No matter how good the software stack is, solution completely relies on the hardware side. ImpressBox player code is completely cross-platform and runs on whatever Python runs. Because player frontend is modular (without internal hardware-accelerated players, it can use common VideoLAN VLC, MPD players to play back the media). We can even write another backend for a specific hardware and automate server side to transcode audio or visual content to another encoding, if there is a viable business case.
However for generic business cases we reach for highest Return of Investment. We know what large-scale deployments take and how important is overall quality of the solution. We're constantly monitoring market for newest trends in technology. However currently the most convenient and effective solution is Raspberry Pi.
There are other digital signage implementations that also use Raspberry Pi as a hardware player device. However they overestimate the power of the device and misuse its features. In example, some of them run web browser that of course works slowly and crashes constantly.
Our approach is to run client side as lean as possible (our server even separates video content from audio, to make it easier to play), optimizing the potential of the device, making it reliable, stable solution that is suitable for large-scale professional deployments.
It's a credit card - sized computer that has many features that makes it suitable for professional and dedicated digital signage usage. The main features and advantages are:
This device has been designed with passion by computer professionals and enthusiasts from head to toe. It's made with simplicity and low cost of operation in mind. It has many technological advantages compared to other competitors. Some of them:
This enables our player program to pass all the heavy video decoding job to the special chip (to be accurate, part of the main RPi chip) that is made just for this purpose. That means smooth playback of your beautiful content is guaranteed no matter what the player is doing in background! CPU utilization during 1920x1080 h264 video playback is only around 5%-7%.
Raspberry Pi uses VideoCore IV graphics processing unit that enables this device additional graphical functions, like nicely transitioning slides or even running 3D applications.
However Raspberry Pi shouldn't be treated as supercomputer: It's a bad idea to run too complex of an apps (like full-scale browser or graphical environment) or to do some real-time video rendering.
Our solution leverages available technologies of Raspberry Pi to work better than some high-end extremely expensive digital signage players.
First version has been released in 2012, it has a big and active open-source community.
This board has been sold in millions of units and is used all over the world. It has strong supply chain, with multiple factories manufacturing it and multiple distributors distributing it.
Raspberry Pi is equipped with all essential sensors, that allow efficient monitoring of running system (i.e. processor / ambient temperature, input voltage level, bad Ethernet cable, etc..) and detecting possible risks (like failing power supply, wearing SD card) before real failure occurs. ImpressGateway system is intelligently using these indicators to further optimize device uptime and minimize service costs.
Even though it's one of the most stable solutions for the digital signage, crashes in electronic devices do still happen, and they can be irritating, especially for long-term large-scale projects. Of course in our stack this is extremely rare (normally, it's less than one crash in a two years). But Raspberry Pi has a part of a chip - called Watchdog - that allows us to monitor the device operation. In case of failure, it will dump the error to the SD card for further analysis and power cycle the device, returning it to normal operation in approximately 15 seconds.
Originally Raspberry Pi was developed with the intention of promoting the teaching of basic computer science in schools and developing countries. However project became so successful that it became well-known hardware platform.
Raspberry Pi Foundation is a non-profit organization and is directing all profit received from Raspberry Pi project to open-source software development and education.
More about social side of Raspberry Pi: https://www.raspberrypi.org/stories/
Our system writes to the SD card only when absolutely necessary (i.e. when applying updates or configuration changes) and keeps system disk read-only in normal operation. Proper SD card is crucial to stable operation.
It’s worth to note that internal algorithms of NAND flash controller in memory card are very important both to the lifetime of the card and to stability of the player.
We only use carefully selected and thoroughly-tested Ultra High Speed rated MicroSD cards from SanDisk with proper wear leveling technologies installed.
Another extremely important point is power supply. It not only must last long, but also provide stable 5.1 Volt voltage with different load conditions. Because Raspberry Pi operates with MicroSD card, ripple or voltage brownouts can induce write errors to the card (i.e. write 0 instead of 1) that will corrupt the partition. Furthermore, it can disrupt operation of the USB bus and devices, destabilizing whole system.
We have carefully selected our power supply suppliers who supply reliable hardware. We always use 2.5A power supplies, to eliminate the risk of tripping power supply current limit. Supplies bundled with our kits are well studied, confirmed to be stable, and thoroughly tested.
Power supply cable is also extremely important. Regular USB cables are made for data transfer, and most of them have AWG28 diameter power lines. They are too thin to be used with Raspberry Pi. Power will be supplied, but if the USB cable is bad, system will be unstable.
We use MicroUSB AWG24 cables of convenient lengths (up to two meters) for stable and safe ImpressBox operation.
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