Audio content in digital signage - food for thought

Audio content and digital signage. An interesting idea, which sounds obvious, but in most cases does not seem practicable. As with all other content, there are some questions and challenges, which in the end lead to the most important question of all:

Do we need this?

Let's talk about it!

The important questions

Why and What?

First of all, the whole thing needs a purpose. And since the type of audio content naturally correlates directly with the use case, these two W-questions cannot be separated.

If you try to word it a bit more precise, then those questions sound a bit like this:

  • What is to be conveyed via sound?
  • What is to be achieved and why should we use sound?

Following those questions here are my takes on the most relevant use cases for audio content in digital signage applications:

  • Music to entertain visitors/customers
  • Speech or sound output to make content accessible
  • Visual content with its own sound

After establishing a purpose and a way to achieve it, how do we move on?

How?

The how in this case depends strongly on the the first two questions and can therefore be easier or harder to achieve.

In any case, you need either a display with built-in speakers or a dedicated speaker system that can play back the content.

However, this is where it gets interesting: Music, for one, can be played completely separately from visual content. There is a lot of freely usable music, which was made exactly for this use case - sometimes even for free.

Here are a few links to suitable portals:

Speech or sound output for accessibility is again a completely different task. Here it depends very much on the visual content.

With often changing contents it becomes already difficult to solve this in an elegant way. Headphones or an input for them or a Bluetooth connection are probably the best solution here. The sound is played continuously, but can only be heard on the connected headphones.

If the content is static, you could use a button on a touchscreen or a real mechanical button on the display case to start the sound output. An example of this would be reading out a room sign that tells the listener which room it is.

If the content has its own sound - then one would either resort to the solution of a speaker system or to the headphone solution.

Well, we cleared the what, why and how. Where do we go from here?

Where?

Yes, this could be the most important question. Where do you put the whole thing? In fact, this question could have been asked at the beginning, it is that important.

Because it does again depend on the purpose.

Just to clarify: I don't mean the location of the screen or the speaker. But more generally: Where does your digital signage-solution benefit through the use of sound?

Well? This could work everywhere. Especially when it comes to accessibility, audio helps immensely. Any room signage would benefit from text-to-speech.

Or as entertainment in noisier environments - from shopping malls to busy outdoor places - systems with Bluetooth or headphone inputs could provide visitors significant added value through audio guides, history lessons, descriptions, recommendations, etc.

Okay, so where doesn't it work? Tough question honestly. There are likely to be safety-critical environments where sound simply cannot be used.

So ultimately, sound could be used anywhere.

Concluding

I know, I know, the when was not answered at all, but hear me out: The question is quite irrelevant in this context. Simple as that! =)

And if I forgot any more important questions, I'm all ears: fcoenen@netmax.de.

Well, that's it for this week. Next week there will be another Dev Diary, probably.

Thanks for tuning in!

Until then! Don't be a stranger!

Francesco Coenen

17.05.2021