DISPELLING DIGITAL SIGNAGE MYTHS01, June 2014
While the growth of digital signage continues unabated, according to market research from iSuppli, the maturity of understanding is not always universal.
Take, for example, the school of thought suggesting companies buy cheap digital signage and not invest for the long term because technology goes obsolete every few years. Others take a “cookie-cutter” approach, treating every implementation the same, trumping strategy. Yet others suggest that customers are overspending and not getting what they need.
Here are five digital signage myths that it’s time to dispel:
1. Commercial-grade displays are over-hyped when consumer-grade suffices
While display manufacturers would love to sell high-end, 24x7 displays all the time, business reality dictates otherwise. There is a reason that the large display manufacturers have a range of digital signage products, from basic models to ones that can manage the rigors of an always-on environment.
The important thing is to be strategic and know what customers are trying to achieve with an application. Then a thoughtful recommendation can be made on what products best meet the needs – and for the long term. Yes, there are times when a consumer-grade panel is sufficient, and customers do not need all the bells and whistles that higher end displays provide. More often than not, however, a commercial-grade display will be required.
It’s tough to find a consumer-grade panel that is rated for longer than 10 hours of use per day, roughly double the typical TV-watching habits of most consumers. In a QSR environment, for example, the displays are expected to operate continuously for 15 to 24 hours per day. Because they’re built using higher-end components, commercial-grade displays are able to run reliably in that timeframe. It’s one of the reasons they cost more, because the last thing an operator wants is for a display to go blank at the height of the dinner rush.
2. Wait on digital signage since lower power consumption rates are coming
Now that almost all digital signage displays leverage LED backlighting, power consumption is significantly lower than CCFL technology of the past. While LED technology will continue to advance, the amount of additional savings achieved in a couple of years will be minimal compared to that seismic shift to LED from CCFL. It’s better to go with digital signage now, especially for mass deployments of displays.
A small neighborhood store with one to two displays won’t see much difference; however, hundreds or thousands of displays will see significantly lower power consumption because of this breakthrough in technology.
3. Customers are overpaying for things such as screen brightness and unnecessary features
Screen brightness does impact cost, but as time goes on, we see the delta between TV-grade and higher brightness panels shrinking. However, from a longevity standpoint, commercial panels will last longer than TV-grade ones because of the former’s professional design for heavy duty usage and rigorous applications. These design elements will extend the lifetime of the panel and deliver key benefits.
While technology advances are crucial to the evolution of digital signage, they don’t suggest that companies wait until the next big thing to deploy digital signage or “go cheap” in the meantime.
Take screen lifetimes, lighter weight units and slimmer profiles as other examples.
From my perspective, we have seen displays get as thin as they possibly can, based on today’s technology. They are light enough and slim enough that it takes a minimal amount of effort to install. As discussed earlier with the power consumption issue, the technology has advanced to a level where it is not going to get much better over the next few years.
Top-grade commercial displays also carry warranties of up to six years, versus the one-year warranties on televisions. Oftentimes, operators lose sight of the fine print that operating a consumer display in a commercial environment may drop the warranty to 90 days or even void it completely.
Plus, commercial-grade displays give operators the ability to lock out video inputs and buttons so no one can alter or turn them off. There is no longer a fear that an employee or customer will disable the digital signs, hurting overall sales or brand reputation. Going with a commercial-grade display also provides a robust scheduler with the capability of changing sources, and on- and off-timer options. Many consumer-grade units don’t offer them, or an off-timer for that matter.
In addition, we know 4K is already here, but even for the next few years, it will be small percentage of overall digital signage sales. Full HD is not going away anytime soon; 4K will be a complement for those who could use the extra resolution, but if one looks at most signage apps, which are informational in nature, 4K is not necessary.
Finally, slower refresh rates (60Hz) are sufficient for all but certain video applications and 3D. These rates also could provide better product lifespan by minimizing the risk of image retention.
4. Metal and plastic chassis — they’re all the same
Both plastic and metal chassis can be designed correctly and incorrectly.
It is important to consider a display with a chassis that will stand the test of time. As technology has advanced, both plastic and metal chassis products have been able to shed weight. The use of LED for the backlight also has allowed the display to shed weight.
This lighter weight makes it easier on the space where the displays will be installed. The wall mount or ceiling mount design can be lighter, and the wall/ceiling structure can be designed to accept a lower load.
The factor that does need to be taken into account is the chassis has mounting points that are part of the overall chassis structure. Most TVs have mount points that are just part of the back cabinet. There is only plastic holding these mounting points in place. Having a chassis where mounting points are part of the actual chassis ensures the product stays where it is installed.
There have been cases in the past where improper chassis designs using plastic without the correct mounting points have seen structure fractures over time. This damage could ultimately present a liability for the end-user.
Two other important points:
A metal chassis dissipates internal heat build-up and evacuates it; and
A unit with proper ventilation design also plays a big factor.
Commercial-grade displays are designed to properly move cool air through the unit, lowering the overall temperature. If higher temperatures are reached, many of these same displays have fan systems that will turn on and help lower the internal temperatures of the displays. This system also allows flexibility for orientation. You can use these in landscape and portrait modes. A TV-grade display will not have these features.
5. High brightness is not needed for indoor applications
It depends on the application. Just because an application is indoors doesn’t mean there is controlled lighting continuously. Be it a QSR or retail location, sometimes high-bright units are needed because of the ambient light. The correct display at twice the brightness could prove invaluable, and be the difference between getting a brand message across and failing to do so.
Higher-brightness displays also provide users with application flexibility. If all the brightness is not needed, the user can select a lower brightness that ultimately delivers lower power consumption and longer life. In some cases, too, higher-end commercial-grade displays provide intelligence to control brightness levels, automating them depending on the ambient lighting.
A small business lobby with little lighting issues suffices with a cheaper unit. But outside of that scenario, there are a lot of variables at play, and those variables have to be addressed.
We’ve examined a cross-section of issues above. If you look at the marketplace of CMS and other software providers in digital signage, you’ll find that they don’t pretend to be experts in the actual signage itself. They work with the big display manufacturers to explore proposed applications, locations of the units and the return on objectives to give customers all the options available to them.
A strategic display partner will explore all the factors with customers, and make sure that they get the right products for their applications and the return on investment aligned with business objectives. Doing so delivers happy customers, ones that will keep coming back to providers as needs dictate.