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Media players are an essential part of digital signage. More and more companies have been turning to digital signs in the modern age, and media players are the key component to making the whole system work. Hardware options can be challenging to navigate when you first implement a new system and finding the best media player for your digital signage can be a challenge.
This article is a comprehensive comparison of the pros and cons of the digital signage media players currently on the market.
Between your company’s content creation, strategically planning deployment, and finding the best software and screens to enhance your image, digital signage has a high entry barrier. This article will make the learning curve a little easier by presenting media players on the market and considering factors when bringing your company into a new age.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
A very cheap option for companies on a budget, the Amazon Fire TV Stick allows you to stream your content to your screen seamlessly through an HDMI port. The setup is relatively easy, even for beginners. Despite the low price, you should not underestimate the device’s capabilities. It includes eight GB of storage, a dual-core processor, and a VideoCore4 GPU for maximum power.
|No screen mirroring
|Only available in certain regions
|Easy to set up
Nvidia Shield TV
At around $150, this Android-powered device has high-quality streaming capabilities and a decent amount of storage and RAM. These devices work well for their price and can easily convey your content, although they need to be paired individually with their designated screen display.
|Not commercial grade
|Decent RAM and storage
Nvidia Shield TV Pro
This upgrade from the original machine listed above has more RAM and storage for people looking for a little more from their media player. Plus, it has two USB ports for ease of use when pairing the media player with your screens for only $50 more than the traditional Nvidia Shield TV.
|Not commercial grade
|Decent RAM and storage
|2 USB ports
Chromebox Commercial 2
This high-powered media player can run day and night without any interruption in performance. If your company is looking for seamless 4k content, the Chromebox Commercial 2 is the right media player for you. Additionally, this player can stream on two displays at once for optimal use of content.
Chrome OS has native support for HTML5 media, making it easier to work with animations and sizing your content. The single app kiosk mode fills the display with the window you select and puts away the other functions and menus for a clean screen.
|Dual output player
Alternatively, if you want the advantages of the Chromebox without the prohibitive cost involved with the Chromebox Commercial 2 mentioned above, you could consider its less expensive sibling, the Chromebox Mini. It still withstands daily wear and tear and holds up under pressure. The downside? It only supports 1080p screens.
|Less expensive than Chromebox Commercial 2
|Only supports 1080p screens
|24/7 content streaming
Android Xiaomi Mi Box S
Although this media player is not explicitly made for digital signage, it is a reasonably priced alternative for people who are not familiar with the levels of technology that more advanced media players require. It has Chromecast automatically installed and can easily stream content to your screens of choice.
|Not commercial grade
|Lacks remote device management
|A good option for tech newbies
This device comes with a big warning: you need to be very tech-savvy to take advantage of the Raspberry Pi’s capabilities. However, suppose you can overcome the high barrier to entry this media player presents. In that case, you can utilize a high-powered device with tons of storage and advanced features to drive your digital campaign.
It is entirely customizable for the people who can figure out how to use it. It will take some serious time and patience, but the Raspberry Pi is definitely worth the wait. It works best for small video files and simple images but is challenging to scale.
|Not suitable for large networks
|High barrier to entry
While none of the competitors on this list could be called slouches when it comes to processing power, the Intel NUC blows them all out of the water by a mile. The Intel NCU is the kind of device to rely on when you’re ready to step up your digital signage game and install a video wall. This little device even has the power to stream to six different displays simultaneously.
|Capable of streaming to 6 devices at once
|Starts at $800 for most models
|Great for video wall installations
Customization is an integral part of all types of technology, and digital signage media players are no exception. The standard model of the APC395X already comes with eight GB of memory, but if your business needs more, you can upgrade it to 16GB. This device runs Android 6.0 and has a lot more power than an Amazon Fire Stick.
|Include remote device management options
|Not commercial grade
CTL Chromebox CBX1
Another entry from the Chromebox line, the CBX1 offers businesses the vast number of apps in the Google store to make your life easier. This device gives you two types of storage: 32GB of internal storage on the device itself and an additional 200GB of storage through Google.
The main upside of the CBX1? The sheer number of ways to connect your media player to the screen of your choice. With three USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, two USB 2.0 ports, and a USB C port, you have a lot of options all at your fingertips.
|Comes with Google apps
|Tons of available types of ports
|Best for Chrome OS
With 16GB of internal storage and the latest Android 9.0 operating system, the Ugoos AM6 is nothing to sneeze at and has more than earned its place on this list. You don’t need to worry about the processor overheating either because of the aluminum chassis that allows excess heat to escape from the device.
|4k quality streaming
|Protective aluminum outside
For everyone steeped in Apple’s world, there is no better digital signage media player than the Mac Mini. Although you can also run a Windows or Linux operating system on the Mac Mini, it truly shines when used in combination with its original OS. With a powerful processor and the ability to stream in beautiful 4k, it is hard to go wrong with this device.
|4k streaming capabilities
|Works best with Mac OS
Aopen C-Tile 22
This media player is perfect for companies in need of interactive, touch-based digital signage. Self-service kiosks can best utilize the C-Tile 22 touchscreens. With a combination of a media player and screen, you don’t have to worry about connecting or syncing devices when it is an all-in-one solution. However, it doesn’t stream content in 4k like many other models on the list.
|Does not stream 4k content
Factors to Consider for Digital Signage Hardware Options
With more than 200 companies offering digital signage hardware options, this list is far from complete. When you evaluate other items not included here, there are some significant considerations for any kind of media player that you should keep in mind. By using these guidelines, you can compile your list of pros and cons for hardware options.
Windows and Linux operating systems can work wonders for your digital signage. These systems can typically handle more than 25 screens, so they are best for large businesses that have many locations planned for their signs. Plus, they allow for your content to be streamed easily in either 4k or even 8k.
PC-based players are unmatched in terms of power and customizable features. Despite their high costs and complexities, these players can handle just about any kind of content you can dream up. If you are planning to make interactive content or to integrate external data feeds, you will likely need the power of a PC-based media player.
Android-based players, on the other hand, work better for simple digital signage networks that have fewer screens involved. They are ideal for companies on a strict budget and can handle straightforward content that you want your customers to see. They are easy to use and present a low barrier of entry for startup companies who want to get their digital foot in the door.
Unfortunately, Android-based media players weren’t designed with digital signage in mind. Many of the most popular models are running on Android systems, which are two or three releases behind the most current one. They are generally more suited to consumers, and the ones used in digital signage are often just souped-up consumer models with extra features.
Pinning Down Your Purpose
Depending on your business’s unique needs, specific hardware models may be more or less beneficial. This concept may sound like a no-brainer, but concisely describing precisely what you will be using the media player to play goes a long way towards highlighting the options that should rank highest on your personal list.
Are you planning to make a kiosk where customers interact with your content? Will you be using it in an educational environment? Or are you considering an elaborate video wall installation with looping content? Are you planning to stream complex and large video files or simple, still images? How hard will your media player need to work to stream your content?
Deciding how you will use the media player indicates how much storage you will need, the type of content you need to store, where you are locating them, whether the new media player works with your current operating system, and how many devices need to join the network. Other factors include your budget need to be part of the equation, too.
Determining the Right Type of Media Player
Think of the media player as your computer. It is all well and good to have the right screens and the right software, but the media player holds your content and streams it to the correct devices. It’s the nervous system of the digital signage body and needs to be treated accordingly. If you aren’t building a video wall, you are probably looking at one device per screen.
There are three main categories for media players: stick, box, or an all-in-one solution, which will be reviewed below. They determine factors like processing power, amount of memory available, overall storage, size of the device, and price.
Sticks work best for people looking for a plug and play option. They are the most affordable type of media players on the market, but the saying that you get what you pay for still applies. Stick media players typically have less storage space, fewer ports, and some severe performance limitations compared to their competitors.
In general, stick media players are not recommended as a commercial-grade solution because of their poor qualities when it comes to scaling and, on top of everything else, the flimsy plastic casing. They absolutely cannot take a beating without suffering or breaking completely, and that lack of durability makes it challenging to use them in multiple public signs.
If your needs dictate a media player with high amounts of storage and a powerful processor while still standing up to the rigorous wear and tear of life, the box category is perfect. With a wide range of options and compatible operating systems, box media players are the original go-to choice for digital signage.
The invention of other categories has not outclassed box media players; they still hold up well. Most people find them easy to set up, affordable, and capable of very high-performance content streaming. Box media players are the most common type of media player because of their customizable nature and an extensive list of features for content creators.
For people either trying to cut costs on hardware or if you need to make an interactive sign for your customer, all-in-one solutions incorporate the media player directly into the screen. What you save in money and installation time; however, you usually sacrifice in performance and quality of streaming. All-in-one solutions often don’t hold up when compared to external media players.
The convenience of such a streamlined display is impressive, especially for people who don’t want the hassle of syncing multiple devices. You can just connect them to a power source, turn them on, and you are ready to go. There are solutions for all budgets, so even companies on a tight leash can find what they need.
Determining the Right Type of Display
Assuming you didn’t choose an all-in-one solution for your digital signage media player, you need to consider the screens as well. You have many options available, but if you have already decided on a media player, it’s useful to know what type of display works best with your hardware.
If you are looking for affordable screens, you can’t go wrong with LCD. They are lightweight and can hang in various places, but you should think twice before putting them outside. The brightness and contrast levels can’t stand up to the bright sun and can be challenging to read in direct sunlight. If you only want signs inside, the LCD display might be for you.
With super high resolution and energy efficiency, an OLED screen is an excellent option for people who always prefer cutting edge technology. The contrast and color settings are high-quality and are visible to people, even in the sun. As you might have expected, for all of these high-end features, you will have to pay a pretty penny for these screens.
These screens work well both inside and outside. Regardless of the type of light reflecting on your screen, your precious content will be visible to every kind of potential customer. They have a considerable number of settings and extra features that allow you to customize the experience specifically for your content.
How Your System Will Be Mounted
How you plan to mount your system depends entirely on your planned locations, as well as your budget. Luckily for you, there are a limited number of mounting options to consider so that you won’t get bogged down in tons of choices. You can put all of your energy into creating the content that your company wants to stream.
This type of mount rises from the floor to prominently display your screen. Usually, this kind of mounting system is most practical for interactive screens, like maps in airports or shopping malls. However, a pedestal mounting solution might also be needed in an area without the wall space your screens need.
An articulating mount allows the screen to move because it hangs at the end of a moveable arm that extends from the wall. The screen’s angle and direction can be easily adjusted to allow potential customers to get the best view possible of your content.
Mounting something flush against the wall means that your screen lies flat. This is the easiest and cheapest type of mount and requires the least amount of work to install.
Similar to the flush mount system, the screen hangs on the wall. The difference is that you can tilt the screen up or down to best catch the eye of whoever will be reading it. This type of mount is most commonly seen for displays that are higher up than eye-level so that pedestrians can still read the content.
If you want to suspend your screen from the ceiling, either because of a lack of appropriate wall space or just to add a bit of pizazz to your room, the ceiling mount ensures that your screen won’t be dangling precariously over the hard floor below.
Your location and planned mounting system also are affected by the size of your display. Carefully consider where you want to put your digital signage and how large the screen needs to be to properly catch the attention of the people who will engage with the content. You will need to think about the area’s size, viewing angles, and how much wall space you have.
Your Plan for Integration
As noted above, your original purpose for the digital signage comes into play with app integration as well. Depending on your operating system and the type of media player you purchase, certain apps may or may not be available to you.
If you know exactly how you want your customers or employees to interact with your digital signage, you can choose the right hardware for your specific needs. Suppose you need maps, social media, alerts, or direct messaging. In that case, you have to consider which apps meet your requirements carefully so that you can create a productive environment for your audience.
Planning for Digital Signage Startup Costs
As you can see, there are many factors that need to be considered when your company starts making use of digital signage. There is no more significant consideration than your business’s budget. Every single option for media players and displays alike counts on you knowing your budget going into the selection process.
That can be difficult to estimate, though, if you don’t know how much these individual components cost. Besides the aspects listed here, be sure to remember to add the expenses for hiring IT workers first to install and then maintain your digital signage during the lifespan. It can be easy to forget about, but it won’t be cheap.
In addition to the hardware of screens and media players, you can’t forget about the software that powers your digital signage. Typically, most software companies charge you a monthly fee for your subscription and access premium features like templates, instructional videos, and other applications.
In addition, certain services that your company relies on, like Adobe Photoshop, Dropbox, and other applications, also have monthly fees that you will need to take into account when compiling your budget.
After you’ve purchased all of the hardware and software needed for your company’s digital signage, provisioning your devices needs to be your first priority. Provisioning means to connect your media players and displays so that you can get started streaming your content. You want to hire professionals for this job unless you have people who know what they’re doing.
After provisioning, you will need to focus on integrating the content management system. Like provisioning, this can be expensive if you hire professionals to do the job, but it is very difficult to do for people who aren’t fluent in the technologies involved.
You will likely need to spend some money teaching your employees how to use the new system in place and its associated software. Plus, you will need to designate a team to produce the content that you plan to stream across your devices.
Finally, the maintenance of digital signage should not be underestimated. It’s impossible to predict certain accidents, and not everything is covered under warranty. Even if nothing goes awry during use, like all pieces of technology, you will need to think ahead about routine maintenance, including software updates and other similar scenarios.
Depending on how roughly your devices are treated during the course of their use, you will have to take into account how much you can reasonably expect to spend when things start to break down. On average, digital signage lasts for approximately five years before needing to be replaced or refurbished.
For signage that is interactive and has to stand up to consumers pounding and banging on the display all the time, that lifecycle may be significantly shorter. Upgrades and repairs can be expensive, although not as much as replacing the components entirely, both in personnel and hardware costs.
Commercial-grade displays and media players are often more expensive than their consumer counterparts. They are still more than make up for that detractor with increased durability, longer lifespans, higher processing power, and more extended warranties. Here are some examples of costs to consider when getting started with digital signage:
|Type of Cost
|$700 – $2,000
|$249 – $629
|Starts at $200
|Heavily depends on the business
|$250 or $6,000
|$200 – $300 or $2,000 – $10,000
* Installation costs vary between one or two screen setups and widescale integrations.
Digital signage is a crucial investment for your business and one that doesn’t come cheap. By comparing media players, you can determine what best suits your business requirements and the corresponding display screens. Soon, your company will be broadcasting your content and catching the eye of potential customers everywhere!