The Buyer's Guide to Digital Signage Hardware: Pros, Cons and Potential

The master guide to digital signage options to help you make an informed decision.

Aug 2019

The Buyer's Guide to Digital Signage Hardware: Pros, Cons and Potential

Digital signage is everywhere. 

From the advertising billboard you see in your shopping mall, to the screens organizations use to surface crucial company information. If you’re looking to build your own digital signage network, you may be wondering how companies get from the point of deciding “let’s do it” to beautiful displays that seamlessly integrate with the tools and systems they already use.

In this guide we’ll show you how to choose the best digital signage hardware for your needs. 

Through six key sections, we’ll talk you through all of the components that make up a digital signage network like screens and media devices. We’ll share the pros, cons, and potential of each hardware option depending on content requirements, size of network, pricing, and limitations. 

If you don’t need an in-depth look at each hardware option and just want to find something quickly, use our hardware selector tool instead.

1. How to choose a digital signage screen

choosing a digital signage screen

There are many things to consider when choosing the best TV screen for your digital signage. What works for one person may not work for someone else. 

Your needs will be shaped by multiple factors, particularly your content and your location characteristics.

  • Are you setting up digital signage in a school with an enterprise level network, both large and small screen sizes, image, 4K video, and app content? Then you will need one type of solution. 
  • Are you setting up an advertisement network with screens in multiple out-of-office locations with the need for theft protection, remote device management, and the ability to play simple image and 1080p video content? Then you will need something quite different.

The better you understand your needs, the better you’ll be able to choose the correct screen size and type.

Covering every TV and monitor available would take a long time, and that’s what Google is for, so we’ll focus on the best signage devices and all-in-one solutions. 

Different screen types for digital signage 

When you think of digital signage, you might think of giant screens in Times Square or large screens showing information at an airport. But these aren’t your only options. Here are a couple of different screen types, and the best scenario for each: 

Tablets or iPads - best for scenarios that require a touch screen or kiosk setup or where the viewer is not far from the screen. For example, outside meeting rooms, in elevators, or next to products in supermarkets.

Monitors - best for a cost-effective way to show content on a screen. If you’re looking for anything 17-32 inches, it’s more economical to get a monitor. If you need a screen that’s 32 inches or more, you’re better off getting a TV.

Non-smart TVs - best for a budget-friendly large screen option. A non-smart TV is a bit like a dumb PC monitor in that it doesn’t have much power on its own and needs to be “made smart” by a media device, like a plugged in Amazon Fire TV Stick. But on the outside, these generally look as good as any other screen.

Smart TVs - best for an all-in-one solution, or where you don’t have the space or ability to hide away media devices. A smart TV is essentially a TV with built in computing capabilities and software. Operating systems might include Android TVs, Tizen TVs from Samsung, webOS TVs from LG and even some based on Windows or Linux.  However, when choosing a smart TV, it’s important to look at the specifications and performance. Many stunning smart TVs are surprisingly low performance or run on older versions of Android, like 4.4 KitKat which is more than five years old.

Do you need a commercial grade TV to run digital signage? 

Despite what many manufacturers tell you, you do not have to buy a commercial grade screen (one that you buy from a reseller or specialist partner) to be able to run digital signage. But there are reasons why you might choose one over a consumer grade screen (one you can buy from your local hardware store or on Amazon). Commercial screens are specifically designed for longer use periods. A consumer panel warranty may be voided if you use it 24/7 and it burns out, whereas a commercial panel is designed for that and almost expected to be “always on”. Commercial options are also often brighter, sharper, can handle more rigorous use cases, and won’t fade or burn from a few months of use. 

Saying that, the world is changing and, just like you might use an iPhone or a Windows PC at work (both consumer-grade devices), you can also build a very professional digital signage setup on a consumer grade TV. As we’ve seen firsthand, many enterprises are choosing to do this rather than forking out hundreds of thousands of dollars on hardware that has little additional benefit. 

Choosing a screen summary

Choosing a digital signage screen comparison table

2. Choosing a digital signage media device

Amazon Fire TV Stick vs Google Chromebit

When we talk about digital signage hardware, we’re usually talking about one of the following:

  • A media player device or “signage” device connected to a TV or monitor, turning what would otherwise be a regular TV or monitor into a smart, connected device, capable of being used for digital signage
  • A smart TV all-in-one device or tablet that has both a screen, the computing power, and operating system needed to be used for digital signage

Unless you have bought a smart TV where you know you can download your digital signage software directly (double check, this isn’t a given), you’ll need to add a media device to your package. 

Different digital signage screen requirements table

We looked at over 250 media devices from various major manufacturers to determine which ones are best suited to digital signage and why. We then split them up according to budget. 

Note: While there may be times that discontinued devices can be good value via refurbished deals, we didn’t list any here, focusing instead on new devices with full warranties.

Budget digital signage media devices ($30-$70)

There are some fantastic digital signage devices between $30-$70 that can transform your TV into a connected, smart TV capable of playing content up to 4K. The obvious advantage of devices in this category is price and while budget devices can’t do everything, there are some key devices that do all the basics well. 

A budget device might not be for you if:

  • You need a device capable of playing up 4K, as some devices only support 1080p.
  • You need a device that can store cached media content locally, as some devices are not designed to and do not come with much storage space.
  • You need enough power to support advanced apps or zoning (where a digital signage display is divided into multiple sections all showing different types of content), as some devices are not designed to.
  • Also check to see if the device you want is available in your region, as some devices are not available in all markets. 

The best devices in this category are Amazon’s Fire TV Sticks running the Android based Fire OS and Android media boxes.

Amazon Fire TV Devices

Amazon Fire TV devices

Amazon’s Fire TV Stick devices include the $39.99 2nd Generation Fire TV Stick, the $49.99 Fire TV Stick Basic Edition and the recently released $49.99 Fire TV Stick 4K.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences:

Fire TV Stick versions comparison table

Overall, Fire TV devices are easy to set up, have fast WiFi and official Ethernet adapters, connect via HDMI, and come with a one-year warranty. They work offline and support advanced apps, zones and kiosk mode but still aren’t really designed to store a lot of cached content. Amazon’s Manage Your Device features are also much more limited than Google’s Chrome Device Management platform (more on this later). 

Out of all of these devices, we recommend the Fire TV Stick 4K, as it hits the right balance of price and performance. If you aren’t in one of the six countries that the Fire TV Stick 4K is available in, then we recommend the Fire TV Stick Basic Edition.

Choose a Fire TV device if you want a high quality, affordable device that can stream all types of content in various configurations on your screen.

Android Media Boxes

Android TV box Chromecast alternative

There are also some good Android media boxes that are less than $70. We’ve tested and would recommend:

  • Tanix TX3 Mini
  • Mini M8S II
  • Nexbox A95X

All come with the Amlogic S905 SOC, 2GB of RAM, 8-16GB of storage space and at least Android 6.0. These sort of specs show what’s great about Android media boxes – they give you great bang for your buck, with enough power to handle just about anything you throw at them, including 4K content and lots of cached media. 

Pricing varies with many 3rd party online stores competing with each other, so make sure to look at different options since devices will often be on sale. Expect to pay between $40 and $70. Sometimes you can even find some of the mid-range Android media boxes we list above for sale under $70. 

These Android media boxes come with various ports, including HDMI and Ethernet, support advanced apps, zones and kiosk mode. But they don’t support the fastest AC WiFi or have remote management options as good as Chrome devices. Another downside of Android media boxes is that it’s hard to know which are best as they are made by various Chinese manufacturers that aren’t well known and haven’t yet proven their brand quality. Shipping is often available internationally, but there may be additional fees and warranty terms can be difficult to understand and claim. 

Choose an Android media box if you want an affordable device with a lot of power and you’re willing to research shipping, warranty, and other manufacturer-specific quirks.

Budget devices summary:

Budget media devices summary table

Mid-range digital signage media devices ($70-$150)

There are a lot of great options in the $70 to $150 price range, but only a few specific devices stand out when it comes to each operating system. You’ll find that devices at this price range have fewer missing features than budget devices and are generally more powerful, come with 4K support, and have a good amount of space for storage cached media.

When choosing a mid-range device, you’ll want to consider the following things:

  • With four different operating systems available in this price range, make sure to choose the OS that has support for the things you need, like remote device management features and network standards.
  • How much media do you want to store on your device’s cache? Devices in this range have between 8 and 32 GB of storage space, so pick the device that suits your needs. And bear in mind that you can’t use all of that storage space either. Usually only up to 50% of that space is available to use for media cache purposes. Check out this guide to get a better idea of what’s possible on different devices.
  • Check if the device you want is available in your region, as some devices are not available in all markets.
  • When buying an Android box in this price range, we recommend getting one with the Amlogic S912 chipset, as we’ve found it offers the most consistent performance.

The best devices in this category include Amazon’s Fire TV Cube running the Android-based Fire OS, the Asus Chromebit running Chrome OS, Windows powered PC sticks, and mid-range Android media boxes from various manufacturers. Let’s take a look at them.

Chrome OS Devices

ASUS Chromebit

The best Chrome OS device is this price range, ticking a lot of boxes, is the $119 Asus Chromebit CS10. 

Features of the Asus Chromebit:

  • Quad-core processor
  • Connection via HDMI
  • 16GB of storage
  • 2GB of RAM
  • Support for fast AC WiFi
  • Good remote device management in this category via Google’s Chrome Enterprise tools (NOTE: you’ll have to pay extra for this)

The downsides of the Chromebit are that it’s the only device in this category that doesn’t support past 1080p content, doesn’t have an official Ethernet adapter, and is only officially available in 12 countries (although available in more via 3rd party online stores).

It does support advanced apps, zones and kiosk mode though, and works offline – unlike cheaper Chrome OS devices – as well as comes with a one-year warranty.

Choose the Chromebit if you want a high quality, affordable Chrome OS device that can handle just about everything at 1080p and has good remote management features.

Amazon Fire TV Devices

Amazon Fire TV Cube

Amazon’s $119.99 Fire TV Cube is a very capable little device.

Features of the Amazon Fire TV Cube:

  • Support for 4K
  • A quad-core processor
  • Connection via HDMI
  • 16GB of storage
  • 2GB of RAM
  • Support for fast AC WiFi

The downside is that it’s only officially available in the US and doesn’t have as good remote device management features as the Chromebit. But it does come with a one-year warranty with the option to buy a two or three-year warranty package, which is rare in this range. There are also useful 3rd party mounts available. It also supports advanced apps, zones and kiosk mode, and works offline.

Get the Fire TV Cube if you want a relatively affordable 4K capable device with an easy to use interface and additional extras in the form of warranty options and mounts.

Windows Devices

Intel compute stick

Image source

Two Windows devices stand out at this price range: the $119.99 Intel Compute Stick STK1AW32SC and the $129 Asus VivoStick PC TS10.

They come with near identical specs including:

  •  4K support
  • Quad core Intel Atom processors
  • Connection via HDMI
  • 32GB of storage
  • 2GB of RAM
  • Support for fast AC WiFi

Windows is a great operating system for digital signage, but note that it can sometimes result in additional costs. These devices come with Windows 10 Home, which you may need to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro (or equivalent) to get the best out of remote device management features or kiosk mode. This is similar to the additional costs with Chrome OS devices and Google’s Chrome Enterprise Tools, but more pricey. 

These devices also come with a one-year warranty and, unlike other devices in this range, a security notch built in for theft protection. They also support advanced apps, zones, kiosk mode, and work offline.

Going head-to-head

We’d narrowly pick the Intel Compute Stick over the Asus VivoStick PC because of availability and Intel’s high quality support forums for issues. Get the Intel Compute Stick STK1AW32SC if you want a high quality, affordable Windows device that can handle just about everything at 4K, has solid remote management features, and the widest support for network standards.

Android Media Boxes

This range is where you’re going to get the best options in terms of Android media boxes. We’ve tested and would recommend the Tanix TX9 Pro, Minix NEO U9-H, and Nexbox A3. They all come with the Amlogic S912 SOC and boast an Octa-core processor, which is a bit better than the Amlogic S905 SOC more readily available in the $30-$70 range.

They also come with HDMI, 16-32GB of storage space, 2-3GB of RAM, at least Android 6.0, support for fast AC WiFi and, importantly, Ethernet ports, which are not as readily available on other devices in this range. These devices can handle just about any 4K content or cached media you throw at them.

Pricing varies, with many 3rd party online stores competing with each other, so make sure to look at different options as devices are often on sale. Expect to pay between $75 and $140.

These Android media boxes also support advanced apps, zones and kiosk mode but don’t have remote management options as good as Chrome or Windows devices. As we stated before, it can also be tricky to know which ones are best as they’re made by various Chinese manufacturers that aren’t well known and haven’t yet proven their brand quality. Shipping is often available internationally, but there may be additional fees, and warranty terms can be difficult to understand and claim. 

Choose an Android media box if you want a device with a lot of power and Ethernet ports, and you’re ready to research shipping, warranty, and other manufacturer-specific quirks.

Mid-range devices summary:

Mid-range devices comparison table

High-end digital signage devices ($150+)

As you get into more high-end devices that cost $150 and up, you’ll find that the key differentiator is processing power. Devices in this range will come with desktop class processors that are markedly better than the processors found in low and mid range devices. This ensures you can handle a wide range of use cases that require high levels of processing power and that your devices are more future proof.

When choosing a high-range digital signage device, you’ll want to consider the following things:

  • Amount of processing power. Devices in this category are for the most part powered by Intel processors, with Celeron, Core i3, and Core i5 processors all available for PC boxes. The mobile equivalent Core m3 and Core m5 processors are available for PC sticks. Choose a Celeron, Core i3 or m3 processor if you are more price conscious and a Core i5 or Core m5 processor if you want the most power and future proof device. There are also Core i7 models available, but these devices are more meant for personal computing needs so we haven’t listed them here. Core i5 processors are all you’ll need for digital signage.
  • Type of desktop class operating system. Each has specific pros and cons like license costs, remote device management features, and network standards. Your choice may very well come down to which OS is best for you.
  • Since devices in this range are more expensive, you may want theft protection features, secure mounts, and warranty options. 
  • Check to see if the device you want is available in your region. Some devices aren’t available in all markets.

Devices in this category include a wide variety of PC box and PC stick form factors running Chrome OS, macOS and Windows. Let’s take a look at the best options.

Chrome OS Devices

ASUS Chromebox

There are many manufacturers who’ve made a Chromebox at some point but currently Acer, Asus, and HP are the companies who seem the most committed to creating Chrome OS based PC boxes and have the most up-to-date offerings. You’ll find similar configurations across the board with your choice of dual core and quad core Celeron, Core i3 and Core i5 SOCs, HDMI, 32-64GB of storage space, 4-8GB of RAM, Ethernet, and support for fast AC WiFi. They can of course also handle 4K output.

Pricing varies, but expect to pay between $200 and $250 for Celeron options, around $425 for Core i3 options, and between $500 and $575 for Core i5 options. One-year warranty is provided with all these devices and feature support is as good as you’d expect.

As the Chrome OS devices in this price range are all very similar, it’s hard to recommend one over another, but we do think that Acer’s Chromebox CXI3 devices win by a small margin. Besides having a Kensington lock slot and being Vesa mount compatible like Asus’s and HP’s options, they also come with a built-in stand that allows for multiple placements. The Core i5 version also comes with a newer and more powerful i5 processor than the other options while still being affordable in comparison. They are only officially available in 18 countries though, which is not as good as some of the others.

Choose a Chromebox if you want a device with desktop class processing power and if you prefer Chrome OS with the options it provides for digital signage to other operating systems.

MacOS Devices

Apple Mac Mini

Currently, Apple only sells one digital signage capable device in this price range, the $499 Apple Mac Mini with a Core i5 SOC. It runs macOS and has HDMI, 500GB of storage, 4GB of RAM, Ethernet, support for fast AC WiFi, and 4K output. 

While that 500GB of storage may look like an advantage, it’s a slower HDD drive compared to the SSD drives from the other manufacturers in this price range, which we find a disadvantage overall. It also doesn’t come with a Kensington lock slot or Vesa mount compatibility, meaning you have to buy a 3rd party mount system to get theft protection. It’s available in over 100 countries though and some may prefer macOS to other operating systems for digital signage, with Apple’s deployment programs with mobile device management (MDM) a good option. Warranty can also be extended to three years at a fee, which is a good option.

Choose a Mac Mini if you want a device with desktop class processing power and if you prefer macOS and the options it provides for digital signage to other operating systems, and if you’re prepared to buy a 3rd party mount system to add theft protection should you need it.

Windows Devices

ASUS Mini PC

Windows devices in this price range come in two form factors, PC boxes and PC sticks. 

There’s a long list of device manufacturers who make PCs, but we found that not too many of them make good devices in the mini PC box form factor that is best for digital signage purposes. Of all the devices available, the ones that stood out to us were Asus’s $199 E410-B0230 Mini PC and $549 VivoMini VM65N that both come with Celeron and Core i5 processors. They are far from perfect though. They have processors that aren’t of the latest generation, and the E410 doesn’t support fast AC WiFi and has a less than optimal 3GB of RAM while the VivoMini has a huge 1TB of storage, but it’s a slower HDD drive instead of an SSD.

Besides that, they’re generally good devices with HDMI and Ethernet, a Kensington lock slot and Vesa mount compatibility on both, one-year warranty, generally good availability, 4K output, and good feature support.

When it comes to PC sticks in this price range, one manufacturer stands out and that’s Intel with it’s Compute Sticks. The $335 Intel Compute Stick Gen 2 STK2m3W64CC and the $479 Intel Compute Stick Gen 2 STK2mv64CC both come with Core m3 and Core m5 processors and boast the most power you can get from a device in this form factor. They come with HDMI, 64GB of storage space, 4GB of RAM, support for fast AC WiFi, and 4K output. They also come with a three-year warranty out of the box and good availability via multiple partners. The only obvious con is lack of Ethernet or official Ethernet adapters.

Ultimately, high-end Windows devices are a bit of a mixed bag. If you need a device with desktop class processing power running Windows, we recommend getting one of the commercial devices listed below as the options here aren’t that great. If you need a high powered PC stick, then either of the Intel Compute Sticks listed here are good options.

High-end media devices summary:

High-end media devices summary table

There are some good options here, but in most cases, if you’re going to pay between $150 and $600 for a device, we’d recommend getting a commercial device which has been specifically made with digital signage in mind, instead of a consumer focused device made more for personal use. 

There are a few exceptions to that rule though. If you want a future proof Chrome OS device, you’ll want to get one with a Core i5 processor. The i5 Acer Chromebox CXI3 is one of the best choices. If you want a device running macOS, the Apple Mac Mini is your best bet. And if you want a powerful Windows powered device in a PC stick form factor, then the m3 and m5 Intel Compute Sticks are the best available. If you don’t need any of the following, then get a commercial device, which we’ll look at next.

Commercial digital signage devices guide

commercial digital signage devices guide

If you want the very best digital signage devices, we recommend going commercial grade. Commercial devices are designed with commercial applications, like digital signage, in mind and come with the features, support and warranty to match.

When choosing a mid-range device, you’ll want to consider the following things:

  • Check support options. A big reason for buying a commercial device is getting support from the manufacturer on issues related to digital signage, so research and check if the device manufacturer has good support options.
  • Amount of processing power. When it comes to Windows devices in this category, they are for the most part powered by Intel processors, with Celeron, Core i3 and Core i5 processors all available for PC boxes and the mobile equivalent Core m3 and Core m5 processors available. Choose a Celeron or Core i3 processor if you’re more price conscious and a Core i5 processor if you want the most powerful and future proof device. There are also Core i7 models available, but we haven’t listed them here because Core i5 is all you’ll need for digital signage, with Core i7 devices meant more for personal computing. Chrome OS requires less operating power and RAM than Windows, so the rules are different there, but always shoot for a device that has up-to-date processors.
  • Type of operating system. Each has specific pros and cons – like license costs, remote device management features and network standards – so your choice may very well come down to which OS is best for you.
  • As devices in this range are more expensive, you may want theft protection features, secure mounts, and warranty options. For theft protection and secure mounting, check if your device has a Kensington lock slot and if it’s Vesa mount compatible or has other official or 3rd party mount options. As for warranty, see if it has more than the standard one-year warranty available. Some devices include three-year warranty or provide the option to buy it.
  • Check to see if the device you want is available in your region, as some devices are not available in all markets. 

There are a lot of manufacturers and devices in this category. From our experience and testing, we recommend AOpen’s Chrome OS devices and Intel’s Windows powered NUC boxes. Let’s take a look at them.

Chrome OS Devices

AOPEN Chromebox Commercial digital signage device

AOpen has two Chrome OS boxes, the smaller $189 Chromebox Mini and larger $299 Chromebox Commercial. The Chromebox Mini comes with a quad core Rockchip processor, 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage while the Chromebox Commercial comes with a Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. Both come with HDMI output, Ethernet and fast AC WiFi, and feature support is good, but they both only support up to 1080p output. They also both have Kensington lock slots and there are official mounting systems available.

The Chromebox Mini comes with a one-year warranty that can be upgraded to three years, and Chromebox Commercial comes with a three-year warranty. Availability is also good, just contact AOpen for a quotation for the amount you need, or buy them online from one of numerous partners

Choose an AOpen Chrome OS device if you want a commercial device designed for digital signage with the features, support and warranty to match and you prefer the Chrome OS operating system with the options it provides for digital signage to other operating systems.

Windows Devices

Intel NUC 7 Essential Mini PC

Intel’s NUC PC boxes are among the most powerful and reliable digital signage devices available on the market. We recommend the $238 NUC 7 Essential Mini PC NUC7CJYSAL, the $494 Intel NUC 7 Business Mini PC NUC7i3DNKTC and the $539 Intel NUC 7 Home Mini PC NUC7i5BNHXF. They all come with Celeron, Core i3 and Core i5 processors and plenty of storage space with 32GB, 128GB and 1TB respectively. We wish the i5 came with an SSD storage drive though. 

They also each come with 4GB of RAM, HDMI output, Ethernet and fast AC WiFi, good feature support, Kensington lock slots, Vesa mount compatibility and all have a three-year warranty. Availability is also solid from the manufacturer or partners.

Choose one of the Intel NUC Windows devices if you want the most powerful commercial device designed for digital signage with the features, support, and warranty to match, and if you prefer the Windows operating system and the options it provides for digital signage to other operating systems.

Commercial devices summary:

Commercial devices summary table

3. Understanding device performance

Whatever content you’re displaying, you’re going to want it to play smoothly and without interruption, and the performance of your device is a big part of ensuring that happens. We covered a lot of the stuff around devices and performance in our media device section, but if you want a deep dive, read on.

Use this table to see whether you’ll need a lower or higher performance device:

High-performance device summary table

Here’s what to look for in terms of performance:

1. SOC (System On Chip) / CPU (Processor)

When it comes to digital signage devices, the SOC (system on chip) in a device is responsible for much of the heavy lifting, containing the CPU, GPU, RAM, storage, connectivity options, video codecs and output. As such choosing a device with a reliable SOC is key.

SOCs and CPUs are often mentioned in the same breath in a digital signage device spec, or simply have the same name. The CPU is responsible for the processing power, and you want to make sure the device you choose has a CPU with enough power for your needs, so let’s take a look at SOC/CPU combos and which ones you should be looking for.

Choosing a device with the correct SOC/CPU can be tricky, but in general, try to get a device with the newest generation. For Android TV boxes, we recommend getting devices with the Amlogic S912 SOC and included processor, which is the latest and most reliable SOC for this category, or at least devices with the slightly less powerful S905 SOC and included processor, also from Amlogic. For other Android devices like tablets, try to get at least a quad-core processor, with a dual-core the minimum.

For Chromeboxes and Windows PC boxes and sticks, try to get at least a Celeron device, with Atom devices being less recommended as they are less powerful. Even better than Celeron would be Core m3, Core m5, Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 devices, with i5 and i7 devices being especially powerful and able to take anything you throw at them.

With Amazon Fire TV, Apple iOS and Chromebit devices, the rules are a bit different. These devices are made to do less things but do them well and we find that manufacturers have in most cases optimized these devices to use the processors they are given to accomplish what they need to, so no problems here.

We explain more about CPUs and in each device category later in this article.

2. GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) 

The GPU is responsible for the graphics processing power, so make sure the device you choose has a GPU with enough power for your needs. You’ll also want to look for things like video decoding, video output, HDMI and support for HDR, which we explain further in this article.

3. Storage Drive

The storage drive of your device will need enough space for cached media, after some gets taken up by the operating system and apps. Read this article to find out more about this the available space. In general you’ll want a device with at least 8GB, with 16GB being preferable. Devices that have less than this are meant more for use cases where you are streaming video content and not storing it on the device. You’ll also want a device with SSD storage as opposed to HDD storage, and you’ll want to check that your storage drive has good read & write speeds.

4. RAM (Random Access Memory)

Your RAM or memory is needed to keep the general user experience running at optimal levels. Some operating systems have more ongoing processes than others and therefore need more RAM.

For Windows, Android and Android TV devices, aim for at least 2GB of RAM, with 3-4GB preferable. Chrome OS requires less resources, so get a device with 2GB of RAM or more. As for Amazon Fire TV, Apple iOS and Chrome Stick devices it’s similar to how it is with CPUs, with devices well optimized in most cases to use the RAM they are given to accomplish what they need to do.

5. Connectivity

It’s important to get a device that supports the network setup you have, with things like WiFi speed, Ethernet capabilities and support for different network security protocols.

Here’s what to look for in terms of connectivity:

WiFi

Different digital signage devices will support different levels of WiFi, and in general, if you can get a device that supports 802.11ac WiFi, you’ll get the best network speeds. All the devices we recommend either support 802.11 ac, n or g WiFi. At 1,300 Mbps, 802.11ac is about 3 times faster than 802.11n at 450 Mbps. 802.11g is much slower at 54 Mbps, but all the devices we list support at least 802.11n.

On the flip side, your internet speed probably won’t ever be 1,300 Mbps, or even 450 Mbps for that matter, so this won’t affect your internet speed much, but what you get from a device with 802.11ac WiFi is more stable connectivity and up to date internals, which promise a better experience.

Network Security

Each WiFi network will be set up with a different network security level. If you want to be secure, you shouldn’t really be using Open, WEP or WPA networks. Open has no security at all, while WEP and WPA-PSK are old protocols which are now vulnerable.

You should instead be using WPA2-PSK, which is the most secure option. Basically all of the digital signage devices we cover here have support for WPA2.

In some cases, your network will be using an even higher network security protocol like WPA2-Enterprise. Fewer digital signage devices have support for this protocol, so if you need to connect devices to this network, you’ll want to check out our help article on this topic.

8. Ethernet

For some use cases, you will want a digital signage device to connect to the internet via a wired connection with an Ethernet cable. In this case the best device to choose is of course one that includes an Ethernet port, but some devices also have support for official Ethernet adapter or 3rd party adapters.

You’ll also want to check what Ethernet speed your device supports and make sure you are using the correct cables to match.

4. Deployment and setup considerations 

When deploying digital signage devices, things like size, form factor, case and mount support will come into play. Additionally, especially for use cases where your digital signage devices are in remote locations, options for theft protection and remote management features will be important.

We've covered this briefly in the media device section above but here are some in-depth deployment and setup factors to consider.

Remote management features

When it comes to remote management features, the operating system your device is running plays a big role. In general, devices running a desktop OS like Windows or macOS will have the best options with good native options as well as a wide variety of 3rd party options, with some apps even able to turn devices off and on via Wake-on-LAN, meaning you can turn devices on and off and control them completely. 

Next best include Chrome OS devices like Chromebox and Chromebit devices which can use Google’s Chrome Enterprise Tools to manage devices. iOS, Android and Amazon Fire OS have weaker remote management options which allow you to control only a few options.

Stability & boot time

As we noted earlier, some operating systems use more resources than others and you’ll have to choose a device that has enough resources for the operating system it is using. You’ll also want to think about stability, with some operating systems less prone to crashes and errors than others. OSs like Android are tricky, with many versions in use and some implemented poorly by device manufacturers sometimes resulting in devices that are error prone.

Boot time is also important with the amount of time it takes from a restarted device to go from off, to showing your content, differing by OS. OSs like Android TV and Fire OS will also show content and menus during the loading process, which may be disruptive. To avoid issues like this you will want to choose an OS which has support for kiosk mode, a special mode when a device is used to run a specific application used most often in public settings, like a bar or restaurant. 

Support

Support is also another important factor. You’ll want to check if you will receive adequate support for OS issues in case you have an issue. For example, some Android TV boxes have custom interfaces developed by their manufacturers and if they offer poor support options it could be an issue.

Price & availability

Price is an obvious factor to consider when trying to find digital signage devices that match your needs while also matching your budget. Device availability will vary by region, so make sure that the device you want is available. If the device is not available from the manufacturer in your region, it might still be available from 3rd party physical or online stores or have an option for international shipping that’s cheap enough. Prices will also vary whether you are buying from the manufacturer or from 3rd party physical or online store, so make sure to compare prices and find what’s best for you. If you’re buying a fleet of devices check if your manufacturer can be contacted about bulk orders or if they have a quotation request page, which could further improve pricing.

Warranty

Most devices will come with a one-year manufacturer warranty but make sure to look closely at device warranty options as they’re not all the same. Often your device may not include warranty for digital signage scenarios like long use periods. Commercial devices like Intel NUCs and Intel Compute Sticks often have better warranty options like three-year warranties or better conditions. Companies like Apple and AOpen also allow you to purchase additional warranty or care packages for some devices.

5. Example digital signage setups

In this section we’re going to show you some examples of a business, school or brand that requires a digital signage solution, their requirements and why we would recommend a specific device for them. 

Worlwood School, an international school in Georgia, U.S.

A school example of digital signage

  • Size of network - 25 screens
  • Budget - $1k - $5k
  • Manager role - Head of Communications
  • Duration of digital signage solution - 5 years
  • Type of content used - Social media apps, local news, world clock, stocks app
  • OS preferred - Chrome
  • Other requirements - Must be able to secure screens from public use or tampering.

Recommended digital signage solution

For this scenario, we’d recommend Asus Chromebits ($119), purchased through one of Asus’ partners here and running Chrome OS in managed kiosk mode. This would require additional Chrome licenses starting at $24 a year per device. The Asus Chromebit is a capable device ready for all this user’s content needs, and running it in kiosk mode means there’s no way to tamper with the device or what content is being shown. Rollout is also made easy using Google’s Chrome Enterprise tools, as each device can be automatically set to do key things when enrolled, like run in kiosk mode, use a specific wireless network and run a specific app. As an added bonus Google’s Chrome Enterprise tools will also make device remote management tasks like monitoring device health or remotely restarting devices easy. The total costs of setting up 25 screens with this setup would be approximately $3,000 for devices and $600 for the first year’s Chrome license costs, so approximately $3,600 in total, therefore coming in under the $5,000 budget.

Monento Worldwide, an agency in New York, U.S.

agency office

  • Size of network - 150 screens
  • Budget - $25k - $50k
  • Manager role - Head of IT
  • Duration of digital signage solution - 3 years minimum
  • Type of content used - Metrics dashboards, YouTube videos, lots of 4K content requiring caching. Live takeovers to include live streams and client personalization. 
  • OS preferred - N/A
  • Other requirements - Must be able to remotely manage screens from any location. Looking for future-proofing their strategy to include more personalization and activation.

Recommended solution

For this scenario, we’d recommend Intel NUCs ($238-$450), purchased through one of Intel’s partners here. We recommend either the entry level NUC7CJYSAL with a 7th gen Intel Celeron processor, or the slightly more expensive but more future proof NUC8I3CYSM with an 8th gen Intel Core i3 processor. Both come with Windows 10 Home included. These devices are powerful and reliable and would handle this user’s content easily. It’s also easy to find powerful 3rd party remote device management tools that work with Windows 10, and as a desktop class operating system, Windows 10 is ready for all sorts of additional use cases. The total costs of setting up 150 screens with this setup would be approximately $35,700 therefore coming in under budget.

Berry Michael, a retail store in Australia

retail store

  • Size of network - 4 screens
  • Budget - $1k
  • Manager role - Store Manager
  • Duration of digital signage solution - 2 years
  • Type of content used - Social media and YouTube, ideally 4K
  • OS preferred - N/A
  • Other requirements - Screens must be in-built within the design of the store, so restricted access to hardware once deployed.

Recommended solution

For this scenario, we’d recommend the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K ($49.99). One problem though is that this device is not available from Amazon in Australia, so the user would either want to purchase this from a 3rd party Australian provider or ship it into the country using Amazon’s US website, so the price would be a bit higher than $49.99. The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is a fantastic device for single location setups where remote device management is not needed. It could easily handle this user’s content needs and as an added bonus you can easily mirror content from your phone or PC to a screen powered by one of these devices for quick takeovers. The total costs of setting up 4 screens with this setup, based on the pricing on a 3rd party Australian provider we found as an example, would be approximately 480 AUD ($326), but ordering shipping in from Amazon could be even cheaper.

NCYH Health, a healthcare centre in London, U.K.

Digital Signage in Healthcare Example

  • Size of network - 50 screens
  • Budget - $25K
  • Manager role - CMO
  • Duration of digital signage solution - 5 years
  • Type of content used - Notices and digital signs, 4K videos, building directories and wayfinding.
  • OS preferred - Windows
  • Other requirements - Must be able to takeover the screens and easily update notices from anywhere. 

Recommended solution

For this scenario, we’d recommend NUC8I3CYSM Intel NUCs (approximately $450), purchased through one of Intel’s partners here. We recommend the NUC8I3CYSM, which comes with an 8th gen Intel Core i3 processor and Windows 10 Home included, as it’s a powerful, reliable and future proof device that could last the five years the user would need it to. This device could handle this user’s content needs easily and as a desktop class operating system, Windows 10 also has lots of powerful 3rd party screen takeover options that could be implemented. The total costs of setting up 50 screens with this setup would be approximately $22,500 therefore coming in under budget.

6. Supported ScreenCloud features

You should also check if the device you want supports all the features that you need from the digital signage platform that you choose to use. For example, support for ScreenCloud’s different features differs from one device and OS to the next. Take a look at this comparison chart to get an idea of what we mean.

Let’s take a closer look at some specific device and ScreenCloud features that you may need for your digital signage setup.

Offline support

Different digital signage platforms will support working offline in different ways. ScreenCloud works offline on most devices, except on Apple iPads because of technical restrictions. It’s good to keep this in mind when setting up devices in a use case where the network connection may fluctuate, like an event venue or retail store. Read our article about how offline playing works for more on this topic.

Auto reboot

While this is not a ScreenCloud specific feature, a device’s ability to auto reboot when something like a power cut happens and to get back to showing your content can be important, especially when that device is in a remote location. We list which devices support this feature here. Most do, but sometimes things like pressing the power button to turn a device on prevent an auto reboot from working.

Kiosk mode

As mentioned earlier, kiosk mode is a special mode where a device is used to run a specific application in a public setting. Kiosk mode is often necessary for digital signage when you want your device to only load your digital signage app and not have the option for the user to exit the app and use other apps on your OS. 

Zones & advanced apps

Zoning is where a digital signage display is divided into multiple sections, all showing different types of content. This could be a weather display in one corner of the screen, a news feed in another, with a Twitter feed running as ticker tape along the bottom.

You can read more about setting up zoning with ScreenCloud here and here

ScreenCloud also comes with over 80 apps to help you get your content onto your digital signage screens, and advanced apps are apps that use specific hardware resources to display information in the ScreenCloud Player. Google Slides is an example of an advanced app.

7. Summary

Choosing the correct hardware setup for your digital signage is all about understanding your needs. The better you understand your needs, the better choices you’ll make.

Think about what displays you want to use, whether you will use professional grade displays designed for digital signage or just consumer displays. If your displays don’t have to be so big, consider monitors, bases or tablets instead of TVs. Think about whether you want to get a display paired with a media player or use a smart TV or tablet with player capabilities built in.

Think about your performance needs, whether your hardware will need to be able to handle 1080p or 4K content or run more advanced apps. Consider how much storage space you’ll need for cached media and what connectivity options you’ll need in terms of WiFi or Ethernet capabilities.

Think about deployment and setup, things like size and form factor, cases, mounts and theft protection, as well as remote management features. Think about what operating system is best for your needs and budget and what supported features you’ll need, like kiosk mode, auto reboot, and offline support. Consider price and availability in your region, as well as warranty and after-sales support options.

Think long-term. In the best case scenario, how many digital signage screens would you have in one or five years time and what would they be showing? Could your current hardware choices support that vision? If not, it’s worth weighing up how that may hinder you, and whether it’s best to invest now or wait and risk repurchasing later.

Digital signage is possible with any budget. You can get a fantastic player device to pair with your existing displays for $30-$70, and one with even better options if you can budget for up to $150. If you have a higher budget than that, there are powerful high-end and commercial devices that can handle anything you throw at them.

The days of digital signage being a tool that’s only available to a select few are over. With ScreenCloud, you can use a wide variety of hardware to get yourself up and running, using digital signage to push your business forward.

We look forward to seeing which decision you make.

For help or advice on anything you’ve read here, or to discuss your digital signage needs in more detail, you can reach us anytime on hello@screencloud.com.

For personalized support on choosing the correct digital signage hardware, you can submit a request or RFP directly to our team at screencloud.com/enterprise

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