Two weeks ago I wrote a blog about the criteria I thought should be used to judge outdoor screens used in an outdoor digital menu board system after we were asked by a large chain to display our screens with four other suppliers for comparison. I did not mention the other critical components of a system at that time because the chain was only looking at the outdoor displays. I thought I should discuss the other components in the system.
Media Players: There is a good variety of high-quality players to choose from so your decision should be based on what is going to be played on the screens and how. If you are only going to use basic content with little movement, one of the basic low-cost units would work well. Following is a list of questions to answer before selecting a media player. The answers to these questions will determine the player to use.
Will you play standard HD or 4K content? Will you use IP streaming? Will you use audio? Will you need HTML5 or interactive content? Will there be live feeds? Will the content be in zones? Do you need UDP control? Will you use geofencing? Will you need Power Over Ethernet? Will there be USB input? Will there be HDMI or live TV? Will you use integrated OPS?
Will the media player be inside the outdoor display or inside the building? Do you need to use WIFI or will cables be available? I recommend hard-wired connections whenever possible or practical.
Multi-channel players VS single channel players? Usually, multi-channel players are less expensive than the same number of single-channel players. If the cost is close I would recommend single channel players because they are more flexible and there is less outage if a player breaks down. Although it’s changing, software companies usually charge monthly fees based on the number of media players so multi-channel players were much less expensive.
Content: We keep hearing over and over again “Content is King”, I think we can all agree content is the most important component of the system. So, if that is true, it makes sense that a supplier’s content creating ability would be their most important quality. Can they create content that increases sales of your product? Does your supplier know how to create effective content or do they merely buy and resell the components?
Software: Software is used to create content and to manage content on the boards and that can be two different softwares. Several of the large screen manufacturers provide LCD displays with onboard media players and free software (Sometimes called “All in Ones”). You have to be careful with this because they may work as a one screen or one site system but not for any quantity of screens or locations. “Free” is a good price but usually, it’s not worth that! If your supplier is good at producing content they will know which content creation software to use. Usually, the software has a monthly fee per site.
Content management software is very important for large networks and there are a few really good ones available. They all have a monthly or upfront one-time fee with an annual maintenance charge. There is also a cost for the supplier to train the end users and for the supplier to make content changes. This cost may be very difficult to determine because it is determined by the number of changes made per month and the type of changes.
Program Management: Your supplier’s ability to manage your digital menu board rollout and ongoing operation is extremely important. This is where several large suppliers have fallen down and caused some large chains major problems. Some of the suppliers that received large orders only had a small sales crew and no skilled people to manage an ongoing program. I know of three large chains that had severe problems in this area. Two changed suppliers but the third took all their digital screens out and put in old menu boards. If I were looking at suppliers for a large project I would check with some of their current and past customers.
Warranty and Service: We all know the warranties are important. How will your supplier handle warranty and service issues? What are the warranties and who stands behind them? What happens when a screen goes black? What happens when the Internet goes down?
Mounting Hardware: Mounting hardware is important because it can affect how the displays look and the cost of service.
Markups: How many times is the product and service marked up by the time it gets from the component manufacturers to the end user?
Collaboration: Do the component parts suppliers collaborate with each other to improve the system and reduce cost or do they blame each other and pass the buck?