10 January 2016

Digital Signage Project (or How I learned to embrace the AppleTV) - Part 2

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Ok, so it's been a while. And I should start with this: as much as I tried to embrace the apple tv for signage, after a few meetings with the client I relized that it just wasn't going to work out as the only solution.

The project mentioned in the previous post went great. While I was designing the solution, I thought: "what if they don't want to do separate screens? What if they want to do something more involved or play live video on the fly?"

I decided to add a MacMini, not only as the brains of the system, but also to serve as the main component of content for the system. And I am glad I did. Here is a short video of one of the completed video walls: Video Wall on Instagram

Here's a list of the components in workflow order to give you an idea of how it's all put together:

  • Mac Mini
  • 2 3rd generation Apple TVs
  • 4x4 KanexPro Matrix switcher
    • This gives us the ability to select any input and push it to any output, including a local monitor in the workroom.
  • 2 - Gefen HD Video Wall Controller
    • This distributes and scales the 1080p signal across a 2x2 panel of displays
  • KanexPro HDMI over Cat6 Extenders
  • 8 RCA LED displays. 
This gives us 2 of the video walls you see in the link above.

Now the tricky part was getting content to load and run automatically, especially since I found out that the content creators would seldom be on-site to push new content.

Of course there are cloud based signage services with licensing agreements, software, metric tracking, etc. But this is a small local business, looking for something that displays their messages with no need for extra features. 

So, once everything was running and displaying correctly I needed a way to manage it all autonomously. This needed to be able to startup, check for new content, load it, and reboot after a power failure with little to no interaction by the user. And I knew of  just the thing. 

Google Drive to the rescue!

I used automator and some basic apple-scripting to write code that was triggered any time there was a change to a specific folder as well as periodically throughout the day and it worked like a champ! 
New content loaded? Reload the show from the content folder. 
Old file deleted? Reload the show from the content folder.
File changed name? Well, you get it right? 

Now when this content changes, the script kills VLC (did I mention I'm using VLC as the player...because I am, and it's perfect!) reloads the new, changed, deleted content, then reloads and starts the playlist from all files in the folder. VLC is set to run fullscreen above everything else and run the entire folder in alphabetical order on repeat, for eternity. This makes for simple organization.

The MacMini can reboot itself after a power failure so that was no problem.

All that was left to do was hand over the google drive account to the IT crew at the venue and they doled out permissions to whoever needed them. 

It has been over a year and the only call I have ever gotten was for some paperwork they had lost about warranty information (which I thankfully keep a backup of.) Apparently, some non-video wall equipment had been added to the rack as well as the A/C in the room shut off. A few of the video extenders over heated and died. I am happy to say that as far as I know, they have been replaced and the A/C has been turned back on in that room. 

They can now push different content to 2 separate AppleTV's or 1 ATV and the Mac, or just one device and show mirrored or different content on both video walls! 

Now it's time for another project...

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