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Digital Signage - How to turn a $250 PC into high-quality digital signage powerhouse
It is possible for a low-cost PC-based media player to drive high-quality video and motion graphics smoothly to digital signage screens. Read on to find out how this is achievable. By Jerome Moeri
Getting PC-based media players to drive high-quality video and motion graphics to screens, and have them run smoothly day after day, has always required significant capital investments in faster CPUs, extra RAM and add-on video/graphics cards.
When network operators tried to cut cost corners by using lower cost, consumer-grade PCs meant more for word processing and web surfing, they’ve been disappointed by the results. Video frames dropped. The on-screen graphics stuttered instead of flowing smoothly. Overall, the output just wasn’t good enough to roll out.
Technical and operations people will know that with lower cost PCs, running video and particularly Adobe Flash files sends CPU demands spiking to 80 percent and higher, and can very quickly cripple those computers – forcing hung screens and reboots. Many small form-factor, low-cost units that show up on gadget blogs look like the answer, but on test benches, they’ve quickly shown they are not a viable solution because they don’t have the needed processing power.
As a software developer, my company, Navori, has steadily been made aware by our resellers of the marketplace demand for somehow getting high performance from these low-cost units. On a small deployment, saving $150 a unit is almost inconsequential. But for large projects, $150 savings on a 1,000-unit project works out to $150,000. That’s the sort of number that could make a difference in getting a project approved and launched, or getting it tossed aside.
We recognized that this issue was not going away, so we sat down with our engineering team, and started looking at whether it was possible to generate broadcast-quality video from a $250 PC. Through a lot of difficult, time-consuming and expensive R&D work, we determined it was indeed possible:Our engineering team figured out how to deliver video that’s precise to the 1/30th of a second, at 1080P HD. It can run video, several Flash files, tickers and overlays, and still use less than 15% of a low end PC’s CPU.
We determined that software development actually can get much more out of a CPU and graphics processor than was generally assumed, and that that those low-cost PCs – that are largely written off as great for budgets, but bad for operations – can be used. Without giving away our secret recipe, here’s what we sorted out:
1. The core software application that drives media playback had to be completely redesigned to maximize efficiency. Many software companies either use or adapt open-source media players already on the marketplace, or activate commercial players. We built or re-built our own.
2. We don’t use any third-party playback codecs, relying instead on what’s specifically tuned for our playback engine. That eliminated shortcuts and took much more time and resources, but we were left with a playback engine that’s stable, reliable and fully under our control.
3. We load-balanced between the CPU and graphics chipset, which in lay terms means the two components that affect playback quality are sharing the workload.
There is, of course, a qualifier to using lower cost PCs. Even at the “budget” level of computing devices, there are quality devices and junk. There are still some basic CPU and RAM minimums that must be met. The environment where the PC is located must be considered. For example, any PC (no matter the cost) with a fan in a fast-food environment will likely fail because of all the airborne dust and flour.
Device management is also important no matter the type and cost of a PC, but particularly so with lower-cost units. It’s particularly important to have software that can monitor these PCs, observe and record their performance, and allow problems to get remedied remotely.
With those factors kept in mind, we’re now at a point in digital signage where cost-conscious end-users don’t have to be warned away from budget PCs. With R&D, we now know these PCs have a role and can help activate projects that have been held up by budget restraints.
Jerome Moeri is the founder and chairman of Navori [www.navori.com]
Navori is a one of the largest, most well-established and successful digital signage software publishers in the world, with more than 75,000 active installations in 90 countries. Navori develops solutions used for all types of screen-based communications, including retail, corporate communications, advertising networks, public space signage, wayfinding and the food/hospitality sector. Headquartered in Switzerland, privately-held Navori also has offices in North America, South America and Australia.
http://www.navori.com , http://www.navoridigitalsignage.com
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Digital Signage software company offer digital dynamic signage network system. Also offer sign software to broadcast and monitor a network of screens over the Internet, L.A.N or DVD.