The ABCs of Digital Signage

What are the trends for 2011 in regard to digital signage, and how is this technology used for emergencies, wayfinding, entertainment and more? This article will answer those questions and provide some insight into what may be coming in the next few years.

Digital Versus Traditional Signage
Traditional signage methods, such as posters, bulletin boards and hand-made signs, may be fun for your students to create, but they are difficult to manage and keep current. Each time an update is made or a detail is changed, the sign must be thrown out, leading to wasted materials and time. Digital signage can be updated instantly and without the waste.

"In educational settings, digital signage can be used for distributing dynamic, attention-grabbing information in real-time," says Bob Rosenberry, manager, Visual Solutions, Retail Solutions Global Business Unit, of HP.

Doug Chase, product manager with Denver-based Four Winds concurs. "With a first-class visual communications software solution, integrating digital signs with existing sources of data is simple. Changes applied to a calendaring system or a database of any kind are automatically deployed to signs, completely eliminating the duplicated work inherent in producing physical messaging."

Think a digital signage system is too expensive? Think again! "With the technological advancements that have been made through the past few years, the cost of managing and updating digital signage has been significantly reduced. Producing content has traditionally carried a significant cost, but systems that utilize dynamic data, information templates and simplified workflow can lower this cost," says Rosenberry.

"While setup costs are higher than buying paper or corkboard, in the long run, our customers save money in a number of ways, and the hardware used for digital signage can be expected to last from five to 10 years. Budgeting for the replacement of this hardware is important and can be considered part of the maintenance cost of such a system. However, the day-to-day maintenance costs for a visual communications system are minimal, because most data that’s being displayed is repurposed from existing data sources in the customer’s environment," says Chase.

"Learning how to create content and manage the systems is often more expensive and time consuming than purchasing the actual equipment," says Gene Ornstead, director of DTV and Business Development with Walnut, Calif.-based ViewSonic. "The learning curve is often what holds school districts back from moving to a digital solution, but there is now software applicable to content management that helps ease this burden."

Sporting events, concerts, PTA meetings — each school event has a different location and a different group of attendees. Directing attendees and participants is made much easier with mobile digital signage. "We have found our moveable signage being increasingly adopted for wayfinding purposes," says Ornstead. "With so many school events, it is easy and cost effective to roll out and plug in a portable sign. These can be changed and moved on a daily basis to accommodate whatever events the school is hosting, saving money on materials and time to create personalized wayfinding."

Security and Emergencies
Emergencies happen and digital signage can be an effective tool for getting instructions and information to students and staff quickly.

"We have seen a big push for digital signage in public schools for emergency purposes," says Ornstead. "An alert can be sent across an entire school at a moment's notice, and updates can be made in real-time."

Rosenberry agrees, "With digital signage, you can quickly notify students of an emergency and help minimize the impact, and many systems are designed to interface directly with existing emergency notification systems. A digital signage system gives you the necessary security of having an emergency broadcast system with the added benefit of using the system for other important information, like upcoming school closings or weather-related reports."

Entertainment and News
Digital signage can be engaging too. Keeping students updated on the weather, school news and even breaking news stories is easier than ever with digital signage.

"We’re seeing digital signage used for entertainment purposes more and more," says Rosenberry. "Digital signage for entertainment goes beyond ordinary TV to allow schools to have one or more customized channels of information and entertainment, much like having their own ‘TV channel’ that informs as well as entertains."

"The benefit to using digital signage for entertainment and news is the ability for feeds to be updated on a moment’s notice. Using a content management system allows schools to display weather information, RSS feeds, video, welcome messaging, etc. Because the display is connected to the Internet, it’s able to receive updates to keep passers-by informed on breaking news and relevant content,” says Hardy.

Latest Trends
What is coming down the road for digital signage?

"One trend we’re noticing is that touch technology for interactive user experiences is increasing. Touch in general is not just a curiosity, it’s how consumers interact with media every day through their personal devices like smart phones and tablets. This has created a ‘touch imperative,’ an expectation that all screens are to be touched and interacted with, especially with younger audiences. Another trend is that the importance of mobile interactivity is growing. Mobile devices are undoubtedly the public’s choice as its preferred interface for information gathering, sharing, media consumption and brand interaction, therefore schools need to work with this reality and see digital signage as supporting an overall media strategy that brings together web, mobile and social media," says Rosenberry.

"LED edge-lit technology is a popular new trend and has been seen on the market lately," says Ben Hardy, product specialist for Large Format Displays at NEC Display Solutions. "Edge lighting has been a hit so far because it allows manufacturers to slim down their units while also lowering the power consumption (and therefore the total cost of ownership) and going mercury-free. We’re also starting to see direct LED-backlighting for video wall products, which like the edge-lit displays, lowers the power consumption of the unit but does not allow for the slim depth. A benefit to direct LED-backlighting is that it allows for a more uniform bezel-to-bezel brightness."

Danielle Przyborowski is a Dayton, OH-based freelance writer with experience in educational and architectural topics.