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“Future Proofing” your DS Solution: Part 3 of 3 Holding a Roundup Review of options and solutions.

-Deacon Wardlow

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Digital Signage (DS) doesn’t have to be complicated. People make it seem so to create a “barrier to entry” which seems ridiculous, but a lot of the technobabble and “geek speak” are used to “filter” out knowledgeable integrators and clients from the non (and it helps integrators and consultants up their fees if the work seems even more difficult for a client to put together). It’s much simpler than it looks and systems don’t have to take a degree in computer sciences to figure out (or at least, they shouldn’t). Here’s a quick “Roundup Review” means of looking at any DS system and making sure it suits your needs:

1. Is the system easy-to-use? Out of the box, can the client (or reseller) create some simple content and schedule the content within a 5 min window from start to scheduled?

2. Is the system scalable? Can it perform well for 1 system and is it easily scaled up to 100 or 1,000? What about user access? Are there settings to allow different users different privileges/access?

3. Is the system easily accessed remotely and does it allow for multi-site backups? Ideally the system should have anywhere/anytime secured access (through login). The same system should be capable of running should the network connection go down AND (again, ideally) have the content on both the system players and some off-site location (like a hosted server from the system provider).

4. Can the system be used for any Digital Signage system to run content (i.e. OLED, LCD, LED exterior/interior, or other display)? Check to see the system limitations. Many providers have a particular “niche” they do well in, but no so well when you go outside of that niche. Ask the reseller or provider directly what (if any) limitations does the system have and will it suit your particular needs?

5. Quality of the video – does the system allow for true high definition content?

6. How often is the system updated and what’s the roadmap for new features? Do updates have a cost? Will the new features come bundled or will they have a separate cost?

7. Monitoring – can you tell which systems are up and which ones are down? Does the schedule-at-a-glance tell you if content has expired or is currently playing (or if there’s nothing scheduled? Does the system send out an auto report (email, sms, other) when something goes wrong? There’s much more to look at with the systems, this is primarily just about the platform/player. A review is advised to ensure the hardware meets/exceeds customer requirements for the DS system. That’s a whole other bundle of questions and checks which we’ll get into another time. When reviewing the platform you’ll be using, make sure it’s as “future forward” as possible (meaning built-in options to integrate third-party applications, flexibility of customization/use, and a constant flow of new features sets and improved interface modifications from the company. With technology, you’re either moving forward or standing still… if the provider you choose isn’t going anywhere, than you can expect to be left behind with them…

Please coBrick-house...mment here or send questions or requests for information to We’re working on releasing more educational resources and material on the website, please check it out when you have a moment. Note all posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Spectacular Media’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically noted.

  Deacon Wardlow   Aug 25, 2014   Blog   0 Comment Read More

“Future Proofing” your DS Solution: Part 2 Embedded Computing vs. IPC

-Deacon Wardlow

Embedded computing vs. the IPC. The constant conundrum in the DS world. Whether to go with the USB flash drive (aka sneakernet), a droid or Linux-based player, or an industrial PC (aka IPC) player. Each has its pluses and minuses. Let’s take a look and you can decide where you land on the debate. Programmable Flash drives are becoming a bit more robust, but are usually only removable content storage devices for simplified Digital Signage (DS) players. Content is uploaded via DS software on a computer to the flash drive with simple scheduling (if available) and the drive is plugged directly into the DS system. Some players use SD cards for file storage/access as opposed to flash drives. Flash Drive (aka “sneakernet”) Pros:

  • easy to operate (load content and let it run)
  • directly accessible (pull the old flash drive, replace with a new drive (fresh content)
  • simple DS solution

Flash Drive (aka “sneakernet”) Cons:

  • directly accessible (anyone can reach behind the display and pull the drive, thus killing the DS solution)
  • primarily only for localized interior LCD systems
  • overly simple system, if content isn’t properly sized, the system will stretch/skew content to make it fit ultimately resulting in poor content
  • no remote access/control (each system has to be managed locally and changes must be made at the system
  • ok for very small, local systems, but not robust for a larger system and doesn’t allow for easy scalability, often requiring the DS owner to buy a new system when it’s time to upgrade to something more robust…

An Embedded computer is commonly an SBC (single board computer) which uses the single printed circuit board (PCB) to run a specific assigned task. SBC embedded computers are used to run smartphones, mobile devices, cars, smart TVs, and other systems. Embedded Computer Pros:

  • dedicated to a single purpose and usually efficient at that task
  • low power requirements
  • ability to perform in extreme adverse conditions with a long overall lifetime performance
  • “WYSIWYG” (read “wizzy wig” or what you see is what you get) computing – no surprises and typically good to go once set to a standard

Embedded Computer Cons:

  • inflexible for modifications/additions – embedded computers are used for a single task, as such it’s difficult to modify them later to integrate new technology as any modifications will require a firmware update or will not be compatible
  • little-to-no 3rd party access: want to add thid party apps, security monitoring software, or possibly integrate an Embedded computer on a special network? You are likely out of luck as the WYSIWYG set is just that, very little ability to modify the system once it’s set and running
  • Not future proofed – embedded computers usually run proprietary software/firmware developed by the manufacturer. If that manufacturer goes out of business the only way to update the system is to replace the player with someone else’s solution

An IPC (industrial PC) is typically a windows or linux based industrial-grade computer. These are usually solid-state (solid state drive, small footprint, and built for industrial environments so more rugged than your standard PC). An IPC has the ability to run various software, allows for third party applications to run on the system, and can be quickly configured to integrate new technology allowing users to upgrade their system without replacing the player. IPCs are often used in environments requiring higher computing/processing speeds (i.e. higher definition displays requiring the system to multi-task and allow for various components to come together and run a digital signage or other system). IPC Pros:

  • small footprint (there are IPCs as small as 3”x3”)
  • easily upgradable (companies like Xi3 are creating small IPC systems which can be quickly upgraded with newer cards for storage, processors, etc. easily and simply as new tech becomes available)
  • integrates 3rd party applications and hardware – often as simple as installing a driver for the hardware or running a third party application on the system)
  • allows for fast and easy scalability: many IPCs can quickly be integrated with other systems and allow for custom configurations sometimes required by various end-users with special network considerations (i.e. banks, military, schools, hospitals, etc.)

IPC Cons:

  • somewhat more costly than embedded players (often about $200-$600 more)
  • require updates with the Operating System (OS)
  • More prone to cyber-attacks/hacking (in closed systems or secured networks, this isn’t likely but anything running Linux, Apple, or Microsoft OSs and connected to a network is prone to attack)
  • a third party application can cause conflicts with the primary DS player software (best to check/confirm with the DS player software provider to ensure compatibility)

While there are some drawbacks to an IPC (primarily cost and a bigger “footprint” or space required to mount with DS systems) the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. An IPC allows for more flexibility, doesn’t tie a client down to a single provider/developer, and allows for easy scaling and integration of third party hardware/software. When looking to setup a client with a DS solution, it’s important to not just look at the immediate need but to consider what the client may require in one, two, or three years down the road.

Will your solution need to be replaced or will it allow the client to easily update/upgrade to meet their new needs? Choice is good, options are great. Being locked-in to a single solution won’t benefit anyone in the long run. Don’t look to just today with your solutions, but the future road ahead. It’s better to be the visionary who’s looking out for the client’s future interests than someone who’s looking to just sell whatever works for now. If you’re the client, don’t let someone stick you with a WYSIWYG (wizzy wig). Make sure you’ve got a solution which will work for you now and down the uncertain future road ahead.


Please comment here or send questions or requests for information to We’re working on releasing more educational resources and material on the website, please check it out when you have a moment. Note all posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Spectacular Media’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically noted.

  Deacon Wardlow   Aug 18, 2014   Blog   0 Comment Read More

“Future Proofing” your DS Solution: Part 1 Software vs. Cloudware

-Deacon Wardlow

help-keyboard-1024x768In my work with software and various new tech companies, the term “future proofing” comes up a lot. Simply put, future proofing a technology means making it resilient enough to last through the many fast-paced changes which will come at the tech through the years.

Nothing is really “future proof.” The smartphone you purchased will likely be the slowest device on the block in a couple of years. After four years, it’s likely developers of apps won’t even support the phone’s operating system (as apps will be developed around faster phones with bigger memory and better connectivity). Computers last a little longer, about 5 years on average before the need to upgrade starts becoming too difficult to ignore. Cars are great as an average car will likely last you about 10+ years with proper maintenance (though you won’t get the benefits of newer safety technology and better gas mileage).

The more “industrial-grade” a technology is, the more “future proofed” people expect it to be. Today we’re looking at future proofing your Digital Signage (DS) solution’s control system (specifically software vs. cloudware… which is better and why).

Software Pros:

  • lives on a hosted network, no external internet connection required (typically)
  • secured within the local network (few worries about content access, firewalls, etc.)
  • content is usually hosted on a local server and can be quickly updated from within the organization
  • once the initial software is purchased, there are few costs (aside from maintenance programs) required

Software Cons:

  • quick changes aren’t typically easy – the content manager needs to be on-site or have remote access to the computer(s) controlling the DS system
  • local area networks are just that, local – national campaigns and program management for DS are harder to manage and dependent upon people at the location to update and ensure content is current (and working)
  • Content hosted on the local server can be lost if the server fails and backups aren’t always as reliable as we’d like them to be (especially if the IT person forgot to change and/or check the backup recently)
  • Initial purchase price on software licenses can be really high. Many organizations want to test out integrating DS into their communication format (for employees, local/national clients, and the community at large) but the initial buy-in price is so high the sticker shock drops DS as an option (even for a small scale trial)
  • In addition to software purchase costs, the hardware (application server, transfer server, and other systems required to run the system) can be costly and require maintenance
  • Software is only as good as the hardware it’s on (and as reliable). Unfortunately, operating systems (like Microsoft, Apple, and others) don’t check with developers before major changes. They warn people when possible, but often an operating system security update (definitely recommended you don’t skip those) can crash your software solution and leave your DS with a lot of “dead air” and no content on the screen…

Cloudware Pros:

  • not reliant on any operating system; most cloudware controls are versatile and can be accessed through a web browser and/or mobile device app.
  • content is (usually) stored both on the cloud and the player running the display
  • controls are accessible from any location, any web-based device (with secured login/access)
  • when hardware improves, the cloudware doesn’t require a compatibility check, the player can usually be immediately adapted for the new hardware available.
  • Cloudware usually has a low setup fee and monthly subscription rates: good for the quarterly P/L (profit/loss) statements and easy to start testing solutions and quickly scale up/down as needed
  • The only hardware required is the player and display components (display(s), mount(s), cable(s), etc.)

Cloudware Cons:

  • cloudware is only as reliable as the hosted/localized servers the provider uses
  • many control solutions are either overly complex or too dumbed-down (simple is good, dumbed-down is not)
  • many “Free!” solutions are anything but when you want to get any type of usable DS system setup, the hidden costs quickly add-up to a lot
  • There are a lot of new companies out there and it’s difficult to tell who’s the “real deal” and which ones may be gone in a fortnight… (to be fair, this is also true of software)

The most important key things to watch for with DS are: reliability, adaptability, and access. Software is going to the wayside. There’s too much changing, too quickly for software to keep up. Clients don’t have time to constantly update their software and current technology is about access “here & now” through smartphones, smartwatches, smart everything. Having a not-so-smart software solution can be a DS killer. Especially when you’re looking to start someone small with a test program and then be able to grow fast, cloudware wins out with the scalability and affordability for organizations.

The best way to “future proof” your DS solution is to make sure it’s something that isn’t reliant upon what tech is available now, but rather the solution should be adaptable to what may come along in a few years, months, or even next week. Reliable, adaptable, accessible… if your solution isn’t achieving the trifecta, your competition likely has something that does…


Please comment here or send questions or requests for information to We’re working on releasing more educational resources and material on the website, please check it out when you have a moment. Note all posts, thoughts, writings, etc. are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Spectacular Media’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically noted.

  Deacon Wardlow   Aug 18, 2014   Blog   0 Comment Read More

Hello World: Getting started with Digital Signage (DS)

-Deacon Wardlow


stressComputers are just about everywhere you look. Smartwatches, smartphones, smart tablets, all these smart devices and people are left feeling a little left behind… We’ve got all these technological tools and toys and no seemingly simple way to integrate them for our use. Welcome to the world of DS (Digital Signage).

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of technobabble and “geek speak” in the DS domain. Search for Digital Signage and you’ll be inundated. Unfortunately a lot of what you’ll find will be integrators, manufacturers, designers, software companies, and more trying to tell you why THEIR solution is better than the other company’s option. To be fair, that’s their job. We’re in this to make money, but there’s also the ROO (return on objective). Spectacular Media (that’s me and a bunch of other people in Texas, California, Colorado, and elsewhere) are working to change things around in this industry. We aim to innovate, educate, incubate, and grow strong DS leaders, partners, friends, allies, and solution specialists.

Some of you are very familiar with DS and have possibly been in it from the days of sneakernet (literally dropping off video cassettes with multi-run VCR players at locations all over the place) through to the internet where you can change content with a few clicks of the mouse/tablet/smartphone or set conditions for content to change automatically without you doing anything. Others are relatively new to the DS “game.” Regardless of where you are (with a few exceptions), it all jumbles and gets hard to follow. There are DS solutions for:

Touch Kiosks – Hospital waiting rooms – Surgical Operating Theatres – Airports – Taxi Cabs – Gas Station “toppers” – Restaurant Menu Boards – checkout stands – retail – churches – schools – you name it and there’s probably a digital signage product for it (or one in development).

Screens range in size and scope from a few square inches to a few hundred or thousand square feet. Interactive elements can be triggers with proximity, by analytical data (age, gender, race) captured on a video camera, phones (bluetooth or Near Field Communication), RFID tags, conditional events like rain/snow/sunny days, a ton of different and varying factors. An acquaintance of mine once said, “To be in this business, you have to be a bit of a technical genius and artist or know people who are either, both, or something completely different.”

So looking at the insanity that is DS from outside the box, it looks really intimidating. Why would anyone get into this mess of a business? You have to know networking, computers, software, cloudware, SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), digital content creation/design, and a million other skills. The good and bad of it all, that’s not really true. You don’t need to know any of it. You do need to know someone (or rather, several someones) who understand the systems and be able to sift through the BS to get to the DS. Our goal with these blogs is to show you where to start, how to filter the good from the bad and the in-between, and how to get what you (and your client(s) if you’re an integrator) need to create a solution for a particular project.

Hello World – welcome to DS. Watch these wonderful pages, drop us an email, give us a call and we’ll help you get started on the path to figuring out what’s what. Hopefully along the way you’ll get past the basics and develop confidence in being able to solve whatever gets thrown your way (at least as far as DS goes).

Please comment here or send questions or requests for information to We’re working on releasing more eBrick-house...ducational resources and material on the website, please check it out when you have a moment. Note all posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Spectacular Media’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically noted.

  Deacon Wardlow   Jul 11, 2014   Blog   0 Comment Read More