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Digital Signage : Flash vs Video for motion graphics
An article by Mark Rigby of Evil Genius Productions
Mark has been involved in creating content for the digital signage industry for 15 years and was the former creative director of Valmorgan Retail Media and Outpost Media.
Hi everyone, one of the most asked questions I get asked in regards to content creation, is whether to use Flash or Video as a content source. A lot of designers are adamant flash is superior whilst other designers will completely disagree and suggest video is the only way. Usually I have found this attitude prevalent with businesses who have focused solely on one medium such as web developers promoting flash and video production companies touting video, and this is where things can get a big foggy, because digital signage is not web based, nor does it have the limitations of just simple video playback. Confusing?
Not really, flash and video do have their pros and cons and will boil down to exactly what do you need your content to do? What is your player or media network capable of and (of course) how much money are you willing to spend.
Flash – King of the Web
Yes, there is no denying it, flash is fantastic, it has multiple applications its flexible, its dynamic, it is probably one of the greatest interactive media advancements in the past 10 years, and because so many people use it for web development and application development, designers are a dime a dozen This means you can usually find someone rather cheap to do the work for you. Sounds great doesn’t it? Yes it does, but Flash does have its limitations. But let’s start off with the good stuff, what flash can do that video cant.
Interactivity either through touchscreen or some other interface
Can be database driven or have web content automatically updated without user input
RSS Feeds and other dynamic feeds such as weather or news items
Small file size (if not using video)
Can still use video as an FLV source
Hmm, pretty impressive hey! But now let’s look at what flash struggles with and more importantly why
Choppy frame rates when scene is complex
Compression artefact’s on converted video
Performance issues on low spec’d players
Limited compositing abilities
Too many backyard designers
Flash is a VERY resource intensive medium and quite often requires serious CPU power to run more complex animations. Why is that do you ask? Flash and video although look like they do similar things, they are completely poles apart in execution. Video relies on generating a sequence of still images 25 – 30 frames per second to create the illusion of movement. So for each second of video, you’re actually seeing 25-30 still images playing consecutively. Flash on the other hand works differently. Flash actually physically moves objects around the screen using the timeline as a guide of when to start and stop motion. Let’s say for instance you have an image you want to move from the left hand of the screen to the right, flash will look at the time line and think, hmm, when I get to 5 seconds, I need to move that image to the right of the screen, and I need to finish moving the image when I get to 10 seconds. Flash has to think about this and then physically move the image over to the right calculating a number of variables such as what is in front of the photo and what is behind it, all of this absorbs cpu power, the more objects, the more flash utilizes the cpu, therefore limiting the number of animated objects you can have on screen at the one time. Also you have to remember, Flash was designed primarily for web applications, meaning the overall size was quite small around 400 – 600 pixels. Flash was never really designed to provide content at HD resolutions and often struggles with anything above 1280 x 720 pixels. Flash does have SOME limitations with compositing, meaning, blending various items on the screen with background or foreground items. Flash is an object based animation program, used to move objects around the screen, and although flash has continued to improve its toolset over the years, it will never quite match the toolset a video designer will have available to them. Lastly, and probably one of the most important, flash attracts back yard developers, usually a uni student wanting to make a quick buck on the side, and their content CAN be quite lacking……
Video – The Production Star
There is nothing quite like full HD video, crisp, clean, clear. We all love to watch good quality video and that is why it is still so readily used within digital signage. The production values are much higher and the overall quality just seems so much better. But there are downsides, cost can be an issue, and also the fact that video is not very interactive and very limited when it comes time dynamic updates. But let’s look at the good side first.
Excellent quality video (using proper encoding)
Unlimited production potential
No coding headaches
No surprises there, but what’s the bad stuff?
Generally higher cost (although this is coming down now)
Can still require a higher spec’d player for full HD content
Dynamic updates can be more difficult
Basically Video is just unable to compete with Flash when it comes into interactivity and dynamic content. Also video files can end up quite large (depending on the codec used) and often have to match content to a players specs which can get confusing if you are a novice at video encoding. Often video production can cost more to create, and some production houses will charge an arm and a leg, and whatever else you might have attached to you! But that is now changing now digital signage content providers like myself are offering much more competitive pricing, while offering the same level of production.
Is flash better? Is video Better? As I tell all my clients, just like your hardware, digital signage content is a tool. It has a specific purpose for your business, and this specific purpose can change from one thing to another in each business model. The most important thing is to ask yourself, what do I need my digital signage to do? You would be surprised how few people actually think about this, and focus on just the hardware, but a digital signage content solution is just as important. Do you need your signage to be interactive? Do you need RSS feeds or to update content from the web automatically? Do you need to change content often or just every now and then? If you need interactivity or to update content on a daily basis, then flash is your best option, just be wary of its limitations and make sure your player can play flash files at a decent enough resolution without “stepping” too much. If you just want to rotate content once a week or month and want your content to really shine, then video is your best choice. Another choice to think about is players that allow you to mix content on the screen, have part of the screen video, while having the other part interactive flash. These kinds of players offer medium versatility at the cost of layout, but sometimes this could be the best option.
If you are still insure what you need, then you should talk to someone like us who can consult with you and put together a package that will suit what you need. A true content specialist will listen to your requirements and then offer you a solution based on your needs, not on what format the designer prefers to work in.
If you would like us to help you create content or to consult you on what content would work best in your business, please check out our website, and give us a call.
Good Luck with your Digital Signage!
Creating Digital Signage Content That Works
An article by Mark Rigby of Evil Genius Productions
Mark has been involved in creating content for the digital signage industry for
17 years and was the former creative director of Valmorgan Retail Media and Outpost Media.
Part 1 Understanding Digital Signage
This is part 1 in a series of articles I am writing about how to create digital signage that works. Most of this information might seem straightforward to most people, but I think it is important to start from the most basic principles of digital signage and how it works. Most users will want to use pre-existing material in their digital signage, while this makes sense, it might not fully utilize the benefits of digital signage. It is important to understand just how digital signage works, and I don’t mean in the technical sense, but in the “human” sense. Once we understand exactly how digital signage best interacts with potential viewers, the more effective digital signage will be.
In the trenches
Today’s retail environment is a combat zone of attention grabbing material. Retailers arm themselves to the teeth in numerous ways to stand out from each other. It is a battlefield bathed in neon signs, POS displays and posters. Over the years your average shopper has become desensitized to this visual noise, forcing advertisers to find new and effective ways to attract shoppers. Up until now retailers and advertisers have had to rely mostly on static formats to promote themselves, but now with the advent of digital signage the retail battle field has a new smart weapon, but with all smart weapons, digital signage is only as smart and effective as the person using it.
Content is King…. It’s good to be the king!
Choosing and installing the hardware is only very first step in a successful digital signage setup. And there are a number of companies out there now that can help retailers and advertisers with exactly this. But once your digital signage system is in place then what? A LOT of retailers and advertisers never really think this far and only tackle the question of digital signage content creation once their system has been installed. I have been involved in a number of situations where installation companies have installed a digital signage system, but their client is complaining that it is not having a noticeable effect on their business. I usually go out and have a look or have photographs sent back to me of the system in operation and 95% of the time it is content related. We then offer our services to come up with a plan for their business and incorporate the new content onto their digital signage system, within a few days it has an effect and the owners are left extremely happy.
The biggest problem was that new owners of digital signage were focusing on the hardware/software setup adjusting their budgets to suit the hardware and software only. Then when it came to creating content they were left unprepared. In most cases owners will either try and create static signs in Photoshop or try and get their son/daughter/niece/nephew from school to whip up something in Flash. And while this can work and it does create digital signs, they just simple do not function properly as digital signage.
Humans in the jungle
One of the Key aspects of why digital signage is so effective is due to motion. Human Beings are by evolutionary design predators. Our eyes were designed to seek out and focus on movement. For example, as we all know a cat will usually ignore a stationary object, but the second it moves, the cat focuses all of its attention on that object. This is basically how all animals hunt and survive.
Not that I am suggesting your potential viewers are trying to hunt something down and kill it, (well where I shop sometimes I wonder!) rather I am saying that this part of our psyche still exists today. People will immediately track any new movement in their field of vision, it is not a conscious effort, but one based solely on a person’s subconscious reaction.
Tools of the Trade
There are so many programs out there on the web that can help you create simple, but effective digital signage content. Some are free, some are extremely expensive. But don’t be fooled, some of the free ones are all that you need, however depending on your player and software requirements, you may have to purchase Adobe Flash.
However if your player can play video formats all you will need is some kind of image editor that will allow you to work in layers and a simple video editor. Some digital signage packages already come with their own software to create digital signage, or is offered as an extra.
Photos and Images
As we have discussed, animated content works best for digital signage, but even animated content relies on static graphics and images. It is also important to remember that the screen does not always have to have something moving. Sometimes pausing material for a few seconds then moving it again works even better than constant motion. For example you could have a picture of an object slide in, and then the price of the object zoom in and then pause on these elements for a few seconds then animate them back out again. This works extremely well and allows you to use static material more easily such as images, photos, graphics and even text. In most cases I will create everything I need in Photoshop, and storyboard each section. This allows me to get the layout set correctly and to build all the elements I need into one file.
However if you are not using Photoshop, you may have to save each element as a separate file. My best advice is if you are exporting material to be used in another program, try to always export your files as transparent PNG files. This means that the background will always be transparent while retaining the full quality of the image. Do not use GIF files or jpg files. Although GIF files do support transparency, they have a very limited colour palette and also do not support dithering (dithering is how an object fades into transparency) JPG files are great for low file size but do not support transparency. The last thing you want is to have blocks of images on your screen.
To TVC or not to TVC
This is the question. TVC’s are designed primarily for a captive audience. Meaning people are sitting down in front of a Television already watching what’s on screen. There is no visual competition so advertising in this medium is very flexible and can take full advantage of the viewers’ attention often the message of some ads is not clear until the very end. Some ads have exceptionally long dialogue or rely on auditory cues rather than visual ones. These types of ads will never work effectively with digital signage as digital signage does not work in the same environment, and rarely uses audio.
There are some instances however where TVC’s can be used where the TVC content is purely visual without anyone talking with lots of action. You can also incorporate TVC’s with static graphics overlayed across the top like a logo or web address. If you have any doubt about the TVC, play it on your pc with no sound and see what it looks like. If you think it makes sense and tells a visual story, then use it! If it does not, then you know it simply will not work for digital signage.
Before you even open Photoshop or any other program, think about what you want your ad to do, this will give you an indication of how long you want your ad to be. Digital signage content can be many things and work in different ways. For the purposes of this article I will focus on 3 of the major types of advertising for digital signage, there are of course more and I will deal with them in another article coming out shortly.
Branding Digital Signage Content – completely focused on building a brand or product
Informational Digital Signage Content– Educating viewers on new products or services
Event Digital Signage Content – Perhaps your business is having a sale or reducing the cost on certain items
Figuring out what your digital signage content is going to do is the first step. Starting off knowing how long your ad is going to be is crucial for laying out the road map of your digital signage content. Ok, so how long should each one of these types of content should be? Let’s look below.
Branding – 5-10 Seconds
Informational – 15-20 Seconds
Event – 10-15 Seconds
How did I come to these amounts? After many years of testing and numerous independent reports in retail environments, I have discovered this formula creates far more engaging content for digital signage and has a higher recall rate than other content set at different lengths.
Mark’s Golden Rule’s For Digital Signage Content
Check material resolution – Always try and avoid low resolution images, photos and video.
Take time to prepare elements – Clean up images, remove backgrounds if you can
Does your player require a safe zone? – A safe zone is a margin around the edge of the content that could be cut off by the screen. Most HDMI or DVI players do not have this problem. Some older players using other connections could
Always use guides to line up content – Most software packages will allow you to either use guides or rulers to space and align content, USE THEM it will make you material look much more professional.
Always sit down and review your completed work – Take the time to view what you have created. Watch how others react to your content and see what works best and what does not.
In upcoming articles I will discuss just how to build an example of a Branding Ad, an Informational Ad and an Event Ad from scratch. I will discuss the importance of layouts, content, text and timing and physically show how an ad is made.
If you feel you need some professional advice, please contact us and we will help you in the best way we can. We can consult with you and help develop your digital signage network.
Copyright Evil Genius Productions (c) 2014