Beginner’s Guide to Digital Signage

Posted by on Jul 24, 2012 in Advertising, Content, Displays, Insight

Digital signage is one of those ubiquitous things that is almost impossible to avoid in modern-day life,  but what exactly is it?  Digital signage is a kind of electronic display used to show convey messages to others.  It is often used to communicate one or more of the following:

  • advertising
  • announcements
  • business information
  • restaurant menus
  • television programming
  • government messages

Although it is not a hard-fast rule, digital signage is typically used to communicate information from an organization to an individual.  As digital signage technology continues to improve, such communication is rapidly moving from a one-way broadcast from organization to individual to a two-way conversation of sorts.  Touch screens and wireless technology combined with advanced software applications and fast computer processors capable of running them are transforming the way digital signage is used.

The basis of most digital signage involves a screen of some sort to serve as a medium by which visual data is conveyed to its audience.  A few of the more popular digital signage solutions used today use one of the following technologies to display content:

  • LED screens
  • Projected Images
  • Plasma
  • LCD screens

LED screens make use of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs for short, as a video display.  With many low-cost available options, they are typically seen in outdoor store signs and billboards.  LED screens are often used as a component of a larger display; in some cases they can be used as a form of lighting as well.  A small, consumer-grade example can be seen in Hasbro’s Lite-Brite toy, where children can place individual LED lights in various locations to form letters and images.  The Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas is the largest example, boasting a 1,500-foot long LED display used to produce vivid animated cartoon shows for nearby hotel guests, casino patrons, and passers-by alike.

Projected images are one of the oldest forms of digital signage, with origins going back to the days of reel-to-reel projectors used in classrooms, indoor cinemas, and even drive-in movie theaters.  Although in those days there wasn’t a whole lot of “digital” involved in image projection, nowadays projected image technology can be used to replace a traditional computer screen.  Projection monitors can be connected to a computer just like an ordinary VGA monitor, thus allowing a computer to function as a flexible, low-cost replacement sign controller.

Although project monitors are useful, they are not suitable in all situations, especially locations where resolution, sunlight, and/or obstructions are a concern.  Plasma-based screens have functioned as a viable alternative for years.  Plasma screens make use of electric pulses to excite natural gases that emit light when active.  This process is similar to how light is created when electricity flows through a standard fluorescent light commonly found in shops and office buildings.  Plasma screens have great viewing angles and, unlike projection-based signs, are not affected by obstructions that block incoming light.  Unfortunately, they are susceptible to burn-in and consume a fair amount of power for what they deliver.

(continue reading part two of this guide here)

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