What is digital signage?

Digital signage is a collective term describing everything that has to do with public TV screens, LED signs, indoors and outdoors. It is often also referred to as "digital out of home" (DOOH) and in some countries as "narrowcasting".

Digital signage is a means to communicate directly to a local audience with a single message or a sequence of messages. Well-known examples are:

  • Large screens with advertisements in a mall
  • Digital menu boards in a restaurant
  • Screens at the hospital with general information
  • Arrival and departure times at public transport hubs

Digital signage is capable of external communication (to customers, patients, and visitors) and internal communication (to staff). Internal communication using screens in the corridors, canteen and at coffee machines showing recent company news and developments.

Components of digital signage

The content

It all starts with the content: a single message or - more often - a sequence of messages (presentation) that you like to present to your audience. In its simplest form, these are a sequence of static images or videos created by creative professionals with common design tools.

Nowadays, interactive digital signage is also increasingly applied. Interactive content gives customers, for example, the opportunity to browse products or services.

The content management system (CMS)

You create and maintain your messages on pages in a content management system (CMS). The CMS is where you put messages in a sequence to form a presentation.

In the digital signage CMS, you also have an overview of all the tv screens under your control to which you can publish your content. TV screens you select receive your content when you publish a presentation and will start running at the time you choose.

Digital signage CMS’s come in all sorts of forms. The simplest ones allow you to put uploaded media files in a playback sequence. The actual content creation needs to be done entirely with external tools. Then there are the high-end tools for creating all sorts of slick presentations with hundreds of variables, effects, timelines, etc. This target the content professional that works with these kinds of tools daily. In the middle, you will find tools enabling you to upload media and add and manage your content, just as you would in a Powerpoint presentation. These intermediate tools target people who like a decent degree of design freedom while benefiting from the system being easy enough to use for virtually anyone.

A computer to create and manage content with

As a content creator and/or manager, you need a computer with which you create and manage your content. A computer on which the digital signage CMS runs in a straightforward setup. When you make your content, you immediately publish it to the relevant playback devices, shut down your computer and go home.

Digital signage with single workstation

In its simplicity lies its main limitation: practically, only one user can manage the content. Also, that user needs to install the digital signage CMS software and keep it up to date.

A central server to run the digital signage CMS on

If more people need to be able to create and manage content, then it makes more sense to move to a setup where the digital signage CMS runs on a central computer (server) to which you log in from your computer.

Digital signage with server

Even though it’s clear that you gain flexibility with this setup, you also see that the complexity increases: you now have to buy and maintain a server, install the digital signage CMS software, and keep it up to date. Luckily the internet has brought a lot of good to the world, including “software as a service”. So instead of fiddling with hardware and digital signage CMS software, you can use a web-based digital signage CMS. All you need is a web browser on your computer, and you log in to a website where you create, manage and publish all your content.

Cloud based digital signage

Cloud-based software gives you less hardware to buy, manage and maintain. Moreover, you are always guaranteed to run the latest software version without having to install anything.

Playback devices or "media players"

A playback device is a little computer that runs software that can read the content you created in the digital signage CMS and display it on the (TV) screen connected to it.

Digital signage media players

There are different types of playback devices:

  • An individual small computer mounted to the back of each TV screen;
  • A small computer built into the encasing of the TV, for example, a consumer smart TV running Tizen (from Samsung) or WebOS (from LG) or a professional TV screen running Android or even Windows;
  • A central computer runs one or more presentations simultaneously and sends each to one specific screen. In most cases, this requires extra hardware to communicate between this main computer and each screen.

Many digital signage CMS’s require you to buy specific playback devices at relatively high prices for the type of hardware you get. Other digital signage CMS's only work with specific playback software that needs to be installed on the playback device. However, some web-based digital signage CMS’s will playback in any standard web browser. Browser-based software saves you from installing and managing vendor-specific software and allows you to choose from many different types of hardware to fit your needs and budget.

TV screens and other digital displays

A TV screen or another digital display, like a large LED screen, is what your audience sees your presentation on. It will display the output of the playback device.

Digital signage TV screens

Regular consumer TVs are often good enough for digital signage purposes. But not all environments are well suited for a consumer TV; for example:

  • a store window that catches a lot of sunlight needs an extra bright screen for its picture to be sufficiently visible;
  • an outdoor screen needs to be weather-proof;
  • an unattended screen in a sports stadium needs to be "vandal-proof";
  • professional screens are available longer should one of an array of the same screens need to be replaced.

Benefits of digital signage

  • Generating attention
    Attractive visuals and animations draw the target audience's attention to the digital signage screens.
  • Dynamic
    Create interactive content and respond to the target group. The content is quickly adaptable, so the message is perfectly tailored to the audience. Ideal for moments or events that attract a specific target group, such as career evenings or networking drinks.
  • Cost effective
    With digital signage, less investment is needed in, for example, print media and distribution.
  • Sustainable
    Digital information provision replaces traditional media, resulting in significant savings in the use of paper and other raw materials (such as plastic and ink).
  • Widely usable
    Digital signage supports a wide range of technologies and apps, so there is a solution for every technical challenge.
  • Maximum flexibility
    Manage digital signage content centrally. Adjust the displayed content via the internet with one click - worldwide and up to thousands of information screens simultaneously.
  • Improved communication
    Messages are always up to date and can be adjusted quickly and easily, unlike traditional media.

Examples of digital signage

We already mentioned some examples of digital signage at the beginning of this article. Use digital signage for all kinds of purposes.

A well-known example is the use of digital signage in the waiting room of a dentist or doctor. For example, the screens in the waiting room indicate how long the waiting times are, or you will receive a message when it is your turn. The screen keeps the audience's attention by interspersing the content essential for you to communicate with (local) weather, news reports, and health tips. Digital signage is an excellent solution to make the waiting time more pleasant for patients.

Screens in a store are another well-known example of digital signage. You often see this in large electronics and white goods stores. For example, the screens inform you about offers and new products. In the case of interactive screens, customers can obtain more information and browse products, usually combined with video clips. Digital signage is, in this case, an excellent way to stimulate purchases and improve the atmosphere in the store.

A third widely used application of digital signage is the display of menus and offers in restaurants, entertainment venues, and snack bars. New products or offers can be quickly added to the menu using digital menus and price lists. Changing prices can also be implemented quickly, making it very easy to highlight products periodically. For example, consider a monthly offer or new products to the range.

Digital signage is an excellent means of communication within large companies. The latest company news is shown in the elevator or at the coffee maker. For example, financial results, new product releases, or who celebrates their birthday in the company that day? An easy way to keep staff informed and involved.

What to watch out for in digital signage?

For the correct application of digital signage, you should pay extra attention to several items. We list a number of these items:

  1. The size of the screen
    Several factors must be considered when determining screen size. The average viewing distance of the screen is one of them. The screen must be large enough to ensure that all content is legible. A screen is not too large, but an unnecessarily large screen naturally leads to higher investment. The ideal screen size differs per situation, so finding the perfect screen size always remains a challenge. We have created a handy tool to help you find the perfect screen size. The tool tells you exactly how large your screen must be to keep the content legible.
  2. The size of the content
    The average viewing distance determines the size of the content. The content must be legible. A digital signage screen positioned as a billboard along the highway will have larger content than the digital signage screen in the dentist's waiting room.
  3. Integration with other software
    When choosing a content management system for digital signage, software integrations play a significant role. You want to spend as little time as possible with manual updating. By choosing a management system with integration with other systems you can automate the content to a large extent. Consider, for example, displaying the latest news items, weather forecasts, agenda items, or Facebook messages.
  4. The right screen
    Not all consumer TVs are equally suitable for digital signage. That is why there are special digital signage screens on the market. These screens have a longer and more extensive warranty that offers commercial use coverage. Screens designed for commercial use offer extended guarantees over consumer screens. Many manufacturers offer guarantees for several years on screens that are used 24/7. A digital signage screen is almost indispensable for digital signage setups with multiple screens. Digital signage screens usually have very thin borders so you can create a seamless multi-screen image. Moreover, these screen types are often available for much longer, so you can easily replace a defective screen in your setup. With a 33% market share, Samsung is the largest manufacturer of digital signage screens. The main competitors are LG, Goodview, and NEC. This mutual competition is positive for the consumer since it increases the supply, reduces prices, and stimulates innovation.
  5. The right media player
    To play your content on digital screens, a media player is required: this can vary from a smart TV to a fully-fledged desktop computer. In the case of a smart TV you can opt for the built-in internet browser, but these often have a limited processing speed. Therefore choose an external media player that connects to the internet and that you can tune into your digital signage channel. There is a vast selection of media players, and the choice of a good media player depends on the situation. Therefore, be well advised before purchasing a media player, or check out our help page for more information about the popular options.
  6. Security
    Ensure good security on your digital signage network. The choice of a content management system plays a significant role here, but hardware security is also essential. This way, you prevent your digital signage channel or digital signage screens from displaying content from malicious parties.
  7. Choose the right management system
    Choose a user-friendly operating system that is easy to work with. Many different providers with user-friendly operating systems offer a lot of support. Take the time to make an informed decision. A well-made decision prevents you from being burdened with an unnecessarily complicated system.

Conclusion

There are many approaches to setting up digital signage, each with pros and cons. We wouldn't be surprised if this brief overview left you with some more questions. In that case, don't hesitate to ask. We are more than happy to answer them for you.

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