Maximizing a school’s technology budget.
The client: Public high school
Major challenge: Keeping equipment and wiring costs to a minimum
A public high school wanted to deploy a high-quality digital signage system that would
broadcast useful information to key areas of its campus. Administrators expected internal staff
to manage the system, so it had to offer relative ease of use and wouldn't necessitate any
calls for outside help. Plus, they wanted a media player system that would give school staff
the ability to customize screens to their specific needs in their specific departments.
But, like most educational institutions, the school had a tight budget for the equipment, the
wiring, and the installation. Would it be possible to get a flexible, high-performing digital
signage system without having to empty its technology account?
The school called on Black Box Network Services. Black Box visited the site to ascertain how
such a digital signage system would work on the campus, carrying out a full survey to to
determine the physical structure of the building, the provision of power, and existing cable
points—information that would enable them to design an economical system appropriate for
the school's education and messaging needs. Black Box engineers then set to work on installing
the digital signage system.
The building required power and a CAT5e cabling infrastructure to be installed at each desired
screen location. This included all containment, back boxes, patch panels, and power outlets.
For organizing and playing content in the system, technicians chose BLACK BOX® Media Player
2 units because they support mixing different media—static images, recorded video, and even live
video feeds—and they're very easy to use. With the players in place, school staff can manage
them from any location in the school. In addition, a single administrator can remotely update
and change the content and set access rights for other users.
One Media Player 2 unit was placed in the school's communications room to provide content to
all the screens in the main building. Black Box installers placed another in the senior student
wing of the building, a player that would enable staff to stream content more suited for those
students, as well as terrestrial broadcast and satellite TV.
Technicians networked both players so staff can manage them from anywhere on campus. This
school's receptionist, for instance, can update welcome messages for visitors, while cafeteria
staff update the daily menu from their end. Various other members of staff can also change
individual sections of content.
For the content distribution, technicians installed a BLACK BOX® Video Distribution System
comprised of an AC156A-8 Local Unit plus eight AC158A-REM Remote Units. They chose it because
of its reliability and proven track record within the signage market. What's more, it made
full use of the CAT5e cabling installed earlier by Black Box.
The local distribution unit required just a single power outlet in the communications room.
Even better, the remote units placed at the rear of the remote screens drew their power from
the local distribution unit, too. This minimized the number of power outlets required at each
screen location and also helped with installation costs.
The remote units were small enough to be mounted easily onto the rear panel of each screen and
gave users the ability to fine-tune the video signal for a clear picture.
For areas of the school where smaller-sized screens would work best, Black Box chose NEC®
LCD panels. These included three 32" LCDs mounted in reception area and in the cafeteria
corridor, where their brightly lit displays worked well under the bright lights and their
compact size fit the narrow space, and two 40" LCDs mounted in the common room of the senior
student wing and the school's foyer area.
For areas where larger screens would be required, technicians chose Panasonic® plasma
screens. These included 50" and a 58" plasmas installed into the main hall area, where
administrators wanted to reach a larger audience without spending an extraordinary amount of
The equipment chosen for the high school gave administrators and staff the high-quality
displays they desired, but minimized the costs required for installation which, in turn,
reduced the overall cost for this project.
Delivering real-time info to gas pumps.
The client: An international petroleum company with thousands of pumps at
stations throughout the world
Major challenge: Installing digital signage components that wouldn't be
vandalized or damaged by the elements
Price is the main differential in the retail gas business. In this competitive market, gas
station operators are looking at new sources of revenue. Advertising provides that, and digital
signage at the pumps enables ad content to be delivered to a captive audience: customers pumping
For this setting, the client sought a content delivery system that could be administered
off-site, in a central location, eliminating the need for any intervention by the clerk or
other station personnel. Maintaining and supervising the digital signage content delivery would
be handled at a corporate or regional control terminal instead. What's more, the system would
have to be connected using the least-evasive and inexpensive cabling possible, and the remote
players themselves would have to be in a dry, secure area, sheltered from the elements and
extreme temperatures, as well as protected from vandalism or theft. And, for safety reasons, the
client sought a setup that had a minimal number of electrical components in the vicinity of the
A visual display system that communicates over ordinary CAT5 UTP cabling. This hardware-based
system converts and distributes video signals for extensions over the CAT5. Because low-density
UTP cable could be used, it was possible to extend the digital signage displays up to 360 feet
from system's media player, which could be locked in a room out of sight, away from heat and
moisture, and away from vandals or thieves.
For the control part, a Web-based access and management application was used. This gave the
company the ability to centrally monitor, administer, and update ads and other content in
seconds over an IP-based connection. Through this remote link, a content manager could stream
advertising content that targets customers right at the pump, as well as use dynamic PoP
marketing to promote the gas company's own customer loyalty programs—and create brand
loyalty in the process. And because the system operates in real-time, the administrator could
change content on the fly. For instance, when the weather turns cold, the displays could show
ads for antifreeze and coffee. Content can also be programmed to stream at specific times of
Quality in-store advertising without cabling headaches.
The client: A media company looking for improved in-store digital signage
Major challenge: Transmitting video long distances without degradation
The large established media company with a major discount chain as its premier client wanted
to improve the quality of content delivered to its in-store advertising displays. The stakes
were high. The retail chain expected every one of their 300 stores to have the same signage
with advertising reaching an audience of more than 60 million people on a monthly basis. But
in addition to the discount stores, the media company also had to satisfy the advertisers
themselves. And it didn't help that many of the clients were new to retail advertising, with
brands not traditionally promoted in the mass media. So promoting the brands to their liking
would require a high-quality delivery system.
The media company's first attempt at setting up the in-store signage met with disappointing
results. Content distributed from the player over coax cabling resulted in a shaky video. Plus,
distance was an issue. Coax didn't do well at transmitting content from the back area of the
store to the PoP displays. It is also particularly expensive when used in longer runs, and
difficult to pull and terminate. Certainly not the solution for rapid deployments in a busy
The media company went with a high-quality CAT5 UTP-based system for distributing advertising
content to the in-store signage. This system solution required minimal cabling, used cabling
that was much less expensive than coax, and most importantly, transmitted high-quality
multimedia over long distances without any image degradation. In addition, the cable was
easier to pull and could use standard RJ-45 wallplates and jacks for interconnections within
Digital signage wired for the subterranean world.
The client: A digital signage network operator for a public transit provider
Major challenge: Wiring connections for underground locations
A major media company faced the task of having to install a multimedia system that would
deliver real-time—and, if necessary, critical emergency override messaging alerts—to
up to 1500 LCD screens in a major North American city's subway system. Content would include
useful, up-to-the-minute transit information for passengers (including hearing-impaired riders),
weather bulletins, news, and sports. The system would also be used to stream entertainment from
a local TV station and content from local cultural and arts organizations, as well as paid
advertising. The screens would target more than a million passengers per week.
Running the wiring for a digital signage in an underground area poses its own unique set of
challenges and can be cost-prohibitive. There are tight corners and a spiderweb of cabling and
wiring for telecom and utilities to contend with. Then there's the matter of securing the
hardware. In platform areas frequented by the public at all hours of the day, system hardware
has to be vandalproof and hidden from view to prevent tampering and theft. Plus, any sensitive
electronics have to be weatherized for the cool, damp environment.
A hardware-based and network-independent CAT5 UTP-wired system to distribute video signals from
master enclosures to slave enclosures in platform areas. Using copper cabling proved to be the
ideal alternative to using traditional coax cabling. It's not as bulky, can be pulled more
easily through smaller conduit and ducts, and at longer distances, without any worrying about
The low-density, easy-to-install copper was just the cost-effective media for distributing the
high-bandwidth content—and enables the high-priced digital signage to run problem-free.
The signage itself helps make the commuting experience more pleasurable for the public,
reducing perceived wait times for trains and keeps them better informed of transit info. For
the subway system authority, the signage enhances its image in the minds of public and provides
it with additional funding through the ad revenue generated, so much that system has become
self-sufficient. What's more, the authority now has a centralized, easy-to-update communications
system for public safety messaging.
Unobtrusive, long-distance video for a messaging center.
The client: A convention center
Major challenge: Maintaining high-resolution imagery end-to-end
A county-owned convention center in the South wanted to install a state-of-the-art messaging
center with a sophisticated display system. In addition to providing visitors with directions,
meeting and event schedules, and stock tickers, the messaging center would stream ad content
paid for by sponsors and other advertisers—ads that would recoup the cost of the entire
digital signage project in a short amount of time.
Part of the project's requirements was the need to centrally store all back-end audio and video
equipment in a single, highly accessible communications closet for ease of control and
maintenance. (No auxiliary closets or computers could be used near the displays themselves. )
Moreover, the resolution on every display in the center had to match the resolution of the
monitor at the video source. Trouble was, the blueprint called for the displays to be more than
1300 feet away from the central closet—a tall order for conventional video-extension
A daisychain of CAT5 audio/video receivers communicating with transmitters in the central
communications closet and linked to 17 large-format LCD and plasma displays in high-traffic
areas. Using CAT5 copper cable was not only simpler than using coax cable (no BNC connections
to terminate), but it also reduced the need for conduit cross-section. And because the receiver
units could be daisychained through their dual RJ-45 ports, the entire system required fewer
cabling runs to the closet.
To meet the convention center's stringent requirements for quality end-to-end video, the CAT5
video extension system supports 1600 x 1200 resolution at distances as far as 1500 feet. What's
more, transmitter signaling can be equalized and fine-tuned to ensure clear, crisp display
Flight info delivered remotely to custom LCD enclosures.
The client: A West Coast airport
Major challenge: No room in the screen enclosure for extra hardware
As part of the work done for a new information display system, the airport installed more than
175 LCDs to provide travelers with up-to-date information in various airport areas. These
included new displays for flight information, gate information, and baggage information.
To replace its older low-resolution, CRT-based displays, the airport chose NEC-Mitsubishi
LCD3000 and LCD4000 panels over plasma screens because of their clarity and lack of burn-in,
then brought in a specialty metal fabrication company to build custom LCD-panel enclosures.
These thin metal frames would enable the screen bezels to be seamlessly integrated into the
space without harming the aesthetics of the airport. And to ensure optimum viewing, the
enclosures featured anti-reflective, anti-glare optical glass.
So a lot of thought went into how the displays and their enclosures should look. But what
should be used to generate the content for the digital signage? The design didn't allow for
computers, servers, players, or other equipment to be housed in or near the boxes holding the
displays. Besides, the airport wanted to manage content from a central location.
The airport went with a CAT5-based extender system to deliver remote VGA signals to the LCD
displays. This system of transmitters and receivers, specially designed for high-resolution
video as well as serial signal control, enabled the airport to distribute its content using
inexpensive, easy-to-handle copper UTP cable. Content can reach displays close to control room
as well as LCDs at distances as far as 1500 feet—without any video signal degradation.
Pixel cycling on extenders ensures optimal video quality.
Plus, in this setup, no computers are needed to run the individual displays; all computers are
centralized in one secure room, which makes it easy to maintain, troubleshoot, and power.
Signage for improving call center productivity and morale.
The client: A call center operator with locations across the U.S.
Major challenge: Tight schedule
In order to increase employee productivity, the call center company planned to install an
employee communications system in more than 25 locations across the country. The system would
include plasma displays showing real-time call center statistics so workers could see how many
callers are on hold and how long they've been waiting.
In addition, high-definition Panasonic plasma screens would be used to provide company-related
information to visitors and employees throughout its buildings, spotlighting the outstanding
performance of workers in an effort to improve morale.
Facing a short deadline to get the digital signage system up and running, the company decided
to use a series of CAT5 video extenders for a quick deployment in all call centers. These
extenders enable the plasma screens to be placed away from the PCs hosting the call center
data. Plus, they gave the company an easy way to distribute computer video to lobbies and
other areas. Because the system's transmitters and receivers use flexible, inexpensive UTP
copper for communications, no bulky runs are required. Installers used both four-port DVI
transmitters and serial transmitters on the local side. The serial units not only support
video and serial data over the same cable, they also enable system administrators in the
control room to turn displays on and off remotely.
Custom cable delivered for a super kiosk.
The client: Compaq
Major challenge: Providing built-to-spec cables fast
SPHINX is the name given to interactive multimedia kiosks jointly developed by Compaq®,
the world's largest PC company, and GKN Kiosks, a leading international supplier of kiosk
housing technology for telecom companies. At its heart, the SPHINX is intended to serve as a
public information delivery kiosk, primarily designed to provide detailed product information
to shoppers without them having to request assistance from store personnel. Customers access
it via a keyboard, trackball, or touch screen that can display everything from videos to Web
pages. To pay for on-line services, they just swipe a debit or credit card.
A prototype of the SPHINX was developed by Compaq. It included a large slim-line TFT display,
stereo amplifier, speakers, and the card reader. But just one thing stood between SPHINX and
its premiere: the right cable to run between the kiosk's central unit and the TFT screen.
Specifically, developers had to find and fit a 10-foot-long VGA cable that had a right-angle
connector at one end.
After approaching several well-known cable suppliers for the cable, Compaq's technical
operations manager soon realized that this wasn't a standard job. "With just days to go until
the show, I called the Black Box help line to find out if they could recommend a cable
specialist and discovered that I was speaking to them!"
The following morning, a Black Box engineer was on-site to spec out the requirements for the
kiosk-to-TFT link and set to work building the customized solution for Compaq. "Two days later,
our customized cables were delivered—in time for the SPHINX's first public showing the
following day," the technical operations manager recounts. "We were all very impressed by the
speed and level of service from Black Box from start to finish," he says. "Black Box proved
that they are not just a catalog, but a one-stop networking solution."
Keeping more than 2000 employees informed and up to date.
The client: An international professional services firm
Major challenge: Providing the flexibility to deliver info in real time
In 2007, a large, international professional services firm focused on taxation advisory
relocated to a state-of-the-art, 220,000-square-foot building. In the move to its new
headquarters in the heart of a major city's financial district, the firm looked to improve
its day-to-day communications to the 2000-plus employees under one roof.
The firm sought a system to keep staff up to date with timely and accurate information,
and that would enable them to adapt that information in real time to better serve its clients. The new system
would also be used to disseminate information traditionally provided through papered bulletin
boards and printed newsletters—which would be very costly in terms of the paper and time
required to produce them for an office this size. Plus, they're not very environmentally friendly.
To accomplish its communications goals and reduce paper expenses and waste, the firm went with
a networked digital signage system. For the actual management of signage content, it chose the
integrated hardware/software appliance currently sold in the U.S. and elsewhere as the
Black Box® iCOMPEL.
The firm most liked its flexible scaling options and the number of layouts that come preloaded
on the appliance. What’s more, the system’s design software supports dividing a screen
presentation into different zones, into which different media (flash animation, video, RSS news
feeds, etc.) can be streamed and changed on a moment’s notice.
The key to reaching the large number of employees was the location of the screens. The firm
decided on strategic visual points in the multifloor building: the reception/lobby area,
elevator areas, and in its on-site hospitality suite, training center, and gym. It chose
these locations because of their high foot traffic. In all, 29 screens were installed.
Through these displays, the company can now not only keep its employees informed, but
also communicate marketing- and PR-related content to visitors and prospective clients.