When choosing your digital signage, the sheer volume of hardware options can be overwhelming. The variety of LED or projection displays, combined with the variety of player options (system on a chip and cloud-based or media players?) can make it hard to select the right digital signage hardware for your job.

Step 1: choosing your display type

First, you’ll want to decide which display hardware you want to use. This will depend on your use case. For example, if you are installing a screen in a high-brightness area, like the front of a store or a daylit concourse in a transportation hub, you will need a high-brightness LED screen or an alternate solution that doesn’t try to “beat the sun,” such as ePaper displays, which can also serve well as lower-cost/more sustainable digital menu boards. If you are installing an informational or wayfinding kiosk, then you might opt for a smaller touchscreen (along with the kiosk furniture).

By contrast, if you are choosing hardware for a dark area, such as the side of an entertainment venue at night, you may want to consider traditional or laser projectors from suppliers like Epson, which can transform entire surfaces into display surfaces for less cost than would be involved in blanketing the side of the building in LED panels (which would also require weatherproofing hardware).

Let’s say you’re choosing display hardware for a fast-food drive-thru ordering system. You’ll need to select a screen that is visible in variable light conditions, including sunlight, so you’ll want to invest in high-brightness LED. You will also need to select brand-appropriate furniture, along with a dedicated speaker system, with appropriate weatherproofing for heat, cold, and moisture. If you’re installing in an area prone to lots of severe weather, such as hurricanes, you’ll probably want to make the investment in ultra-durable mounting and furniture for your screens, along with screen protection.

Lastly, a note on quality — it can be tempting to go with the cheapest TV you can find, and to put some menu images on a USB thumb drive, but investing in quality can actually save you money in the long run; a consumer-grade television is simply not designed for the kind of 24-7 operation most businesses require. Doing your research and investing in a professional-grade display from a supplier, such as Philips Professional Display Solutions, that will run reliably for years to come can be a great step —not only to save money in the long run but to reduce e-Waste and boost sustainability.

Step 2: choosing your content player type

System-on-a-Chip TV’s, smart TV’s, and cloud-based digital signage can present benefits such as central control and lower initial installation costs (dedicated media players can be costly). However, these systems depend on reliable Internet connection to operate correctly; if you have an Internet outage for any reason, you won’t be able to run your content and dependent operations until you restore Internet connectivity.

In our restaurant example, this means you would face potential outages of your drive through unless you have built in redundancy (say, investing in 5G connectivity in case of Internet outages, which would entail another layer of cost).

By contrast, media players tend to be more robust and to keep running even in case of Internet outages, and the best media players enjoy very long shelf lives (sometimes running twice as long or more than the average cloud-based display would do). However, media players tend to require heavier investment during your installation, and you may have to factor in budget costs for things like ongoing maintenance or licensing fees.

Whether you choose media players or cloud-based/System-on-a-Chip signage, make sure to look for robust service and warranty options, and ensure that your chosen hardware is compatible with all relevant business software from your operations. Choosing hardware that doesn’t play nicely with your software systems is a recipe for chaos and inefficiency, all of which can eat into your bottom line.

Some firms like Screencloud have online tools to help you select your hardware.

Step 3: choosing your installation/mounting hardware

Having good relationships with your ecosystem of suppliers, or making sure that you choose an integrator who cultivates those relationships, will greatly simplify your journey as you select your hardware.

For example, sourcing the right integrator (or having relationships in place with suppliers) can help you find good pricing on your mounting needs, along with making it easier to select the right mounts and furniture for your job. For example, if you’re installing your drive-through digital signage in a hurricane-prone area, having an integrator with the right supplier connections can save you money on ultra-heavy weatherproofing hardware, which could cost you more if you try to source the hardware yourself.

Also, if you have an extremely unique or intricate installation, you may need to select a specialty integrator that has experience with unusual use cases; for large projects like digital signage in Allegiant Stadium (home for the 2024 Super Bowl), Samsung Electronics America provided a wide spectrum of installation services, but for smaller boutique projects, you might find a specialist like Red Dot Digital Media installing a digital koi pond in an LA bank transformation project.

Speaking of which reading interviews with integrators like Red Dot Digital Media president Darryl Kuder can be a great way to get insight into solid hardware options — for instance, Kuder does not have a promotional relationship with BrightSign, but he enthusiastically recommends the famously purple media players from his many years of installation experience.

Step 4: Do your research, and don’t be shy

Don’t be shy! If an installation catches your eye, and you think that you would like to install a similar system, don’t be shy about reaching out to other business owners to learn more about their suppliers. It could be as simple as noticing a DOOH advertising screen at your local gas station or EV charging station, or a touchscreen at your local self-serve fast-food restaurant. Get a list of all relevant hardware and software contacts from the project, including the integrator that installed the system; happy business owners are usually glad to share details on a project that went well.

There are a number of helpful references online as well, such as Screencloud’s Buyer’s Guide to Digital Signage Hardware, along with useful resources like the Digital Signage Today Supplier Directory. Make sure to follow topics related to your business; in our drive-thru example, following Restaurant news can help you get a feel for trends in your industry, and you just might find a few suppliers mentioned in a story about a successful deployment that you may want to choose your hardware from.

Additionally, industry non-profit organizations can sometimes be sources of information for starting your digital signage journey, such as the Digital Signage FederationWomen in AV and IT, or AVIXA.

If you already have selected your desired software systems, reach out to your vendor to see what hardware recommendations they have; that will save you time on compatibility questions later on!

Events can be helpful depending on your industry; you may want to start with well-reputed networking events in your sector, such as restaurant summits or small business mixers, rather than digital signage focused events.

In our drive-thru example, you might start not with digital signage industry events but with restaurant-focused events, where you can meet not only suppliers but fellow operators who can offer you insights illustrated by their own successes and failures; summits like the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit or the Self Service Innovation Summit can be powerful tools for selecting your digital signage hardware.

If you do decide that you’d like to attend a digital signage summit, well-known examples can include the Exertis Almo E4 Experience for North America businesses. If you’re based in Europe, you may want to check out Integrated Systems Europe (a.k.a. ISE), which is the European digital signage industry’s biggest event.

Whichever route you follow, don’t forget the growing importance of topics like sustainability and accessibility in your digital signage installation.

(February 28, 2024). Daniel Brown – Editor, Networld Media Group. Retrieved from https://www.digitalsignagetoday.com/articles/the-digital-signage-hardware-buyers-guide/