Making Digital Signage Work for Specific Clients, Part 1
Jun 9, 2010 12:00 PM
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When the Alabama Teachers Credit Union decided to install digital signage at its five locations, they called Rise Display for advice and support on how set it all up. Rise Display Managing Director Ryan Cahoy is here with all the details on how they set up an effective digital signage solution.
Ryan, it’s great to have you with me on the Networked AV podcast. Rise Display was called in by the Alabama Teachers Credit Union to do a digital signage installation in their five branch locations. Normally, a financial institution doesn’t hit me as being a very exciting place, but you definitely have some applications in that setting that can really save customers and staff a lot of time and repetition. First of all, tell me a little bit about Rise Display. How long has the company been around?
Ryan Cahoy: We’ve been around for a little over 15 years, and we’re really focused on providing that complete display solutions to customers. We do a lot of work in the financial community, health care, education, spaces like that, where they’re taking our display systems—things like LED tickers or simple digital signage or videowalls—and really trying to create a dynamic experience for their clients, trying to communicate something, and in this particular example of the Alabama Teachers Credit Union, being able to get out the messages and announcements to their member firms that are passing through. [Timestamp: 1:44]
OK, they wanted to upgrade their capability in someway and streamline things. How were they doing things there, and what was it that they wanted to change?
Well, the credit union had a lot of printed ads and they were looking for a new way to promote them without crowding their lobbies. They didn’t want to just take more posters and put them on them wall. So the really key thing was helping them get that message out to their members but making sure that it was done in a really clean and concise way. [Timestamp: 2:10]
And in that situation, as in a lot of digital signage situations, you pretty much have a captive audience. They really don’t have much to do while they are standing in line, and you want to make better use of their time. So what did you suggest for them and how did you go about it?
Actually, I met with them. We evaluated their sites and said a 42in. LCD would be a really good fit in each of those locations, and behind each of those LCDs a small media player, and then just simply connecting it back to their network so they didn’t have to worry about server rooms and cabling and a lot of complexity. Really trying to design that very self-contained unit that they could put on the wall right next to the tellers and then making sure that it was centrally controllable via their network so that their home office via our web-based platform could log in and then update those messages and get those announcements out at the touch of a mouse. [Timestamp: 3:02]
Yeah and in their experience with clients, I figure they know what information people could use. Probably 90 percent of the questions that people ask when they walk up to the counter are the same ones, so why not let them read the answers while they are waiting and have it go easier, both for them and the staff?
Exactly. And it even helps reduce that perceived wait time and then educating them on all those things that their members are asking for anyway so instead of having to wait to get to the front of that line to ask the question. While they are standing there waiting, that information is rolling on through and steadily educating them. [Timestamp: 3:36]
Of course that could generate some questions they didn’t have to start with too.
So when you got into this, who did the actual monitor installation, the actual hardware stuff, on this?
Actually, initially they intended to have us do it, but after we worked through the design with them and they realized that it was pretty simple—just mounting the screens and putting the media players right behind them. The credit union themselves turned to their IT and their facilities department, and they did all that work internally. [Timestamp: 4:01]
Making Digital Signage Work for Specific Clients, Part 1
Jun 9, 2010 12:00 PM
You said that you’ve got players mounted right on the back of the monitors, which eliminates some cabling issues. How does that work in this case? Do the monitors have places for the players to be installed, or is there a hardware adapter to attach it?
We actually use special mounts that will hold it right behind the display, in between there and the wall. So when you look at the media players, the real value of them is giving the client that ability to log in from our web service from anywhere. And then once they’re logged into that, they’ve got their own private media library to organize their content, to schedule it out to the screens. And then when each of those schedules comes down to the displays, it downloads that content, stores it locally onto the hard drive of the media player, so if they did have any network outages or any failures of that type, the screens aren’t going to go blank—everything’s cached locally and it’s going to continue playing. [Timestamp: 4:54]
OK, does Rise Display make the players too?
We use AOpen, their form factor, and then we bring them in and customize them with our software and our image and all of our little tweaks to them. So we don’t build the media player, but we take it and format it to our specifications. [Timestamp: 5:09]
OK, since you do a lot of these things, I am sure you know what works and what doesn’t and how everything is going to go. What kind of monitors did you use for this one?
They were looking for a commercial grade product but they wanted something economical, so we ended up using 42in. LG displays. They just installed one screen per location, and they have five branches. [Timestamp: 5:28]
There’s a lot more to digital signage installation than mounting monitors and splashing on some snappy pictures; Rise Display Managing Director Ryan Cahoy is here to get into the details on how Rise worked with the Alabama Teachers Credit Union to get the right results for clients in their five locations…
Oh yeah, I saw a picture of those; I think it was the M4212C. What screen resolution do you have with those?
Actually, they should run full 1080p, 1920×1080. [Timestamp: 5:38]
So when you get everything hooked up and everything’s ready to go, do your people come out and always check it and demo it for everybody?
In a lot of cases, we do send either a on-site project manager or installer to do it. In this particular place, we formatted all of the engines and the content and everything at our facility and shipped it out to each one of the five branches, and then their facility people installed it. And then remotely, one of the real beauties of a web service is we could control and configure all of that remotely and then just arrange an online or a web training for all of their marketing people. So in this particular case, though we’ve been initially sending a consultant on-site to help them figure out the positioning and everything else, they took care of most of the heavy work on-site themselves. [Timestamp: 6:22]
OK, and the Rise Mini Engine is the attached player. You said you made some modifications to that before the installation?
What we do is we—it’s manufactured by AOpen, and we take one of their ultra small form factor media players and then—it’s essentially a small computer with Windows XP Pro on it. That’s what resides on the client’s network, so it gives them full control of the network, and what we do is image it with our software, making sure all of the little windows tweaks are on there, all the updates, making sure screensavers are shut off, power-save modes are shut off. And then depending on the client’s requirements, we can do things like put in integrate TV tuners, if they want to have live TV in the zone, or make them wireless networks—things like that. The real power of those Mini Engines is it is essentially just a computer. A really nice tight small form factor in that AOpen box makes it very attractive for clients because it’s easy to hide them, to strap them to the back of the screen; they’re not big bulky clunky, so they’re very easy for them work with. [Timestamp: 7:22]
And what video format does that player output to the monitor?
The Mini Engine views are output HDMI or VGA from a signal coming out, and we usually try to match that up from the video card to the native resolution of the monitor. In this particular case, we’re running 1080p content, so the media player video cards are configured at 1920×1080. We connected these up via VGA, but then inside the content management system or in the software, they can really work with a whole variety of different of codecs or video formats from AVIs to MPEGs to Flash files to JPEG images. That’s where the client really has control over this system to make it their own TV network, to schedule that stuff to play when they want and in what order they want it to. [Timestamp: 8:06]
I noticed that the LG M4212 monitors have an external speaker output. Do you ever use any audio with these things?
Oh we do and for this particular application, they chose not to just because it’s right there in the teller lines and they didn’t want a distraction with the audio. But you can easily attach speakers either to the sides of the screens, or ceiling-mounted or directional speakers—whatever it is. And then from the media players themselves, there’s just a 3.5mm stereo mini connection so that you can take the audio right out of that media player or that engine and put it into your sound system. [Timestamp: 8:40]
And you’ve got news feeds going on these too, so you can either zone out watching the news with closed captions, or you can go over some information that might help you cut the question time short when you get to the head of the line.
I also noticed that the LG monitors have a Split Zoom, self-videowall-generating capability. Do you ever use that feature, or do you divide up the screen into various zones just by using software?
We always do it from the software. I know some of the screens are getting smarter and smarter and having that technology, but just based on the nature of us being a software company, we usually lean towards software because it gives us a little more control in terms of pixel by pixel—how we’re controlling that and then integrating those different zones together so that it all kind of works together as one cohesive presentation. [Timestamp: 9:27]
And you obviously have to have a pretty accurate layout of the area to know exactly how far away from the screen the viewers will be. Because if they change anything just a few feet one way or the other, that could throw everything off as far as being able to read the displays.
Absolutely. The nice thing with the software is you’ve got control pixel by pixel, so when you format that screen, when you’re looking at something by 1920×1080 that’s condensed down into a, say a, 40in. size versus if you were looking at a larger, like a, 70in. diagonal screen, you’ve got the same resolution; you just have less per square foot or per square inch. So in a lot of cases, we’ll make recommendations on character site from our facts on viewing distances and how far away people are. But after installation, that’s usually one of the first things we’re discussing with our client is, “Step back. You know where your audience is, and can everybody read it and is everybody comfortable with the speed, the font sizes?” Even the color contrast have a big impact—making sure that you get the right color of letters on background so it is very readable, especially when you are looking at something like a financial institution where you may have some of the elderly people coming in or different groups standing in line—you want to make sure they’re getting that message clearly and concisely. [Timestamp: 10:42]
Absolutely. Well, this has been great, Ryan. In part two I would like to get into some things you can do with the software and how flexible all that is. So we’ll see you again in part 2.