A first attempt at Digital Signage
(Using Ce Labs Quick Sign Pro and MP500 Media Player)
Digital Signage (sigh). You hear about it all the time, you see it all the time. It can be pretty impressive. Do you need to be an Art major to do it? A Geek? Some of the packages are incredibly sophisticated and expensive. Some promise to be idiot proof. I thought I'd try it for myself and see. I am pretty tech savy, but somewhat artistically impaired. I'm halfway decent at the basics of Photoshop and Gimp, and I know a bit about video and graphics. Still I am very much intimidated by Digital Signage. Could I learn enough in a very limited amount of time to actually "do" anything? I decided to find out. I asked around for a sample to try. Cable Electronics Inc (Ce Labs) was nice enough to give me a loaner to try out. An MP500 actually, which is a pretty advanced model that is available in several different configurations. Unlike some Digital Signage companies, they don't give you a stroke with the cost of the software. The cost? Free! Sounds good, let's get started...
The first step is to install Quicksign Pro, which you can download from the CE
Labs Website anytime
Naturally you'll get the usual Windows warnings which you can safely ignore in this case.
The Quicksign Program needs some other programs installed in order to operate correctly. The Prerequisites Wizard will walk you through their installation.
Some people will already have and acceptable version of the .Net Framework installed like I did. You'll
also need Mplayer and Ffmpeg.
So on to Mplayer Setup.
You have to accept the license agreement...
Just use the default folder for installation.
Just click install to complete the installation.
Clicking "Finish" exits the Mplayer install Wizard.
Next comes the FFmpeg Setup Wizard. Why is everything a “Wizard” with Windows? Why not a "Witch"?
Accept the license.
Just click Next to install in the default folder.
Click Install to complete the installation.
And click Finish to Finish.
Now it's finally time to run the actual Quick Sign Pro setup!
When you start up the software the first thing it will do is search for your player. You have to make sure your computer is on the same network as your computer. If you don't know anything about the network you're on, you are going to have to talk to your network person to get this setup. If your network uses DHCP then you may be OK “out of the box”. If the Player Search does not find a player, you most likely have a network connectivity issue. If you think you have things set properly you may have to turn off your computers firewall temporarily to see
if that's blocking you. I had issues with my firewall several times during the demo period.OK, first we are going to explore the interface and features and just play around trying things out. Then we'll see if we can't setup our own layout.
Here is the “Players” tab in Quick Sign Pro. You can see here we have one player, it's playing a video with no layout, and with no playlist loaded. The players IP address is set to 192.168.1.111.
Here's the “Videos” tab. Let's click “Add Videos” and see how to add a video.
Simple enough, you just browse your computer for a video using the computers explorer interface. OK, I've found a video called “Wildlife.wmv” to add. Our player came with some nice samples which you can download to the computer if you have no videos. (More about that later) You can choose between .mpg (mpeg2 or mpeg4) .wmv (Windows media files) or .ts files (HD transport streams). The player will work with a very large variety of resolution files. See the manual for more details.
Here is a video ready to be loaded. You can delete videos using the buttons on the right.
Switching to the “Images” tab, let's now add an image. Click “Add Images”.
You can choose .jpg (jpegs's, best for pictures) .png (portable network graphics – best for graphics) or .gif (graphic interchange format – good for graphics) and you can select multiple images at the same time. We are throwing in some large, high resolution images of the MP500.A note about images. Any digital signage player is going to have a limited amount of memory and processing power. They have to run as cool as possible in order to be as
reliable as possible and so memory and processing power have limits. Image scaling requires processing power, and large images require more memory than smaller images, so using an image as close as possible to the size you will need in your layout is best. That way you don't waste memory and you cut down on processing overhead to
ensure you get smooth playback.
The interface works the same as for videos. Nice, simple, easy. You can see by the sizes of the files, these are some pretty large files. They are probably more suitable for full screen display. Optimizing them for how they will be used
would be a smart idea.
Next, let's explore the “Channels” tab.
You can add an ATSC Tuner channel or a network source stream. You can select the ATSC tuner if you have the
model with the integrated Tuner.
We are just adding a fictitious stream to see what it looks like.
Next, the “Playlists” tab. It looks just the same. Let's add one.
OK, so this is something different! You can choose between Videos, Images, “Videos and Images” and Channels. All this means is it will show you your images, videos, or both images and videos or just channels.
You then select one, or all of them and use the arrow button to move them into the Playlist.
You can then select an item in the Playlist and use the “Sort” arrows to move them up or down in the play order. You can select items and set the play or display time. You can delete the selected item or all items in the playlist.
Individual items can have different play times and you can alternate any type of item anywhere in the
playlist. One you get it how you like it you just click “Save”. You can give the playlist a name and description.
Once you have your Playlist saved, you can copy it, edit it or delete it from the Playlist tab.
Next let's explore “Layouts” a bit. There are more options on this tab. You can choose, “New Layout”, “Designer”, “Import”, “Export”, or “Get Sample”.
When you select “New Layout”, you get a selection of 10 pre-built layouts to choose from.
Choosing “Designer” starts you off with a blank screen onto which you drag and drop items from the Toolbox onto the screen and then set their sizes and locations. You can select 1 Video zone and up to 4 “Assignable” Zones.
In order to see how this all works together let's take a look at the Demo layout. Use the “Get Sample” option and you can load the Java Junction Sample Layout. You click the zone to examine or edit on the Base Layout display on the left. You then edit the parameters of the selected Zone on the right.
Here we are selecting the menu Text so we can see how to add or edit it. You can tell there is a selection from the bracketed dots on the left, to edit the text you click the small button with the dots on the right.
You can also see where you set the number of rows as well as the text color.
The text can be imported or exported in XML, or you can simply directly edit the text in it's comma delimited
plain text form. Look at the above text and the previous screen shot to see how the text is turned into screen content. Notice that special characters are created using the XML/HTML special character entity codes. Other than that, making changes looks mighty simple. Click “OK” when you are done playing around with editing your menu.
Click Edit Zone Types. You can change each zones type. Choices are “Text”, “Text Ticker”, “Image”, “Image Slide Show”, “RSS Ticker”, or “Clock'. Zone 1 is fixed to “Video” or “Tuner”.
Now lets look at “Layout Base Properties”. This sets the height and width of each zone as well as X and Y offset, which sets the location on horizontal and vertical plane of the screen.
Now lets jump to the Schedules tab and see how that works.
To create a schedule you select a default Playlist and default Layout, then you schedule items and save them to your schedule. So we click “Add Scheduled Item”.
You can set start and end dates and times, set up weekday/weekend schedules, or even set up different schedules for each day of the week. Seems like plenty of options to suit any advertising or business display needs.
Now that we've looked around lets try loading something to our player. We go back to the Players tab, select our player and click the “Player Schedule” tab. Then we select our schedule and click the “Load Schedule” button.
Our first error message! Error: Player must have X-App loaded. Go to Maintenance → Load ApplicationAfter turning off our firewall and trying again with the same results.
So we do as we're told and click Maintenance - > Load Application.
This results in the X-App application being successfully loaded. What do we really need it for? Hmmm.
Checking the manual:
The media player can be pre-loaded with extended applications to perform auxiliary functions such as:
• USB port media loading
• Call Home function
• RS232 Command XAPP
• X6 Switcher XAPP.
These applications are independent and are generally loaded before leaving our facility. Please specify at time of order if you have one of these requirements.
Using Call Home XAPP:
The Call Home XAPP gives the MP400A/MP500 players the ability to automatically download videos from an FTP or HTTP server. The player can also be instructed to play the videos according to a playlist and to delete videos.
There's a lot more about how to use this in the manual, and it sounds exciting, but we don't have time to
play around with all that, so let's move on, shall we?
So we switch to “Player Control” and load our Playlist to the player.
Loading failed until we turned off our Firewall. You'll want to set up Quick Sign Pro to be able to work
with your firewall so you don't have to do this every time you want to use it.
Success! Now that we know we can communicate with the player let's actually try doing a layout with
text, images and video and then upload it.
Click the “Layouts” tab and then click the “New Layout” button. Choose a layout. We are trying 4-Zone Type 1. That will give us a chance to do an image slide show, a video, an image and some text.
So we selected our Layout and clicked “Next”. Now we select “Image Slide Show” for Zone 2, “Image” for Zone 3, and “Text” for Zone 4. Click Next.
Now we select the Zones and add our content. Zone 1 is video, so you can tweak overlaid text, background color and things like that, but the videos themselves are added via Playlist. So you will not find a place to add a video in the
Next we go to Zone 2, which we set as an “Image Slide Show”. You can change the background color, which we set to white. Next we find the parameter, “Image List” and click on the little button to its right with the dots.
Now we edit our image list. You select images and use the arrow to move them into the Slide Show Playlist, then set them up in the order we want to see them. When done click “OK”.
Now you can see we have the brackets, <...> to signify that there is content in our Image List. Notice how the image looks “squeezed”? Thats because the image is being scaled to fit into the box. The best way to deal with images that don't fit properly is to edit the images so that they are the same size as the box they will have to fit in. Let's look at what this would be in this case and hopefully everything will be clear.
Click on “Base Properties” and you can see the properties of each zone in the layout. The Zone for the image list is Zone 2, so we scroll down to see what the size of Zone 2 is. 600 pixels high by 444 pixels wide. So 444x600. So I
take the image and crop the excess. I then scale it to fit both height and lengthwise, so that it is as large as possible but both length and height are less than or equal to that 444x600 maximum size. I then adjust the “canvas size” so that the image is exactly 444x600, with the image centered in the canvas. I next edit the rest of the images in the image list in the same way and then re-import them and re-select them.
Next I added Text to the zone 4 Text Area and an image to the Zone 3 Image area. Ok, now we are ready to
load this up to the player and see what we've got.
Switch to the “Players” tab select the player and then click “Player Control”tab under the Player name.
Click “Playlist to Load and Select any of the playlists you created. Click “Pick” to choose the “Layout to Load” and choose your layout. Click “Load/Play” to load your layout and playlist to the Player and have it begin playing.
Everything works as it should after loading. Not exactly a work of art, but the image slide show cycles through the images, the video plays, and the static image and text are all there. Not so hard after all, was it?
To do complicated text menu's and custom layouts is a lot more work, but if you take things slowly, and improve your skills over time I'm sure anyone with reasonable computer skills can learn to do this. You'll need to learn to use
image editing software like Photoshop or Gimp (free!). Powerpoint would also be a great thing to learn since you can export the slides as images or even a video. The quality of what you do will depend on the time you put into learning image editing, Powerpoint and the digital signage package you choose.