacturers like Intel, Dell, and Asus. Because of this, there is far more diversity among Windows devices than ChromeOS. While this means there is less standardization of understanding what you’re getting at any given price, one of the of the greatest strengths of running a Windows device is that you can handpick the components to your specifications.

It would be unreasonable to attempt to display even a partial list of available Windows devices, so it is best to look at some trusted manufacturers you are already familiar with and weight their offerings with your needs. However, we would recommend considering the Intel NUC line of devices. They are a series of mini PCs that offer lots of performance at an affordable price. Pre-built NUCs start at around $300, and there is also an option to purchase a NUC kit and construct your own custom device.

Because of the flexibility of the Windows platform, it does offer some options if you are looking to run video walls. The AMD Eyefinity line of video cards allows for six simultaneous DisplayPort outputs, which is the best solution for controlling large video walls. Alternatively, Intel offers the Intel Collage feature on some of its video cards, allowing you to share an image across three to four screens.

Getting set up with Windows means you can use assigned access mode, which limits the device to run only a single application, meaning you can set your device to only run your TelemetryTV content.

We have documentation to help you get started here:

http://help.telemetrytv.com/devices/deployment-guides/windows-10-deployment-guide-beta

Conclusion

Determining your media player is a crucial first step in building your digital signage infrastructure. While the diversity of components and devices may seem overwhelming, the most important thing is to keep it simple. If you only need to run a few independent screens, get a device whose specs reflect that. And if you already run a business on Chrome or Windows, staying consistent is a must.

Determining what you want to accomplish with TelemetryTV will help greatly in making your decision clearer and easier. If you have questions or more information, please contact us.