Goodbye, External Media Player: Digital Signage Doesn’t Need You Anymore

An integrator’s case for software-based alternatives to external media servers for digital signage content.

Kevin Goldsmith

Without question, the digital signage industry is in full swing after many purported false starts. But what is it that will continue to fuel growth of this maturing multibillion-dollar global industry?

The answer is an easy one: advances in technology.

Being an 11-year veteran of the industry, it’s easy to look back and reminisce how things were done then and how things are done now.  In my early days (circa. 2004) it was not uncommon to see some pioneering retailers running albeit expensive at the time plasma TVs and DVD players. It didn’t take long for software companies to develop software to run on a Windows- or even Linux-based PC connected to plasma TVs, which soon made way for large format commercial grade LCD screens.

This is how it remained for many years. Be it standalone (local updates), client/server over a LAN or even WAN, or perhaps emerging SaaS applications—either way your basic set up was a screen and a media player that would be mounted as the project dictated.

Several years ago Samsung launched a networked commercial monitor. Quite simply this was a large format LCD with a built-in computer. LG also launched a similar product where the PC module was a slot-in card, which made sense for servicing.

Copying is the sincerest form of flattery; so NEC along with other hardware partners jumped on the bandwagon and developed its OPS solution which attempted to make the slot-in module be agnostic to the screen.  This allowed Intel and others to produce OPS players capable of running anything from Microsoft Windows to Android. 

All of this was great! It made for a nice clean install and cut back on challenges associated with where to put the media player, how to tidy the cables, etc. It was also expensive compared to a commercial monitor and a form of external media player that would be connected by a HDMI cable.

In more recent times, the evolution continued. Samsung came out with its Smart Signage Platform (SSP), which must not be confused with its range of consumer grade smart TVs. The SSP can generically be termed system on a chip (SoC) where embedded into the screen is a single chip that contains a processor, memory, storage and a graphics processor aka a built in media player. Its first generation had promise but lacked the horsepower needed to drive basic digital signage content in a seamless fashion. 

Some digital signage software companies around the world saw the opportunity and developed content management software to make use of this technology as an alternative and often enhanced option to Samsung’s integrated MagicInfo that comes included with its SSP screens.

Here’s Where It All Changes

This brings us to early 2014 when Samsung launched ITS second generation SSP displays which had significant improvements to the SoC to include a Quad Core processor, more memory and more storage.  This allowed software companies to really take advantage of this new technology and really made moving away from an external media player a viable option. 

At the same time LG launched its SoC screens which it termed “webOS for Signage” and provides a second powerful option to SoC technologies giving even more flexibility to digital signage focused integrators and of course its customers.

This is really exciting! In fact, game changing.

Related: Ping HD Releases EngagePHD Software

But before we carried away, it’s not really useful to anyone unless you have a digital signage content management system that has been developed to run on the SSP or webOS platform. 

Ping HD along with a handful of others scattered across the globe saw the potential of SoC screens and became a software development partner with both LG and Samsung.  My multi-faceted role within Ping HD forced me to find my “software architect hat” so that we could build our own web-based content management platform, EngagePHD, which we formally launched in February 2015 following a succession of live deployments from October 2014.