On the Horizon - Digital Signage

posted Mar 21, 2016, 7:10 PM by Miguel Guhlin
"How do I create digital signs that I can update easily? "  Imagine having to physically manage computers, logging in remotely to each machine, installing anti-malware software, trying to avoid the blue screen of death from popping up instead of scheduled announcements. If digital signage is a concern for you--whether as a classroom principal, campus technology coordinator or district technology director--then this post shares some solutions! 

Let's quickly review what "digital signage" is:
Digital signage is a form of electronic display that shows Television programming, menus, information, advertising and other messages. Digital signs (such as LCD, LED, plasma displays, orprojected images) can be found in public and private environments, such as retail stores, hotels, restaurants and corporate buildings.
Source: Wikipedia

Before working to implement a solution, you will want to consider these questions:
  1. Do you want all displays or some displays to show the same content?
    Some solutions may only allow you to broadcast the same content to all displays, while some systems will allow you to send different content to various displays.
  2. Have you budgeted for cost of electrical cabling (e.g. electrical outlets)?
    Often, some want to place displays in places where electrical cabling has not been placed. Cost for an electrical outlet can begin at $250, so it's worth thinking strategically about placement of these displays. In addition to the display's power source, the mini-computer or device "serving up" the content may need power. While some devices will rely on built-in HDMI or USB on the display itself, a separate power cable for the device may be needed.
  3. Who will be your primary point of contact and support for this on campus?
    Empowering someone on the campus to maintain the software, technology and update displays often results in more responsive support that campuses need. This will eliminate someone calling the Technology Department asking for help and enables campus staff to take greater ownership of the displays at their location.
  4. Will there be sufficient WiFi signal to support these displays and content streaming?
    Along with electrical cabling, one potential obstacle to digital signage involves not having sufficient wireless signal to support streaming of images, text, and video. You should always plan for video, since as displays grow popular, the expectations for what the display can showcase will rise.
  5. Will you be able to secure the mini-computer or device?
    Given how enterprising some students and/or staff may be, failing to secure (or lock) the mini-computer or device could be fatal. While these devices are relatively inexpensive, replacing them periodically could become expensive. As such, finding a way to "lock" the devices may become necessary.
  6. What size monitor display will you need?
    You will want to find an appropriately sized monitor that includes HDMI/USB connections, as appropriate. Again, what size monitor you get really depends on pricing options available.

There are various solutions you could invest in. The solutions mentioned below have all been considered by Texas school districts:

SOLUTION #1 - Texas Digital
One 5A school district has invested and deployed a solution from Texas Digital (NCR). Cost estimates--based on a count of 22 monitors--are attached to this email and vendor would like to do a walkthrough--with your approval--to provide more detailed information.
Recommended Equipment: 42inch wall-mounted monitors (less expensive than ceiling-mounted), each has their own media player managed remotely via a web interface.
Cost estimates are attached for 22 monitors, one for 32inch ($64K) and 42inch ($72K) monitors; courtesy of Matt Wheat, National Sales Manager for NCR Corporation 
(Phone: 979-329-6203 | www.txdigital.com). The main selling point of this solution is that it's supported/managed by an external vendor at cost. 

SOLUTION #2 - RiseVision - "Free"
This solution is in use in multiple districts. Dr. Joy Rosseau (Arp ISD), shares, "
It allows you to add apps like news feeds, weather, Google slides, streaming content from TV or Radio, etc. We have found it to be limitless. You can schedule your displays and use multiple templates on multiple displays. It is cloud-based and can be used across the district."  One of its main selling points is that it is no-cost except for the hardware itself. There are no additional support/vendor costs. It is also centrally managed. 

Eustace ISD's Rusty Meyners makes these points:

As it happens, our high school principal asked for a digital signage solution and he had a budget ready for it. It fell to me and I went to town, trying RiseVision.com and two other solutions on inexpensive flat panel TVs from Wal-Mart fitted with Android dongles from Amazon.com. RiseVision was the one most prominently recommended by Technology Directors in the State and I can validate it as the best choice with some caveats. Just this week our first two displays went live - one 32" and one 47" with another 47" in the queue and probably a 40-42" to be added soon. 

Think this solution would be worth trying in your situation?

SOLUTION #3 - Chromebox with Google Slides or Chrome Sign Builder
This solution, growing in popularity, involves using a Chromebox (Dell Chromeboxes are about $149-$349 depending on specifications, but you can also find others online) to manage content. Of course, you will need to include an HDMI friendly monitor display. In regards to what is providing the content, some districts like to use Google Slides, while others use Chrome Sign Builder. Google describes Chrome Sign Builder describes itself in this way:

Chrome Sign Builder makes it easy to show web content content such as restaurant menus, images, and YouTube videos and playlists–as well as Google Presentations, which can be edited by anyone who has access to the presentation.
You configure Chrome Sign Builder once. In initial setup, you create schedules and specify the URLs for content that will be displayed according to the schedules. Later you might need to change the content at those URLs, but you don’t have to reconfigure schedules and settings in Chrome Sign Builder. 

Timothy Ezler (Ricardo ISD)--check out his example--shared, "I played with Chrome Sign Builder but the use of Google Slides was much easier." Bland ISD also does the same, eliminating the need for a device: "Students actually maintain the presentation under supervision of classroom sponsor. Difference is presentation runs on two TVs with built in wireless. No need for connected netbook or other device."
You decide which is the best approach!

SOLUTION #4 - Next Unit of Computing
Next Unit of Computing (NUC) provides a low-cost affordable option for school districts. NUCs usually run the full Windows operating system and provide a level of familiarity for staff. A NUC is a small form factor and is appropriate for use in displays. 

SOLUTION #5 - Flat Panels displaying Powerpoint
Other districts have simply hooked up flat panels running in kiosk mode to a "video multiplier." The video multiplier is connected to a computer running Microsoft Powerpoint.

Next time a campus principal asks you, "How can I setup digital signs?," you will have a starting point!