Hardware Issues: Which Ones to Avoid

Posted by on Jul 6, 2011 in Displays, Hardware, Players

It seems there are always more ways to fail than there are to succeed. And if you wish to speak with someone crying doomsday, I could give you a few references. There are always more critics than proponents–myself included. But, being a critic certainly has its advantages. For one, it helps in mistake avoidance–something that is inevitable, but averse to everyone–regardless of your race or creed. Hence, I’ve put together a quick diddy on avoiding mistakes when it comes to hardware in digital media. I hope this helps those poking around in the industry.

Avoid Bulky/Large Media Players

If you are doing an install that involves a large quantity of sign appliances, then perhaps the best advice is to streamline the entire process–not cutting any corners. This includes the player itself. We have seen, all too many times, organizations try to scrimp by purchasing larger media players for their displays. Purchasing a larger media appliance, while cost-effective, is generally not ideal for several reasons. First, in the case of large rollouts, you may never have an idea as to what the “lay of the land” may be. Installing a large form-factor PC in an area that cannot hold one is install suicide. Accordingly, the venue must allow for a large appliance. More often than not, it is simply not feasible to place a tower in the vicinity of the display covertly.

Secondly, when your appliance is too large it often ups the cost of the install itself–which can wash out any savings you had in the device to begin with. Take my advice, do it right the first time and get a media player designed for the digital signage market. Don’t think you can successfully cut corners without at least running into a brick wall somewhere.

Avoid–Where Possible–Using Consumer Displays

Consumer displays used for digital signage can certainly be a tempting money-saving ploy. But for industrial installations, they should be avoided like the plague. Consumer LCDs are not meant for 24x7x365 operating time. When choosing between consumer and industrial televisions, there are many factors to keep in mind. Chassis, controls, input ports, brightness, power supply, security, resolution, and burn-in prevention are just a few of the differences between consumer and commercial LCDs. Price differences between consumer and commercial models may seem significant enough to make purchasing a off-the-shelf display from Costco tempting to say the least. However, in the long-term the cost may be substantially greater. If said display decides to give up the ghost just after the year warranty because it’s been treated like an industrial screen, the cost is in your hands to replace it. This means you will have to pay for the display twice. Contrastingly, our custom manufactured all-in-one digital signage displays not only give the peace of mind because they are created for industrial installs but each holds a 3 year warranty on parts and labor (sorry, but I couldn’t avoid the company plug). In short, procure an industrial display with a long warranty and avoid the pitfalls of managing a network using some off-brand displays.

Avoid Using Wireless and Cellular for Connectivity

As I go through and write this post, I’m realizing this post is mostly geared toward the cheapskates and corner-cutters. One such method for cutting corners is not hard-wiring your screens for connectivity. Avoid the temptation of utilizing 802.11 and cellular as much as possible. While these can be very “useful” solutions for connecting your player to the cloud, they are can often cause issues down the road. Depending on whether or not the software you are using streams the media or houses on the player will matter even more here. If the software you prescribe to utilizing live-streaming to the IPTV set-top box, then you’re most likely going to have issues at some point. It’s certainly not a question of “if” it’s “when.” Contrastingly, if your media appliance houses all the relevant content by downloading it nightly from the signage server, then you’re most likely not going to have a problem playing your digital content because most of your content assets will be housed locally on the hard drive of the appliance.

Even in the event that the player does download a daily update, there still may be issues with the content playing normally when connectivity ceases to exist. For instance, if you are using some sort of media RSS, you certainly will have issues with updating scripts and content. Your crawler, stocks, weather, and/or news may disappear or fail to work properly if there is a disconnect. And, as we know, many disconnects occur due to to faulty connectivity. It’s best to avoid such blunders out the gate. Wireless continues to improve, but certainly is not the fail-proof option for connecting your network.

Avoid Using ABC Hardware

Much like ABC gum, ABC digital signage hardware has “already been chewed.” It’s used and abused. While the cost savings may be tempting and have been for many an ad network in the past, it is certainly not the best move for on-going maintenance and support. Saving money on the front-end (just like I’ve already hashed over in the previous 3 bullet points) can cost you dearly on the back end. There are three blatant issues with used hardware. First, it’s used. Simple enough, the stuff is tainted. It’s now turned to “sloppy seconds” meaning it could go belly-up without notice because it has already been running for a long time. If you wanted cheap labor would you hire a 80 year-old man to dig a ditch for you in your front yard? Of course not, because he may die in the process. Secondly, warranties may be void. A voided warranty means you can’t get reimbursed if your hardware suddenly dies of a massive coronary. Finally, used hardware is outdated. Efficiencies in manufacturing and supply-chain continue to improve products while lowering prices. You can probably get something cheap that does a better job because innovation and “Moore’s Law” have proved themselves true.

Avoid Shopping Based on Price

Many of the aforementioned avoidance tips really have to do with price and laziness factors when working out your system. While prices for digital signage have fallen, it certainly does not mean you should shop based on price. It simply means you can now afford a more Cadillac-like system without having to give you firstborn. While I am an avid evangelist of making sure solutions are priced right, I feel it unwise to shop based solely on price when it comes to hardware. Another reason to avoid shopping based on price is that often you will receive a dearth in the service dept–you will be underserved and thirsty for more attention from your vendor. Service in the realms of signage hardware is just as–and sometimes more important than the hardware itself. If the service is good and you have bad hardware, the problem will simply seem to work itself out. While it may cost you a bit more, ensure you know that you’ll be purchasing the entire car, not just a shiny set of wheels.

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