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

  Deacon Wardlow   Aug 18, 2014   Blog   0 Comment

-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 deacon@spectacularmedia.com. We’re working on releasing more educational resources and material on the website www.spectacularmedia.com, 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.

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