Amplitude Net was the first Portuguese company to enter the market of Digital Signage with proprietary software, now known as World VDS software. Although in 2005, when it was first conceived, there was little worldwide software for Digital Signage year after year, several have been emerging, and there is currently several dozen valid software.
This article aims to clarify the 3 most frequent questions that naturally arise when a company wants to make a project of Digital Signage:
How differentiated is the Digital Signage Software nowadays?
What functionalities are expected in this type of software?
What is the best Digital Signage software on the market?
These clarifications become fundamental to both usual scenarios when a company:
Intends to implement a Digital Signage system for the 1st time, in order to follow market trends
You already have a system in place, however, you are not satisfied with the limitations of your software and intend to change
At a time when Digital Signage shows very high annual growth (and will continue to do so), more and more companies are finding themselves in this situation of wondering which software they should choose for the project to be implemented, and which we will now clarify...
Digital Signage Software Segmentation
Due to a drastic reduction in hardware costs that occurred in recent years, particularly in terms of displays and multimedia players, the Digital Signage software had to adapt to many of the new specifications of this hardware, which led to a large segmentation of the same according to the nature of the device..
This point is of particular importance, since the choice of devices/hardware that will be selected for the Digital Signage projects. This has led to a large elimination of the software that can be considered, since a large part of it is only available for certain hardware.
Currently, the Digital Signage Software is differentiated according to the nature of the 3 existing markets, with the World VDS software being the only software worldwide prepared for these 3 distinct markets.
1. Manufacturers´ Software: Displays with System on Chip (SoC)
In recent years the main display manufacturers (Samsung, LG, Philips, Sony, ...) have adopted a new paradigm for their professional line displays associated with Digital Signage, which was the System on Chip (SoC) technology. This change was responsible for a drastic decrease in project costs, since, through it, the displays now have a built-in media player, thus no longer requiring the use of external hardware to run the software that will manage the content to be displayed on the screen.
With this new approach taken by the manufacturers, each of them has also developed its own Digital Signage software that runs only on the displays of their brands.
In this way Samsung created Magic Info, LG has SuperSign, Philips has CMND and SONY has BRAVIA, all of which is the software that is natively available on their professional line displays.
- No installation of external software
- Lower associated costs
- Integrated control commands (e.g. 1 single volume signal for TV and player)
- Total dependence of companies that intend to carry out Digital Signage projects on devices from a single brand
- In some manufacturers, the solution does not even run on their tablets, which limits the evolution that companies may wish to create for their projects
- Only available for the professional line of screens
- The software depends on international manufacturers, and as their core is not systems development but hardware, customization doesn´t exist, according to some specificity that usually occurs in more complex projects
- Manufacturers do not have dedicated internal teams that satisfy all the Digital Signage channel valences (such as channel broadcast management or production of multimedia elements), so they end up subcontracting external entities to offer some fundamental services, which they have no control over
It should be noted that several Digital Signage software has adapted to this new paradigm of SoC technology (among which is the World VDS software of Amplitude Net) becoming compatible with main manufacturers. This allowed software to run natively on the displays, and there was no longer the need to purchase and install external hardware external on the display for being able to work.
This advantage, besides allowing a cost reduction not only at the installation level (because it becomes simpler), also originated a cost reduction at the maintenance level, since there is now one less device in the system to be managed and maintained.
2. Multi-Platform Software
This type of software is more and more the existing scenario in the Digital Signage context, being solutions that work on the main operating systems such as Windows, Linux and Android.
Several years ago, the solutions that existed were practically all focused on Windows, however, this reality gradually changed. In 2013 the %World VDS software of Amplitude Net% was the 1st Digital Signage software worldwide to offer a solution for Android. At the time this innovation was very significant, because it allowed a big reduction in the costs of global solutions, since Android devices were much cheaper than similar ones with Windows, starting with the absence of the need to purchase a Windows operating system license
As mentioned, this multi-platform feature has become quite common nowadays, and the main software in the market is also prepared to run on hardware with the main existing operating systems, thus giving greater flexibility for companies to bet on the equipment/media players they want (even because many times they already have it).
Although some of this multi-platform software are already prepared to run natively on professional displays from manufacturers with SoC (System on Chip) technology, there are still several of them that don´t have that capability, making it always necessary to purchase additional hardware to connect to the displays.
- The flexibility of the solution on different types of hardware (with different operating systems)
- Businesses are not dependent on a single brand or operating system
- Not available for Raspberry Pi (which is the cheapest Digital Signage Hardware in the world)
- Some of this cross-platform software does not run natively on displays with SoC technology (as mentioned in the previous point)
One of the additional disadvantages that companies often inform us about, and lead them to opt for our World VDS software, is the fact that several popular multi-platform solutions offer a very long response time to problems and requests presented to them. This opinion is based only on the information that some companies are sharing with us, and that justifies the fact that they want to abandon the Digital Signage software they had.
3. Software-oriented Raspberry Pi
Since the 4th generation Raspberry Pi was launched at the end of 2019, it started to have great acceptance at the Digital Signage level worldwide, due to its low cost, high reliability and robustness associated with this equipment.
In practical terms, the Raspberry Pi is the world´s cheapest computer capable of serving as a media player for Digital Signage projects.
Until version 3 of Raspberry Pi, this equipment was only used as a small educational computer in schools or by people with greater technical knowledge for DIY (Do It Yourself) projects, with the new version 4 of Raspberry Pi it was radically changed the way we started looking at the possibilities of this small computer. This fact has led some companies worldwide to start developing Digital Signage software specifically for the Raspberry Pi. This innovative platform has very low costs.
What leads development companies that provide their software in multi-platforms not to choose the Raspberry Pi, is mainly because these hardware specifications are very particular, requiring a much higher complexity for their development teams. Therefore, they prefer to continue investing in traditional hardware, much more expensive and, sometimes, requires mandatory licensing of the operating system such as Windows, increasing, even more, this final price.
These technical limitations of the Raspberry Pi, have been the reason that has led some companies to only specialize in developing for this hardware, thus channelling all their development effort to this Mini-PC of very low cost, and leaving out the most popular operating systems (Windows, Android...).
Historically there have been several projects for Raspberry Pi, which for not having economic viability have already disappeared. Currently between the Raspberry Pi software for Digital Signage but popular are the following:
- Raspberry Digital Signage
- Possibility of creating a digital signage system on the cheapest hardware in the world
- Only runs on Raspberry Pi, so it is not available for most systems on the market
- They do not run on displays with SoC technology
Amplitude Net was the only company in the world, which already had a solution available for the main operating systems and displays with SoC technology, that also made available its Digital Signage Software for Raspberry Pi, thus unifying these 3 software markets currently separated by operating systems.
Digital Signage Software Features
There is growing proximity in terms of the functionalities between the most popular software, which often difficult the choice of software by the client
This chapter segments the functionalities of Digital Signage Software in 3 essential aspects:
- Impact of system architecture on functionalities
- Most essential features
- Less common software features, but which bring a huge added value
If it is easy to understand that a Digital Signage Software that does not have the most essential features is not a good choice, understanding how the architecture of its operation can influence the features, as well as the perception of those that are less common, is something that is often not very clear when you want to make the best decision. This chapter aims precisely to clarify the main aspects associated with each of these 3 points.
1. Digital Signage software architecture and its impact on global functionalities
Before getting into the most and least popular functionalities of management software, we present two important concepts at solution´s architecture level that may be decisive in the choice to be adopted:
- Server Part: Central access place where the Client will manage its broadcasts.
- Terminal Players: Mini-computers that are attached to the displays (if they do not have SoC technology) that will play the multimedia content.
Within this architecture, the relevant concepts to understand that may compromise the decision of the Digital Signage Software are:
- At the Server level: There is software that only provides Cloud solutions and others that allow companies to have their servers (which is something often desired by the IT of companies, especially in large projects).
On the Player level: Several characteristics should be evaluated from the outset, so we only highlight those that may be more decisive:
- Software that works with a Temporary Absence of Internet: There is Digital Signage Software that works by streaming the centrally programmed broadcast. These types of solutions are usually highly inefficient (due to the bandwidth they consume, their permanent dependence on an internet connection and do not allow the use of some advanced features with system integration - something that will not be deepened in the article -). The most effective solutions, in which World VDS fits, are those that make a local copy of all content so that they can be managed autonomously, without the need for permanent Internet access, and continue to broadcast even in the temporary absence of the same.
- Network Usage Minimization: The option of choosing one of the players, within the same network, as a content distributor for the others, so there is only one Player that fetches contents from the central server, which reduces consumption and dependence on the data network. In certain projects, this concept is determinant and few Digital Signage Software projects have it.
- Type of Screen Compatibility: Possibility that, in addition to simple displays, can work in Videowall systems, interactive displays, LEDs or Outdoor.
- Automatic Issue Recovery: In case of loss of power, the player should be automatically turned on to restore the broadcast. Some software does not have this feature and that often leads to the great dissatisfaction of customers with the made choice
- Ease of Installation: The ease of installation of the system, through a Plug & Play system that allows an automatic presentation of the emission as soon as it is connected to the display, may in many contexts be a determining factor in the decision of the software.
2. Most essential features of digital signage software
The functionalities considered to be most essential are presented below, and it is expected that they should be the minimum to be required when choosing a solution:
- Screen division into several zones: Allowing a segmentation of the screen into distinct spaces, each with the possibility of presenting its content;
- Creating a Slide: A system that facilitates the creation of a slide, making its composition with images and text to be inserted later in the broadcast;
- Flexibility in the types of Media files allowed: Good support of SD, HD and 4K Image, Video and Streaming files in the most varied formats. It should be noted that there is software that greatly restricts the types of files they support so care should be taken to ensure that the universe of multimedia files is wide enough;
- Playlists: Enabling the creation of playlists (ideally) for any area of the screen independent of the others, and ideally with any type of content (image, video, TV, streaming...);
- Management by Terminal Groups: Allowing the association of several playlists in a massive way to several similar terminals that you want to play the same broadcast;
- Data Source: The ability to obtain data to be presented dynamically by RSS, and software that allows information to be obtained by FTP, Web-Service or Excel documents should also be valued, to enable data to be published and updated in real-time;
- Inclusion of web pages: HTML pages can be added to the broadcast by adding the desired URL (and ideally it should also be possible to include the page in a ZIP file with the contents of the page);
- Template Repository: Allowing an easier construction in the broadcast to be made;
- Integration with TV and Streaming: Ability to be added to the broadcast TV channels On Demand or IP Streaming. Although this is an increasingly common feature in the software, there are still several that do not have it;
- Timetable Possibility to define time intervals of the playlists, ideally only in one of its slides, as well as having the ability to configure the frequency of appearance of each content (daily, weekly, monthly), as well as the days of the week that are intended;
- Monitoring of Players and Displays: Allowing you to centrally view the global status of all screens, that is, if there is any offline or updating information, a screenshot of what is happening, and ideally give indicators about the general "health" of the player;
- Ability to Turn Screens On and Off: Ability to set the time at which each screen should operate.
- Urgent Playlist: Ability to be interrupted from normal broadcasting with another at specific times, such as to broadcast a certain sporting event at a certain time;
- 24/7 operation stability: To guarantee a system without failures and overheating of the materials;
- Protocol Compatibility: HTTP/HTTPS content delivery over IPv4 or IPv6, proxy and ACNS compliant to ensure most IT security requirements;
- Users with differentiated access levels: Ability to create multiple user accounts with restricted access to what they can do in the broadcasts;
- Alarmistic of the Contents: This feature is not very common in software, but it is essential in complex broadcasts to always have a perception of the contents that are expiring;
- Bridge Blocking: Possibility to limit that the displays only work on a certain source (for example HDMI 1 input), so that possible faults can be easily rectified if someone accidentally changes them;
- Statistics of the contents: Ability to obtain analytical data on which content and terminals are being used most and least over a given period.
It should be noted that while these features are considered more essential, and not more popular because there is much Digital Signage Software in the market, that does not have part of them. In this article, these were selected because we consider that they are the ones that will offer companies the essential conditions to have a scalable and easy-to-operate solution, so as not to compromise the success of the emissions to be broadcast on the screens in the short and medium term, nor the time of the teams to solve the problems that may arise.
It should be noted that one of the most common problems that occur due to lack of emission, is due to the network cables of the players being disconnected during a cleaning process of the site, causing in some situations an identification problem difficult and time-consuming to detect. This simple example is illustrative that if the systems are not architected to minimize the number of the many possible problems that can occur, easily a company ends up having a very large effort in their resources to overcome certain situations, which should be unnecessary.
3. Less common features of digital signage software but with huge value
- Widget Integration: Ability to streamline the broadcast with automatically integrated applications such as Weather, Clock, Traffic Information, PSI20 Stock Exchange, Newspaper Covers, Current News and other Widgets that can be easily developed through an API.
- Interaction: Display certain content based on external events, such as a touch on the screen, a weather condition, light or motion sensor, or even if the player enters a certain distance from a location (very useful for bus or taxi situations)
- Independent audio control: Possibility of creating audio channels or playing background music, with a definition of the frequencies with which certain information is played.
- Meta-Data of Players: Meta Information specification for each Player (through Value-Field data, for example, "Player 1" with Local=Madrid and "Player 2" with Local=Lisbon) allowing the use of these fields dynamically in the broadcasts.
- Conditional Playback: Allowing each list that is being played by several players, to include playback conditions in each of the items, to create in a very simple way complex scheduling (example: the item "Picture X" can be defined to appear only on weekdays, or item "Video Y" to appear only if the Player has the Location=Madrid)
- QR Codes: Generation of unique QR Codes by display/screens, for marketing actions or surveys, allowing to know the precise location where they were read.
- Emergency Messages: Appearance of alarm messages if external events such as emergencies occur.
- Zones overlay on the screen: Possibility of composing simple but highly efficient things, such as placing a channel logo on top of videos and images (leaving the original files intact), as well as other more complex actions.
- Special Playlists: Composed playlists that can be added to the main playlists, in which you define the number of contents that should be presented in each broadcast through it. This very rare feature raises the solution to a very high level, since it gives the chance to create very dynamic broadcasts without increasing and reducing management work.
To better explain the great potential of the last addressed point associated with sub-playlists, an article will be created focusing only on this point, to make clear the advantages that this feature introduces, in the simplification of operations for the management of digital signage broadcasts complex.
Conclusion: What is the best Digital Signage Software on the market?
As set out in the article, the choice of Digital Signage Software When you want to make a project from scratch or replace the one you already have because there is no satisfaction with it, it can become a confusing task due to the large supply of solutions increasingly on the market.
The confusion can be even greater, since many essential features can naturally come to be valued by companies, causing major problems in the medium and long term. This has been one of the reasons that have increasingly led several customers to replace their software with World VDS of Amplitude Net. Just 2 examples of this situation are our following projects:
- Design of Digital Signage from Tabaqueira already had an emission in about 1000 displays oriented to its customers, to pass in the most varied places, such as stationary stores, gas stations, airports, among others
- Design of Corporate TV from The Navigator which already had a broadcast aimed at its employees to be shown at the company´s various facilities.
As mentioned throughout the article, although there are currently several Digital Signage Software very valid in the market, the decision of the choice for the same will depend on the needs of the company in the short, medium and long term.
So for example, when a company chooses to purchase Samsung´s professional screens with System on Chip (SoS) technology and chooses to use Magic Info (which is Samsung software running natively on your screens), you have to realize that you are assuming you will be dependent on this brand for the growth of your project. Thus, if in the future you want to expand your display network, you will have to buy Samsung screens, which can become a problem for example if you only want to buy small screens like tablets or if you want to make a financial economy if similar screens from other manufacturers are with more attractive prices. The same reasoning is naturally valid for the software of other brands of manufacturers.
These limitations may also occur for example at the operating system level, where a company has no displays with SoS technology but already has several mini-pcs with a particular operating system.
As seen, Amplitude Net is the only company in the world to have Digital Signage software that not only works natively on the main brands´ screens, but is also a multiplatform system (for Windows, Linux, Android, ...) which includes the operating system Raspberry Pi which is the cheapest player in the world that can be used in Digital Signage, because other companies with software for this hardware only do it for the same hardware (leaving out the other platforms and the SoC technology of professional displays).
In addition to the issue of the operating system there are 3 key aspects to take into account:
- Understand what essential features the software should have
- Deepen the functionalities that, although not essential, can make a great contribution to channel management
- Know what kind of support and services the company that sells the software has to offer
All these factors are equally important and should be determinant in the choice of software, because if the features are very relevant, the services that complement the software may also be decisive in the choice of the best solution.
It is because of all these aspects that Amplitude Net is today recognised as being very more than a software of choice for digital signage and has been used by many leading companies in various sectors of activity. Some examples come from companies like BP, EDP, CTT, Petrobras, Decathlon, Super Bock Group, Lipor, Lactogal, Remax, Ageas, Unicâmbio, Elo Farma pharmacy chain and many others.
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