Tag Archives: digital signage

Part 2 – How to Set Up a Dynamic Video Wall Without a Video Wall Processor

In just seven quick steps, take our AV-over-IP video distribution system from a static video wall to a dynamic video wall with switching and control. No additional video wall processor required.

In Part 1, we covered how to set up a static video wall without a video processor. Now it’s time to turn it up a notch and learn how to set up a dynamic video wall with added control and switching.

Recall we started with the MediaCento IPX PoE Multicast 1 x 4 Kit. The kit includes a transmitter, four receivers, a PoE (Power over Ethernet) network switch, and five 2-meter (6.5-feet) locking HDMI cables. Everything you need to multicast HDMI video over an IP network and create static video walls.

In order to make the video wall dynamic, you’ll need to add to the existing system:

The additional sources and transmitters enable additional content to display, and the controller enables you to take full control over the IP-based transmitters and receivers.

Let’s dive right in to the MediaCento multicasting system and get the controller up and running.

Step 1: Connect Additional Transmitters to the Switch and Source
In this scenario, we have one additional source, a laptop, so we will need one additional transmitter. Connect the second transmitter to the PoE network switch using a CATx cable. Then, using a locking HDMI cable, connect source – in this case, a laptop – to the transmitter unit.

Step 2: Connect the MediaCento IPX Controller
Connect the power supply to the controller and connect it to the network switch using a CATx cable.

Step 3: Access the Controller’s Web Interface
Use the Web interface to configure the controller. Open the Web browser, and type the IP address in the address field.

Note: For more details regarding IP addresses, see the user manual included with the controller.

Step 4: Detect Units
In the Web interface, go to the Hardware tab and:

  • Click the “Detect Units” button. The controller automatically detects all receivers and transmitters on the network. In this case, the IP address of the transmitter connected to the laptop is 169.254.4.73 and the iCOMPEL media player is 169.254.2.58.
  • Optionally, rename the receivers for easier setup. Click the “Show OSD” button to show the receiver’s IP names on the displays, and then click the “Rename Device” button to rename each of the receiver’s IP addresses to a findable name. For example, C1 R1 (for column 1, row 1), C1 R2, C2 R1, and C2 R2.

web-interface-hardware

Step 5: Update Group Settings
In the Web interface, go to the Groups tab and:

  • Name this group to “2×2 Video Wall” in the Title field.
  • In the “Receivers not in Group” list, select the receivers that you want displayed in the video wall and click the > button to add them to the “Receivers in Group” list. The receivers will appear below the lists.
  • Check the Video Wall This will open the video wall settings where you can specify the number or rows and columns in the video wall as well as monitor information (i.e., bezel width and monitor height and width). It also displays a video wall table.
  • Enter 2 for the number of rows, and 2 for the number of columns. The table will change to show a 2×2 video wall table.
  • Drag and drop the receivers where you would like them displayed in the video wall table. (This is where having the receivers renamed to something more meaningful helps with setup.)

web-interface-groups

  • Click the “Save Group” button.

Step 6: Enable Full-Screen Video Wall
Still in the Web interface, go to the Custom Display tab and select which source you would like to connect to the grouping that was just created. To switch the iCOMPEL media player to show the video wall across all the screens, click the box in the 169.254.2.58 (the IP address associated with the transmitter connected to the media player) column, 2×2 Video Wall row. Then, click the “Switch” button.

web-interface-custom-display

Step 7: Switch Content to Dynamic Display
To switch the display from the video wall only to show the source from the laptop in column 1, row 1, click the box in the column with the second transmitter, 169.254.4.73, and click the “Switch” button.

web-interface-custom-display2

The screen will change to show the content from the second source. In this case, it is pulling content from a Web page.

dynamic-display

Still in the Custom Display tab, click the “Save as a New Preset” button to make the configuration available in your dashboard. The dashboard is available on the mobile application; therefore, with the preset defined you can switch and control the displays from your mobile device.

That’s it! In just seven steps we took the static 2×2 video wall and made it dynamic with switching and control. This is just a snippet of the system’s capabilities. The system can create up to 8×8 video walls with 64 screens.

Need help planning your AV solution?
Enlist the help of a seasoned AV professional. Contact a Black Box technical engineer.

Part 1 – How To Set Up a Static Video Wall Without a Video Wall Processor

Easy to set up. How many times have we heard that phrase in the AV world? And, how can a system with multiple devices, cables, and displays be a simple installation? Well, I’m here to prove it is. In just six quick steps, take our AV-over-IP video distribution system from a packaged box to an impressive, eye-catching video wall. And, there’s no need for an additional video wall processor to do the job.

Start with the MediaCento IPX PoE Multicast 1 x 4 Kit. The kit includes a transmitter, four receivers, a PoE (Power over Ethernet) network switch, and five 2-meter locking HDMI cables. Everything you need to multicast HDMI video over an IP network and create video walls. The system is perfect for:

  • A digital signage application with screens in a different building or store.
  • Distributing high-quality medical imaging video across a hospital campus.
  • Streaming video to classrooms in schools.
  • Sharing video in command and control room setups, or in corporate training settings.

Now it’s time to share how fast you can have the above up and running.

Step 1: Plug in the Switch
Plug in the PoE network switch to a power outlet.

Step 2: Connect Transmitter and Receivers to the Switch
Connect the transmitter and four receivers to the PoE network switch using CATx cables. The PoE switch eliminates the need for external power supplies, making the installation even easier and more cost effective. Plus, PoE power offers reliability, flexibility, safety, and scalability.

Step 3: Connect Source to the Transmitter
Using the included locking HDMI cable, connect source (i.e., digital signage player, PC, Blu-ray player, DVD player, etc.) to the transmitter unit. Make sure the receivers are on the same channel as the transmitter. If so, the units will automatically connect and video will pass through showing the same video on each screen.

Step 4: Connect the Screens/Monitors to Receivers
Using the remaining four locking HDMI cables, connect the screens/monitors to each of the four receivers. NOTE: Sources connected to receiver units will show IP address before connecting.

At this point you will have videos on all screens. To get a video wall, you’ll need to access the transmitter settings on the Web, which we’ll do in the next steps.

Video wall example running content from digital signage media player with video and RSS feed.
Video wall example running content from digital signage media player with video and RSS feed.
 

Step 5: Access the Transmitter’s Web Interface
Use the Web interface to view information about the device, upload a firmware file to the device, and configure video wall transformers. The Web interface won’t give network information or screen previews.

To access the transmitter without an IP address, open a Web browser and insert the address: http://ast-gatewayXXXX.local. The four digits after ast-gateway depend on the position of the rotary switch you’ve set. Please refer to the following table. For example, if the position is set up as 7, then the address should be http://ast-gateway1110.local.

Rotary Switch Table

Step 6: Update Settings in the Web Interface
In the Web interface, go to the Video Wall tab and:

  • Set the bezel and gap information (dimensions of screen’s inside and outside width and height), video wall size, select single host mode, and apply to all units.
  • Next, apply the specific video wall section to each receiver (i.e., top left would be row 0, column 0). To help locate which screen is which, select the “Show OSD” checkbox.
Video wall after changes made in the Web interface. Each display assigned to a receiver.
Video wall after changes made in the Web interface. Each display assigned to a receiver.

In part two of this blog post we’ll turn this static video wall into a dynamic video wall with control and switching.

Why yes, Virtual Appliances can help your Digital Signage Enterprise

Simplified IT operations? Check. Faster response to changing business demands? Check. Reduced power consumption? Check.

Virtualization offers something for every user. It has provided efficiencies and capabilities that were once deemed impossible when constrained within a physical world.

The architecture of today’s x86 servers allows them to run only one operating system at a time. Server virtualization unlocks the traditional one-to-one architecture of x86 servers by abstracting the operating system and applications from the physical hardware, enabling a more cost-efficient, agile, and simplified server environment.

Using server virtualization, multiple operating systems can run on a single physical server as virtual machines, each with access to the underlying server’s computing resources.

Server virtualization unleashes the potential of today’s powerful x86 servers. Most servers operate at less than 15% of capacity. Not only is this highly inefficient, it also introduces server sprawl, increased electric costs, increased cooling costs, rack capacity issues, peripheral needs, and other IT complexities that could include specialized staffing.

What is a virtual appliance?
A virtual appliance is a pre-configured virtual machine image that is ready to be run directly on a hypervisor. Virtual appliances:

  • Can be deployed in existing infrastructure under existing service level agreements.
  • Don’t have the hardware limitations imposed by traditional appliances.
  • Are easier to backup, move, and replicate.
  • Make policy compliance and auditing easier.
  • Have less security vulnerabilities and easier remediation in some cases.

Just look at these benefits
There are many reasons to use a virtual appliance. Here are some key benefits to consider:

1. Reduce Costs
Reduce hardware and operating costs by as much as 50% and energy costs by as much as 80%, saving more than $3,000 per year for each virtualized server workload.

2. Save time.
Reduce the time it takes to provision new servers by as much as 70%. Set up usually involves decompressing the virtual appliance file and loading the resulting virtual image into the virtual server. It’s that simple.

3. Improve reliability and decrease downtime.
Offices today must prepare for disaster. Should your system fail, the built-in disaster recovery of virtual appliances ensure backed up data is immediately redeployed on another virtual machine with little or no downtime.

4. Virtual appliances often run just the bare necessities.
This allows you to efficiently deliver IT services on demand – independent of hardware, operating systems, applications, or infrastructure providers.

A closer look: physical appliance vs. virtual appliance
Now it’s time to decide which solution best suites your environment – physical appliance or virtual appliance?

The following table differentiates between the two types of appliances. Understanding their differences is an important step to knowing which appliance best meets your needs.

Physical Appliance Virtual Appliance
Real hardware limitations (number of cores, amount of RAM, HDD capacity, and number of network ports). Virtually no limitation – can allocate resources dynamically from an overall pool.
Require dedicated administrative portals, user access lists, IP addresses, out of band management, and other administrative resources. Generally deployed into an environment where these resources already exist and can be leveraged.
Rely on traditional storage devices (HDD, SSD, and Flash) for backup purposes and typically require some user intervention to configure and perform. Generally connected to high availability, high reliability backup storage networks with automated mirroring performed real time.
Typically limited to a single network port and cannot perform load balancing to control availability in peak use times. Can allocate multiple NICs (Network Interface Cards) and rules for managing availability at the Hypervisor management level.
Introduces a new hardware platform and possibly a new service level agreement (SLA) for support. Leverage existing hardware and SLAs that are already in place and consistent with policies.

Virtualization applied to digital signage
Virtualization is particularly attractive for digital signage and other situations where there is limited and well defined interaction on the client side, and content management on the server side. Moving away from hardware brings more reliability, flexibility, and affordability to organizations such as airports, banks, retailers, K-12 schools, and universities that need to deliver dynamic information.

By running the digital signage content management software in a virtual environment, organizations can easily manage all of their digital signage players from a local network location or remotely. This gives organizations quick access to individual logs, schedules, content, and playlists.

Explore technology solutions
Black Box offers digital signage solutions as physical or virtual appliances – you decide which application works best for your enterprise. Their iCOMPEL digital signage solution is designed on a Linux OS. This gives you 24/7 uptime, highly recoverable storage method and file system, and minimal vulnerability to viruses, malware, and other security threats.

See Black Box’s virtual content management system for digital signage – iCOMPEL Content Commander Virtual Machine. And, check out the Black Box virtual management and monitoring system for multiple subscribers – iCOMPEL Deployment Manager Virtual Machine. Both support up to 100 subscriber units. For larger deployments, models with support for up to 500, 1000, and 1500 units are available.

Need help planning your next digital signage solution?
Enlist the help of a seasoned digital signage professional. Contact your local Black Box office, or comment below.

Additional resources
White Paper: Roadmap to Digital Signage Success
White Paper: 7 Questions You to Need to Ask when Choosing a Signage System

6 steps to planning Digital Signage

Schools worldwide use digital signage to alert, inform, and educate students and faculty. Applications vary. For example, schools use digital signage to: promote events in schools; aid in instructional efforts or wayfinding; communicate important, up-to-date information; broadcast emergency alerts and instructions; and centralize the distribution and production of content.

With the many available digital signage solutions, finding the right one for your school might seem like an overwhelming task. But taking some time to research and understand your options will be well worth the investment. Follow these key steps.

  1. Define your goals and objectives.

What do you want to achieve? Also, think about scalability. For instance, how do you want the system to serve you long term? Putting up a screen in your school’s lobby certainly constitutes a big step in improving communications in your institution. But how will that hardware expenditure work when you want to expand? Approaching digital signage deployment in piecemeal fashion can be fiscally problematic.

  1. Clearly define the content.

The success of any digital signage system starts, of course, with the content. It must look fresh, exciting, and professional. Who will create it and how will it be presented? Do you have internal resources and expertise, or will you need to outsource content creation?

A good source of creative and editorial help can be found in aspiring graphic designers chosen from the student ranks, in addition to your school’s art department, yearbook and newspaper staffs, and TV studio (if you have one).

  1. Invest the time to understand your options.

Once you’ve decided on content, you need to consider the infrastructure that will deliver it and study your display options. For example:

  • LCD vs. plasma
  • Zones
  • RSS feeds
  • Live video
  • Dynamic content
  • Remote management
  • Playback verification

The options will seem limitless, so taking time to sort through them is important.

  1. Involve all the appropriate stakeholders.

The communications/information department should be involved at the start, considering that your digital signage will likely be used for external community relations. In addition to your district’s administration (superintendent, principals, and purchasing personnel), don’t forget to include instructional technology staff. This includes the AV department; maintenance and security staff; your curriculum, athletic, and cafeteria directors; and key school board members. Digital signage implementation also involves all the usual IT suspects: network and database managers, webmasters, and infrastructure engineers.

  1. Figure out how you’re going to pay for it.

When it’s used to simply advertise or promote school events, digital signage can be seen by some as a luxury item—particularly with shrinking school budgets and rising instructional expenses. However, since it can also be used as a tool for emergency communications and notification, administrators can easily make the case to their school boards that digital signage is a must-have component of any crisis plan—especially in this era when school violence incidents capture news headlines. Consider government and private sources of funding for your digital notification system.

And whether it’s kept entirely as an IT expenditure or distributed across multiple departments in your budget, you need a spending roadmap in addition to a developmental one. The hardest part with this may be determining the total cost of ownership over the life of the system, including any nickel-and-diming with ongoing licenses and upgrades.

  1. Decide how to implement the solution.

Based on your deployment size and scope, decide if you can implement it in-house or if you need the help of a professional integrator.

A number of “out-of-the box” systems can be set up with relative ease. But the more dynamic and complex the system, the more complicated the implementation and ongoing management—and the more likely you’ll need outside help.

Need help planning your next digital signage solution?

Black Box offers digital signage products that range from plug-and-play to highly scalable, sophisticated solutions. If you’re considering a larger deployment with a fully integrated network solution, enlist the help of a seasoned digital signage professional. Contact a Black Box technical engineer, or comment below.