Finding hardware to use for a digital signage player is a never ending process of selecting and testing, then testing again when something new comes out.
Ideally it’s going to be small and powerful enough to handle anything a signage system needs from it without costing too much and overheating.
Aside from the usual advertising signage systems a lot of typical use internal systems do little else than display simple text and photos and for that you don’t need an i7 processor, so something like a Raspberry Pi3 or 4 is plenty powerful enough.
In a comparison between the Pi3B and the Pi4B there is quite noticeable difference with the onscreen animation speeds. The Pi4 has a faster CPU and different hardware architecture and it shows.
Playing video was an interesting test. The Pi4 leaves the Pi3B for dust!
The photo shows a simple video test. Three videos made at the same 1280 x 720 resolution at 16mb/s bit rate can just about be played by the Pi4. The display was running in portrait orientation at 1080 x 1920. The operating system was the official Pi Raspbian. With something like the Raspberry Pi you should use an operating system designed for it as it will ideally use the onboard hardware acceleration.
In the video test frames are dropped but it’s not too bad. The videos are played in a web browser using the HTML5 video tag. The same video created at 720 x 1280 portrait orientation played full screen (1080 x 1920) without any problems.
A video created at full 1080 x 1920 resolution with a higher bit rate probably wouldn’t play as well, we didn’t test that as that’s not a typical end case for this type of signage hardware.
The same test in the Pi3B (older 1.2GHz CPU) failed to play the videos.
To put this into some other perspective, a Windows 10 Net-Top PC with a dual core Intel Atom running at 1.4GHz played all three videos without any problems at all. It appeared to download the videos quicker too. The Windows NetTop is a very small air cooled PC about 10cm square and is sub £150.
So, can the Raspberry Pi be used for digital signage?
Yes, the Pi4 is plenty powerful enough for most typical signage applications. The Pi3B and its newer and faster B+ could be used for most digital signage applications as well. I wouldn’t use it to power a video intensive display such as you see outside supermarkets as that would require something more powerful and robust, but for most applications the Raspberry Pi would be fine choice for digital signage.
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