Last year, I reviewed the Noventri Digital Signage Suite and Player, which included the SF-100e player. I was pretty impressed and have since deployed this in several scenarios. I recently got my hands on a pre-release version of their latest player: the SF-200 and took it for a spin.
I reveiwed the Noventri digital signage products last year, and wrote about how impressed I was after deploying in a manufacturing environment. I’ve since deployed them in several applications (from database driven visitor boards to information displays in manufacturing plants). I recently got my hands a pre-release version of their latest player: the SF-200 and took it for a spin.
While the SF-100e was all metal with a very angular design, the new SF-200 has transitioned to polycarbonate and inherited some attractive looking curves in the process. I like to think of it as having transitioned from Humvee to Italian sports car styling. The material is pretty thick and feels like it wouldn’t break if dropped.
Compared to the SF-100e:
- The DVI connector is replaced by HDMI, Composite Video (CVBS) and Component Video (YPbPr). The latter two are for future use.
- An Optical Audio Port (S/PDIF) has been added. Also for future use.
- A second USB port has been added (replacing RS232 by using a RS232 to USB cable)
- An SD slot has been added. Also for future use.
- A high speed 4GB thumb drive is included
- An IR Remote has been added. Current functionality is limited to reboot and reset to defaults, but will be expanded in the future. For example, on screen network setup via remote is planned to be added shortly.
A mounting plate is available for mounting to the back of a monitor with VESA hole patterns.
Like its predecessor, the SF-200 is a fluorescent green, solid state device and can be used as a standalone player (Sneaker Net), as part of a LAN, WAN or via the internet. The player is still diminutive in size at 5.1”W x 3.9”D x 1.5”H, can still be buried in a wall without overheating and still consumes 4W.
Noventri dosen’t publish the hardware specs of their players, but I was informed that a hardware video decoder is included in the SF-200, and will be enabled in a future software release. This will allow features such as true alpha dissolves, etc. to be added in incremental, no charge, software updates. I’m glad to hear this, as I do feel that the current dissolve function is very PowerPoint 1.0-esque, so I’ve never used it.
Other future features include
- Kiosk mode with touchscreen control
- Video of up to 1080P. This will be rolled out in stages: full screen, scaled in a zone, files uploaded from Noventri server, player streaming directly from URL’s, etc.
- There is also a plan for animations and text over video. Although this is some way off, the SF-200 hardware has been designed with features in mind.
Version 2.8 of Noventri Suite should be used with this player. Other than having to swap DVI for HDMI, and RSR232 for USB-RS232 (if used) the SF-200 is a straight swap for the SF-100e. Version 2.8 of the software brings many performance optimizations that significantly improve performance. One of the major improvements for database driven systems is ODBC connection pooling. Previously, all SQL Select statements would open their own ODBC connection, even if connecting to the same database. For example the following would result in three separate ODBC connections.
SELECT Operators FROM ShiftsAssignments WHERE ResourceID = 1
SELECT Operators FROM ShiftsAssignments WHERE ResourceID = 2
SELECT Operators FROM ShiftsAssignments WHERE ResourceID = 3
With the new ODBC Connection Pooling, the software looks for queries against the same database and groups them all into one connection. (In the above example, only one connection would be used.) This technique reduces connections and authentications to the database, reducing network traffic, and significantly reducing the time to retrieve the content and display it on screen.
Another welcome feature is automatic updates of Noventri Suite (client design application) from the server. When connecting to the server, it will detect if it is running a later version than the client. If so, the user will be offered the opportunity to download the upgrade. If they choose to update, the installer is automatically downloaded from the Server and installed on the PC. This feature is especially helpful for large digital signage networks with many different users/departments connecting to a server. Not only does this make it easier for the users, but it also gives the network administrator control over which version users are running when they are connecting to the server.
The player still retails for the same price as the SF-100e ($599) and a trade-in program is planned for users wishing to upgrade.
As mentioned early, with the exception of changing a few physical connections, the SF-200 is a straight physical swap for the SF-100e. To test, I took one of my 1080P True Color projects with a number of large images, opened it in 2.8 and deployed it to the SF-200. The first thing that leaps out you is the update time. This project took an average of 2m20s to update on my SF-100e, on the SF-200, it took seconds: the progress indicator flashed on 12% briefly and then went straight to 100%.
I spoke to Noventri’s President, David Linetsky, about the performance and he said “Our first goal for this player was to release it as a replacement for the SF-100, so the functionality on release is very similar, except its much faster and more stable. Everything is in True Color. You will see a great difference using database driven projects, incredibly fast content downloads and page rotations. Manufacturing operations are a large number of our clients, so we wanted the player to be enhanced for them out of the box. In real world testing, where the network is not a bottleneck, a very large project that would take the SF-100e almost 60 minutes to download, downloads to the SF-200 in just over two minutes.” David also shared a picture of their test network, where they are able to a test a network of over 200 players. I like to call the “Noventri tree”.
On the outside, the SF-200 appears to be a cosmetic make-over with some future interfaces added, but under the hood, the engine has been upgraded to a V12 and few turbochargers have been added. My test player performed perfectly with v2.8 and I was amazed by the improvements in performance. Having used the Noventri products for several projects, I reiterate the conclusion from my previous articles: bang for the buck with Noventri is amazing. I’ve used several much pricier products that don’t come close to Noventri, especially when integration to SQL data sources is required. While the world of digital signage has charged headlong into the cloud, with barely a thought for users who need secure access to local data sources, Noventri has kept its feet firmly planted on the ground (but still embracing the cloud), by producing a solid, easy to use, and easy to integrate product for wide range of markets.
April 9, 2013, Smithsburg, MD – Noventri, a US digital signage company, has announced the release of Version 2.8 of Noventri Suite, Digital Signage Software. The new release provides an enhanced experience with more features and security, plus greater usability for large networks.
- Preview Interval management for large networks
- New, more robust and secure Communications
- New, optimized ODBC Connections
- PowerPoint import enhancements
- Updated Designer Panel functionality
- Enhanced permissions panel
The ‘Preview Interval’ feature expands usage in managing screen thumbnails on larger networks; allowing efficient uploading of thumbnails without using excessive bandwidth.
‘New Communications’ and ‘Optimized ODBC’ features provide a higher level of security and reliability on larger networks.
Version 2.8 also addresses a number of bugs and enhances user experience.
Noventri Suite 2.8 can be installed on any windows-based computer and is the companion software to the Noventri Eco-Series digital signage player. Users can create content in Full HD resolution, add multiple region types, and overlap other regions with full transparencies using industry standard image formats such as .jpg, .png, and .bmp.
Also, Noventri Suite functions as a stand-alone simple digital signage player, although some features are only available when combined with the Noventri Eco-Series player.
Noventri Suite is a no-cost digital signage software; there are no licenses, no subscriptions, and no hidden costs of any kind… Request your free copy at: http://www.noventri.com/digital-signage-demo.php.
For information contact Judy L. Hoffman at: email@example.com or call 301-790-0103.
In part 3 of our series on moving food in a QSR environment, we are going to take a closer look at dayparting. Most QSR’s have breakfast items, lunch items, maybe even dinner items. It is important for these to be displayed at the appropriate times on the menu boards. This way the customers know which items they have to choose from.
So how do you change your menu boards?
Well, in the past we have seen individuals use the “remove and replace method.” This is where the entire menu slick is taken down and a new one is put up in its place. They even have magnetic ones where you can have menu items printed out on magnetic strips. You have to peel off the old item and then you’re able to stick the new strip up. You have to get it lined up just right, and do the same with your price changes.
What I saw recently, which I thought was kind of interesting, I guess you would call it a game show menu board. They actually had photos of menu items on a cube. Whenever they needed to change the item, an employee would have to manually spin the cube around to have the new item’s picture shown to the customers.
With these menu systems, you have to rely on an employee manually changing out the menu boards. They have to take time out of their other activities that they are engaged in. Maybe there are even customers in line and they just have to wait until the menu board gets switched over. Also, you have the added expense of potential wear and tear and replacement of those items as they’re continually handled and manipulated to reflect your changes.
For years, that was our only option when it came to dayparting on menu boards. Now, thankfully, we have digital menu boards. With Noventri Digital Signage you are able to schedule out your dayparting as far in advance as you would like.
So let’s say every day you know that at ten thirty you are going to switch over from your breakfast menu to your lunch menu. You can schedule that in to change automatically. Perhaps there are certain promotions that are going to happen every week, maybe you have a Tuesday seniors day, or perhaps fish on Friday. Any of these things can be programmed in advance so that way you don not have to worry about changing your menu boards. It will happen automatically.
For even more automated control, you can tie in your existing POS systems inventory database with Noventri Digital Signage. For instance, perhaps you’re running out of roast beef. It could automatically remove that item from off your menu boards and replace it with something else you would like to promote. This way your customers stay well informed and you do not have to take time out of your schedule to manually change your menu boards.
For your establishment to be profitable, it is obvious that you need to have a good dayparting strategy. With Noventri Digital Signage you are able to implement that strategy automatically. You do not have to worry about manually changing out your boards, but it can take place behind the scenes so that you can get back to making good food and taking care of your customers.
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When it comes to the content that’s used on a digital menu board, many times it’s felt that video and animation are the best use of space and that they will attract the customers’ eyes. It is the best way to interact with them. Well is that really the case?
Sometimes it can actually present a speed bump in the whole ordering process. People want to get in, order their food, and get it quickly. Video and animation can slow that process down. Here’s something that we’ve noticed with some QSR’s. They will have the regular menu board items displayed, then suddenly the whole menu board will change out to a video promotion or advertisement. Once that’s over, the regular menu boards will reappear.
Now put yourself in the customers’ shoes. Here they trying to order their items, and maybe they have kids with them and they’ve got to get them to soccer practice. Perhaps there are other people in line, and now they have to wait for an advertisement to be over with to continue ordering. Really, that can hinder the whole ordering process and certainly is very frustrating.
When designing menu board content, one of the first things you should take into consideration is the customer. What do they really want? They want to be able to order quickly, and you certainly don’t want to do anything with your menu boards that would hinder that process.
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“Can I just buy TV screens from a department store and use them for digital signage displays?”
Of course, you can. You can also use a porcupine for a seat cushion. Either choice presents you with certain and specific pains. (See below: 7 Reasons Consumer Screens Are NOT For Digital Signage Use)
The main reason anyone even considers consumer grade is to try to save money. However, the price between consumer and commercial screens can be as little as a few dollars and the difference is shrinking all the time. Is saving a few dollars up front really worth the risks?
Here is some food for thought. The last link between your message and your audience is your screens. That is why reliability is crucial. In the end, you can have the greatest content in the world but it makes no difference if no one can see it. Commercial grade screens are designed and built to handle the usage requirements of digital signage, hence providing the reliability needed to be successful.
Knowing how important screen selection is, Noventri spends a lot of time vetting suppliers before we associate the Noventri name with them. On rare occasions, you can find a company that has great products along with great support. NEC is one of those companies. NEC screens have an amazing track record for being reliable. They are the only screen supplier that has a 3-year onsite overnight warranty and their team is phenomenal. Their focus is on providing great business products. NEC does not even make consumer grade screens! Since our clients expect personal communication and attention to detail, having a company like NEC is a perfect fit.
Or we could sit on a porcupine. We made the right choice. We’re confident that you will, too.
7 Reasons Consumer Screens Are NOT For Digital Signage Use
1. If customers purchase the Consumer TV on their own, there is a high probability it won’t work correctly and they’ll be chasing problems which their digital signage supplier probably won’t be able to support.
2. Many manufacturers will NOT honor the warranty on Consumer TVs if they are used for professional or Digital Signage applications, even if purchased from a digital signage integrator.
3. Consumer TVs are not made for 24/7 operation. Even though many work just fine, it’s impossible to predict failure rate due to 24/7 operation.
4. There is almost no chance that the supplier will be able to find an identical model, even a few months later.
5. Consumer TVs can’t be mounted vertically (Portrait Mode) because they will overheat. Commercial grade screens have special venting and fans that make this possible. If a consumer screen is mounted vertically (Portrait Mode) you may also find that the screen may not be visible if standing anywhere but directly in front of the screen. The viewing angle is for consumer screens is engineered for the TV to be mounted above someone’s fire place or sitting on an entertainment center.
6. Power On/Off on Consumer TVs cannot be controlled with the Digital Signage Player; they’ll need to be turned On/Off manually.
7. The life of a Consumer TV is about half that of a Professional Digital Signage Display.
Are consumer grade screens a viable alternative? Post your comments and questions below.