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What's driving your content? Media player choices

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July 12, 2014 –  With all of the media player options available, finding the right one for your deployment can be a daunting task. There are dozens and dozens of different media player manufacturers to choose from, offering everything from SoC appliances, embedded PCs, small form factor systems, servers, standard PCs and even laptops. The decision to choose one option over another is something that shouldn't be taken lightly. There are many factors in determining which one is the best fit for your needs or budget, and obviously not every option is suitable for every situation. It is an investment that should last for years and be able to grow and adapt to your needs. Whether you are looking for fanless systems, multi-output systems, industrial computing appliances, or touch screen all-in-ones, AOPEN has a variety of media player options that are built to last.

Finding the right hardware begins with finding the right company to support the equipment you purchase. Do they have a history in digital signage? Or are they repurposing generic hardware for use in commercial applications? Utilizing consumer grade computing devices may initially help your bottom line, but the lack of durability will eliminate any savings in the long run. Find a supplier that has equipment capable of running 24/7. That level of reliability tells you research, development, and design was into their systems and that they understand the potential demands of deployments out there year over year. With over 18 years experience in applied digital solutions and services, AOPEN provides signage and multimedia solutions to retailers, hospitals, telcos, transport facilities and a host of other verticals.

Each media player option and has its own set of features that are suited for a specific application. Make a checklist to help narrow down your choices.

  • SSD, SD card, External Storage?
  • LAN or WiFi?
  • VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort? How many?
  • USB 2.0, USB 3.0?
  • Dual-core, quad-core?
  • 720p, 1080p, 4K content capable?
  • Enclosed or open to dust and other elements?
  • Is there going to be content scheduling? Interactive syncing? Multi-zoning? Playlist updates?

These are just a few of the things to consider to narrow the focus and help determine which type of media player is right for your deployment. Another crucial consideration is the type of content to be displayed. Will it be showing basic text, images, and videos in predefined templates? Or will it need to be capable of displaying high definition dynamic content? What kind of screens will be paired with the media players: multi-panel video walls, 42” LCD, 22” kiosks, 12” POS? What type of output do you need? Will you need players capable of outputting to multiple screens? Multi-output systems will give you room to grow without having to add additional players. Most vendors will tout their devices support for high definition content, but actual performance level can differ broadly from device to device. Embedded players have the benefit of being built right into a display to save space and provide an all-in-one solution. This could also be a liability if a component within that player or the display itself needs to be serviced, the entire system goes out of commission. Small form factor media players don’t have the same performance-per-watt ratio as the SoC option, but they balance that with their flexibility and upgradability. They also tend to be manufactured with tougher-than-normal environments in mind. This can be a major factor in a deployment, especially when placed in less than ideal conditions. Networked servers allows for a centralized control center to deliver content across multiple locations and devices. This type of solution shares the same problem as the embedded system, putting “all your eggs in one basket”, if your server goes down or your network connection fails, you could potentially be looking at many blank screens.

Lastly, there are regular desktop PCs and laptops. Although powerful enough to drive content to their destinations, their consumer grade materials and lack of standardized sizes could come into question in terms of their durability and longevity.

The platform you choose is largely dependent on the hardware option selected. The Microsoft Windows and Windows Embedded environments allow for high flexibility, supporting a wide range of off-the-shelf content management software products and solutions on the market. Embedded, small form factor media players, servers tend to utilize these platforms and can be integrated into existing networks with relative ease. With the Windows environment you’ll be able to run multiple applications in the background of your signage, such as capturing audience metrics with a webcam or even engaging with your customers through mobile interactive marketing. If your player runs a custom OS, i.e. Linux or Android, make sure the vendor has the infrastructure in place to support it, otherwise you could be spending valuable time maintaining it. A digital signage media player should be preloaded with software to have scheduled content remotely pushed to it over a network. The content management system you decide on should be able to do this without a problem, as well as be capable of scaling to your needs. AOPEN supports all of these platforms to provide a wide variety of solutions across all verticals and markets.

Whether your deployment needs one player to drive simple content, or you need an array of players to be deployed at your 50 different locations all while measuring, be sure to weigh all of the factors. Not all media players are created equally, nor will they give you the same benefits. Take the time to do some research, call up the manufacturers and ask them. There are many choices, making the right choice can only be achieved through educating yourself. As with all technology, you can never “future-proof” any deployment, you can only find a media player supplier with a track record of reliability to help you get the most out of equipment. You can look to AOPEN for that level of reliability and support for whatever application or solution your deployment needs.

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