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Media Gallery

The login page for the management server.A list of screens managed by this management server.A list of the graphical media associated with the Official DEN content feed.
A sample of one of the mounted displays in the DirectConnect Office's waiting area.A sample of one of the mounted displays in the DirectConnect Office's waiting area.

Digital Signage Conversion

This project was done while I was an RTA Coordinator with Student Affairs IT at the University of Montana, Missoula. Student Affairs IT (SAIT) is responsible for managing the technology needs and systems responsible for supporting the university's Division of Student Affairs. As part of this responsibility SAIT had, in the past, worked with the Residence Life Office (RLO) to deploy a number of flat screen televisions throughout common areas of the university's on-campus residence halls, off-campus university owned apartments, the university's on-campus health center, and the Griz Card Center (GCC). These televisions were connected to a common coaxial cable network where one of the available channels was being broadcast from a source in the basement of one of the residence halls. This coaxial cable network was also available in the rooms of all students living in on-campus housing and in the off-campus university owned apartments allowing them to view broadcasts on this designated channel on their personal televisions as well.

To facilitate a digital signage solution using this existing infrastructure a desktop computer was placed at the broadcast location with the audio and video from this computer being broadcast on this designated channel. Using server software from Four Winds Interactive running on this computer it was possible to schedule content to be displayed on this computer and, thus, display the content on the numerous displays throughout campus tuned to this channel. This created a very effective means for communicating with students using visual advertisements, informational messages, as well as occasional video messages with audio.

While the concept worked nicely and this implementation worked to meet the bare minimum requirements there were a number of issues that were encountered with this implementation. First, and possibly most significant, the Four Winds Interactive software used to serve the content and manage the scheduling of when content should play was incredibly expensive. In addition to an initial purchase price in excess of fifteen thousand dollars there was a several thousand dollar yearly recurring licensing fee associated with using their software. Additionally, despite the outrageous price tag, the software did not fully or reliably support the features that were advertised and new releases were not available to support changing file formats.

Given these problems and the upcoming plans to implement a similar system in several locations throughout campus including a number of locations within the University Center (UC), a coworker and I took it upon ourselves to develop a list of requirements, research the available alternatives for digital signage software, install and evaluate several of the most promising options, and finally implement a final replacement solution. After some fairly extensive testing we decided to use a free and open-source digital signage solution called Concerto. Concerto was actually developed for environments such as a university campus with the understanding that a large number of independent entities would wish to submit content visible on such a network of digital displays and, therefore, was a perfect solution to replace the existing software.

One of the biggest advantages to the Concerto system is that it is a web application and all players are managed and sent content from a centralized web server which can be used to support any number of independent players playing different content. This means that any device that has a web browser can receive content from this solution and content managed by this system can actually be embedded into web pages as well. Concerto is also built on a familiar LAMP software stack that was in line with the type of system that our staff was prepared to support, maintain, and enhance.

In terms of programming or script development I only needed to make a few minor adjustments to the normal install. This was mainly because the features shipped with Concerto matched nearly perfectly with our needs. For consistency with other campus system I added an optional authentication option that allowed users to login using their username and password associated with their Active Directory user account. Additionally, I added the ability to schedule and play video broadcasts without needing to manually start the videos, a feature not present in the Concerto software. Finally, to provide a bit of extra content for the network I built a tool to convert the menu from the on-campus dining hall's current meal - based on the time of day and day of the week - into an RSS feed. This data would then be displayed as a text ticker on the bottom of the digital displays placed throughout the on-campus residences halls.