The simplest and most obvious way to use digital signage is to keep visitors from getting lost. A scrolling LED sign that costs $200 or less can sit on a concierge’s podium and say, “The AFCO meeting is in Room 201. Take the elevator to the 2nd floor and turn right.” More complicated signs can deliver more complicated messages, and signs based on interactive touchscreens can help visitors find their way to any one of 100 simultaneous events, and way-finding is just one use for modern digital signs. Digital signage possibilities have become nearly infinite — assuming you have a nearly infinite budget.
LED signs are still the top-end choice, even indoors, for many casinos. “We build full-wall signs for them,” says Walter. Those full-wall signs can be any size you like. Want one 40 feet high and 200 feet wide? Grandwell can make it for you.
Fig.1 (video) The modern way to make an LED wall — with lightweight LED fabric.
At the other end of the digital sign scale, Innovative Markets started out making rear projection signs for trade show displays and other applications where extreme visibility is a must. Now they make custom touch-screen signs with diagonal measurements greater than 80 inches, interactive signs and kiosks (including one model with a hand sanitizer dispenser built in), and other digital signs so slick that they have a full staff of creative in-house designers and programmers available to work with their clients’ people.
LED signs, other than giant, custom-built displays or LED fabric signs, are typically text-only. Programming them is simple, and most LED signs come with a remote control option so that you can type in a new message and set parameters such as size and scrolling speed without using a computer or even touching the sign. This is simple and convenient.
Designing a screen layout or multiple screen layouts for an LCD display takes more skill than punching in characters for a text-only sign. You can do it with PowerPoint or make a video or even make a series of videos that embed in multiple PowerPoint slides, all to make one full-motion digital sign.
An LCD monitor display complicates things behind the scenes, too. If you are running a high definition media interfact (HDMI) cable from your signal-generating computer to your display, you need to be cognizant of maximum cable lengths, and with HDMI the maximum-length specs are vague enough that you might decide to have monitor cable runs of no more than 25 feet. Also, you can’t put the computer inside an unventilated cabinet or other furniture where it will overheat, and no matter where you put it you need to clean dust out of it now and then or it will stop working, the same as any other computer.
Better than using a computer to drive your flat-screen sign, you might look at something like the FireCast EasyStart, which is a small digital appliance you can place near your sign. It comes with software and everything else you need (aside from a TV or monitor and appropriate cabling) to get your first LCD digital sign up and running. Michael Smith, sales vice president for Wirespring, which makes this device — and a whole lot of other digital signage software and hardware — says he can have most clients working with their EasyStart systems in about 30 minutes. Later, it’s easier to expand your single-sign system to two signs, even to four.
Michael warns that while setting up a digital sign system is not hard, touchscreens are much tougher. Sure, Wirespring makes software that will work with touchscreens, and you can buy touchscreen monitors for lower prices every year, but designing touchscreens for average people to use can take a lot of head-scratching.
“Do you have an app that people can understand quickly, and get out of the way for the next guy?” Michael asks. He points out that even now, when airlines have had touchscreen check-in kiosks for a decade, you see people who stand in front of them, bollixed, while you tap your toe anxiously in line behind them.
The bad thing about a touchscreen-based interactive kiosk is that only one person can use it at a time, which leads to lines and bottlenecks, while an information-only screen can be viewed by many people at once. Worse, touchscreens tend to accumulate finger smudges, especially if they’re at a height children can reach. If you go the touchscreen route, you’d better be prepared to do almost constant cleaning.
Back at Innovative Markets, managing partner Jason Kuisel says they’re happy to make you a touchscreen sign as big as 82 inches (diagonal). It’ll cost, of course, “but it’s not bling-bling expensive,” says Jason.
The great thing about interactive touchscreens, to Jason, is that they not only give out information but can also collect it.
But “interactive” and “touchscreen” aren’t the only words that get Jason jazzed. Another project his company is working on is making signs out of LED fabric, which Jason says is so light they can hang it up with magnets and even float signs made out of it above a convention floor with helium balloons.
Still, despite all this new-wave, computer-controlled signage, a $199 LED sign will show a simple “Today’s Special” message to your visitors at the cafeteria as clearly as anything else.