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How schools can create budget-friendly digital signage

By Bradley Chambers in · Technology · May 28, 2015

I’m not sure if you’ve ever priced out digital signage solutions, but they can easily get complicated and expensive. I’m always looking for the simple solution. Personally, I love the Roku 3 video streamer and Plex media center software, so I began to wonder if I could somehow turn it into a digital signage solution.

For some of our TVs, we wanted to display movies. For others, we wanted to have a set of slides that would loop. For the TVs that would play movies, I opted to put in the Roku 3 model with hard wired Ethernet (to save Wi-Fi airtime). On the TVs that were just displaying photos, I went with the cheaper Roku Streaming Stick.

Plex is an app that runs on PCs, Macs, Linux, and other NAS devices. I decided to run it on a Mac mini that I have at the school handling some file sharing. I installed the app and pointed it at the folder in which I store my media. I have two “servers” designated in the Plex media manager. One contains the movies and the other contains a collection of photos. These are really just separate folders on the Mac mini, though.

On the TVs that I wanted to play a video, I launched Plex on the Roku, set videos to loop (in the advanced preferences), and started the video. The video is an hour long (a collection of shorter videos), but it loops when finished. On the other TVs, I wanted it to loop a collection of slides, but also pick up new slides when they were added to the collection without having to stop the slideshow.

Plex’s Roku app doesn’t do this, but a third-party plex app called RARflix does. In its slideshow preferences, you can have it set to reload the photos so that it will catch new ones and remove deleted ones. It works extremely well.

Overall, I am happy with the solution. It’s not the flashiest one, but it’s really inexpensive. The Rokus range from $50-$100 depending on which model you pick; the Plex Roku app is a one time fee of $4.99 (I use one account for the entire school); and the Plex software for the Mac is free. If you’ve already got power and Ethernet/Wi-Fi in these locations, you’ll be able to build an entire digital signage solution very inexpensively.

Bradley Chambers (@bradleychambers )

Bradley Chambers has been the Director of Information Technology at Brainerd Baptist School since 2009. At BBS, he manages a network of Apple and Chrome OS devices. He also writes at Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup.


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