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» Film-Tech Forum   » Operations   » Ground Level   » Digital Signage Program (Page 1)

 
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Author Topic: Digital Signage Program
Dennis Benjamin
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1402
From: Denton, MD
Registered: Feb 2002


 - posted 11-10-2015 08:11 PM      Profile for Dennis Benjamin   Author's Homepage   Email Dennis Benjamin   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
After 6 months of hard work, I've co-developed a digital sign program that can work with most Movie Theatre P.O.S. software (at least three that I've tested so far). When I started the project, it was mostly was for the theatres within the company I work for. It was a reaction to the absolute astronomical pricing out there from the various companies that I had received quotes from and the current money we were spending with a certain movie theatre mylar company. The advantages of the program I've helped develop are:

(1) Extreme Lost cost hardware (media players)
(2) Low monthly and/or yearly rates
(3) The ability to control the box office showtime sign from a web based GUI (including images and show schedule file)
(4) Auditorium signs that would not require network connectivity (Meaning no running of CAT5 cable!) and can quickly be changed if you have to move a film to a different auditorium.
(5) Access to web server with HD graphics for film titles
(6) Ability to request/create custom sign graphics for special shows and/or titles

The reason I am posting on here about it is: Do you think there is a market for this product? This was a solution to a problem that I encountered, and I refused to be at the mercy of the companies that want to charge an ridiculous amount of money for their products that I consider inferior. Additionally, I researched the amount of money that we were spending on mylars and was blown away on the yearly cost (it's one thing to see those weekly invoices, it's quite another to see how much you are spending yearly!). So I am considering offering it to other independent theatre owners, what do you think?

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Bobby Henderson
"Ask me about Trajan."

Posts: 10640
From: Lawton, OK, USA
Registered: Apr 2001


 - posted 11-11-2015 12:14 PM      Profile for Bobby Henderson   Email Bobby Henderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
There is definitely a market for Point Of Sale sign software and digital sign products for movie theaters and many other kinds of businesses. But it's not an easy thing to tackle.

Which systems are you comparing the setup you co-developed against?

The hardware is one thing. It's one thing to make it low cost, but it has to be durable. Some environments are very rough for electronics, such as fast food restaurants. The systems are going to be running all the time and expected to run at least several years.

I like being able to connect digital signs via a mac address filtered WiFi setup. We do this with some LED-based electronic variable message center setups using directional radios. Just about all use some kind of radio communication. It's rare we have to run CAT5 or fiber optic connections.

The biggest hurdle: content. That's the thing that goofs it up for most small businesses. Somebody has to create the messages, graphic design, video, etc. to play on these displays. There is a big learning curve there for the average person, and that's just for non-interactive stuff. If the digital signs, kiosk displays, menu boards, etc. are interactive or correspond with web content then a bunch of scripting can come into play. For most small businesses if they buy a digital sign system they have to rely at least in some part on 3rd parties for content creation services. Bigger businesses might be able to design/develop that stuff in house.

We sell a lot of LED signs from Daktronics and mainly use their Venus 1500 software to control them. It's easy enough for most people to be able to use and can do a lot of basic things. For more complex video or graphics effects it becomes necessary to use apps like Photoshop or After Effects and generate AVI or MP4 files from the animated layouts.

Regarding mylars, I'm not surprised they would be expensive. They're specialty products that have to be printed in a certain manner so the image doesn't wash out when back-lit. The imagery also has to be customized to fit a variety of auditorium signs in different sizes and proportions.

Very little in large format printing is what I would consider cheap. Our "consumables" (vinyls, laminates, inks, etc.) is pretty expensive, especially when buying materials that are worth a damn and tailored to the project. It's funny to see some idiot shop try to wrap a vehicle using cheap vinyl when they should have used 3M or Arlon vehicle wrap grade vinyl. The wrap falls apart after a few months.

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Dennis Benjamin
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1402
From: Denton, MD
Registered: Feb 2002


 - posted 11-11-2015 12:56 PM      Profile for Dennis Benjamin   Author's Homepage   Email Dennis Benjamin   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Bobby,

Most of the major Movie Theatre P.O.S. companies offer a digital signage "package" if you use their P.O.S. system. However, the disadvantage of it - is that is extremely expensive. I imagine that some Independent operators do not have the budget for the "Set-up" costs and the yearly fees they charge. I also think that the Independent operators feel like that have no other choice but to use the one they get offered from their P.O.S. vendor.
With the system I have come up with (we've been field testing for 6 months)- it is co-designed by a theatre operator and built in such a way that the owner/operator has more control over their own individual system. No more calling an 800 number to report that their signs did not update because they had to drop a show. They also can change their auditorium signs fairly easy if they have to move a show around (again, no waiting for the signs to update). Another major positive point, which I can guarantee no other vendor can offer: No need to run CAT 5 cable up and down the hallways and back to the manager office to use the auditorium signs (all of the Sign vendors require a hard wire configuration that I have dealt with in this business).
As far as hardware reliability: Again, the actual hardware devices have been built and tested extensively. I have had several devices running in the field for two years with no issues (running different software).
One thing to keep in mind though: This system is actually designed strictly for movie theatres. While I am sure they could be used in other applications, this was done from the ground up to be used in movie theatres specifically.

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Bobby Henderson
"Ask me about Trajan."

Posts: 10640
From: Lawton, OK, USA
Registered: Apr 2001


 - posted 11-11-2015 04:13 PM      Profile for Bobby Henderson   Email Bobby Henderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
When it comes to digital signs for individual auditoriums, I usually see LED-based, text only displays incorporated into an auditorium label sign. I often see the same thing in the ticket booth. They're usually monochrome displays with either Red or Amber LEDs.

I know Daktronics makes LED displays for that purpose for some theater chains. Time-O-Matic/WatchFire and some other companies may also do that as well. I don't know the details how one would dove-tail the operation of those signs directly into theater POS software. But I do know dedicated message center software for those kinds of signs is pretty easy to set up and operate.

If we're talking about signs that use flat screen TV monitors as the sign display then it's an entirely different situation with much greater data demands, learning curve for users, etc.

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Dennis Benjamin
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1402
From: Denton, MD
Registered: Feb 2002


 - posted 11-13-2015 01:32 PM      Profile for Dennis Benjamin   Author's Homepage   Email Dennis Benjamin   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Here are two images from our beta test. We will be installing a theatre with vertical monitors next month and will be using actual poster images. The box sign here is for a four screen theatre, but the program can display up to 24 titles without a problem.

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Ken Lackner
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1873
From: Atlanta, GA, USA
Registered: Sep 2001


 - posted 11-13-2015 02:32 PM      Profile for Ken Lackner   Email Ken Lackner   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Dennis,

How are you getting the images to the auditorium displays without network connectivity? "No running of CAT5 cable!" could mean that it's all done over WiFi, except for the fact that WiFi is a type of network connectivity and you say "would not require network connectivity."

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Justin Hamaker
Film God

Posts: 2066
From: Lakeport, CA USA
Registered: Jan 2004


 - posted 11-13-2015 03:20 PM      Profile for Justin Hamaker   Author's Homepage   Email Justin Hamaker   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I created an internal sign system for my company, so I can definitely say there would be a market for a low cost system for independent theatres.

My system is basically web pages built with PHP and MySQL. We have an internal computer working as our sign server which is running Apache and MySQL. We don't have a real time feed from our POS system, but we import times via an XML feed from our POS system.

We opted for a more minimalist approach with regard to movie graphics because it gave us space to have more information and display information in a less confusing manner.

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Scott Norwood
Film God

Posts: 7929
From: Boston, MA. USA (1774.21 miles northeast of Dallas)
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 11-13-2015 05:34 PM      Profile for Scott Norwood   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Norwood   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Where does one get digital copies of the artwork for films that can be used for this sort of system? Is there a place online to download high-res movie artwork?

(Sorry to hijack this thread...I know next to nothing about digital signage.)

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Justin Hamaker
Film God

Posts: 2066
From: Lakeport, CA USA
Registered: Jan 2004


 - posted 11-13-2015 06:58 PM      Profile for Justin Hamaker   Author's Homepage   Email Justin Hamaker   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Scott, the single best place I've found for a non-subscritpion service is IMP Awards (Internet Movie Poster). You can also find stuff on IMDb and Comingsoon.net.

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Scott Norwood
Film God

Posts: 7929
From: Boston, MA. USA (1774.21 miles northeast of Dallas)
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 11-13-2015 08:09 PM      Profile for Scott Norwood   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Norwood   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
That movie poster site is great; thanks!

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David Buckley
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 520
From: Oxford, N. Canterbury, New Zealand
Registered: Aug 2004


 - posted 11-14-2015 03:57 AM      Profile for David Buckley   Author's Homepage   Email David Buckley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
If one wants to do digital signage to LCD panels, then there are a number of commercial digital signage offerings and the open source Xibo, which, because its both free and good, is a very widely used system and has been around for some years.

Xibo 1.8, in beta now, stable release out soon will feature a full API, so an easy solution would be to do the general layouts in Xibo, and then a bit of shim code to link the POS to Xibo API for updating stuff.

Xibo, like make digital signage systems, uses a content management system, that runs on the LAMP or WAMP (ie on your office PC) stacks,and has a windows based player, which can be a small PC that goes on the VESA bracket on the back of the LCD telly.

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Dennis Benjamin
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1402
From: Denton, MD
Registered: Feb 2002


 - posted 11-14-2015 06:14 AM      Profile for Dennis Benjamin   Author's Homepage   Email Dennis Benjamin   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Ken,
The media device that is attached to the auditorium monitor has a USB port. You download the artwork onto the USB drive, then plug into the USB drive. If you have to move a movie title to a different auditorium, you simply swap the USB stick. Currently, we provide the artwork to other theatre locations through a Google Drive account. They just log in and download the artwork they need.

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Ken Lackner
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1873
From: Atlanta, GA, USA
Registered: Sep 2001


 - posted 11-16-2015 09:54 AM      Profile for Ken Lackner   Email Ken Lackner   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I know you're a huge Raspberry Pi fan. Is that by any chance what you're using? If so, and one wanted to run network cables or provide wi-fi, could graphics be delivered that way?

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Dennis Benjamin
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1402
From: Denton, MD
Registered: Feb 2002


 - posted 11-16-2015 10:19 AM      Profile for Dennis Benjamin   Author's Homepage   Email Dennis Benjamin   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Ken,

Absolutely. The issue with using WI-FI is that movie theatres are typically very large with a lot of steel (and other things that cause interference). Repeaters or multiple routers can get expensive and complicated. Also, having to go back and run CAT5 or CAT6 through an existing building can be labor intensive, time consuming, and expensive.

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Frank Cox
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1862
From: Melville Saskatchewan Canada
Registered: Apr 2011


 - posted 11-16-2015 11:17 AM      Profile for Frank Cox   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Cox   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
And having someone hoof it back and forth through the entire complex loading the data onto each individual device on a daily or even more frequent basis isn't labor intensive, time consuming, and expensive, not to mention error-prone?

With network cables you install them once, then program your signs without getting out of your chair.

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