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About Digital Signage

 

Standalone media and digital signage players

Media players (those designed for professional use, not the consumer-level USB devices) function essentially as storage devices to play back digital media content, such as recorded video (MPEG video or Windows® AVI media, for example), Flash® animations, text tickers, PowerPoint® files, and audio. They can operate on their own, or they can be networked so you can update your digital signage more easily.

Digital signage players (also called digital signage appliances) have all the above functions but can also deliver live broadcasts, RSS feeds, and other Web-based content in real time to your displays. They're usually Windows OS-based PCs by design with spacious drives and high-performance processors. You can even order them bundled with sophisticated design tools that enable you to set up multiple zones within a single screen to show recorded and live video alongside static images.

Network-side components

To enable the playing back and control of prerecorded and live content, you may need an authoring console that's equipped with content management software. Network-side devices can also include media storage drives and devices, as well as dedicated or shared servers, hosted centrally or in a distributed environment, that bridge the connection between your media players and a content management system. They're also used for uploading content and distributing video, audio, and other multimedia to multiple digital signs on a network.

Prerecorded video and other content can originate from the content management system or a video library. For corporate applications, your system can be connected to an Oracle® database or a CRM system, and in retail applications, your digital signage can link to a PoS system database running on a network and tracking available inventory.

Network-side components can also be whatever it takes to link a broadband Internet or WAN feed to your digital signage system, including DSL, satellite, or leased-line modems or gateways.

Displays

Plasma Screens: These flat-panel displays give you a way to present digital signage images with superb color, resolution, and contrast on a large scale. Because plasmas use each and every pixel on their screens, color information is reproduced more accurately. What's more, plasma screens display moving images with remarkable clarity.

For displays with lots of light and dark imagery, plasma panels provide excellent performance with their high contrast levels, color saturation, and overall brightness. This makes them great for digital signage setups in brightly lit rooms and areas receiving indirect sunlight.

Plus, they are well-suited for use in larger rooms where viewers aren't necessarily in front of the signage. Brightness on the screen is consistent corner to corner because every pixel is used, which makes viewing the images on the screen easier to see from a variety of angles—better than the angles of LCDs. In fact, plasma screens have as much as a 160° viewing angle (LCDs display at 130—140° viewing angles).

Plasma technology outperforms LCD screens in contrast output, too. A contrast ratio is the measure of the blackest black compared to the whitest white, and some plasma displays have contrast ratios as high as 3000:1 (LCDs displays typically don't produce more than a 1000:1 contrast ratio).

Burn-in, however, can be an issue with plasma screens, particularly if they're used in always-on digital signage that features the same shapes or patterns. And then there's the matter of overall life. Plasma screens use a combination of electric currents and noble gases (argon, neon, and xenon) to produce a glow, which in turn yields brilliant color. The half-life of these gases, however, is only around 25,000 hours, so the glow they produce for the plasma display grows dimmer over time.

LCD Screens: Like plasma screens, LCD panels offer sharp contrasts for super-clear displays that are pleasing to the eye. They're better for smaller displays (under, say, 40"). And even though LCDs offer a lower contrast ratio than plasmas (1000:1 vs. 3000:1), they do rather well at displaying the blackest black against the whitest white. This is because LCDs use electric charges to untwist liquid crystals, thereby blocking light and emitting darker pixels.

LCDs display at 130—140° viewing angles, which isn't as good as the angles provided by plasma screens. But, keep in mind, their use of fluorescent backlighting requires much less power to operate than plasmas. This also makes LCDs less prone to burn-in (a possible issue on plasma screens) or ghosting of images.

What's more, LCD displays have an advantage over plasma screens with their higher-than-average number of pixels per square inch. These additional pixels make LCD technology better at displaying static images from computers or VGA sources in full-color detail. Applications containing a lot of data—such as those containing spreadsheets or constantly updating lists or text crawls—display particularly well on LCD monitors. Plus, there's no flicker.

The brilliant displays provided by LCDs last over time, too. With LCD screens, there are essentially no parts to wear out. They last as long as their backlights do, with displays lasting, on average, 50,000—75,000 hours. That's why LCD screens are especially good for long-term applications, such as digital signage displays that require around-the-clock use.