Sorting Out Media Players for Digital Signage: Q&A

We sat down with Eric Farkas, Senior Research & Development Engineer here at Black Box, and asked him a couple of questions about what kind of media player is needed for digital signage deployments.

There is much confusion in the industry about the kind of “media player” needed for a digital signage deployment. Many screen manufacturers now have PCs embedded into the screen– so is the need for a separate media player less in today’s market?
I think the thing to keep in mind is that it’s still a media player either way. You can call it an embedded PC in the display, but it is still a media player. What the screen manufacturers don’t necessarily tell you is that built-in media players typically suffer from heat-related issues, have smaller storage capacities, and have less processing power. I think cleaning up the cabling mess by integration does add some value, but losing the freedom to size the hardware resources appropriate to your hardware outweighs it. Also I’m wondering where the guarantee is that this slot will be available on the next generation of displays. If I buy embedded PCs for my signage and a few years from now I need to replace displays due to EoL or I desire to upgrade, can I still use them? External hardware is a pretty definite yes.

Doesn’t the embedded PC act as the media player?
Yes.

And don’t some content management software platforms run on Windows, so they need a full PC/player in each screen, not just a “media player”?
That’s a good question, and frankly, a lot of us suffer from the same confusion as those who ask this question. A media player to me is a PC whether embedded or external, and it has all the same attributes one would associate with a PC. To answer the question, complex digital signage requires an operating system and an application running on PC style hardware. There is technology that simply decodes a network stream or plays a loop from some type of flash storage, but I’m not sure this fits the current definition of digital signage. I guess it begs the question, is a DVD or Blu-ray player digital signage? Is a digital photo frame digital signage? If your answer is yes, then the PC is no longer required but if it’s no…

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