When it comes to the PCs we use in our digital signage deployments, it seems as if the days of paying more than we want or facing getting less than we need seem to be over. Our shop has deployed over a thousand digital signs into a variety of independent retail showrooms, and I can say that current PCs are truly taking digital signage to the next level. Today’s PCs are better suited for digital signage applications and the retail showroom environments than ever —capable of delivering true high-definition picture quality, processing complex video files, and providing remote monitoring and management tools. All the while using less power (as low as 45W at peak) and no moving parts (fanless thermal protection and solid state drives). Here’s the kicker: The boxes we are buying are also more affordable than ever at around $400 a pop without an operating system.
That said, here are six things to look for in a digital signage PC:
- Communications — When considering a PC for digital signage, the ports used for communication are key. Using integrated network and RS-232 ports allow for remote monitoring and ensures monitor performance and easy control of display from the PC or the media player.
- Fanless Cooling — Fanless cooling in a PC is a no-brainer. Benefits of fanless cooling include reduced failure caused by a fan, extension of the operating life, as well as protection from shock, dust, vibration and temperature change that can cripple conventionally cooled devices.
- Video Card and Drives — Having an up-to-date video card is crucial when it comes to digital signage. Today’s PCs provide these drivers as well as easy ways to update them. Keeping drivers up to date ensures that applications run smoothly. In addition to a current video card, buying a PC with a solid state drive (SSD) is important. An SSD offers persistent data storage with no moving parts. SSDs are also generally less impacted by shock and operate silently.
- Size and Weight — Bigger isn’t better when it comes to PCs. The new generation of PCs, with all their new capabilities, still only take up approximately the same amount of space as a standard ATX power supply.
- Reliability — Today’s PCs now feature 40,000+ hours mean time between failure (MTBF), resulting in significantly less service calls and unplanned outages.
- Environmental — This new generation of PCs automatically provides environmental benefits due to fanless cooling, a larger humidity tolerance range, less energy needed to operate and overall increased efficiency.
These PCs allow IT managers to deploy highly redundant systems that have a low capital cost and a low cost of ownership, including maintenance, software management, heat dispersion, etc. Lower cost, higher power and increased reliability. Finally we get it all.
Ben Stagg is Director of Research & Development at Vital Media Inc.