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In our increasingly technologically oriented world, even outdoor signs are rapidly turning digital, and for good reason. Digital signage has proven to be overall more effective than traditional billboards and painted signs. Of course, a bad digital sign will not prove more effective than a great traditional one. What then are the best outdoor digital signs?
The best outdoor solutions for digital signage consider two things: the intended use and the environment. With these things in mind, creating an outdoor digital sign that will fulfill its purpose well means choosing a type of sign, features, physical equipment, and software to run it.
There is no one size fit all solution for outdoor digital signs because they are used by a variety of places for a myriad of reasons. However, picking the best digital signage does not have to be complicated. Keep reading to learn about the various aspects of creating an effective outdoor digital signage solution!
What Goes Into Creating Outdoor Digital Signage?
Unfortunately creating outdoor digital signage does not mean simply slapping a TV screen on an outdoor wall. The outdoor environment presents special challenges, and digital signage itself requires particular software to effectively create, display, and manage content.
There are three main components to most outdoor digital signage solutions: a screen, a protective enclosure for the screen, and software for the content. The choices you make in these areas will impact your final results.
Your screen choice affects the resolution quality, brightness, and sometimes durability of your signage. The software you chose will impact what your sign looks like and its available functions. Finally, an enclosure affects the overall look of your sign as well as how well protected the sign is.
Types of Outdoor Digital Signage
Digital signage does not have a specific or narrow definition. The term digital signage refers to almost any sign which uses a screen to display its content. This broad categorization means that there are several different types of signs which are known as digital signage.
The first step in finding the best outdoor digital signage solution is knowing these types. They each have distinct advantages and disadvantages, which can help or hinder your overall signage goals.
LED displays use light-emitting diodes to light the pixels on a screen and are what you will find used in many of today’s screens. Phones, TVs, computer screens, and more all use LED.
As a light source LEDs are both energy efficient and capable of producing intense light. LEDs work well for outdoor digital signage because they are bright and long-lasting. They are also able to be used in larger signs than the other types of outdoor digital signage.
The resolution or image quality of an LED depends on the pixel pitch, which refers to how far apart the pixels are and thus how many total pixels a sign has. The smaller the pixel pitch is the closer together the pixels are, resulting in more overall pixels and a higher resolution image.
The necessary pixel pitch for an outdoor LED screen depends on the distance of the viewers. The closer the audience is to the LED screen, the smaller the pixel pitch should be. Using a large pixel pitch on a display that is meant to be viewed at a close range will result in a blocky image that is hard to read.
The downside to LED is their expense. As pixel pitch goes down (so as pixel number goes up), the price of an LED sign increases as well. A high resolution LED sign will be quite expensive. With that in mind, LED is best used for large signage that is meant to be seen from a distance. It can be used effectively for smaller short-range signs as well, but it will cost you.
LCDs are displays in which the pixels are lit by light crystals rather than light-emitting diodes. LEDs emit light, but LCDs block light. Unlike the LED which lights each pixel separately, LCDs have a backlight that lights the entire screen and then is blocked to create images.
LCDs are not as naturally bright or as durable as LED displays, but they have the advantage of producing higher resolution at a cheaper cost.
While the main concern with LED displays is getting the correct pixel pitch, with LCD screens equipment failure is the largest potential issue. If you choose an LCD, you will need to ensure that you provide the screen with an enclosure to withstand harsh weather and damage from the sun.
LCDs are best used for smaller displays that need high resolution. It is best not to put an LCD in an area with large amounts of direct sunlight as the sun can damage the screen decreasing its lifespan.
The final most common type of digital signage is projection. Unlike LED and LCD which both involve a screen, projection simply uses a projector to produce images on flat surfaces.
Projectors are a cheaper large sign alternative to LEDs. In general it is harder to achieve the same image quality with projection. However, this method works great for outdoor digital signage used for decoration, and for digital signage that does not need to be as bright and intrusive as an LED display.
Projectors do run the risk of overheating as they run, so installing digital signage that uses projection requires the additional installation of a cooling system. Even with the cooling addition projectors are still usually cheaper than LED.
Challenges of Putting Digital Signage Outdoors
Why exactly is outdoor digital signage an entirely different category than indoor digital signage? The outdoors present several challenges to digital signage, which must be considered and properly addressed to produce an effective sign.
Perhaps the number one thing that makes digital signage different is the exposure to sunlight. Anyone who has walked outside with their smartphone knows that to be able to read a digital display in the sun, you need to turn the brightness up quite a lot.
Should outdoor digital displays be as bright as possible all the time? Ideally no. Having a screen at full brightness all the time uses a lot of power. A sign that is on full brightness all the time will quickly run out of power. However, if the screen is not bright enough, potential viewers will not be able to read it.
To deal with the sunlight on your outdoor digital display, many signs use a light ambient sensor. This device adjusts the brightness of your sign based on the amount of light. This allows you to save as much energy as possible while also ensuring that your sign is always readable.
While getting a sign with a light ambient sensor is great, it also helps if you think about the amount of sunlight in the potential locations for your sign before you install it. Remember that LCDs especially are damaged by too much sun even if they are bright enough to read.
Picking shady areas that do not receive as much direct sunlight can help to both save you energy and extend the life of your digital signage, both of which will help you save money. Some signs may need to be placed in an area with a lot of direct sunlight. In these cases make sure to choose a sign that can withstand the sunlight such as an LED.
An outdoor digital sign has to be able to withstand more than just sunlight. Rain, humidity, freezing temperatures, and the excessive heat can all cause damage to a sign. While some geographic locations have harsher weather than others, all outdoor digital signs must be capable of withstanding some unfriendly weather.
To prevent equipment failure, your sign needs to be protected. Enclosures protect your sign’s electronics from water and can even help protect the screen from the sun’s rays. When deciding what type of enclosure you need, you must consider your local climate and where you plan to place the sign.
For digital signage produced through projection, the image does not need to be protected, but the projector does. This may result in a reduced cost for a protective enclosure.
One thing that is easily overlooked, but which should be considered for the best outdoor digital signage experience is the security risk. An outdoor sign is not only more exposed to the elements, but it is also in many cases more easily accessible by the public.
Make sure your sign’s hardware is not easily accessed physically. This may involve putting some sort of lock on your sign’s manual control area. In addition, you may also want to protect your sign from acts of vandalism. A strong enclosure can ensure that the more expensive components, such as the screen, are protected from damage.
Features of Outdoor Digital Signage
Now that you know the types of outdoor digital signage and challenges to consider with one, what can you do with an outdoor digital sign? Will the technology be limited by its outdoor location?
To get the best out of your outdoor digital signage you need to look at both what this technology can do and what you need it to do. Different features work well with different sign purposes. Here are some of the options at your disposal when creating an outdoor digital signage solution.
Perhaps the single greatest advantage of digital signage is its non-permanence. You can easily change what your digital signage displays through the use of the software.
Through the use of periodic updates investing in a single piece of digital signage can offer multiple different opportunities. This can be great for retail places that want to use the sign to announce changing sales and organizations, such as churches and schools, that want to display a changing schedule of events.
A digital sign that needs to be updated regularly will need good software to do so. While a church may want to change its sign every week, a restaurant that uses its digital signage to display its menu or a city kiosk with a digital signage map may need to update very little.
Digital signage is capable of another type of updating: constant rotation. Some digital signage is effectively two signs in one because it switches periodically from one screen display to another. This allows a sign to display much more content.
There is a risk that comes with using an outdoor digital sign’s ability to rotate content. You need to carefully estimate how long people are likely to look at your sign and how much information they can absorb. While digital signage may allow you to display as much content as you want, giving people a digestible amount of content will prove much more effective.
What is a digestible amount of content depends largely on what you are using your signage for. A digital sign displaying train departure times will hold someone’s attention much longer than an advertisement. In addition, some digital signage is not a suitable choice for rotating slides. Digital signage displaying a map that changes constantly will frustrate anyone trying to use it.
Even outdoor digital signs can be made interactive with today’s technology! In general, though, interactive digital signage is best used indoors rather than outdoors. Outdoor digital signage is typically designed for quick rather than detailed information exchange.
That being said, interactivity can greatly improve some outdoor digital signage. City information kiosks, for example, can become much more useful by allowing interaction.
This is something that traditional signs will never be able to display! Digital signs cannot only show static images, but they can also display movement. This can be anything from a full video to the movement of an image. Movement often proves to be more effective at catching people’s attention than a static image.
Again this is not always the best outdoor digital signage option. If you want to play a video, you need to ensure that your sign is in a place where people can look at it for the length of the video. This is far harder to achieve on an outdoor sign than on an indoor one.
While playing videos may prove unreasonable, adding small bits of movement can still increase the amount of attention your signage draws.
Best Software to Get the Most Out of Your Outdoor Digital Signage
In order to not only install your outdoor digital signage but also to keep it running smoothly and effectively throughout its lifetime, you will need digital signage software. Digital signage is controlled by a computer, and thus you will need specific software to control it.
What Do I Need from a Digital Signage Software?
Before discussing some great options, let’s look at what you need your digital software choice to provide.
Your digital signage software is what will produce the actual content on your sign. This means that depending on your needs, you need to ensure that the software you choose supports things like video, 4K resolution, PDF files, or even interactivity.
You should also check the overall performance rating of the software. Remember that your digital signage will be receiving its content from a computer. If your computer system glitches or crashes frequently so will your sign.
Your software will also determine how digital signage your company can produce. If you want to produce a multi-screen display or even have multiple copies of the same digital signage in various locations, your software will need more juice. Make sure your software can handle the scope of what you plan to do with your outdoor digital signage.
Great Software Options
There are a ton of software options for digital signage. Below we have some of the top names, but there are many many more! Be sure to think about what exactly you need your digital signage to do and explore your options before picking a software.
- Enplug Display OS: For $35 a month, Enplug Display OS is a great digital signage software for businesses. It allows for easy communication and content sharing between multiple employees.
- Yodeck: At either $8 a month or $79 for a Yodeck player, this digital signage is a cloud-based service designed to be easy to use and fast.
- Reach: Reach is another digital signage software that uses the cloud. It provides design templates to make coming up with creative content easier. This software costs $30 per month.
- Viewneo: For a wide range of uses Viewneo has just about everything you could need. It supports many types of media and has various plugins to provide even more features. Viewneo runs at $18 a month.
Making Your Signage Fit for the Outdoors
The software programs listed above are designed to turn any screen into a digital sign. That sounds great, but do not think you can use any screen for an outdoor sign! Most display screens you can easily buy are not suited for outdoor use. They cannot stand up to the weather conditions or the sunlight. Outdoor digital signage requires specialized equipment.
Screens Suitable for Outdoor Use
The easiest way to ensure that your display screen will stand up to the outdoors is to buy a screen specifically made for that purpose. Many tech companies such as Samsung, LG, Planar, NEC, Sharp, and Sony all offer outdoor display screens.
Screens specifically made for the outdoors have features such as higher brightness capabilities, light ambient sensors for adjusting to varying degrees of sunlight, and greater weather protection. Some of these screens even come with the software you will need to run them.
If you do choose the DIY route by getting your own screen to convert into outdoor signage, get a screen that is meant for outdoor use! It will be more expensive, but a screen that is not meant to be outside will be difficult or impossible to see and will break easily.
If you are greatly worried about the durability of your screen do not forget about the screenless outdoor digital signage solution: projection. You can set up a projection display on a blank wall without worrying about a screen at all. You will still need to protect the projector from the elements, however, and the image will still be hard to see without high brightness capabilities.
Get an Enclosure!
No matter how fancy the screen you choose to purchase, getting some sort of protective enclosure is a must for outdoor digital signage. Enclosures protect your digital signage from all sorts of things such as extreme temperatures, rain, humidity, impacts, and vandalism.
While the protection is reason enough enclosure technology has advanced and now offers additional features. The right enclosure can give your outdoor digital signage touch screen capabilities or reduce glare.
If you purchase your own screen, you absolutely need an enclosure. Some companies' outdoor displays are not supposed to require an extra enclosure, but the added security may be worth it regardless.
If putting all the pieces together yourself sounds like a hassle there are companies that will create your outdoor digital signage for you. Some of these companies provide digital signage for specific industries.
- Connectpoint: Connectpoint specializes in transit. This company creates digital signage for bus stops, train systems, and airports. If you happen to be in the transit industry and need outdoor digital signage, Connectpoint has everything you need.
- Stratacache: Stratacache is an all-in-one digital signage service that features an outdoor line. Their outdoor displays are LCD and 55 inches wide with height options of 66, 72, and 84 inches. These signs would work well for restaurant menus or retail.
- DynaScan: If you want a top of the line installation, Dynascan is the company to which you can turn. Their outdoor displays have brightness control, are energy efficient, temperature monitored, and vandal resistant. Also, they come with an android media player so you can start displaying immediately.
- Seepoint: If you are particularly interested in digital outdoor signage in the form of a kiosk, then Seepoint can likely help. They have several different kiosk designs and many different programs and features for their kiosks.
- Innerface Architectural Signage: This company designs signage solutions for all types of places. They even offer breakdowns for several specific industries. If you have no idea where to start this could be a great company with which to talk.
Common and Effective Uses of Outdoor Digital Signage
If you are still unsure what the best outdoor digital signage solution for you is, here are some businesses that commonly use digital signage and how they use it. This will help give you an idea of the best solutions.
Restaurant Drive Thru Menus
While these used to be done traditionally, more and more restaurants are switching to a digital version instead, which allows them to incorporate advertisements and update their menu. Signs used for this purpose need to have high resolution, and their proximity to the building can help to shield them from the sun.
Both churches and schools have found that digital signage allows for their signs to display updates without the need to physically change them. These signs need to be near the road so a simple easy to read display that can withstand sunlight exposure is best.
Found in cities, outlet shopping areas, train stations, and more, digital signage that displays information is quickly growing. Digital signage can display a map, show changing arrival and departure times for public transit, and other pieces of useful information.
These signs can incorporate more interactive features and should have high resolution for close viewing. It is highly important to have a good enclosure on this type of signage to prevent damage and security breaches.
Digital signage has proved to be more eye-catching than traditional ads, which is why many retail signs and billboards are becoming digital. These signs do not necessarily require high resolution as they may be intended for distant viewing. They are often in exposed places, so they do often need durable enclosures.
Extremely large outdoor digital signage can be found at most sports stadiums. The large monitors used to display ads and replays during the game are especially prominent. These large screens are viewed from far away so they do can use a high pixel pitch with an LED display.
While these are some of the most common places and uses for outdoor digital signage, there are many more. Movie theaters, amusement parks, cities, banks, and many more can all make use of outdoor digital signage.
Because so many businesses and organizations already use digital signage, thinking about these places effectively is an easy way to discover the best outdoor digital signage solution for your needs.
The best solution for your outdoor digital signage needs is one that can function outside and meet your needs and budget. To achieve good outdoor digital signage you need to take your signage’s software, screen, and enclosure into account to create signage that is durable, easily read, and easy to update and control.