The digital signage market is flooded with low-cost alternatives to traditional PCs. You have solutions based on Raspberry PI, Android and Smart TVs. These technologies offer a wide range of possibilities at a very attractive price point.
Here is some advice for anyone looking to deploy digital signage "on the cheap"...
First off, there are tons of cheap Android devices on the market today. These come in many shapes and sizes (the ubiquitous "fat USB key" and square "puck") you can stick behind a screen with a strip of Velcro. Then you have digital signage CMS providers that let you download and install their apps on your own Android device which makes the whole setup quick and easy. In many cases you can pay a monthly fee for the server access and you are good to go!
Sounds too good to be true? Well, I'm afraid it is. There is more to it than just loading an app on any old Android device. I've been spending some time testing these types of devices with various digital signage apps and I can tell you it's not for the faint hearted. Playback performance and reliability is all over the map and the main culprit is a lack of Android OS optimization (also known as "ROM" customization).
Since most are derived from consumer Android tablet hardware you will often find Netflix, YouTube and many other apps sitting on the desktop, eating up precious storage space. You also need to deal with a menu bar, clock and other notifications permanently displayed on your screens. Cleaning up all that junk will take a lot of time and patience. Trust me, there is nothing worse than having to debug one of these things.
Compare this to a CMS vendor's own hardware. When you purchase an Android device pre-loaded with a CMS vendor's app, you also benefit from their custom ROM development. The OS interface is tweaked to ensure only the content is displayed full screen. Vendors will often include some type of watchdog app that ensures the device is monitored and runs smoothly. This is all rolled up into the ROM and replicated across all their units ensuring consistent results.
So when you buy a cheap Android unit off Aliexpress or some other offshore e-commerce site, remember you won't get any of this optimization. You won't get any watchdog apps. You're on your own so you better like tinkering with ROMs and spending a lot of time on Android forums.
In my opinion, purchasing a "fully baked" Android player from a reputable vendor makes a lot of sense. You can assume the devices have been optimized and tested for 24/7/365 use. The ROMs are clean and there is no bloatware. Best of all you benefit from technical support and a warranty if something ever goes wrong.
Sub-$40 devices are easy to find but in the end this stuff needs to work.
Here are a few vendors who ship Android hardware with their own software pre-installed :
A quick Google search will bring up many, many more...