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Benefits & Drawbacks Fiber optic cable is optimal for transmitting high-resolution multi-media over long distances, a feature which makes it particularly appropriate for digital signage. Fiber optic cable provides network-independent performance without downtime or transmission lags. It can transfer media over 40 kilometers or more. In addition, it requires no special infrastructure, software or display-side CPUs.
However, fiber optic is a point-to-point technology – in other words, a pure fiber optic cable solution will not allow multiple displays to receive output from a single video source. This can prove a significant obstacle for multiple-display digital signage installations such as malls and airports.
In addition, fiber optic cable has a high price relative to other technologies. Fiber optic cable’s expense can prove prohibitive when planning a large digital signage project. A possible solution, discussed below, is combination of fiber optic cable with other, less expensive solutions, allowing user to benefit from fiber optic cable’s advantages while reducing total cost of project.
CAT5 Distribution Systems CAT5 cable is also a transmission medium favored for local installations that need high bandwidth and high resolution without any existing network infrastructure. CAT5 cable technology provides these advantages at a considerably lower cost than fiber optic cable. CAT5 technology supports real-time multi-media transfer through inexpensive, low density, twisted pair cabling.
Benefits & Drawbacks In certain ways, CAT5 technology as a distribution platform combines best aspects of fiber-optic and network technologies. Like fiber optic technology, CAT5 technology requires no special software or display-side CPUs, and is completely hardware-based and network independent. Only transmitter and receiving units are required. While CAT5 covers shorter distances than fiber optic cable (typically 100-300 m/300-1000 ft), CAT5 cable costs considerably less than fiber optic cable, making it a leading option for combination solutions which overcome CAT5 cable’s distance limitations.
In addition, CAT5 technology can be used in point-to-multi-point applications, allowing broadcast of media content from one central source to hundreds of display stations. As a result, CAT5 technology alone or combined with fiber optic cable is an ideal solution for multiple-display digital signage installations.
Due to its network independence, CAT5 cable allows high performance, real-time transmission of high-resolution multi-media without slowdowns or downtime. If CAT5 technology is combined with a BIOS-level hardware solution for remote access over IP (such as a KVM IP extender), it can even allow remote maintenance and trouble shooting for content server that manages content to be displayed, minimizing down time and loss of investment.
CAT5 cable’s low expense, ease of installation, and flexibility make it a good choice for a primary distribution technology as well as a leading “last mile” option for combination platforms.
Combination Technologies Because of advantages and drawbacks of each of technologies listed above, it is frequently advisable to use a combination of technologies for optimal performance at lowest possible cost.
Fiber optic and CAT5 cable When dealing with high-resolution media over large distances that must be broadcast to a group of displays, a combination of fiber optic and CAT5 cable is optimal solution. In this case, fiber optic cable is used for distance broadcasting together with a local CAT5 video broadcaster for “splitting” broadcast to various displays. This is a simple solution to install, since all that is needed is to connect fiber optic receiver with CAT5 video broadcaster. And use of CAT5 cable for last 50-150 meters/150-500 feet of cabling instead of fiber optic cable can provide significant savings.
Benefits High resolution & performance Hardware solution Point to multi-point No special infrastructure or display-side software required Network independent Long distance Supports groups of displays Lower cost than pure fiber optic
Conclusion: By combining two technologies into same solution and using true advantages of each type of cable you were able to save almost 17% or $17,500 in direct costs to your customer.
Data Network and CAT5 cable When managing multiple groups of digital signage displays from a remote location, a combination of data networking and local CAT5 cabling can give user best of both worlds: remote management over IP combined with low-cost and network-independent infrastructure. The “last mile” use of CAT5 in place of data networks at display end saves cost of a computer (or CPU) for every display. All that is needed is a local central server, which is remotely managed through data network. The local server is connected to multiple displays through CAT5 technology, freeing local installation from network dependence. The digital signage of each location is network-independent, and each installation is far less expensive to implement. Bandwidth issues are also surmounted by transmitting media to local computer ahead of time for scheduling on-the-fly. At time of broadcast, media is transmitted locally over CAT5 cabling, which is network independent and not limited by bandwidth.
Benefits Point to multi-point High resolution & performance No local infrastructure or display-side software required Locally network independent Low cost
Conclusion Distribution infrastructure is an important part of digital signage, and choosing correct distribution technology is a crucial element of any digital signage project. While each distribution technology has its advantages and drawbacks, correct combination of technologies can achieve low cost and high performance no matter what project size or complexity.
Minicom Advanced Systems is a leading manufacturer of innovative A/V distribution solutions.
Minicom's AV Solutions are distributed and supported in the UK by DVI Partnership Ltd. For more information visit: http://www.dvipartnership.co.uk