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Introduction to Digital Signage Infrastructure

Digital signage is a powerful and cost effective means of communicating information to a select audience. The applications for digital signage are expanding rapidly and to many markets such as public transportation, restaurants, education, healthcare and corporate settings. Digital signage systems can be found in all shapes and sizes, with displays ranging from as small as four inches to some as large as 100 feet. The number of displays in a system can be as few as one or as many as one thousand. Selecting the right components based on practical application and anticipated quality can make a considerable impact on the effective outcome of the signage solution.

Components of a Digital Signage Solution

Four primary hardware components exist in the majority of digital signage systems; a source device for content; distribution mechanism; signal transport medium; and displays. Solutions that utilize integrated capabilities would be an exception, requiring only the display itself. An example of an integrated solution would be a display that has a built in media player, such as a DVD player.

Source devices

Sources can include many devices such as DVD or Blu-ray players, computers, servers or media players. The type of source device used is based upon the requirements of flexibility and ease of updating content. In applications where the content will rarely change, e.g. a presentation of a company's history, a DV D or Blu-ray pl ayer would be the likely source device used. However, if content is expected to be updated frequently, such as a presentation of weekly promotional events, then a computer, server or media player would be desired. Remote access capabilities of computers, servers and media players give users the flexibility to edit content over networking infrastructures such as a Local Area Network (LAN) or a Wide Area Network (WAN).

Distribution Mechanism

When more than one display is present in a system, the source's output will require the introduction of a distribution mechanism. Many different solutions exist to split an audio/ video signal effectively. The type of solution selected depends on the overall number of displays, signal type and distance of each connection. Although a simple y-cable solution may seem like an economical solution, it is never recommended due to the inherent distance limitations associated with most applications. Most attempts to use a y-cable result in poor picture quality or complete loss of video. To maintain signal quality, a signal splitter device can be introduced to distribute and amplify the signal to each monitor. Most signal splitters are utilized for solutions with two to eight displays at a distance no greater than 200ft away. When applications exceed eight displays and distances over 200ft, an IP solution should be used. IP solutions utilize network infrastructure such as Cat5e/6 cabling, RJ45 jacks and network switches to accommodate up to 1,000 displays. When following computer networking standards for long distance, displays can be extended to distances as far as 3,000ft away.

Signal Transport Medium

A medium for transmitting audio/video signals can be one of several different types such as Cat5e/6 network cabling, coaxial, fiber optics and air. Twisted pair cabling such as Cat5e/6 is commonly used for networking applications and has the ability to extend signals great distances up 1000ft. Due to its popularity and familiarity in the IT industry, Cat5e/6 cabling has become one of the most commonly used distribution media in digital signage applications. High bandwidth signals, such as HDMI and DVI, can utilize fiber optic cabling, also common to computer networking. Fiber optic cabling can be used to extend signals beyond the distance capable over Cat5e/6. However, the cost of the electronics and cable may not fit into the budget of most systems. When flexible placement is desired, wireless technologies can be used. Wireless technologies such as 802.11, carry signals using radio waves that travel throu gh the air, overcoming situations where cabling pathways do not exist or installing cable may be too difficult or expensive.

Displays

The display is the most visible component of any digital signage system and should be selected based on the installation location. Displays can be as simple as a computer monitor or as complex as a custom built screen. The size of the screen is determined by the anticipated viewing distance of the audience members and has a tremendous impact on the effectiveness of the system. Displays that are too large at a close viewing distance can be overwhelming to audience members, while displays that are too small may be overlooked. The available connection types on a display should also be considered. If the source device has an output of VGA, then the display should also have the ability to accept VGA. Without matching connection types, converter devices and adapters may need to be used which increases complexity and overall cost.

Small Scale Solutions

When a single message needs to be communicated to audience members within one specific area in a building, a small scale solution can be installed. A small scale solution can be as simple as a digital picture frame with a presentation loaded to a memory card. This method is common when desktop space is limited and when content is rarely changed. Applications may include movie the ater ticket counters, banks and corporate reception areas. When more than one display is desired, a splitter device can be used to effectively distribute the signal from a source device. Conventional VGA, DVI or HDMI cabling is often used since the distance is relatively short.

Small Scale Digital Signage Application Example

Medium Scale Solutions

When displays spanning multiple areas of a building are desired, a medium scale solution can be installed. Monitors in a medium scale solution can range in number from four up to 30. Distribution methods are commonly Cat5e/6 solutions due to the lengthy distance commonly associated with commercial infrastructure. Wireless devices can also be used by connecting access points within range of each display. Medium scale applications can be seen in digital menu boards in fast food restaurants and arrival and departure information at a municipal airports or bus stations.

Medium Scale Digital Signage Application Example

Large Scale Solutions

When multiple displays spanning various areas of a building are involved, a large scale solution can be installed. Due to the vast distances and require ments for installing cabling bet ween structures, a fiber optic IP solution is often implemented. Fiber optic is utilized to connect each building to prevent issues caus ed by electrical grounding differences between each structure. Fiber cabling entering a building would be converted to a copper medium such as Cat5e/6 cabling and eventually converted again at each display to VGA, DVI or HDMI. Common applications for large scale signage solutions are government facilities, college campuses, international airports and train stations.

Large Scale Digital Signage Application Example

This white paper is for informational purposes only and is subject to change without notice. C2G makes no guarantees, either expressed or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness or reliability of the information found in this document.