Digital Signage Initiatives Researched and Written By: 1

Digital Signage Initiatives
Project Development and Program Deployment
Electronic Digital Signage Guide
Researched and Written By:
Scott R. Sharer
Communication Design Group Inc.
Visual Communications Advisor & Consultant
General Introduction:
Many organizations are, at this time, experiencing a dramatic increase of interest
and challenge related to corporate-wide needs for electronic digital signage
solutions. This is not unlike the rapid growth of this technology category
throughout most business, government and education enterprises operating
today. All individuals have become more aware of the use of this applied
technology within airports, parks, shopping centers, small businesses,
museums… virtually anywhere we might expect to find more traditional “static”
signage and display we all now encounter dynamic displays, of varying types,
used to convey all sorts of information to the encountering public.
Similar to the breadth of applications of electronic digital signage seen in the
public arena, your company or organization probably has a wide array of
applications for which this technology solution is being evaluated, with a few
isolated applications already in operation.
In the interests of:
1. maintaining continuity,
2. taking advantage of leveraged quantity purchase in order to reduce
development and initial-deployment costs [and long-term deployment and
maintenance costs],
3. providing a reliable and flexible set of solutions,
4. implementing a common platform in subset form that can be “linked” into a
corporate-wide enterprise interoperable solution, and
5. providing a streamlined method of content development, technology
management and long-term cost effective system maintenance…
…Communication Design Group Inc / Scott Sharer has written this document in
the hope that it can serve to guide and direct the acquisition, deployment and use
of this technology throughout a company, regardless of user community,
application vertical or breadth and depth of deployment of the tools.
This document:
This current version of the “Electronic Digital Signage Guide” document seeks to
provide the participants and interested-parties to this discussion, now and in the
future, several basic and essential elements.
1. This document will provide initial introduction to the totality of the elements
[beyond the video display that gets hung on the wall or mounted on a
stand] that are involved in proper and complete cost effective “electronic
digital signage deployment” configurations of any type.
2. This document will provide initial guidance in the fundamental
considerations for the subsets of technology and technical elements that,
once brought together, make up a complete “electronic digital signage”
3. This document seeks to provide starting-points for dialog among widely
varying interested parties as each goes about establishing their specific
needs and goals for the deployment of electronic digital signage.
4. This document is designed to provoke reflection, thought, understanding
and consideration-of various elements that would otherwise be
overlooked, a result of which could very well mean the costly deployment
of ineffective or brittle solutions in this area.
5. This document is designed to begin to codify the “checklist” of elements
that any person or group must make in order to better insure satisfactory
matching of needs to expectations to costs to technology.
Basic Definitions and Frequent important questions & answers:
We will proceed through the next major portions of this document by
asking fundamentally critical questions and then answering them with as
much straight-forward detail as possible without delving too deeply into
the technical nitty-gritty of this technology application. The intent here is to
provide the reader a full and thorough background of information and
knowledge that each person can then use when searching for digital
signage solutions, as they are examining possible candidate elements and
determining how to structure and manage their own portions of any digital
signage project. As stated – we will be as thorough as possible, but we
cannot write an infinitely detailed document that, as a result, becomes
confusing and unusable to the reader. Please read this document and
consider it as a resource that you are able to consult during each step of
your project work, and please understand that there are several technology
experts available to you who can assist in filling-in any details or teasing
apart any confusing elements.
Question: We begin by asking the simple yet elusively complex question:
“What-is Electronic Digital Signage?”
ANSWER: While the term "Digital Signage" is the common term used throughout
North America, in Europe the same technology is often referred to as
Narrowcasting or Narrowcast networks, while some companies in the UK prefer
“ScreenMedia” or "Digital Media Networks" or, in some cases [even in America]
this same set of technology compliments might be referred-to as "Captive
Audience Networks", or "CANs".
Electronic Digital Signage (today also frequently referred-to in many general
business and marketing publications and applications as “Out-of-home
advertising” or “Out-of-home information display”), is a form of digital information
display in which content and messages are displayed on some type of electronic
screen (LCD, Plasma, CRT, Projection [of many types] etc), or “digital sign”. In a
properly designed solution, the content materials can be changed without any
modification to the physical sign or without requiring actual realtime adjustment to
the display device(s).
A properly designed solution also allows instant “push” of new materials and
coordinated playback of any available content, on any combination of displays,
with minimal human realtime management required beyond selection of content
to be displayed, selection of screens or groups of screens, and number of cycles
or duration of the content display.
In short - The intent of Electronic Digital Signage is to deploy an
information distribution, control and display solution typically with the goal
of delivering targeted messages to specific locations at specific times
across [potentially] vast physical distances and throughout large physical
spaces, with that “content” being delivered without requiring the “viewer”
to do anything more than observe the display and mentally take-in the
content materials.
Question: What are the actual “signs”, and, if these are placed across an
entire corporation, how are they “coordinated” to play the right content at
the right time in the right place, or even display the same content in all
places at one time?
ANSWER: In the most basic sense, digital signs may be scrolling message
boards, LCD or plasma display panels, electronic billboards, projection screens,
or other emerging display types like Organic Light Emitting Diode screens
(OLEDs) that can be controlled electronically using a computer or other digital
control and content management & delivery appliance device, allowing
individuals or groups to remotely change and control their content [usually via a
corporate or business intranet or “LAN” and/or via the Internet / WWW (World
Wide Web) / Corporate WAN].
Entry to an office lobby,
where a mirror becomes a “digital
sign” as programmed and a mirror
when no information is set for display
Retail area of a shopping mall
(more information and discussion on the elements related to the display
technologies will be offered later in this document)
Question: What type of “content materials” or “information formats” can be
displayed on an “electronic digital signage” system?
ANSWER: Depending on the capability of ALL elements of the system, including
the display, the connecting network, the development and formatting software,
the management system software and the available space or “bandwidth” for
storage of various types of media / content / information, the content displayed
on digital signage screens can range from simple text and still-images to fullmotion video, with or without audio. Some operators of digital signage networks,
particularly in the retail industry, regard their networks as comparable to privately
operated television channels, displaying entertainment and information content
interspersed with “other” collaterally related “advertisements” or announcements
of services or goods. Further on in this paper we will discuss the details related to
actual display capability, digital source media formatting, network bandwidth and
handling capacity, and surrounding physical environment interaction with the
information on a signage screen.
Question: More than just “content display”, what is Electronic Digital
Signage used-for from a “business and operational perspective”? (This
question gets at the business cases and the elements that can be
objectively measured in terms of “ROI” or “return” to the business in terms
of capital, time or other more effective and efficient resource management).
ANSWER: Digital signage is used for many different purposes, including but not
1. Information – examples include but are not limited-too: flight information
in airports, wait-times for the next train, production-line schematic or
production information display and activity updates (such as any
manufacturing production spaces), call-center queue and caller status
information (such as a VTC OPS area and operation), current
information of local interest (cafeteria menu items, local weather reports,
shop or business hours, visitor background information, stock-reporting
and analytic information, etc.) and any other information of general or
specific interest
2. Advertising Related to a Location to Uplift Sales – examples include
but are not limited-too in-store promotions in a retail establishment (such
as the company store or employee vending spaces) or “menu
specials” in a food-service environment (such as the cafeteria spaces)
3. Advertising by Third Parties – examples include but are not limited-too
restaurant-based digital signage networks that sell advertising to local
merchants/service providers and national advertisers
4. Enhanced Customer Experience – examples include but are not limitedtoo digital signage in business entry and waiting areas to reduce
perceived wait-time and provide information that will be helpful to the
visitor during his or her visit (like any hallway and lobby “Branding” for
the company, or the signage along the paths of certain tours of the
5. Influencing Customer or Employee Behavior – examples include but
are not limited-too post office or airline or other venue digital signage that
directs patrons waiting in line to automated stamp / ticket / “other”
machines thereby reducing the number of employees required to manage
certain queues of people waiting for a predefined element of service, retail
digital signage designed to direct customers to different areas of the store
[thereby increasing the time spent on the store premises (known in retail
as “dwell time”)] or signage placed in certain casual gathering areas or
within specific work environments to be used for reminding employees of
certain aplication or busines-centric information such as safety guidelines
(like an emergency evacuation program)
6. “Brand” Building (like the new “Branding” mentioned above) –where
digital signage in video form is used as an actual part of the total visual
interior design and décor to build a story around the corporate or company
brand, and where digital signs might be utilized in virtually any or every
space within the company property, if for no other reason than to
represent signage-based information in the most high-tech forward-looking
manner possible, in support of the image of your organization as a hightech user in your industry.
Question: Isn’t “Electronic Digital Signage” really nothing more than a
video display that is placed in a hallway or room where people can view
information that is fed to it through a local PC or other video playback
ANSWER: NO – and nothing could be further from the truth. This is
dangerously limited thinking, and can cause those who are interested in
purchasing complete digital signage solutions to overlook and, hence, underbudget money, time and personnel to a degree that will most commonly result in
the complete failure of their digital signage project. Thinking of “Electronic Digital
Signage” as nothing more than “a video display with a PC or DVD attached” is
like thinking that a telephone system is nothing more than the telephone handset
& phone-book that sits on your desk. The “physical device” that humans have
contact-with is only one tiny part of a greater system of technologies and
software that must be carefully integrated in order to get the entire solution to
play in-harmony for the business application and across & throughout the total
corporate enterprise.
“The Electronic Display or Monitor is the EASY Part” (though we
will spend a certain amount of time in this paper (See PG. 17-thru PG. 40)
discussing various important and sometimes complex technical aspects of
the monitors / displays, the placement of these devices and the actual
requirements related to mounting and interconnection for use)
We say that “the monitor or display is the EASY part” because behind the digital
signage viewable “device” (the display) (note – the term “behind” is used in the
figurative not literal sense) resides a host of other interoperating and crossfunctioning technologies, procedures and processes, including connectivity (from
information sources to the information display), content development (from
Powerpoint files to studio-production of video and beyond), system management
(for maintenance and operation of the technical components), content
management (defining which content elements will be displayed on which
particiular screens where and at what time and for how many repetitions), and
business reporting (for analysis of the performance metrics to see if the Digital
Signage solution has actually helped to fill a need or set of needs or overcome
an obstacle or achieve a business outcome).
In other words: Aside from the “image display devices” selected for use in
the digital signage array (and, as we will see later in a more technical section
related to the video / visual display devices / technologies, selection of the
compliment of display devices is often based on using different types of displays
for different environments and best matching the physcial environment and the
anticipated data types to the best possible display technology), all complete and
effective Digital Signage Solutions consist of:
1. Content Development – There are really two (2) general approaches to
determining “who” will be responsible for the actual content development.
The content can be developed by the user community from their
normal content development activity (PPT for meetings, video clips or still
images, marketing bulletins, and other content), though these materials,
as developed by untrained persons with no artistic background or
experience, can then appear “crude” or even confusing when displayed on
a digital sign. Remember – The content developed for a digital sign must
take into account some of the same yet also many different considerations
than content that is developed to be viewed on a meeting room large
screen projection display. A second option for content development is
to have that content developed by an outside contracting source,
staffed by technical and artistic people with experience specifically
related to signage and digital display. Often the internal user group
or business unit determines that an outside contractor should be
selected to develop materials, frequently because in-house expertise in
content material development is limited and those who have the skills,
background and talent with this are too busy with other tasks (there just
isn’t time for internal people to be distracted by yet another task). It is also
quite possible that the organization or internal group does not have other
necessary resources (it is normally a lack of specifically skilled artists or
technicians, but it may also be a lack of production graphic and video
equipment and other necessary technical elements). Suffice it to say - There is no “standard” approach to content creation, and decisions
are group and application specific in this area. It is critical to note that
there are many “resource” considerations to be made when determining
whether or not to out-source content development. The most important
consideration when outsourcing for content-development is: The outsource developer must create content that will actually transit the
connectivity to the signage and then properly “play” on the servers /
“players” and the digital signage display. If, for instance, the content is
video that is developed / “built” in full 1080p HD format and resolution (a
very high resolution that consumes a great deal of memory and processor
in a playback or display system and that is even more demanding on a
network for “room” to transport the files from place to place), but the
bandwidth cannot be sustained in the network to transfer the files and the
actual display unit cannot display HD (High-Definition) format video, then
both money and time have been wasted building content that cannot be
used, and the content will have to be completely re-built. That being said - Whether developed in-house or out-of-house, if properly formatted and
developed, and if all content that is developed is built with the capabilities
and limitations of the complete system in mind, then all sources of content
can be used interchangably in a properly designed system.
2. Content Management - Part-1– Storage and Maintenance: This is the
part of content management that endeavors to keep content “current” and
“accurate”. Though a PPT slide series or video segment might not change
in look, feel or flow, there might be dated materials or other dynamically
changing information that needs to be modified to keep the content
current, and this must be attended-to prior to display of the outdated or
inaccurate content. This type of “maintenance” might be time or date
information, or it might be something like a change in a product name or
designation or new number-designation for a document or new location on
the web for additional information.
3. Content management – Part-2 – Assignment and Scheduling: This is
the activity of determining which of the archived and/or live content is to be
displayed at what times, in what “cycles”, for what duration and on which
display or combination of displays. This allows standard default content
that might be essentially the same from day to day to be interspersed with
other time-specific or situation specific content [for instance - a visual
greeting that might be displayed only during the time that a certain visitor
group is actually moving through a particular area. After that specific
visitor has left the area, the content can revert to a default series or the
content management system can move on to display other specific
materials for yet another specific set of viewers (people)]. Assignment and
Scheduling is normally the result of dynamic business requirements, and
the requests and decisions related to this normally come from many
different persons within the organization. The key here is to have in-place
a means by which specific content and can requested and then activated,
scheduled or queued within the time frame necessary to fulfill the business
or operational need. Though it may be tempting to allow anyone and
everyone to simply log-in and push or reschedule content to the screens,
this has obvious negative repercussions, and can and will quickly lead to
chaos in the digital signage array. It is critical to pre-define the different
“roles and responsibilities” in this area, with “anyone” permitted to access
a simple “Request” mechanism, but a selected few persons then assigned
the responsibility for receiving and reviewing requests and then
responding appropriately, either by activating content or getting in-touch
directly with the requester and explaining any delay or conflict with other
scheduled materials. NOTE: This “system for simple request” MUST NOT
be the simple sending of an email… reliance on email as the “formal
request system” for content management within the digital signage system
will result in chaotic and indiscernable request queues and patterns. A
more formal web-page-driven method should be (must be) developed to
facilitate this activity.
Digital Signage is 99% Visual Communication
REMEMBER – Despite our earlier caution that “the display is a tiny part of the
solution”, this was not meant to imply that this is not primarily a “visual
communication methodology or medium”. The critical point to bear in mind is that
the visual elements that are displayed (the actual content materials) and
the resulting quality of the viewer experiences are directly tied to the
capabilities of the content management software and the decisions made
for application of the technology for content display to certain audiences.
Clearly, the individual active and objectively measurable response (and, as a
result, the resultant “group” response) to your [any] digital signage is of
paramount importance; secondary to that is the cost savings and efficiency you
bring to the company. That being said - Though the resultant business efficiency
is the means by which we determine the efficacy and profitability of investment in
any technology, including digital signage systems, focus first on what the viewing
audience gets from seeing one of your screens.
In order for the viewer and business experience to be a positive one, your
digital signage software must, at the very least, be able to do all of these
several things:
Display a variety of media types. Screens that simply rotate through a
series of static images are fine, but viewers will quickly learn to ignore
them, since they act so much like traditional signage. In order to remain
effective, a signage network needs to have the flexibility to “change things
up” — displaying animation one moment, static imagery the next, live
video the next... and combine and overlay any combination of these.
Display media at appropriately high resolutions. Many consumers
discovered something once they got their shiny new HD-TVs home —
non-HD content looks terrible on many native-HD-resolution
systems. The same holds true in the digital signage environment, but the
stakes are much higher. If your signage software isn’t built to handle HD,
then you’re asking for trouble down the road… BIG trouble. Likewise – If
your media development source (internal or external persons) only has
tools to develop in Standard Definition or even older NTSC analog
resolution, then you are in equally big trouble. The formats and resolutions
must “hold” throughout the entire system, from the source development
point to the management and storage arrays to the physical transport
through the network to the actual display at the physical signage
location… The entire system from start to finish must be able to work in
common resolution. “Transcoding” (also defined as altering resolutions or
formats to adjust for and accommodate limitations in the receiving station
or device) in order to accommodate various levels of capability at various
points along the way will mean very disappointing results, especially in the
viewer responses to your materials. Pixel-count / lines of resolution,
contrast levels or depth, color value or color-bit depth, frame-rate… ALL of
these must be considered at each and every “point” and should be of a
common level and value at every point along the way, from development
through to final display on the electronic digital sign.
Integrate with other aspects of the environment. The signs will not be
hanging in a vacuum, and that means they should be networked into and
coordinated-with the other things going on around them. For instance, if
other music or content related audio can be heard nearby the sign that is
also playing audio for a different set of content, the software should be
able to mute or lower the volume on it while a message with audio is
playing on-screen. Not all digital signage software is capable of this level
of interaction with the various tools or components (or with the
environmental controls themselves), and it’s a valuable (if not absolutely
essential) feature for future expansion and fine-tuning of the digital
signage solution.
Dynamically generate playlists based on any number of userselected pre-defined criteria. Different media should play at different
times of the day, and the software package must be able to pull the
proper media, schedule it on-the-fly, and update playlists as needed.
Managers of the content should be able to insert (queue-up) media where
they see fit or others have requested, with the playlist adjusting itself
accordingly. Likewise, the playlists must be instantly reactive and
responsive. It does no good to push a message of “Warning to the South
Campus – Tornados have been sighted – Please Take Cover”, if the
software then queues this message to play 15 or 30 minutes later.
Dynamically select media assets via tags. All media assets should
have one or more "tags" associated with them, and your software must be
able to intelligently pull media based on smart tagging conventions. This
allows content creators to tag their work, place it in the proper location,
and the system will automatically begin using it as appropriate. This
avoids painfully slow and often inaccurate manual naming structures that
often make media impossible to locate & impossible to quickly identify,
and the inaccuracy of this method often leads to manual errors that result
in the media not “playing” at all (the traditional Blank or empty Blue-Screen
that says only “Hey – I have nothing to say, and I am not saying anything
on a $4,000.00 monitor!!!”).
Support audio. Not all signage applications need audio, but it is an
important feature to be able to add if needed. Likewise – as mentioned
above – it is critical to have remote and automated management of the
audio elements in order to accommodate other environmental demands
within the signage area of reach.
Scale as needed. "Even if you start with a simple signage solution, having
the right software to control your signage will improve your overall
success," says Jeff Hemingway, co-owner of software company Storming
Images. "You may start out with one sign and grow to 10 signs per venue.
Starting off with software designed to scale and expand the network
of signs is critically important when investing in a solution. Also The ability to control the signs from a single point (or multiple points
if your administrators are moving around and need “log-in” from any
network attached PC, or even from their home or a hotel PC) is the
central key to the flexibility of controlling your signage network." The
important thing is, again, to start with the definition and description of your
application for signage, then apply the proper software tools, and then
(and only then) look at going to purchase monitors / displays.
4. Systems Management: This is the activity of monitoring each of the
digital signs, being alerted to malfunction or improper content display, and
the action of making use of remote diagnostics prior to sending a
technician or other service person to deal with a physical device. AGAIN –
DEVICES - - the servers and other “background” equipment (content
servers, routers, switches, etc) must be monitored for health and
maintenance, including regular preventative maintenance that must be
done. One aspect or beneficial element of “Systems Management” might
be as simple as making certain that all of the display devices are powered
“on” during business hours and “off” when the company is not in general
open operation (in the interest of saving money on power to the display
and reduced load on the air-conditioning for the building).
5. Communication / Network Connectivity: This is the vast and often
complex physical infrastructure of cabling, connectors, routers, switches or
wireless links that allow you to move data from development or source to
storage arrays and/or to the actual displays on which that data is
supposed to display. The deployment of often even the simplest digital
signage solutions means [most often] that additional load will be placed on
the LAN and WAN [networks] of the organization. In addition, there can be
[and, in the case of many companies, will-be] security or other
considerations that demand a separate physical infrastructure for select
certain specific portions of the digital signage network. The approach to
building and managing total connectivity for the digital signage
infrastructure is best defined by understanding the file or packet-type of
the source data types, the bandwidth that this data can consume, the
normal peak-load-times within the corporate network [for all business
traffic, not just that related to signage], and the capabilities of that network
to transport certain data types in a reliable and secure manner. Once this
is all understood, the Digital Signage Group and the IT Network teams and
personnel can best determine the ideal infrastructure composition to take
care of the needs of the transport and management of the signage content
and management tools without noticable negative impact to other
corporate data and without negative consequences for the people who are
conducting business using the corporate network(s).
6. Power Connectivity: Often overlooked, power must be supplied to the
digital signs and to any player devices or other components that will
physically reside at a specific location or set of locations. Additionally –
since this is the display of “digital visual data” that is delivered across a
digital network connection, the power must be clean and properly
conditioned. Unstable power, or sudden complete loss of power, can
render a display location inoperable and, in some cases, may actually
cause irrepairable physical damage to some of the equipment.
7. Physical Mounting (we will cover this area in additional technical detail
later in this document): The display devices must have some means of
support or mounting, and deployment must comply with OSHA and other
local guidelines and rules for physically locating items in public places.
Special strain-reliefs, safety cables, anti-theft mechanisms and other
elements are all part of the solution. Each of these elements must be
planned-for, purchased (this adds cost to each of the physical display
points in the solution) and deployed (adding some amount of time required
to complete the mounting, thereby increasing labor time and cost for this
portion of the deployment). Likewise – a thorough pre-implementation
analysis must be done to maintain systems within any rules or
regulations. For instance – By law in this country, anything hung from the
wall in a walk-space that is mounted between 18” AFF (Above Finished
Floor) and 7’6” AFF cannot protrude into the walk-space (“stick-out” from
the wall) further than 4”. Failure to identify mounting and hanging
considerations ahead of deployment can cause costly re-deployment, time
consuming re-design, and potential litigation in the event that someone is
injured as a result of encounters with improperly mounted elements, or
even if an uninjured person simply makes a complaint to authorities.
8. Business Analysis: CRITICAL. There is no way to determine if the
deployed solution is being effective or if additional investment is advised
without pre-planned and careful business analysis of this or any technical
solution for communications. This is the portion of the system (and any
individual project) that allows for analysis of various metrics and feedback
on the effectiveness of the display of information to the anticipated
consuming personnel, and then applies some value scale to this that
correlates to increased profitability / shareholder value for the company.
These types of analysis are often quite difficult and metrics can be elusive.
In addition, one must guard against hasty conclusions through mis-reading
of the variables available for anaylsis. For instance – If a signage solution
is implemented in order to reduce errors in part-selection on the
production line (by showing the step by step process of the actual parts in
a visual manner so that the process is followed each time with no misapplication of some similar parts), then we need a means to measure if
the error rate drops [or not] after the signage solution is implemented. If
the error-rate of mis-applied parts does not drop, then we need additional
means by which we can attempt to determine the centric failure for this,
possibly considering if this is due to the manner in which the digital
signage information is displayed (maybe it is cycled too fast, maybe the
images are not clear enough, etc), or if this is due to the fact that the
signage is not easily viewed by the workers (perhaps it needs to be
moved, or the signs need to be larger, etc), or if the problem is just not
well solved by digital signage (this will tell us if additional investment in the
technology for this application will yield a positive or negative net return on
value, and allows us to adjust our purchase decisions in the future), etc..
Establishing a Digital Signage Solution without tools, processes and
mechanisms for post-installation and post-information-display feedback
and evaluation often results in a series of expensive distribution
deployments that are either overlooked or otherwise ignored by the
viewing community for which it was originally intended, and with no directpath profitable measure to the bottom line of the organization.
Question: What type of content is a good candidate for Digital Signage, and
how should this be displayed?
ANSWER: The only rule here is “just because you can, doesn’t mean you
should”. In other words – a careful study should be done each time digital
signage is added to an environment in order to understand the viewing audience,
the business needs and expectations / “goals”, and the total breadth of possible
tools for “sharing and showing information”. Show only what you need to show, to
the audience(s) who need to see it in the format they need to see it at the time
they need to see it.
Question: Is a Digital Signage Solution always this complex?
ANSWER: Not always. It is safe to say that a “digital sign” might be nothing more
than a video monitor on a cart with a DVD player attached to it, playing a disk in
constant loop-mode. It is true that content scheduling and playback can be
controlled by a number of technologies using simple, non-networked media
players that can output basic loops of video. More often, in most business
environments, content scheduling will be controlled across “content networks”
that are much more complex, multi-tier player networks that offer control over
many displays in many venues from a single location. The “one display with a
DVD player” is actually ideal only for small and carefully maintained groups of
displays in small geographic venues that can be updated via sneaker net, and
these require almost constant attention from an individual to manage the content
and timing of the display (along with an undestanding that, on a “sign by sign”
basis, they are very expensive to deploy, since each display will most often
require a dedicated “content player”).
The larger, more compex and more extensive multi-tier approach allows Digital
“Signage Network Operators” to either push content to many players at once or
have each player pull content from a server as needed or on-command. This also
has the advantage of being more cost-effective to deploy, since many displays
(even hundreds of displays) can all share a smaller group of “content sources”,
with the appropriate source sending the selected content to an assigned screen
or group of screens on demand and as scheduled. This approach also has the
benefit of making it easier to secure the content sources and the content they
contain (design computers, etc.), separated and isolated from the actual display
device that will “show” the data content on-screen.
13 Common Mistakes and Pitfalls of Digital Signage:
Project Planning and Deployment
What are some mistakes or pitfalls we need to actively acknowledge [and
then work to avoid] as we develop digital signage solutions throughout the
Kiosk and digital signage projects are complex, involving multiple vendors and
a wide variety of logistical challenges. If you neglect even a single key factor
in planning and execution, deadlines may slip, costs can go dramatically
over budget, and ROI may disappear. For example, the failure to consider
environmental conditions cost one company thousands of dollars in failed
hardware, including a $10,000.00 media-player that became clogged up with dirt,
grass clippings and bird feathers.
1. Failing to identify a viable business model that produces strong ROI
This may seem obvious, but it comes up time and time again: If you can’t identify
a clear return-on-investment (ROI), the project is likely to fail.
2. Insufficient capital to fund the project(s) [there is no “cheap” way like
“going for a really great deal on over-stock Plasma TV’s and discontinued
DVD players”…]
Kiosk and signage projects often take much longer and have more technical
elements than expected. It’s critical to have sufficient money and time capital to
see your project through. Likewise – you must buy hardware and software
technology that has “life” into the future as the source materials, signals and
application needs expand. Do not buy inexpensive out-of-date equipment or
3. Choosing your hardware BEFORE creating a detailed project plan and
identifying suitable development and management software
Always create your project plan and choose a software platform before
committing to a large hardware purchase. Otherwise, you may wind up with
hardware that’s not right for your project.
4. Cramming too many features into the first version / first content
development and deployment
Focus on the core features for your first deployments. The important element of
“Remote Management” using your properly selected and properly configured
software tools makes it possible to add more features later.
5. Trying to cut corners with cheap hardware, and deciding to “wait” on the
management software in order to reduce costs
Make sure your chosen hardware is rugged enough for the destination site. If you
decide to go “discontinued dent and chipped item bargain shopping” you will end
up replacing it in a short time, possibly for the simple reason that it is unable to
play the content you need to play on that system component or components.
Don’t “wait” to get the management software portion of this solution - - without it,
you will fail.
6. Assuming the Internet is 100% reliable
Caching your content on the local system drives (storage arrays that are “close”
to the signage units being “served”) ensures that the systems will function well,
even with intermittent connectivity. Do not construct a solution that requires every
sign across the country to access a single server located in one building in one
7. No formal site survey [the #1 biggest reason for extreme failure to costeffectively deploy the solution in a timely manner, and the #1 reason why
there is failure resulting in actual component damage after deployment]
Have a technician verify power and network connectivity at every site, even if
different parties all claim that the sites are all the same. Make sure that all of the
power is properly isolated and conditioned.
8. Failing to use experienced installers
Your installers should be experienced with kiosks and signage.
9. Lack of integration with existing business processes (the result of
rushing ahead and trying to run-out and buy a lot of equipment BEFORE
stopping, taking a little time and figuring out the business applications,
needs, goals and requirements)
Kiosks and signage should be tied into existing programs of cost containment,
cost recovery, process efficiency or other tangible bottom line elements, and
employees must be motivated to use them. (This means that there MUST be
“marketing and PR” related to the roll-out and use of the digital signage, and
tools other than the actual digital signage tools may be necessary to begin the
marketing and PR program prior-to the signage solution “going-active”)
10. No “call to action” for prospective stakeholders and users
A kiosk or digital sign needs a compelling attract loop to convince users why the
system is worth their time. POP displays can help as well.
11. Not providing a clear way for users to report problems
A help label (“Help-Us to Help-You …To report service required by this
component, please call XYZ”) should be placed on each system so employees
and others can easily report problems.
12. Failing to account for maintenance, repair, and life expectancy
(NOTHING lasts forever… not even an LCD monitor…)
Regular scheduled maintenance and spare systems are essential. Figure on a 35% short-term failure rate and 3 years useful life.
13. Relying on consultants who haven’t done similar projects before (and
“similar” means “we have done other projects with nearly the same special
business and application requirements of YOUR project”, not “yes-we have
done projects with similar TV monitors and wall-mounts”).
Kiosk and signage networks have unique requirements. Be sure to choose
vendors who can provide references to successful projects and who can
successfully demonstrate their own product working without any “smoke and
Having devoted the majority of this document so far to
discussion of digital signage application, deployment process
considerations, software management tools and other elements of the
“infrastructure” separate from the display / “sign” itself, we now turn to a short
discussion of a few of the important elements related to the selection and
deployment of the signage display technologies. Please remember – the
following is an abbreviated discussion of the major points of consideration.
Some “Issues” related to “Selecting and Deploying Displays”
Separating Format from Resolution from Physical Display Technology
Put simply, HDTV is High Definition TV / Video. Self-explaining acronyms aside,
HDTV displays signals that are much higher in resolution than what has been
broadcast since the dawn of television itself. The improvement is immediately
clear: greater detail and more realistic images.
You’ll also notice that the proportion of an HDTV signal is different. The 16:9 ratio
provides a more cinematic experience than the standard 4:3 because the wider
ratio fills our horizontal field of vision more completely.
HDTV Resolution
There are 18 digital formats specified by the ATSC, and today for High Definition
we are primarily interested in only two of them supported by two resolutions:
720p and 1080i. The “p” or the “i” refers to the type of scanning used
(progressive or interlaced) and the numbers identify how many viewable onscreen lines the display offers. Interlaced scanning divides the lines of the screen
into even and odd fields. So, each field contains half of the image to be
displayed. In rapid succession, all of the odd numbered lines of the picture are
shown, followed by the display of the even numbered lines. Progressive
scanning, on the other hand, treats all the lines as one field and displays them in
one sixtieth of a second. This speedy delivery of the entire image on the screen
gives a more consistent-looking, clearer picture. (Your PC screen is
“Progressive” scan)
Over-the-air (OTA) HD broadcasts are received by antenna.
will let you know if your area has HD broadcasts. The best place to see what type
of antenna works best for your application is to go to .
Cable HD broadcasts may be the most appealing to people because most
communities already have cable service and most individuals and organizations
have been cable customers for many years. Your cable provider must be able to
supply HD signals for you to be able to display HD from the cable. Today, most
cable providers in large metropolitan areas (Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York) can
provide HD to your facilities. Visit to check local availability.
Satellite HD broadcasts are received through the same satellite you receive
other video signals from. Since satellite providers may not provide local HD
programming, an antenna may be needed in addition to the satellite in order to
view local television channels.
HDTV ready or not?
HDTV Ready (also known as HDTV monitor) supports HDTV resolutions and
formats but does not include an over-the-air HDTV tuner or CableCard slot.
An Integrated HDTV supports HDTV resolutions and formats and has a built in
over-the-air HDTV tuner and or CableCard slot that allows direct connection to
the HDTV without the need of an external source.
If you already have digital TV service from either cable or satellite you already
have a decoder box and you probably won’t need a built in tuner.
Most LCD and Plasma displays are offered today for professional and pro-sumer
(better than consumer, but less capable than full professional) as “HD-ready” and
only require an external HD Tuner from cable, satellite or off-air device (DVD,
PC, etc) to view images in HD format and resolution.
Video Display technology (for HD and Standard Definition Video and
Don’t confuse “Signals” with “Data Format” with “Display Type” etc. … The actual
“display” that you select is going to operate using a specific set of technical
components. Just as the old CRT monitor on your desk was not the same device
technology as the LCD projector in the meeting room, they both were able to
show your PC images to you - - one in a small form factor on your desktop, one
in a larger form factor in the meeting room. Same data format, same data
signals, but different “Display Type”.
There are several main technologies capable of displaying Video and
Computer signals. Many manufacturers provide many different types of display
technologies optimized for viewing larger-than-life and variable format visual
information, including computer video and hi-res HD video.
Plasma: Plasma displays use a plasma gas discharge to light the pixels of the
display. The benefits of using plasma are high contrast, superb color
reproduction and uniformity, excellent motion handling and slim designs. These
units are, however, heavy, consume a great deal of power and generate a great
deal of heat. They also have a limited useful life of less than 8 years continuous
LCD: LCD flat panels use liquid crystals and a backlight to display images. LCD
flat panels are lightweight and thin. LCD’s tend to have slightly limited viewing
angles and also lower contrast than plasma, but these units produce a perceived
“crisper” picture than other display technology types. They are lightweight,
consume less power, shed much less heat, and have a virtually unlimited “life”.
DLP: Using hundreds of thousands of tiny mirrors to display images, DLP
systems are used in both front and rear projection and in some “retro-displays”
that have a physical form factor much like a large TV screen. DLP has high
contrast, good viewing angles and excellent picture quality, though it tends to
have digital noise associated with the primary colors and pure white, and this
noise is objectionable to many viewers.
CRT: CRT is the most familiar display type of the past century, and still the least
expensive and most common today. CRTs produce excellent video quality and
provide the highest contrast ratio from the technologies mentioned here.
Rear Projection: Rear projection systems can consist of LCD, DLP or CRT
technology and use mirrors to project the image onto a screen. Larger screen
sizes and initial lower costs than plasma and LCD are the biggest advantage for
rear projection. However, lamps need to be replaced after a certain number of
hours driving up the total cost.
Front Projection: Front projection uses projectors with LCD or DLP technology
to display an image on a flat screen surface. Front projection is mainly used in
areas where a large screen is preferred and very good control of lighting is
Guidelines for Selection of Any Display Type:
The native resolution of a display is critically important factor to consider when
choosing your compliment of signage displays. It helps to simply ask: “What is
the native Display Resolution and is there Support for high-resolution PC
and HD?”.
Generally, picture quality from a plasma and LCD is very good irrespective of the
set resolution, but higher resolution displays will be able to display certain video
content with a better result. This becomes an issue especially when watching an
HDTV signal on your Display. 720p HD supports a resolution of 1280 x 720 while
1080i/1080p HDTV supports 1920 pixels by 1080 lines.
This means that to be considered true HD, the plasma display must have a
minimum native resolution of at least 1024 x 720. Normally, HDTV plasma
displays will support a resolution of 1024 x 768.
Some HDTV displays come with a higher resolution – 1280 x 768 or 1366 x 768.
These higher resolutions will enable the respective sets to display a full 720p
HDTV image without re-scaling.
Plasma and LCD units with lower resolution will still be able to display a high
definition video signal if they have the necessary electronics. They do so by rescaling the image. In this case, re-scaling means disposing of some of the
image information in order to fit the set native resolution (and this means
giving something up… like image quality). Low-resolution plasmas – also referred
to as EDTV plasma televisions - tend to have a resolution of 852 x 480 pixels.
This resolution is what progressive scan DVDs and Digital Television will deliver.
It looks as good as any plasma with a higher resolution when displaying these
signals. The only visible difference between plasmas with a resolution of 1024 x
720 or higher, and 852 x 480, is when watching true HD material.
A few words about Digital Video and HD Video: While HDTV
offers a clearer picture than regular video, not all setups allow you
to take full advantage of HD. It all depends on the quality of your HD
source. If your source is a compressed signal e.g. TiVo or DVD, or
VTC compressed signal, then you often cannot take full advantage
of the quality supported by HDTV. It is also important to remember
that HD still represents a small portion of all available content, and
that you can only expand that available content if the people who
are authoring the materials for you have the tools to develop in HD,
and if the network transport system has the bandwidth to deliver this
content to the digital signage locations.
Connectivity and Features to look for on the display devices:
Inputs: A unit should include the inputs you need to plug in the various video
components. These should include composite, S-Video, component video, DVI,
HDMI, and RGB for video, and Ethernet for TCP/IP communications. Preferably,
look for a model that would also provide you with a second set of front or sidepanel A/V inputs for convenient testing and diagnostic or temporary hookup to a
local laptop or other video source.
RGB is usually delivered via a standard 15-pin computer input. Composite video
is a single line video output that is typical on VCRs, cable/satellite receivers, and
DVD players. The next step up in quality is S-video. This can be found on DVD
players and most cable/satellite boxes. Component video, which is of a higher
quality than S-Video, divides the video signal into red, green, and blue; it is
mainly found on progressive scan DVDs and some newer cable/satellite boxes.
DVI and HDMI are purely digital connections; the main difference between the
two is that HDMI carries also the audio on the same interconnect used for the
video. Both interfaces are capable of supporting up to 1080 lines of picture
resolution. In order words, they both can handle HD Video.
Additional Features: Supported connectivity and additional features all add up
to the final product price. If audio will, even rarely, be an important element, you
may wish to look for a display unit with built-in speakers and audio input ports
(RCA male-to-male stereo and HDMI).
The Physical Surroundings and the Impact on “Digital Video Display”
In the mid-1980s the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers
(SMPTE- commonly pronounced “simp’-tee”) re-evaluated and revised imaging
industry standards and practices for the use of electronic displays in the
professional community. A segment of focus, pertinent to this article, was their
work on human factors. They were concerned about the physical and perceptual
affects that viewing conditions had upon technicians performing critical analysis
of video programs for hours on end. SMPTE found that the local space /
“environmental” decor and lighting impacted the viewer’s ability to see the
image correctly, and affected viewing comfort as well. They discovered that
standardizing video monitor viewing environment conditions helped maintain
production quality and consistency all along the production chain. Image fidelity
was preserved and eyestrain or viewing fatigue was minimized. Regular
calibration of the monitor for image accuracy was not enough to ensure
consistent program quality. The room decor and lighting affected the viewer’s
perception of the image on the screen. A scientific study of the human visual
system has shown that surrounding colors and ambient lighting can skew or alter
a person’s perception of the primary object of focus.
SMPTE’s human factors research resulted in their Recommended Practices
document #166: ‘Critical Viewing Conditions for Evaluation of Color
Television Pictures.’ This publication (SMPTE RP166) defines various monitor
settings, screen size/viewing distance, coloration of surrounding surfaces,
viewing angle, and color of ambient lighting. It also specifies the location and
intensity of room lighting, as it relates to the image on the screen.
Room color specifications in SMPTE RP166 are as
follows. Visible surfaces that surround the display
screen should be a truly neutral color. SMPTE used the
Munsell Color Order System to define their color
references. Neutral is any color of gray throughout the
range from black to white. Surface colors that lie within
the observer’s field of view with the monitor screen
should be in the neutral category. The purpose for this
specification is to preserve accurate color perception of the image on the screen.
When we view a picture that is surrounded by color, that color is partly subtracted
from our perception of the central object of focus. This is a characteristic of how
our brain interprets the information sent to it by our eyes. In other words, a video
image on a display that has a red wall behind it will appear to have less red
content in the picture. An aqua (blue-green) dress against a blue wall will appear
more green. The same garment against a green background will appear more
blue. Our perception of the aqua object would be unaltered, if the wall was
Skilled professional photographers, cinematographers and videographers are
very sensitive to this phenomenon when composing a shot with a person’s face
against a colored background. Skin tones vary widely, as will the makeup used
for a shot. Both backgrounds and wardrobe can flatter and compliment a certain
type of complexion, or they can conflict. This effect can be substantial or subtle
depending on how vivid the nearby coloration is. The best way to enhance and
preserve the accurate perception of the natural coloration of an observed object
is to provide a neutral colored surround. True neutral colors reflect light evenly
across the color spectrum. In other words, a neutral surface will not alter the
color composition of light reflected by it.
SMPTE also recommends the use of nearly neutrals for the rest of the surfaces
in a video monitor environment. Munsell’s nearly neutrals are colored pastels of
various values from dark to light. Vivid colors are to be avoided anywhere in the
room except for minor accents. This methodology is explained as serving to
provide an environment that will help the technician’s color perception adapt to a
more neutral frame of reference. The human visual system takes some time to
adapt to a new environment or lighting condition. Our eyes do not respond
instantly to changing conditions. This characteristic is referred to as “persistence
of vision.”
The lighting used in a critical monitor environment was also an important
issue addressed by SMPTE RP166. That document recommends using a
type of illumination as close to “CIE D65” as possible. In “color-speak” this is
a very specific color of white light. Video monitors are calibrated to maintain this
“white point” as a standard of performance. Television images are composed of
varying amounts of red, green and blue light. Our human visual system works on
the same “RGB” basis. The color composition of white light produced by a video
display is the foundation of how all the other colors will appear in the picture.
Using a different color of light in the room, other than that produced by the
monitor, subtly alters the technician’s perception of the image on the screen.
Standards are maintained in every video production environment to assure
consistent results, regardless of where or by whom the work is performed on a
video program. This methodology promotes accuracy, repeatability and fidelity of
the original program throughout the evolution of its production.
The final link in the production chain for a video program is the Monitor being
viewed by the intended audience. If the SMPTE standards and recommendations
are faithfully adhered to and practiced by the video consumer, image fidelity will
be experienced. Any departure from this methodology will result in an altered
picture, as perceived by the viewer.
Other lighting recommendations in SMPTE RP166 pertain to the location
and intensity of the ambient lighting used in the viewing environment.
SMPTE specifies the location should be from behind the frontal plane of
the monitor screen. Essentially, the light would reflect off the neutral colored
wall behind the display. This orientation prevents screen glare and reflections
that would contaminate or obstruct the picture on the monitor. The intensity of
illumination is specified to be less than 10% of the brightest white produced on
the screen. This condition serves to reduce eyestrain and viewing fatigue.
Viewing a typical video program or computer generated information in a
darkened room causes the iris muscles to contract and expand dramatically and
frequently as the level of light on the screen changes with program content. Our
iris forms the pupil, which regulates how much light is allowed to reach the retina.
As our eyes become adapted to a dark room, the retina becomes more sensitive.
Bright portions of a program can seem much brighter than normal. The amount of
light produced throughout a typical video or computer “show” varies widely and
changes frequently. A good demonstration of this behavior is to turn all the lights
out in the room, face away from the display and observe how much the light
changes in the room during the program. This effect often resembles a room
illuminated by a flashing strobe light. Providing some ambient light in the room
moderates or “biases” the range of motion of the iris muscles. This technique is
commonly known as “bias lighting.” Eyestrain and viewing fatigue can be
substantially reduced using this technique. No current self-contained video
display on the market can produce its best picture in high ambient light
conditions. Light striking the screen washes out the image and causes
reflections. That’s why many people intuitively prefer watching TV in the dark.
However, video materials are, in business situations, most often viewed during
daylight hours. Manufacturers have to design displays that are bright enough to
provide a satisfactory image in high ambient lighting conditions. This only
exacerbates the intensity of the image when the display is viewed at night or in a
darkened room.
Professional monitors are calibrated to produce 30 footLamberts of illumination at
peak white, and the Plasma displays or Projection devices being used throughout
an organization also have calibrated output levels, often exceeding 30
footLamberts, and often by a great distance. Most consumer TVs, for instance,
come from the factory with light output that is several times this figure. Bias
lighting has proven to be even more needful for consumers, and has
proven invaluable in enhancing the experience in many digital signage
display locations. This technique was actually used in homes as far back as the
1950s. How many of us in our youth were told by our mothers that it’s bad for our
eyes to watch TV without a light on in the room? Many people leave some light
on because they sense intuitively that it reduces eyestrain. SMPTE discovered
that less than 10% ambient light was the ideal ratio. They also verified that using
the same color of white light being produced by the display unit preserved correct
color perception. Providing a neutral wall color for the light to reflect from retained
the light’s color composition.
Various video professionals have written about bias lighting in recent years. They
have advised their readers to integrate small fluorescent fixtures with “daylight”
lamps rated at 6500 Kelvins. This color of fluorescent lamp can be near the CIE
D65 white point mentioned in SMPTE RP166. The “color rendering index” or CRI
rating of the lamp should be as close to 100 as possible. They also mention
using neutral-density theatrical filter gel material to cover the lamp and dim it
down to the 10% recommended level.
In short – the important element of note in this section is that the ambient
lighting and the specific directive lighting present in the environment will
have a dramatic impact on the ability of the viewer to “take-in” information
that is displayed on a digital sign, and will also dramatically impact their
perception of the information.
In addition, “do no harm” should be a thought we always remember as we
specify and then deploy digital signage throughout the organization. If the
digital signage and local lighting are in conflict with one another, and we
thereby tire the eyes of the localized workers, we can then anticipate more
visual mistakes in the workplace, not fewer, defeating one of the intended
purposes of the distribution of digital information (greater efficiency, fewer
errors, attention to important safety information, etc.)
Selecting and Installing Display Screens for the Digital Signage Solution
Flat screen displays are the hottest category of products in digital signage today,
and prices are continuing to be extremely competitive for these devices. Whether
LCD or Plasma technology, or some version of future facing OLED, we can
anticipate that the signage will (for the most part) be comprised of some sort of
“flat display”. You can choose from a variety of sizes and types of screens, such
as LCD, plasma, LCD projection, 720p or 1080p, etc.
No matter what type of flat screen you select, if you’re not going to use a stand or
specialized furniture as a base to hold your flat screen, then you’ll have to mount
it on the wall or hang it from a ceiling.
Hiring professional installers skilled and experienced with these technology
devices is always a smart idea, but with some careful forethought, using the right
tools and mounts, and getting help with lifting and holding, nearly anyone can
install new LCD or plasma screens easily.
First: Plan, Plan, Plan.
Unless you don’t mind seeing cables hanging from
beneath the screen going down to a nearby wall
socket, it’s very important to use a qualified
electrician to prepare the wall space behind the
screen for proper outlets and wiring for the display’s
current requirements. These are very important
considerations since a 60” flat panel display can use
as much electricity as a small refrigerator.
Before you begin, here are some important tips you need to consider:
1. Buy the right size screen for the space. This is based on how close, or how
far, you will be sitting from the display. There are differing opinions on the best
way to determine the optimum viewing distance for a specific screen size.
Just go to the movie theater and you will soon realize that it is all a question of
personal preference - some would sit at the very back. Others would go straight
to the front row, as they prefer the bigger picture and a wider angle of view, while
some would simply choose their seat randomly somewhere in between these two
The truth is that there are no scientific rules here. This does not mean that there
aren't any guidelines to follow when planning a big screen purchase for your
room or space.
SMPTE Recommendations and the THX Certification standards:
The Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE)
recommends that the screen size should occupy a 30 degrees field of view - in
the horizontal plan - for the audience. Alternatively, the ideal viewing distance
should be such that the screen width occupies an angle of 30 degrees from the
viewing position. This 30-degree viewing angle seems to have been accepted by
many as the standard in both video and motion picture viewing.
THX certification: This SMPTE guideline is also in line with the THX certification
standards in that the latter recommends that the furthest viewer should have at
least a 26 degrees viewing angle and while recommending an optimum viewing
angle of 36 degrees.
It is believed that within these viewing angle limitations, the viewer will be better
immersed into the video information itself.
Vision System limitations:
There is also the issue of viewing distance based on visual acuity. This does not
represent the optimum viewing distance - rather, this relates to the maximum
viewing distance beyond which some picture detail will be lost.
Technically speaking, visual acuity is a measure of the eye spatial resolving
power and indicates the angular size of the smallest detail that a person’s visual
system can resolve.
A person with 20/20 normal vision can resolve a spatial pattern separated by a
visual angle of one minute of arc angle i.e. 1/60th of a degree, at the eye when
viewed at 20 feet away. Expressed differently, a person with normal 20/20 vision
is capable of identifying an object with a height of 1.76mm at 20 feet way.
From a Video Signage viewing distance perspective, visual acuity
represents the point beyond which some of the picture detail will no longer
be resolved by the viewer vision system, as it will appear to blend with
adjacent visual information.
So How Does All This Translate In Practical Terms?
Here is a rule-of-thumb that can help put in practice the guidelines detailed
above. This rule for viewing distance refers to the screen width rather than the
screen diagonal since all is tight up to the subtended viewing angle. Further
more, referring to the screen width has a further advantage - namely that these
rules-of-thumb apply to both 4:3 and 16:9 display formats.
A primary consideration for the viewing distance - based
on SMPTE/THX and visual acuity guidelines - is that
the nearest viewing distance should be limited to
approximately twice the screen width (more precise 1.54
x screen width for a subtended angle of 36 degrees
detailed by THX). On the other hand, the furthest
distance should being no more than five or six times the
width of your screen.
This should give a fairly good approximation for standard viewing distances. Note
however that it does not necessarily represent the ideal viewing distance in a
digital signage setup that is based on high-brightness and high-contrast high
resolution (HD capable) displays; rather it represents the limits within which your
viewing distance should theoretically be out of the trouble zone.
In other words, move closer than twice the screen width size, and the picture
scanning lines, pixel breakup and any other video artifacts will become too visibly
intrusive - leading to distractions that will spoil your movie watching experience.
Move further away than 5 times the screen width and your vision system will no
longer be able to resolve all the picture detail.
It is also important to realize that these maximum and minimum viewing
distances should be seen in the light of the video signal definition. A fully
resolved high definition signal (1080i or 1080p, 1920x1080) supports a closer
viewing distance than standard analog video.
Thus while twice the screen width would represent the ideal viewing distance for
a HDTV display, it would be a bit too close for standard television viewing; in the
later case, a three times the screen width would be a better option.
Similarly, the five-or-six times the screen width as the maximum viewing
distance, while more than adequate for a standard analog video picture, is
a bit too far away for a person to see the fine detail supported by a HDTV
picture. In this case, three - at most four - times the screen width represents a
more practical limit for the maximum viewing distance in the case of 720p and
1080i HDTV.
Note: While this rule-of-thumb for the viewing distance applies irrespective
of the screen size, it would work best with big screen display sizes in the
range 42-inches and over.
For regular-size standard definition displays ranging from 37-inch to 40-inch
diagonal, the optimum viewing distance range within which most viewers will feel
comfortable with, is a minimum of 7.5 feet and a maximum of 14 feet. For HD
capable systems, showing high resolution 720 or 1080 content properly
developed and formatted, these minimum and maximum distances would get
down to approx. 5.5 feet to 10 feet respectively - thus allowing for a more
immersive viewing experience.
2. Buy the right size mount for the display – and make sure the mount is UL
approved. A lot of the cheaper ones are not. The mounts will be flush, tilt, or
articulating, or robotic arm. Use the mounts made for smaller displays (13” – 23”)
and the stronger mounts for the larger displays. (The wrong mount will just add
time and headaches to an otherwise simple installation.)
For displays over 23”, try to buy a mount that provides multi-point mounting, (a
mount that needs at least 4 lag bolts) and have built-in levels to insure a straight
and balanced installations. K2 mounts are great for this. (
Have a good idea of the other A/V equipment you are going to be using with your
new flat-screen display, for example, flush mounted speakers, Surround Sound,
DVD, Cable box, VCR, Cable card, or off air HDTV.
You need to make sure you know where the wires attach to the display unit. If
you can cut the holes for the wires to come through the wall just above the
mount, then the chances of seeing the cables or having them drape below the
display are much less. Know how you want to hook up these other pieces of
How close to the display is the electrical outlet? Check with your electrician to
see if you can add an outlet if none are close enough for the length of the power
cord supplied by the manufacturer. (If you add a longer power cord it MUST
HAVE the same electrical current carrying specs. Otherwise, you may have
warranty problems.)
If you, or the electrician, are going to add an outlet, try installing a “Clock” outlet.
They have a single receptacle that is set back about an inch. This will give you
more room behind the display unit so you can use the tilt feature of the mount.
IMPORTANT: Try to keep the display on the same
electrical circuit as any equipment you are going
to plug into the display unit. This helps prevent
ground loop hums and vertical hum bars.
Different Types of “Arms” or Mounts:
Installing a robotic arm mount allows you to remotely adjust the display to favor a
particular side of the room or angle. They’re not that difficult to install. You can
see a step by step procedure on how to install a remote control robotic arm
mount at “youtube”.
Using an experienced installer for hanging your new flat screen display is always
a smart idea. However, with the variety of mounts and detailed instructions being
provided by the major mount manufacturers, “hanging-the flat-screen-yourself” is
now a relatively easy procedure. The key to mounting success of your new flat
screen, (and great viewing in any room), is careful planning and preparation.
Here are some examples of mounts:
K1-F-S/ Flush Mount Fits Most Flat Panel Displays: 13”-23” Weight: 2 lbs.
K1-TS-S/ Tilt & Swivel Mount Fits Most Brands of Flat Panel Displays: 13”-23”
Articulating Single Arm / Tilts Up and Down Weight: 3 lbs.
K2-F-S/ Flush Mount - Fits Most Flat Panel Displays: 26”-37” - Weight: 9 lbs
K2-T-S/ Tilt Mount - Fits Most Flat Panel Displays: 26”-37” - Weight: 10 lbs
K2-A1-S Dual Articulating Arm Mount - Fits Most Brands of Flat Panel Displays:
13”-30” - Weight: 5 lbs - Articulating Dual Arms / Tilts up and down. - VESA and
UL Approved
K2-A3-S & K2-A3-B Articulating Arm - Fits Most Brands of Flat Panel Displays:
23”-37” - Weight: 15.4 lbs - Extendable Articulating Arm - Max. Load: 110 lbs. VESA 75, 100, 200
K3-T-S/ Tilt Mount Fits Most Flat Panel Displays: 37”-61” Weight: 14 lbs
“To See or Not to See?” the Display Device – That is the question
What to do with that Display? Deployments of large flat screen displays seem
to fall into 2 distinct categories of preference:
A. “We paid a ton of money for all of these screens and so everybody is
going to “like” always seeing them even when they are not “on” !!!”
B. “I don’t care what we paid for it, I don’t want to see it when it is turned
Before we get into the available options, let’s consider the single largest
subjective factor in why concealing the display is desirable: Serenity.
It is far more than a visual or mechanical change when the video display is
concealed; it changes the atmosphere of the surrounding environment, making
any space “busy and lively” when in-view and when it is displaying information.
When the display is turned on, all attention is consciously or
unconsciously directed towards the image on the display.
Once the display is turned off, there is silence (including “visual silence”),
but unconsciously people’s attention is drawn towards the black vacant
Once the display is hidden or concealed, the silent visual magnetism of
the plasma disappears and there is a serene sense of relief. This is not
imaginary, it is real; and it has a dramatic effect on the décor and
atmosphere of any room or physical space (such as a hallway or meeting
In all concealment systems, proper ventilation of the display unit must be
addressed early in the game. Inadequate ventilation will lead to premature failure
of the display or even worse. Companies such as Active Thermal Management
( specialize in addressing these problems and provide
cooling solutions.
The Options:
Here are many options for concealing display device. They can be broadly
classified into moving and static categories:
Moving Category (Where the display unit moves from set wall position)
3-Possiblilities: Pop-Up Lift or Drop Down Lift or Folding Ceiling Lift
Sliding Art Frame Static Category (Where the display unit basically stays in the
same wall position) has 5 different versions to consider:
Motorized Moving Art Frame
Robotic Moving Art Frame
Robotic Frame
The best option for you depends on the room, décor, cabinetry, size of display,
budget, and a host of other factors.
Auton Pop-Up lift
Auton Drop down lift
Auton Folding ceiling lift
Auton sliding frame
Media Décor Motorized
Moving Art Frame
Media Décor Robotic
Moving Art Frame
Media Décor Robotic Frame
Media Décor Frame
Media Décor MediaMirror™
(Auton illustrations courtesy of Auton™)
1. The pop-up lift is the oldest solution. It was originally used for larger CRT
displays. The mechanism is usually mounted in a cabinet. When the display is
turned on, it rises up to the top of the cabinet and conceals whatever is behind it.
(Photo courtesy of Auton™)
Competent carpentry is required to install it properly. When the unit is retracted in
the down position, the false top must be flush to the surrounding top. This
requires very accurate stops on the mechanism and a good woodworker.
General costs including installation are about $4-6k, depending on the cabinetry.
This system works well if the concealing cabinet is planned well in advance, and
storage space is not at a premium below the unit. It is especially suited to
credenzas or in a chest. It is not well suited to mantles or free wall surfaces.
Proper ventilation is not a concern unless the display is turned on while inside the
cabinet. Control systems can prevent this.
The drop-down or pop down lift is essentially the opposite of the pop-up. The
mechanism is concealed either in the ceiling or a cabinet soffit. When the display
is turned on, the mechanism lowers down from the cabinet work or ceiling above
and conceals whatever is behind the display.
(photos courtesy of Auton™ Lifts)
With this system, more extensive carpentry and planning are required. Especially
Plasma displays are deceptively heavy. Hence the structural requirements are
rigid; once the unit is lowered, the ceiling or cabinet void above it must be
carefully planned so it doesn’t look like a hole in the ceiling. Of course a soffit will
cover this up. Costs are higher for the drop-down system because of the
carpentry and planning.
This system works well if it is planned in advance with an architect and designer.
It can be used above mantles or most anywhere there is adequate room above it
(at least 2-4’, depending on the mechanism and plasma display size). Again,
ventilation is a non-issue since the display device is in free air when being used.
2. The folding ceiling lift requires minimal depth in the ceiling (about 6-8” for a
42” Plasma). The display literally folds down from the ceiling when being used.
Some units will also tilt or swivel for optimum viewing once lowered. The ‘WOW’
factor is high, but so are the costs and planning.
Typically, folding ceiling lifts are better suited to custom spaces and new
construction, where space is at a premium but can be planned-for well in
advance to minimize conflicts with other elements appearing in the soffit or the
(Photos courtesy of Auton™ Lifts)
If a relatively small (20” or less) LCD or display is used, the smaller fold down
mechanism comes into its own primarily in residential use.
The Sliding Art Frame or “IN-VIS-O-TRAK” from Auton™: At the touch of a
hand-held transmitter, this product from Auton™ lets you conceal and reveal a
recessed display device behind your favorite painting. There are no exposed
tracks or wiring. Pressing a button on the remote moves your original artwork to
reveal your monitor.
The advantage of this system is that original artwork may be utilized. Since it is
available in both horizontal (illustrated above) and vertical configurations, there is
flexibility in finding space to move the painting. The installation must be done
professionally and there must be enough horizontal or vertical free space for the
painting when the display is revealed.
The Motorized QC Art Frame from Media Décor is a ‘stationary’ solution
patented to concealing the plasma display. When the display unit is off, all that is
seen is a framed piece of art. When the display device is on, the canvas retracts
into the top of the frame and reveals the plasma or LCD with a wooden frame
around it.
Artwork in Down Position
This type of concealment requires no special cabinetwork if the display unit is
surface mounted. It is generally mounted to the wall around the wall mounted
plasma display. The plus to this type of unit is the wide variety of artwork, frames,
and the ability to use your own artwork or photograph to fit the décor of the room
when the display unit is turned off. It is suitable for either surface or wall
mounting or flush mounting. Recess or flush mounting does require cabinetwork.
Original art may be painted on this canvas.
Artwork being retracted
The QX Robotic Moving Art Frame from Media Décor (Patent Pending) is
unique. It is similar to the Moving Art above, but inside the unit is a robotic arm
attached to the back of the display. When the artwork furls up, the unit moves
into the room and can be electronically swiveled & tilted for optimum viewing.
Monitor Off
Monitor Energized
Monitor Moves into Room
Monitor Swivels and Tilts
The advantages of this system are:
No special ventilation required
Tilt and swivel functions provide optimal on-axis viewing without loss of
resolution, contrast or picture detail. Glare and reflection are greatly
reduced or eliminated. Variable tilt-down allows simultaneous viewing on
couch and floor.
High WOW factor
Monitor is concealed with artwork when not being viewed
The disadvantages are:
Depth requirements
A relatively intelligent control system is required.
Not a simple do-it-yourself product that is quickly put into place
The QFX Robotic Frame from Media Décor is identical to the Robotic Moving
Art, except there is no moving art. Inside the unit is a robotic arm attached to the
back of the display device. The display moves into the room and can be
electronically swiveled, or tilted for the optimum viewing angle.
Display Energized
Display Swivels and Tilts
The advantages of this system are:
No need for ventilation
Tilt and swivel functions provide optimal on-axis viewing without loss of
resolution, contrast or picture detail. Glare and reflection are greatly
reduced or eliminated.
The disadvantages are:
Depth requirements
Screen is never concealed
The QF Frame from Media Décor is the simplest solution of all. It consists of a
picture frame and wall enclosure. The wall enclosure is necessary because the
display must stand alone without additional weight or attachment to it. Attaching
frames to expensive screens is not recommended due-to weight, heat, & safety.
The advantages of this system are:
Lowest Cost and Simple Installation, unit does not touch the display
Sides of display device and wiring are hidden, with external ventilation not
The disadvantages are:
Display Screen is never concealed
The Media-Mirror™ is a new product developed and patented by Media Décor,
LLC. In simple terms, it is a mirror when the Display is turned off and a Monitor
when the Display is turned on.
Unlike 2 way mirrors, Media-Mirror features "Beam-Splitter" technology. Instead
of a half-silvered coating, it has a high efficiency dielectric coating designed to
transmit the video picture at maximum brightness and reflect like a mirror when
the display unit is off. Its transmission is about 5 times that of conventional 2 way
mirrors. The reflection specification is approximately the same as 2 way mirrors.
The vastly higher level of picture fidelity and detail differences are dramatic (see
images and data specification readings in the graphics below) and the cost is
significantly higher. Despite the increased cost, however, the Media-Mirror owner
is rewarded with a vastly superior image and overall viewing experience.
The benefits of the Media-Mirror™ over a conventional 2 way mirror are relative
ease of installation and the fact that when the display is off, the Mirror will blend
in with most any room or space décor. The difference in performance is
significant. MediaMirror is not suitable for spaces with high ambient or
uncontrolled light.
Conclusions and Summary of Process for Project Definition:
This initial document, then, forms a rough outline of issues and elements that,
once properly understood and woven together with a specific application profile,
will aid in higher success in the deployment, management and use of digital
signage within an organization or enterprise.
The issues, as we have seen, are at times quite complex, and it is important for
any reader of this document to turn to other specialists and experts for
assistance in any advanced project.
Most importantly, the progression for success with digital signage projects will
follow these important points:
Step #1: Define the “who, what, where, why” of visual information delivery that
forms the underlying business need for digital signage. The most important of
this is to start with “Who”, and to phrase it “Who-for?”, as-in “Who is this for?” or
“Who will be the specific viewer of information coming from the digital signage
systems?”. “Who-for” means defining the target audience one person at a time by
selecting a qualified representative person, and this entire process of definition is
often best accomplished by outlining [in the most minute detail] a “Day in the life”
of the typical viewer of your signage materials BEFORE the digital signage is
installed, then defining their “Must-have” stumbling blocks for which you believe
digital signage can overcome a critical path obstacle (an obstacle that prevents
dramatic improvement or greater success within the day to day required work of
that individual), and then defining a “Day in the life” of the same individual
AFTER the signage solution is put in place. Make these definitions specific to a
real person. Don’t be abstract (as-in: “A day in the life of a production worker”).
Be specific (as-in: “A day in the life of Thomas, the person at assembly station
#16 where the wiring harnesses for the avionics are installed”). The more specific
you can be the better you will uncover the needed elements of information
delivery for which a digital signage solution can create a positive outcome.
Step #2: Repeat Step #1 several times until you have a representative “profile” of
users within a specific user / viewer community. Look for the commonalities of
underlying need and application of visual delivery of required information. This
set of commonalities then begins to direct the focus of your content development,
making it possible to develop specific content for specific outcomes, rather than
producing generic content and hoping it will in some way help. Do not try to
“guess” at the outcomes of Step #1 as you move through Step #2… Your
perceptions of underlying need and potential productivity enhancing information
delivery are just that – YOUR perceptions. Find out from the viewing audience
what they need, do not overlay what you think they should or might need.
Step #3: Evaluate the potential environments into which the signage elements
will be placed. The locations will be defined by understanding “Who-for” and the
content that is then to be displayed. It is possible that you might believe at first
that Thomas on station #16 where the wiring harnesses for the avionics are
installed will need a display at his station, but thorough and careful analysis
during Step #1 and Step #2 cycles may determine that it is better to place a sign
between station #16 and station #17, rather than dedicate the sign to just one
station or over-invest in two signs (one for each station). Determine if there
needs to be any special adjustment to the environment or surrounding elements
in order to make the signage work effectively and comfortably. Look at mounting,
placement, lighting, acoustics, competing display elements, and other visual
“noise” in the surrounding area. Communicate these findings with the Facilities
persons or with the group assigned to make physical adjustments to these
Step #4: Simultaneous with Step #3, determine if the content development will
be in-house or out-of-house, and then determine the tools and resources
necessary to properly develop useable content for this application (to convey the
specific information defined by Step #2). Obtain the tools and training for any inhouse personnel or group, or visit the out-of-house group to confirm that they
have the tools and talent to perform this development. Begin the development
cycle and engage in constructive review of the materials. Do some tests and ask
for input from various informed and interested parties to ensure that you are
producing content that can actually help to solve the underlying work issues as
defined. Adjust as necessary. In tandem with this effort, begin to “advertise” the
new approach to information presentation and delivery. Build acceptance and
generate enthusiasm within the group of viewers you specifically wish to impact.
This advertising must happen PRIOR-TO the deployment of the systems. Explain
the goals clearly, ask for viewers’ assistance and cooperation and valuable input,
and establish clear expectations for the specific outcomes you are seeking.
Step #5: Obtain, set-up and configure the management and scheduling tools that
comprise the background infrastructure for actually effectively “operating” a
digital signage solution. Define roles and responsibilities for individual staff
members for reviewing, scheduling, monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness
of content that will be displayed. Provide training in any tools or elements that will
be used by the personnel engaged in these efforts.
Step #6: Have the display systems purchased and installed by qualified
installation people, remembering to have identified the power, network, mounting,
cooling, safety, security and maintenance elements of each of the display
devices. Meet with the Network group to insure that your content will have the
transport bandwidth and priority necessary. Check with Security for any special
approvals for the devices and the information transport on the network. Test all
cable & power connections and perform detailed setup on each display to obtain
the maximum clarity and quality, and commonality of image color and contract,
across the entire set of displays. The same material should look, in all respects,
identical as viewed on any display that is part of the digital signage solution.
Step #7: Write-up and then follow a deployment and content display “test”
period, with verification of all aspects of the technical hardware, the operational
software, and the performance of the content within the solution. Testing should
be conducted at different times on different days in order to test against different
peak load times of the network, and to determine if there are any environmental
elements that might interfere at a specific time or on a specific day. (For instance
- Perhaps when the large doors are opened in the afternoon the display cannot
be viewed, or it overheats, etc). Summarize the results of the tests and make
adjustments to the solution / systems as necessary. Review the results with the
project leader and with the AV Specialists, Content Developers and the Network
Step #8: Go “Live”. Begin to use the signage as planned in day to day activities.
Observe and document the outcomes and interactions with the signage. Seek
feedback through both formal and casual means in order to fine-tune the delivery
of information.
Step #9: Look to the future and plan how to modify and/or adjust or expand the
effort, based on starting all over again defining a “Day in the life” of another set of
representative users.
Though only general in detail, these steps should serve you well as you begin to
define your specific application for digital signage solutions within your scope of
Respectfully submitted,
Scott R. Sharer
President – Senior Design Engineer
Communication Design Group Inc.
Tybee Island, GA 31328
912-786-0068 – voice and voicemail
912-650-1832 – video (ISDN up to 384kbps)