ScreenCloud Launches Own Optimized OS For Digital Signage, And Dedicated Playback Device

November 3, 2022 by Dave Haynes

UK-based CMS software company ScreenCloud has taken the interesting step of building its own variant of the Linux operating system – dubbed ScreenCloud OS – to power a lean, efficient software and hardware digital signage solution it says can handle the scale, functionality and cost demands of the enterprise clients it now targets.

The company started out, like many to most digital signage CMS companies, with a generalist platform aimed at whoever might need software. But in the past couple of years ScreenCloud – which has offices in London, Belfast, LA and Bangkok – has focused on enterprise customers, and now particularly on workplace communications.

One of the interesting aspects of writing its own OS is how that allows the company to tune its code to hardware optimized for signage uses, with a dedicated media playback device that is $150-$200 now (price pegged to volume) and targeted to lower in cost to roughly $100 sometime next year.

In order to unlock the true potential of digital displays and corresponding comms for current and future clients, says the company in PR, ScreenCloud designed its own operating solution, based on a stripped back version of Linux, that addresses these challenges head-on. The OS comes bundled on an affordable media player device supporting the latest web standards, and includes full remote device management capabilities. It is a powerful but easy-to-use solution, supported by:

“We engineered ScreenCloud OS with the needs of IT in mind,” says Mark McDermott, co-founder and CEO of ScreenCloud. “IT departments are often the ones assigned to launch and manage these systems, and it can be an incredibly taxing endeavor – especially for large enterprises with hundreds or even thousands of devices across each of their locations. By building a robust, remotely managed operating system designed specifically for screens, we significantly reduce the dependency on having an IT professional on site, including costly field technicians, and give back valuable time to these professionals to focus on what matters most to them.”

“In addition to scalability, we’re extremely excited to bring longevity for clients as well,” adds McDermott. “Through over-the-air updates that deploy new features, the software will improve over time for all customers. As we continue to innovate, this will allow us to further push the envelope of how digital signage can not only improve employee and business performance across the world, but give our clients a way to fully embrace digital transformation in the deskless workplace like never before.” 

I got a briefing, separately, from McDermott about the thinking behind developing its own operating system and dedicated player devices. His company started out in 2015 with a web player that worked on all kinds of devices, and customers tended to be attracted to Amazon’s Fire Sticks, because of their super-low price points. That was fine for small SMB deployments, but less than ideal for the large-scale enterprise work that ScreenCloud was getting increasingly focused on. But those larger customers – while perhaps not as price-sensitive as small business owners – weren’t keen on playback hardware solutions that were $300-plus per unit, because dozens, hundreds or thousands of $300 budget items tally up to a big number.

The company’s CTO suggested they come up with their own specified device they could control the build on, and know everything about.

“So we’ve taken Linux, but what we did is we did a ground-up build, rather than a stripped-back build. Basically, we said, ‘We only want the features that we actually need to run. That’s all we want. So let’s remove everything else.'”

“What that did is provide better performance, because it has less to do. And it’s also actually more secure, in a funny way, because it can only do so much. If it gets hacked, it sort of has the network profile of being like a printer or something. Its only job is to boot Chrome, and then cache and  basically health-check itself … it can’t really do anything else.”

“We did this R&D project for about a year, just to see if it was even possible. And there are some issues like Linux doesn’t actually have brilliant graphics capabilities. So we had to do a lot of enhancements there to make that run smoother and, and then run the web really, really smoothly. But we basically got there in the end.”

“We launched it, actually over a year ago. It was kind of a quiet launch, it didn’t have remote device management then, just basic stuff. But we launched out and got it in the hands of customers, we run it on top of boxes, which have already been produced, they’re like little gaming PCs. And you know, we can actually sell them at scale for like $150. And we’re actually going to drive that price point down probably closer to $100. Next year. And it has been really popular … we’ve sold 5,000 of them. And our biggest customers use them pretty much by default.”

The longer-term plan is to have the new OS also work on other devices, but there is a reasonable amount of bliss to be had with a solution that’s controlled, versus situations like Fire Sticks that work fine one day, but not the next when Amazon pushed a software update, without notice, that would break functions. Google’s Chrome OS presented similar version release issues in its early days in digital signage.

Digital signage companies writing and releasing their own operating systems is not entirely new. The Swiss company Spinetix, which has always had its own slick little dedicated devices, announced its own Digital Signage OS back in Feb. 2020. It was billed as being tuned to Spinetix boxes or Intel chip-based devices.

There may also be others who have gone down this path. BrightSign boxes also have their own OS. You could make the case that Samsung and LG have their own operating systems, though Tizen and LG webOS were not written JUST for digital signage.

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