Tech Updates

This section will use to present you Digital Signage technological updates, such as:

* Release notes * Tips and tricks * Android updates
* Updates * How to? * Android new hardware
* Technical services over NoviSign system

How to build a video wall?

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A video wall is actually a two or more TV displays, assembled together to form either a complete single large screen or a splitted large screen, or a group of screens which each one shows more than one input. Sometimes, a bunch of TVs showing the same content at the same time (like what you see in electrical depots) is also considered as a video wall.

When using NoviSign digital signage software on your Windows, Android or Chrome OS devices, you can form a video wall in one of 3 ways which I will specify in this technical post:

1) Using a video wall switcher

The switcher is also known as “matrix switcher” or “switch” or “splitter” or “controller” or “video wall processor”. This is the most simple video wall implementation. The video wall switcher is a device (bigger than a TV box) that can take input from one or more video feeds (usually by HDMI port). The switcher will then split the video signal into multiple outputs (each one goes to a simple TV display). Depending on the video wall switcher, you can set your output to different formats: Example: 2 x 2, 3 x 3, 4 x 4, 4 x 1, or else. Some video wall switchers can show you 2 or 4 video inputs on each of your TV displays. A good switcher we tried was of Kramer Electronics, which has branches at 35 countries in the world. Also, another interesting solution is by a company called Userful, which has unique video wall combinations. Of course, you can use other video wall hardware solutions, together with your NoviSign based mini PC / TV box / dongle. Usually, a switcher is an expensive hardware, but does the job very well.
Video wall switcher

2) Using professional TV displays

For this option (which is also known as “Daisy chain” or “chaining displays”), you need to purchase industrial and/or professional TV displays, which cost 2 or 3 times more than a simple TV display. Professional digital signage displays have built-in features to allow you creating video walls. This is done by connecting one screen to another through HDMI, DVI or DisplayPort. This process is called daisy chaining, since the displays are like one chain: the 1st one is connected to the 2nd one, the 2nd one is connected to the 3rd one, the 3rd one is connected to the 4th one and so on. You can have 2 or more TVs like that in this constellation. Your NoviSign based mini PC / TV box / dongle will be connected to the 1st display. Each display TV should be configured according to its position on the video wall.
Chaining professional TV displays

3) Using NoviSign sync feature

This option is unique to NoviSign. The synchronization feature allows you to synchronize the clock of multiple separate units (which can be an assortment of Android, Windows or ChromeOS players). Each unit is connected to a simple TV display. One of the synched units will act as an NTP server that sends time pluses every minute to all the other units. The main advantage of this option is that you can put a different playlist in each synched unit, in order to display something which is made of different content (like a sentence, in which each word appears on a different screen). Another important advantage of this option is the resolution: while in the 2 above options, you are limited to the maximum screen resolution supported by the TV box which is connected to the video wall (which is probably not more than 4K, which is 3840 x 2160; on a 2 x 2 video wall each TV will have a resolution of a portion of the original content, i.e. 1920 x 1080 and on a 4 x 4 video wall each TV will have a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels, which might look pixelated or blur on big TVs). In this option you are not limited like that: each TV box is independent, that means you can have a video of 7680 x 1080 pixel (which cannot be played by any TV box, due to its high resolution), then cut it (using a cropping software tool like Movavi) into 4 different 1920 x 1080 videos (which any TV box which supports full HD resolution can display), which will be used in 4 different creatives / playlists to be displayed synchronized, each one one on each of the 4 different TV boxes.
There are 2 disadvantages to this options: a. if the network stops working or no communication to the NTP server, the units may get out of synchronization after awhile; b. you can use only single slide playlist, which has a slideshow widget with multiple slides (videos, images, text) within. Playlist with more than one slide won’t work.
To use this option, please refer to this user guide.
Synchronized separate units

Other interesting options

Other options can be using a Chromebox that plays NoviSign app and shows the same content on 2 different displays (by connecting the 1st display TV to the HDMI port of the Chromebox and connecting the 2nd display TV to the DisplayPort of the Chromebox). This can be done also in Windows miniPC with more than one HDMI port. You can also use an extended display (only when using a Windows TV box of 8GB RAM, strong processor and more than one HDMI port) to run the NoviSign app in more than once instance on the same player, when each app instance is broadcasted to a different display (see this post, under the title “How to run the native Windows app in extended displays?”). Please notice that using videos in this case will look good on not more than 2 displays.

Nir.

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How to convert a WMV video file to be MP4 (AVC format) to work well on Minix Neo U1?

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In some cases, you might experience full screen black flashes in Minix Neo U1, due to buggy hardware or a driver that may be buggy (like almost all Mali 450 devices).

Minix Neo U1This post will show you how to convert any video file to be MP4 (AVC format) that will work well on Minix Neo U1, without any black flash.

Also, please notice that most of the phenomenon may be prevented by choosing the right settings in the Android advanced settings. For that, access the advanced settings of the Android and there, set the “Self-adaptive refresh rate switching” (under the “Display” menu) from “Level2″ to “Off”.

1) Download and install the Avidemux 2.6 convertor app (here is a link).
2) Open the Avidemux program.
3) Click the “File” menu item, then “Open” and choose the WMV video file.
4) Under the “Video Output” block of settings, in the left, in the dropdown list, choose “Mpeg4 AVC (x264)”.
5) This will enable the 2 next options. Press the “Configure” button, which is below that dropdown list.
6) In the popup menu, in the “General” tab, uncheck the “Use advanced configuration”.
7) In the “Preset” dropdown list, choose “medium” speed.
8) In the “Profile” dropdown list, choose “high” speed.
9) In the “IDC Level” dropdown list, choose “3” level.
10) Press “Ok” and the popup window will be closed.
11) Under the “Output Format” block of settings, in the first dropdown list, choose “MP4v2 Muxer”, in order to get an MP4 output file.
12) Press Ctrl + S to convert the file, give it a name in the path you’d like it to be created and then press the “Save” button.
13) The converted MP4 file will be created in the path which you choose.

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Digital signage meets IoT

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Novisign software is cooperating with SignageIoT.com (RFID readers) to bring cost effective sensors that work seamless with signage. Internet of Things is sensors, RFID reader and tags and much much more. In this post, we would like to bring to your attention a new RFID reader which costs not more than 200 USD.

NoviSign already made integration between the digital signage software (on Android or Chrome OS devices) and USB RFID readers. Now, we have found an affordable RFID reader (!), sold by SignageIoT.

The integration between the digital signage app and the RFID reader can be used in several use cases. Here are 2:

RFID reader IoTA) Product information by chip/tag attached to each product on the shelf.
Putting the product on the reader, will trigger a signage slide that:
– Can share specific vital information of the product.
– Can offer other related products.
– Shows safety instructions and more.

B) Employee card – at the entrance of the building.
Attaching the employee card to the reader, will trigger a signage slide that:
– Can greet the employee for his birthday and holidays.
– Shows the employee task statuses.
– Brings to the screen inter-organizational communication.

Here is a video demonstrating 2 use cases of combining RFID reader by SignageIoT and an Android TV box running NoviSign digital signage software:

Go get your RFID reader!
Gadi.

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What should you do when you spot a black screen?

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Well, the most scary thing in digital signage is a black screen that appears on the display (reminds me of the blue screen of death of Microsoft Windows). You think your customers watch digital signage, while in fact they see a black screen :-(
So what to do? First of all, do not be in panic. Whether you have an Android, Windows or ChromeOS signage device, everything has a rational explanation. In this post, I’ll try to guide you of what 10 steps should you take in order to resolve the problem and dig to the root cause of the phenomenon.

Digital signage black screen

1. Take a look at the TV display: does the black screen replaces (pay attention to the duration) a slide in your playlist or is it permanent (that means, replacing the whole playlist)?

2. If it’s replacing a specific slide, there might have been a download problem with that slide. The setting called “Skip incomplete slides” should omit an uncompleted slide.

3. To be sure, you can always check the Monitoring & Reports tool (https://reports.novisign.com), look at the Device Monitor, especially at the “Download Status” column, to see if the last download was completed or not.

4. In some cases, when you have a single slide playlist and you get a permanent black screen, the reason might be an error or missing element which makes the slide “incomplete” and since the default settings include “Skip incomplete slides” set to “on”, it will skip the slide. But because there are no other slides to show, it will show a black screen instead. You can clear the app’s cache (from the cache control in the settings), which will force the app to download all the media again (might be helpful in case of corrupted media file).

5. I warmly suggest to set the “Display notifications” setting to “on”, so if there is an error message, you’ll be able to see it on screen (some error messages might appear only for few seconds). Just bear in mind, that once the trouble is over, put it back in “off”, as you do not want the people that see the signage to meet any error or notification message.

6. In some cases, maybe the device froze or the app got stuck. Connect a mouse to the signage device and try to move the mouse cursor. If it doesn’t move, your signage device is frozen. If it does, try to stop the app by existing the running playlist (yes, black screen counts as “running playlist”) and start playing it again. A good example for this can be trying to run 4K videos on a device which has only full HD screen resolution – it will freeze after a while.

7. Check if the device is on. If the device is off, then of course you’ll have a black screen. The device sleep mode should be turned to off to prevent this. Also, the app should be set to start running the playlist automatically when it is started (if it’s Windows app, make sure that the app’s shortcut is in the startup folder, so the app will start when the Windows starts). A good example is using a Chrome OS device (such as Chromebox) not in kiosk mode (kiosk mode means that the device should run a dedicated app 24/7) – which will turn off the device within 24 hours to save power.

8. Did you check if the TV display is on? In some cases, due to power saving feature, a TV might turn itself off or enter sleep mode to save power, while the device signage is still up and running, playing your digital signage software. If the TV is off, turn it on and see if something appear on the screen. If yes, it means you need to adjust your TV settings to prevent the sleep mode.

9. Better take a look at your online Studio account, take a look at the creatives which construct this playlist and see if there is anything unusual in them (i.e. using SWF or FLV video files, when displaying on Android device, while you should use MP4 files in this case).

10. Send an email to our support team (support@novisign.com). We will do our best to resolve the black screen issue as fast as we can.

Nir

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Weather forecast is available

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Recently, we have upgraded the apps and the online Studio. We have fixed some bugs and added a weather forecast feature to the weather widget:

  1. The weather forecast was added as a new property of the weather widget. You can choose up to 6 days ahead.
  2. In the clock widget you can now set a day + offset, which is very useful for the weather forecast.
  3. Added 6 more templates for the weather widget (2 for 16 x9, 2 for 16:10 and 2 for 4:3).
  4. Fixed few bugs, including the errors which appeared on Chrome OS devices, when using more than one video widget on the screen.

 
Forecast weather templates of digital signage
 
Online Studio v4.3.1-0-79

  • The weather forecast is a property of the weather widget. It can be set to “current” (now), “today” (the rest of the current day), “tomorrow”, “+2 days”, “+3 days”, “+4 days”, “+5 days” and “+6 days”.
  • In the clock widget you can now choose 2 new time formats: “EEEE” and “EEE”. The first one will show you the day in the week (i.e. Monday), while the second one will show you a short name for that (i.e. Mon). But that’s not all: you also have the “Offset” property, which can be set to “none” or “+1 day”, “+2 days”, etc. This way, you can put a weather forecast for “+3 days” and above it, the clock widget, to show the day in the week of that day (clock set to “+3 days” offset).

Forecast weather feature of digital signage    Clock offset feature
 
Player Apps

  • Native Android player app v4.3.70-0-74 – Added support for the weather forecast feature and bug fixes.
  • Native Windows player app v4.3.72-0-74 – Added support for the weather forecast feature.
  • Chrome OS player app v4.3.70-0-74 – Added support for the weather forecast feature and bug fixes (i.e. the error in the video widget, when using multiple video widgets in the same creative).

Kiosk based over digital signage software

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NoviSign’s kiosk is hardware agnostic. With NoviSign you can choose your favorite hardware vendor with your favorite OS platform (either Chrome OS, Android or Windows) and the display size to establish your kiosk.

The new way of having a kiosk is not like using the webpage widget as an interactive kiosk (as we did before). It is by using the touch popup window or triggering 3rd party app.
If a person touches the screen we can either:
1) Start interactive activity (call an online webview by URL).
2) Trigger an APK (in Android) or EXE (in Windows).
In each case, after some defined inactivity time, the device will revert to the signage playlist.

A nice live example for this is the integration we did with Spreo way finding app, see this post.

Easy and simple.
Gil.

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Dashboard, filter and much more in the reports

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Recently, our Monitoring & Reports tool went into a couple of changes (version 1.6.5-3).
We have added a clickable dashboard, in which you can click any of the categories, which will bring you into a filtered player monitor. The dashboard contains concentrated essential data in a one place.

Reports dashboard

Name changing:
Logical Player Monitor” has now become “Screen Monitor” (as it shows screens as defined in your online Studio account).
Physical Player Monitor” has now become “Device Monitor” (as it shows physical devices which may have the same screen key).
Players Availability Report” has now become “Screens Availability Report” (this is the history reports of the screens out there).
Players Performance Report” has now become “Devices Performance Report” (shows media information which was set to collect statistics at physical players which might even have the same screen key).

Reports module

Now you can resize the table columns in all of the reports.
Also, you can filter, by clicking the little filter icon, which is left to the CSV export button (remember that the exported CSV has much more data than what you see in the monitor? i.e. app version, OS type, OS version, etc.).

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Minix Neo X68-i vs. Minix Neo U9-h

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Minix Neo X68-i vs. U9-h
Well, Minix released a new announcement on their Facebook yesterday: It seems that a new product is coming: Minix Neo U9-h. Not to mention that only recently a new other model was born: Minix Neo X68-i.

So, what’s new?

Minix Neo X68-i looks like the good old Minix Neo X7 (same box size) and also has 2GB RAM, 16GB storage, but this one came with support for 4K screen resolution, ability for auto-start (setting it in the Android settings, rather than opening the TV box with a screwdriver as we used to do with the X7) and support for screen rotation (which saves us the flashing custom firmware process – which we had to do with the Minix X7). The new one was dual band, as well with octa core processor (the X7 was merely quad core processor). With all these additions, they called it “i” – probably for “industrial” (to justify the high cost of 170 USD! and brand it as a higher quality for non-home usage). Still, the X7-i is my best choice for digital signage Android player.

The new Minix Neo U9-h (if “i” was standing for “industrial”, I suspect that “h” stands for “home”), looks like a version of the X68-i, rather than a new version of the Neo U1. Same features, I suppose. I’m not sure about the existence of auto-start soft-setting and support for screen rotation, as this one comes with Android Marshmallow and not Android Lollipop as the X68-i. Even if it doesn’t have it now, I guess that in the near future a custom firmware with these features for U9-h will pop up in the Minix forum or somewhere out there.

It’s too fresh, hence I haven’t got a chance to put my hand on the U9-h, but that will happen soon, as only recently I got my first X68-i.

Way to go, Minix!

The Dude.

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Synchronizing units, remotely setting configuration and SSL

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Recently, we have upgraded the apps and the online Studio. We have added some powerful features:

  1. SSL encryption support (https) for the online Studio (we already had it in the Monitoring & Reports tool).
  2. Ability to remotely set a specific configuration to any player of yours. We also call it “remote config”. Now, you do not need to visit the venue, in order to change the settings of our app which is installed on your player devices. You can do it directly from the online Studio!
  3. Ability to synchronize separate units, like you do in certain types of video wall. That means you can have your screens show the same slide on the same time, but from different units (Android and/or Windows and/or Chrome OS), or combine a video or a sentence of a couple of words which will appear on the same time over different screens (please watch the video below, to understand the power of the new “sync feature”).

 
Following is a video, demonstrating the new sync feature:

Online Studio v4.2.80-0-68

  • Supports SSL encryption for better security for NoviSign users. Partners who wish to use SSL encryption in their own subdomain will need to purchase SSL license and pay for the implementation.
  • Remote configuration – we moved the “Groups” tab to be under the “Players” tab. Now, under the “Players” tab, you can find 3 sub-tabs: “Players”, “Groups” and “Configurations”. The “Players” table has a new column called “Config”.

    Players new tab
    It is supposed to show you if there is an assigned configuration to this player. The “Groups” table is the same as it was. The “Configurations” is new: on that sub-tab, you can add, edit or delete a configuration, which is actually a list of player app settings. So, how do you assign a configuration settings to a player or a couple of players? In the, “Players” sub-tab, just check the checkbox of the players you wish to add them an existing configuration (that means, that first, you have to create at least one configuration) and then right-click the mouse on any of them. A popup window will appear, you need to choose the “Set Configuration” option, then choose the configuration you like (by checking it) and press “OK”. Changing or removing a configuration from a player is done in the same way. If you remove a configuration from a certain player, without assigning it another configuration, it will retain the settings it already has. Player apps support this feature starting from version 4.3.59.

    Create configuration
  • Synchronizing feature – this feature requires only the upgrade of your player apps (either Android or Windows or Chrome OS) to v4.3.59. You also need to have an NTP server in the venue, which will synchronize the clock of all the units which you’ll turn on this feature in them. click this link to get the user guide of how to install the NTP server and apply the sync feature.

Player Apps

  • Native Android player app v4.3.59-0-62 – Added support for remote configuration settings and ability to synchronize the clock for the new sync feature.
  • Native Windows player app v4.3.59-0-62b – Added support for remote configuration settings and ability to synchronize the clock for the new sync feature.
  • Chrome OS player app v4.3.59-0-62 – Added support for remote configuration settings and ability to synchronize the clock for the new sync feature.
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Minix Neo X7-i and Auto-Start

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Minix Neo X7-i auto start
In digital signage, in most cases, 24/7 is a must. Power failures may happen and in some place they just plug off the power when they close the place in the evening. This means you need your digital signage player be able to wake itself up, or “auto start” itself.

Some Android players (especially dongles) do not have a power on/off button, so once you connect them to the power or when the electricity is back – they are turned on.

The problem is with devices which do have an on/off button: many of the TV boxes, such as the TV boxes of Minix Neo series, do have that button. So, how do they get the auto-start ability? In case of Minix, you can, physically, open the the box, remove the board and change a jumper there to the auto-start mode (as can be done in Minix Neo X7, using this procedure). Some of the Minix TV boxes, such as the Minix Neo X6 do not have the ability to be jumpered to auto-start, that is we find them not so good for digital signage. Some devices may be ordered from the manufacturer when they are already set to auto-start, as the Minix Neo X7i (make sure of that, when you place your order).

In some other devices, one can set the auto-power by software, that means in the Android settings.

All in all, no matter which signage player will you use, before you go to pick one, better check if it has the auto-start ability.

Dima.

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