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In the past few months I have attended several major trade shows to see what's new and visit with my friendly competitors to see how they are doing. I know almost all my competitors and have many good friends in the industry (digital menu boards). I learned several things, but one stood out more than the others.

Everyone wants to be unique, and we all promote our product differences and unique advantages to set us apart from our competitors. That was easy to do with the old traditional boards because we all had slightly different manufacturing methods, methods of displaying the content and unique designs. The boards were designed and built from scratch, and so we could use our design and manufacturing advantages to set our products apart.

This is much more difficult to do with digital menu boards because the hardware is much more generic. When I walk down the show aisles, all the digital boards look exactly the same to me. The only noticeable differences are in the content. However, every supplier promotes their unique differences and advantages. A great example of this is one supplier offered a choice of decorative frames that could be placed over the LCD display to make it look different. If you are a prospective customer you have to ask yourself, "How can they all be different and all be the best?"

The answer is there is very little difference, if any, between each supplier's digital boards. There are slight differences in the quality of the displays used, features of the software, capabilities of the players and ease of use, but all suppliers have access to the same or equal components and can assemble the components any way the customer wants. The only real difference is the capability of the supplier to assemble these components in manner that best meets the customer's needs and provide the best service.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Roger van Maris
    89724345
    Thanks for the commentary Scott.
    I agree if you are talking cosmetics of hardware, yes it is difficult to differentiate hardware, I have seen some users tack on traditional POS to the frames to add dimension, lenticular covers to make it 3D, etc, but yes hardware is hardware.

    However to say there is little difference under the hood...... is a bit of an overstatement. Software solutions are diverse with hugely varied functionality. Differentiation for an end user comes from their use of that advanced functionality. It is up to the supplier to ensure their client is using their product to the best advantage, and in the most creative way possible.
  • Roger van Maris
    89724294
    Thanks for the commentary Scott.
    I agree if you are talking cosmetics of hardware, yes it is difficult to differentiate hardware, I have seen some users tack on traditional POS to the frames to add dimension, lenticular covers to make it 3D, etc, but yes hardware is hardware.

    However to say there is little difference under the hood...... is a bit of an overstatement. Software solutions are diverse with hugely varied functionality. Differentiation for an end user comes from their use of that advanced functionality. It is up to the supplier to ensure their client is using their product to the best advantage, and in the most creative way possible
  • Howard Baldwin
    89707531
    Roger has a point about the back-end capabilities of the signage’s software, but the issue is even more complicated. To Scott’s original conclusion – “the only real difference is the capability of the supplier to assemble these components in [a] manner that best meets the customer's needs and provide the best service” – I would elaborate further.

    How easy is the signage to manage? Can it be done centrally to ensure common and consistent messaging and to offload retailers and others from having to manage the signage? What kind of network bandwidth do you need? Should you consider setting up a hosted solution from a third-party provider to ensure reliability and ease maintenance issues for the retailer?

    HughesNet Enterprise Solutions, among other networking and hosted solutions vendors, focuses on retailing and convenience store deployments. Learn more about its back-end services for digital signage and more in this backgrounder: http://bit.ly/kq3rzV

    About me: http://bit.ly/joTUJh.
  • Peter Lamelas
    89523944
    Which was the company that made the frames that fit over the LCD display?
  • John david Hutton
    89515423
    I don't agree at all with this article, especially for larger networks, but I think at first glance this is the common first impression. On a tiny network you can purchase some cheap screens and have a worker manage them when they have some extra time and poof, digital menuboard. The difficulty is in networks larger than tiny. Questions like the below aren't just "nice to haves" but directly affect the bottom line in multiple ways across multiple departments within an organization:

    - How easy is it to manage a small, medium & large network with hundreds and thousands of players, each running multiple screens with different layouts?
    - How much versatility is there in user roles and how can each role be managed to limit access to approved functionality in the software?
    - How easily may screens be monitored & audited by user roles who have permissions to do so?
    - How may changes be implemented and how quickly can those changes be pushed?
    - How does the system handle problem networks, such as broadband and wifi powered networks?
    - How automated (scheduling, tasks management, etc.) may a system be to cut down on technical support, maintenance contracts & cost?
    - How versatile is the software and can it be ran on a wide variety of hardware?
    - Does the design of the software lend itself to controlling devices easily, such as attached screens, sound systems and extra peripherals (like cams)?
    - How is information localized so that each store's settings, prices, scheduling and content be easily controlled from multiple user roles with permission?
    - How versatile are the screen layouts and the types of content that may play (and play at the same time)?
    - How dynamic is the content, so that information may be altered without re-rendering content files and wasting bandwidth pushing them to many players across the network (and increasing content creation costs in change orders)?
    - How well does the software mash up with existing software, like POS systems, social networks, internal doc servers such as wikis, etc.?
    - How much time does it take to author content for a system and how specific does the skillset need to be (using industry-standard or company-specific tools)?
    - How easy is it to find content within the system and how error-prone is the software designed to allow inexperienced users to push the wrong content?
    - May content be scheduled and automated in such a way that it can be deployed to players well in advance, yet won't play until it's supposed to, without human interaction?

    The list goes on and on ...
  • Roger van Maris
    89513360
    I agree with you Peter.

    But again, I believe Scotts article revolves around the cosmetics of the hardware..... At least I certainly hope so!!!! if not then there is some serious education required. Feel free to stop by and see us at infocom, or on the web www.fourwindsinteractive.com we would be happy to share our view point. ( I know! shameless plug, but at least I was not the first in this thread.)

    Scott, IF when you refer to "....there is very little difference, if any, between each supplier's digital boards......." you mean there is little difference between an NEC 55" and a LG 55"......Well I believe there definitely is, as would NEC and LG (I would love to get them in the room and have you tell them that there isnt ;) ) But ultimately to the consumer?? Likely not much cosmetic difference.

    So the question becomes, what determines the uniqueness of a digital sign, and to which stakeholder.

    Is it;
    - the Hardware,
    - the Software or,
    - the content.

    and unique to;
    - the viewer
    - the network manager
    - the IT manager

    Generalizations are risky at the best of times, and can stir a lot of debate, perhaps that is what you were going for.

    Thanks again.
  • Howard Baldwin
    89279466
    John, your list of questions is terrific -- very thorough. Thanks for sharing them.

    About me: http://bit.ly/joTUJh.
  • Scott Sharon
    89195237
    Peter, I'm sorry it took me so long to answer your question about the decorative frames. I saw them at the NRA show provided by Mainstreet Menu Systems and I saw them at the InfoComm11 show but I don't remember the name of the company.

    I actually expected more controversy than received from this blog because it's a sensitive issue. I'm sure many don't bother to respond.
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Vertigo Group USA president Scott Sharon has decades of experience in the sign and menu board industry, and nearly another decade in digital signage. He’s a longtime proponent of, and innovator in, expanding the deployment of digital menu boards in QSRs.
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