Survey of digital signage software platforms
Digital signages often refer to the wide variety of digital screens that display advertisements or other forms of public displays. This may include large digital billboards at NYC Times square or the menu in your local McDonalds. These are different from normal printed physical signs because digital signages often use either televisions for indoor use or highly specialized LED/LCD screens for outdoor use. Some may even use projectors.
If you are a business owner you might want to deploy several digital signs at your business locations. For example in a simple cafe you might want to put 5 screens displaying the current menu. If you own a mall you might have 20-30 indoor signs. If you are in outdoor adversing you might deploy many super large screens outdoor.
Not only you need to manage all these devices you might have to update their content frequently and make sure not too much of energy or internet bandwidth gets used in the process. If you are reselling these signs you might want to charge your customers based on how long their ads were shown.
A digital signage platform will allow you to add more diverse set of devices to your pool, manage content on each of those devices and periodically switch on and off those devices. The platform will also provide telemetry from each of those devices.
Digital signage platforms consist of three components. A centralized web application to manage devices and deploy code, a studio to design graphics and content for screens and lastly, the actual player that runs the content on the screens.
Some of the examples of this are Yodeck and Optisign. You can visit these websites, create an account and then add one of your tvs to their console. The TV app from these platforms will have to be installed on those TVs. After that you can schedule content on these devices. You can decide how to rotate between different content, how to schedule new content and so on. You can upload your graphics, videos too which will then be delivered to the screens.
While the management console deals with management of the screens via backends, the signage player is the real front-end that runs on the location of the screen. Sometimes the screen could play a streamed video, sometimes it displays a static image or sometimes it keeps on changing what it shows. There are different types of hardware that exist for this purpose. The simplest is when you us a TV, you can simply use the native appstore of the TV and install some of the players, sometimes you can also use Amazon Fire Stick or Google Chromecast. For more advanced video walls that you might see in Las Vegas or NYC Time square there is highly specialized and powerful hardware.
Signage player not only displays the content but also provides enough telemetry, ability to download the content well in advance, work when there are network issues or manage power on the device by shutting off the display when it is not in use.
Optisigns is one the most popular and common platform for mostly indoor signages. It costs $10 per device but is extremely feature rich. It support all the major hardware platforms including Google TV, Fire stick, Raspberry Pi, Windows, Ubuntu and so on and they also sell their own specialized hardware for tighter integration.
It does not have any free plan not even one free screen. Hence trying them out could be expensive. However with their thousands of customers around the world, they cater to nearly all usecases and unless you have unusual needs they are a great choice if the price is acceptable for you.
They also sell their platform as a service which means you can run Optisigns platform with your own domain name and branding.
Yodeck is a competitor of Optisigns. It is also cheaper with one free screen forever and $8 per device plans. This means you can try them out much easily and for low cost. Yodeck has very tight integraiton with Canva which means you can design beautiful templates right into your console. Like Optisigns Yodeck supports wide varity of hardware and external apps. While Optisigns primary target is businesses that rely on showing signages to customers, Yodeck's customers appear to be those who use them for showing signs to their employees.
Concerto is a free version. Which also means you are responsible for running it yourself. It is nowhere as feature rich as the above two options however it gets the job done for your limited usecases. It however does not support any cheap hardware such as amazon fire stick. You will have to buy specialized industrial small factor computers whcih can cost upwards of $200.
If you are a small business and you know exactly what you want and you have the technical capability feel free to use this. As the number of devices go up, above two alternatives tend to get cheaper and cheaper to maintain.
But what makes Screenly really different is that they have released an open source version of their platform named Anthias.It has the same features as their hosted and managed version but is fully customizable. However in terms of hardware you are restricted to using Rasberry Pi.
RiseVision specializes for school and higher education space and has wide variety hardware support including their own hardware. This can be your first choice if you are a school or college and can afford their $10 per device per month onwards plans. For other usecases you can ignore this platform.
A Raspberry Pi focused solution that is cheaper is extremely developer focuses. Even in their hosted version their expressive API allows you to build your own systems around the their API to give the right kind of look and feel and functionality. It also has brilliant support for synchronized displays where you use many screens to display one sigle banner or video.
Info beamer is a great solution if you have the developer team who can build custom solutions for you and if you have need for one.
Digital signage space is very crowded with many platforms. Hwoever there is no real comprehensive open source solution that can offer you same flexibility of the popular paid platforms. Most paid platforms appear to have similar per device per month prices with around $7-$15 a month pricing.