various types of digital signages hardware players placed in front of TV
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May

A quick guide to buying digital signage player: 2022 Edition

Hi there, reader!

This blog is going to be an informative journey, so let’s dive straight into the matter without wasting your time with a long-winded introduction.

Let’s get started with some basics.

Psst, you can skip whatever you already know and go straight to the part that helps you identify the best digital signage players. Click on the relevant section in the table of content below.

What is a digital signage player?

A digital signage media player drives beautiful content on a large commercial TV display.

Like every car needs a driver (yes, I hear you, but let’s leave Tesla out of the analogy for a moment), a digital signage system needs a media player to drive the content to the digital screen. It takes information from the screen content management software (more commonly known as digital signage software) and acts on that information so that the contents play out on the screen perfectly in terms of the aspect ratio, resolution, audio/video synchronization, video playback speed, and so on.

How does a digital signage media player work?

Before explaining how a digital signage player works, it is essential to know why screens need a media player in the first place.

A digital signage player is like a computer with a software operating system. Just like your PC, it can:

  • connect to the internet

  • download content

  • store content

  • alter the content (to some extent)

  • play the content on the scheduled date & time

Can your screen alone do that?

The answer is ‘No.'

A screen or display is a piece of hardware, an interface that will show you whatever is pushed into it by the media player. It has no brain of its own. It has no power to communicate with the internet.

Digital signage players act as the brain of your display. Every signage player has its own software operating system, which delivers computational outputs on a dumb screen.

You may argue that modern smart TVs can connect to the internet. That is because the media player is built-in within the display. But a decade ago, these screens needed external media players to run any web-based content. Over time, these media players became compact and optimized and were integrated within the display itself, giving rise to smart screens.

Now that the purpose of a digital signage player is clear to us, it will be much easier for you to understand how it functions.

Imagine you want to play a video advertisement on your retail store’s digital display. You can upload the video on your digital signage software application (available on a computer, laptop, or mobile).

Depending on the features of the screen content management software, you can edit the video, define how much screen space it will take up, and other factors. Once you publish your video, it travels as data to a central data server where it gets stored (temporarily).

Once the digital signage media player connects to the internet, it downloads your video from the server, processes it, and commands the display to show it in a specified way.

The digital signage player also has local storage, meaning that once any content is downloaded, the player can run the content even without internet availability.

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Types of digital signage players available in the market

Fundamentally, digital signage players are of two types:

1. External digital signage media players

These player hardware need to be physically connected to the screen (generally to the HDMI input using an HDMI cable).

Example: Chromebit, Amazon fire TV stick, Android media player

2. Built-in media players

When the signage player is embedded within the monitor itself.

Example: Smart TVs based on Android, LG WebOS, Samsung Tizen

However, when you are out buying a digital signage player, you will come across a few specific variations of these two types, such as:

1. HDMI Sticks (External digital signage player)

These are small, portable streaming devices like the USB pen drives, but they connect to the HDMI port of the display, not the USB port.

Example: Amazon Fire TV Stick, Intel Sticks, Chromebit

2. TV boxes (External digital signage player)

These devices are similar to set-top boxes (STBs) and bulkier than TV sticks.

Example: Android TV boxes, Roku TV boxes, Mi TV box, IAdea Signage player, BrightSign Signage Player

3. Mini-PCs (External digital signage player)

Mini PCs look similar to the signage boxes. But, these devices have better computational power than TV sticks or boxes.

Example: Raspberry Pi, Intel NUC

4. Smart TVs (In-built player)

These are the regular smart TVs that are available in the market.

Example: Samsung Tizen commercial displays, LG WebOS commercial displays

5. Tablets (In-built player)

These are smaller than TVs and look like oversized mobile phones.

Example: Android tablets, Microsoft Surface Go.

The Pickcel digital signage software is compatible with all major hardware operating systems like Android, Windows, Linux, macOS, LG WebOS, Tizen OS, and more. This means you can run Pickcel on any player device without friction. Check out the detailed device compatibility matrix.

Factors to consider while choosing a digital signage media player

A big part of the digital signage expenditures is the hardware cost, including the media players. But I know many businesses that go all rhapsodic and spend a fortune on the hardware only to realize they have made inconsistent, often inappropriate investments.

That is why you should always assess the following parameters before spending your bucks:

1. Functionality

What do you need your digital signage for? Is it for showing simple images, web content & video advertisements, or for more advanced applications like supporting complex graphics or an AI-driven intelligent screen? The necessary computational needs will help you decide on a suitable digital signage player.

For example, TV sticks can easily suffice for simple needs. But it may falter in processing complex functionalities. A mini PC or Raspberry Pi is a better alternative for such cases.

2. Operating environment

Where will your digital signage be placed? Outdoor digital signage hardware needs stronger features and more rigid specifications than indoor signage.

Take a digital billboard, for instance. It is installed on the side of a highway and will be exposed to twelve hours of sunlight, frequent rainfall, hailstorm, snowstorm, lightning, and whatnot.

Outdoor screens and robust media players are made resistant to such environmental factors.

Here are some differences between outdoor and indoor screens:

Outdoor Digital Signage Indoor Digital Signage
Outdoor signage hardware usually has a protective layer in the cables and anti-vandal guards. Ideally, these screens need to have an IP65 rating for dust & water resistance. Indoor digital signage can easily bypass these requirements.
The brightness of exterior signage screens should be around 2000 nits (much higher than indoor screens). These screens should have ambient light sensing abilities to adjust the brightness according to the natural day-night light. Screens built for Indoor digital signage may not support 2000 nits brightness. Ambient light sensors are generally missing.

3. Operating hours

How long will your digital signage stay powered on? Not all digital signage players are built for 24/7 operational output. Forget consumer-grade smart TVs; many commercial screens and media players will wear out much faster than their assured lifetime if used 24/7.

So, if you need a digital signage player for unmanned or continuously-ON screens, then purchase only such media players that categorically mention your desired features in the specification. Look for terms such as ‘24/7 playback,’ ‘industrial-grade, or ‘auto-ON.’

The best digital signage players in 2022 (categorized by usage type)

Thousands of brands and models of digital signage players are available in the market. We have organized our list of the most suitable players based on their functionality, operating environment, and maximum operational hours.

A. For Indoor Use (Maximum use daily: 12-14 hours) | External Media Players

These digital signage players are the most basic and easily accessible. These are suitable for small businesses like local retail shops, parlors, restaurants as well as in schools & colleges.

Here are our top picks:

1. Pickcel PX 300

Pickcel PX300 is Android-based digital signage media player device. It has custom firmware built for commercial screens

Pros:

  • Budget-friendly (less than 200 USD)

  • Rigorously tested by Pickcel

  • Custom firmware designed for signage use

  • Remote app update

Learn More about PX300

Cons:

Not designed for 24/7 operations and outdoor conditions

2. Android(9) media players - 2 GB RAM, 8GB Storage

The cheap and simple plug-and-play Mi TV box digital signage player runs on Android OS.

Pros:

  • Budget-friendly (less than 100 USD)

  • Widely available

Cons:

  • Non-standard firmware, not tested. and unpredictable performance

  • Unknown longevity

3. Amazon Fire TV Stick

The Amazon Fire TV Stick is portable & the most widely available plug and play type of digital signage player.

Pros:

  • Budget-friendly (less than 100 USD)

  • Widely available and used.

Cons:

Not designed for 24/7 operations and outdoor conditions

4. Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi mini PC board without the case. Mini PCs have better computational power than TV boxes

Pros:

  • Budget-friendly (less than 100 USD)

  • Widely available and used.

  • Suitable for hardware integration with external sensors, IoT devices, etc.

Cons:

  • Not a plug-and-play device. Requires technical expertise to get the device up and running.

  • Not designed for 24/7 operations and outdoor conditions.


B. For Indoor Use (Maximum use daily: 12-14 hours) | SoC, Smart TVs

Nowadays, most businesses that do not have complex digital signage needs prefer to use Smart TVs as they do not carry any external boxes and suit aesthetically well. These Smart TVs are of both consumer and commercial grade.

The consumer-grade TVs can operate for a maximum of 8 hours per day, while the commercial alternatives can smoothly run up to 14 hours. Based on your display operation time, you can take your pick.

Some economic and well-performing options are:

1. Android TVs (TCL, Hisense, Sansui, Sony X80J)

Commercial display with Android media player built-in Affordable player and best for indoor use
Image: Digital signage screen with in-built Android media player

Pros:

  • Budget-friendly (Available between 200 - 400 USD)

  • Easy to set up and aesthetically better, without external boxes

Go for a higher version of Android 9

Cons:

  • Generally has lower storage (8GB) and RAM(1 GB)

  • May fail to process heavy animation content or multiple videos simultaneously

2. Other Smart TVs (Samsung Tizen TV, LG WebOS)

Samsung digital signage screen with in-built Tizen OS media player. It is affordable and easy to use.

Pros:

  • Easy to set up and aesthetically better, without any external boxes.

  • Better market reputation and designed for longevity and longer operating hours.

  • Some models are available for heavy 24/7 usage.

Cons:

  • Costlier than android TVs.

  • Generally have lower storage (8GB) and RAM (1GB).

  • In-built browser capability limitation; may fail to run advanced Javascript-based web applications or animation.


C. For Outdoor Use (Maximum use daily: 24 hours)

Outdoor displays that run 24/7 are generally advertisement billboards or Passenger Information Display Boards that show vehicle updates in airports & bus stops. These screens are often physically robust and use more than one external digital signage player.

Here are some of the top digital signage media players that support outdoor operations with 24/7 power ON or auto-power specifications.

1. IAdea media player (XMP 700)

A black sturdy IAdea digital signage player that can be used for industrial needs like kiosks, billboards.

2. Intel NUC Rugged

Powerful Windows-based Intel NUC rugged digital signage player hardware suitable for 24/7 usage & outdoor displays

3. Zidoo

Zidoo media players are powerful Android-based signage players with 4K content support & multi-core industrial framework

4. AOPEN media player

Black AOPEN media player showing the HDMI inputs. Suitable for powering industrial screens

Pros:

  • Better performance

  • Rugged and designed for 24/7 operation

Cons:

A lot costlier than regular commercial screens

Here is a chart summarising the best digital signage players for various levels of application:

Download Chart in PDF

Know these digital signage player hardware terminologies before you go shopping

SoC: SoC stands for System-on-Chip. SoC is essentially the media player with all its computational components compressed into a tiny compact board. The digital signage players within many Smart TVs operate with SoC.

Plug-and-play digital signage player: ‘Plug-and-play’ refers to media players who need bare minimum technical expertise from the user’s end. All the user has to do is plug the media player into the HDMI-in of the display and configure the internet to get started.

4K: 4K denotes a particular resolution of screens. A screen with 4K resolution can display content at 4000 pixels, making the content appear incredibly sharp.

Configuration: In hardware, configuration means assembling hardware components to build a custom device. In software, configuration means selecting desired programs to suit the specific needs of a user.


Check Out All Digital Media Players Supported on Pickcel

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About Namrata Chakraborty

Namrata is the content marketer for Pickcel. She enjoys writing and her area of expertise is where art meets science & technology.

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