Monday, January 19, 2015

The pros and cons of smart displays

Some of the biggest names in electronics have been selling smart LCD screens that feature on board media players.  At first glance this seems a great idea but are smart displays for everyone?

This article is a reflection on the pros and cons of this approach so you can make an informed choice when selecting the right technology for your project. This is not intended at criticism of any specific brand or model.

What's great about smart displays.

  1. Simplified digital signage installation.
  2. Simplified content deployment and management.
...and many other advantages, such as the cost of the player hardware, operating system and basic CMS software are all included in the price of the display so you will pay less than if you were buying all the components separately.  Also, smart displays require a minimal amount of preparation work before they're up an running.  It's basically all plug and play and many products are supported by third party software developers who can deliver more advanced features than the basic CMS included with the display.  One last thing... No wires or devices hanging behind the screen means neater installation.

So on the positive side, smart displays should be more economical and easier to deploy.  They are a great starting point for folks who don't have access to technical resources and who want to handle their digital signage installation on their own.  Think small convenience stores, restaurants and bars...  These displays are easy to buy and you get to display your content with a minimum amount of fuss.

Why haven't they taken over the market yet?

There are some applications that are still out of reach.  For example, many smart displays can't synchronize content across multiple screens and their basic CMS can't handle advanced scheduling and multi-zoned content. Smart displays are often delivered with a series of canned layouts that can't be easily modified or personalized. In some cases the operating systems and built-in CMS can't be upgraded or patched.

Many first generation smart display products were little more than glorified digital picture frames where you slipped in a SD card and the built-in hardware would let you loop the content indefinitely. Since then, many display manufacturers have bundled free desktop software that will let you organize content with a bit more control but it's still very basic.  

Newer products offer improved CMS features but they lag behind dedicated software from third party developers.

It's easy to understand why this category hasn't been more popular when you realize integrated devices are usually more difficult to repair and near impossible to upgrade.  If the media player or memory storage fails in a smart display, you have have to remove and ship out the display.   If your digital signage uses external PCs, Android media players or even OPS hardware, you can swap the media player without having to replace the screen. You're back in business faster and you can even swap out components if you ever decide to upgrade them later.

The solution? Do your homework.

Don't just base your purchase decision on price alone.  What may look appealing at first glance may not be practical in a year or two.  Consider more than one product and keep in mind your long term needs.

While you can create and maintain restaurant menus on smart displays alone, some of the best menu boards installations are still driven from a single PC feeding multiple displays.  Using external hardware components may require a bit more integration and technical expertise but in the long run you may find it's worth the expense.

There is a definite market for smart displays and I expect this sector will continue to grow.  In my opinion, the biggest factor preventing a more widespread acceptance is the lack of a common operating system.  OS fragmentation means you can't easily integrate solutions from different display vendors.  You get less CMS options because there are less incentive for third party developers to support multiple operating systems and proprietary hardware.

This probably explains why OPS enabled displays remain so popular and why the media player market is still booming.

1 comment:

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