Before jumping into the review, it’s worth reviewing the product range that BrightSign offers. At the time of writing there are five hardware players starting at a modest $250
As the names suggest, all support HD (1920×1080). The HD120 is a standalone player (no networking) with all content being loaded from an SD card. (All models require an SD card to run). Moving up the range, the HD 220 adds networking (the HD 210w is identical with WiFi), dynamic content (such as RSS feeds) and synchronized presentations. The HD1010w and HD1020 add USB, GPIO and touchscreen support for interactivity. A full comparison is available here.
On the software front, BrightSign offers a Windows-based authoring tool called BrightAuthor. This allows projects to be published to a local SD card or over a network. BrightSign offers 3 networking options. Simple File Networking (publishing to your web space) and Local Area Networking, both of which are free services that allow simple content updates and limited network management and monitoring. BrightSign Network is a subscription-based SaaS solution that provides a secure hosted network solution including network management, monitoring and reporting.
Several bundles are also offered, the most interesting of which is the BrightSign TD1012. This is a portable tabletop display that requires no external power or wiring. It has a built-in portrait 12.5” high resolution screen, a solid-state media platform, over 12 hours of battery life and supports wireless remote content updates. This unit is commonly deployed in retail establishments (GAP is one example).
As well as producing their own content management and authoring solutions, BrightSign has an extensive partner network that includes content providers (such as Scala’s Sign Channel and SignageLive) and hardware developers (such as HMS Electronics).
BrigthSign’s support a powerful scripting language called “BrightScript”. This is the same language used on Roku Streaming Media Players. (BrightSign’s CEO, Jeff Hastings sits on Roku’s board of directors and the company was founded, and is chaired, by Roku’s Founder and CEO, Anthony Wood)
BrightAuthor is a Windows application for easily creating full-screen or multi-zone playlists for both looping and interactive displays. It supports day-parting and networking, simple data integration, or Live Text to connect Twitter feeds, stock tickers and other public and private databases to PoP displays, menu boards, waitlist, manufacturing or corporate displays and more. Together BrightAuthor software and BrightSign players offer a complete, end-to-end solution.
The first thing to do when starting a project is to determine the general layout of the screen. There are several system-defined templates and users are able to create their own.
Simple applications will use a full screen layout. Multi-zone could be used for a signage application with an RSS feed or ticker across the bottom or down the side (see 2-zone examples above). In addition, the content can be synchronized between zones. For example when an image is displayed in the main frame, some related text could be displayed in a second zone.
As we shall see later, this synchronization can extend to multiple displays, not just multiple zones in a single display.
The next thing to do is set the project properties. For a simple solution, the main properties are the video port (all players include at least VGA and HDMI), resolutions, language and RSS update frequency.
The first thing to do is to select whether the playlist will be interactive. Non interactive presentations simply loop through the assets in the playlist for a configurable duration and with one of about 20 selectable transitions. This is a simple case of dragging and dropping media assets from the library to the playlist and selecting the required properties.
Interactive playlists allow the display of assets to be controlled by timeouts, commands from external devices (such as buttons or other players). We’ll look more at interactive playlists in the video matrix example.
The last step in creating a project is to define a schedule. For simple applications, the same playlist can be played 24/7; however, the software support dayparting, allowing different playlists to be played at different times of day.
In order to get the project to a player, it can be published to an SD card or over a network. A few parameters are required to configure publishing settings for publishing over a network:
In order for the player to obtain content, the project must be published to an SD card (for standalone or non-networked players/projects). If the player is networked and using Simple File Networking, it needs to be assigned an IP address and a location to look for projects:
Once this is done, a set of files are written to an SD card, inserted in the player and the player is started up. On boot, it will be assigned an IP address (if it is not using DHCP) and will connect to the server, download the project and begin to play.
The player contains a web server that allows basic management to be carried out.
There are a few limitations in BrightAuthor. The biggest one is that there is no preview. With simple applications this is not too much of an issue. With the cost of players being so low, a spare player can be used (which every digital signage network should have), but with multi-screen presentations, testing can become an expensive proposition.
The other downside when using local networking is that there is no preview of what is playing on each player. Many DS applications will show a thumbnail of the players’ current content. This can be a concern when displays are spread over a wide area.
Creating a Video Wall
In a recent article, we looked at the basics of video walls. As you can see from this there are several approaches to creating video walls, most of which are considerable more expensive than the cost of the equivalent number of displays and DS players. This is one area where BrightSign shines, and for those just getting started or with frequently changing requirements, it allows a transition from single display to multi-display applications with the same hardware and software.
For our test, we’ll use a simple still image that will be shown on a 2×2 matrix.
In order to play this in 4 separate players, it needs to be split into 4 sections:
As these are simple images, it’s easy to create 4 from scratch, but if the image were more complex (such as the one below), the original would have to be created at 3840×2160 and be carved up into 4 pieces of 1920×1080.
In these kinds of projects, a structured naming convention should be used to identify which image belongs where. In my case I used a suffix to indicate the coordinate (TR, TL, BR, BL). This process can be very easily implemented with a Photoshop Action (for example) for any given matrix configuration. (For video, a similar process can be carried out in products such as Adobe After Effects.)
Creating the Project
As there will be four players, a project needs to be created for each player, each having different content. First we’ll create the project for the master.
The first thing to do is to create an interactive playlist. The opening screen should be something that loads automatically so that a blank screen isn't shown during synchronization of all units. In the screenshot below, I’ve dragged on my first image. This will load as soon as the player starts up and give all the players a chance to load their initial content.
Next, we’ll add some additional images and define the interaction. The screen shot below shows the final project.
Here I’ve defined a timeout event from the home screen to the TL image and then to AltEnergy.com logo, then to HomeToys.com logo and finally back to AVSystemsMag.com logo. The key here is the definition of the timeout events:
The dialog above show the timeout event from the initial image to the TL image. This says that the image will remain on screen for 30 seconds (1) and then transition to ImageTL.jpg (2) and send a synchronize command with the reference “RedImage” (3) to the other players. Similar commands with the references “AltEnergy”, “HomeToys” and “AVSystemsMag” were setup between the other players.
One final thing to set, is the port on which commands will be sent and received. This must match on all players for synchronization to work:
Once we’ve defined our schedule, we can save the project ready and deploy to the server.
Setting up the followers is almost identical, except that timeout events with sync commands are replaced with sync events (listeners) and the content is updated for the respective player.
The above shows the playlist for the second player (top right of matrix). Here, we’ve swapped out the TL image for the TR image and replace the timeout events with sync events (the icon on the lines connecting the thumbnails). The key step here is to define the sync keyword “RedImage”.
Again, we make sure the port number is configured to match the master, create a schedule and deploy the project.
On startup, each player will load the initial screen. On the followers, it remains visible until a sync command is received from the master. On the master, we defined a 30-second timeout event, so the home image will be displayed for 30-seconds, after which time, it will send a sync command with keyword “RedImage” to all the followers. This will trigger the sync event on each of the followers and the display of the respective portion of the red image will be synchronized on all players.
A full video tutorial is available on BrightSign’s web site.
While such a system allows a lot of flexibility there are a few limitations in video wall applications where a single large image is being displayed.
As far as content goes, the biggest limitation is the inability to display dynamic data spanning multiple screens. An example is shown below, where we want the image of the swimmer with an RSS weather feed across the bottom:
Splitting video, is a somewhat time consuming affair. Obviously splitting live video recordings would result in reduced resolution unless the source was 4K (for 2×2 HD screens). For example, a 2×2 matrix, with each showing true HD video, would require a source of 3840×2160 (QuadHD). Of course, when the display is distant from the user 1080p resolution probably wouldn’t be necessary on each screen.
Despite the limitations above, there are many applications where synchronization of multiple players is ideal. For example:
- Identical content simultaneously displayed on multiple screens
- Moving content across screens
- Having a single touchscreen controlling an array of displays
Although there are many video wall solutions on the market, most are dedicated to this task. The nice thing about the BrightSign solution is that it used standard, inexpensive players that can easily be incorporated into a multi-screen display at will, or even on a part-time basis (with dayparting). A good example of the latter may be a coffee shop that uses 3 screens as menu boards while open, which are automatically transformed into a 3×1 video wall, displaying promotional material that can be viewed from the street while closed.