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Digital Signage and Raspberry Pi

Weekend before last, I drove down to Georgetown, SC, to visit the South Carolina Maritime Museum (FB).  They were having a special public reception for the opening exhibit, for riverboats that ran on South Carolina rivers.  Several of these steamboats had traveled the Cape Fear river before heading to SC.

Before leaving the museum, I was talking with Robert McAlister, (I guess he is the Director.), and he mentioned wanting some sound effects, e.g. steamboat whistle, steam engine sounds, etc.  I said that I would look online to see if I could find some free effects.

But, looking for these sounds online got me to thinking about multimedia displays in museum settings.  I had experienced a sound dome, which directs the presentation audio down onto the viewer.  Someone standing nearby might not even be able to hear the presentation.  *It would be nice to have an repeating audio presentation for those viewing the new Planter model.

Raspberry-Pi-LogoEventually, I turned my focus onto the Raspberry Pi as a multimedia presentation hardware.  Sure enough, there was already a great number of items for digital signage from a couple of years ago (2013).  “Sixteen Slices of Raspberry Pi for Digital Signage

So, I finally had a good reason to play with the little computer.  I ordered a CanaKit Raspberry Pi 2 package from Amazon.com for about $69, which with Amazon Prime, had no shipping charges, and arrived in a couple of days.

pi2modb_angle1_web_3184559bThe kit included the Raspberry Pi 2 motherboard, a black plastic case, HDMI cable, power cable, a USB WIFI adapter, & a pre-loaded micro SD card.

I was worried that I was going to have to purchase a cheap USB keyboard and mouse, but then I watched a YouTube video and saw that it was very likely that a wireless keyboard would connect without a problem.  *I ended up using my Dell PC’s wireless keyboard & mouse (USB dongle to the Pi) successfully.

Although I will play with some “geeky” things, I am not adept at it.  I will break off plastic parts either trying to get something open, or while trying to close it.  Trying to get a memory card out of a plastic package can be a major task.  *I say this because it took some jostling to get the plastic case and the Pi motherboard to fit correctly and so that all the ports lined up right.

So, I didn’t have a memory card reader.  I wasn’t going to be able to burn the NOOBS image to the card to start the install process, and then I went back and read that the card I had received was “preloaded”.  It already had everything that I needed to start the Raspberry Pi install.  I just slipped the tiny micro SD card in it’s slot on the motherboard.  Its located on the underside of the motherboard, from all the other good stuff (various ports).

So, I got the Raspberry Pi in it’s black plastic case and hooked up the HDMI and network cable, and then plugged in the power cable.  The rainbow screen appeared on my Samsung TV screen, and eventually the Raspberry Pi logo.  I had mistakenly plugged in my Logitech wireless speaker bluetooth dongle and eventually realized my mistake.  Once I plugged in the correct dongle, the Dell keyboard and mouse worked fine on the Raspberry Pi.  *The setup process went as described in the YouTube video I had watched.

So, I got to the point where I had a GUI interface for my Raspberry Pi.  I used the included web browser which worked for much of the pages I visited.  But, there is relatively little else to do.

I finally revisited the Screenly web site and found that it was possible to install the Screenly OSE without burning the image that Screenly provided for the SD card.  I followed the steps, and it seemed that the setup had been successful, but being new to this OS, I had mistaken a setting.  I needed the GUI interface instead of the commandline for this to work.  Once I figured that out, Screenly came up as it should.

Screenly pops up with a URL for you to visit (from a different device).  From there, you can start to add content for Screenly to display.  I put up a couple of pictures, a QR image, a web page, and then added a 1 minute video (“Big Buck Bunny”).  They all worked as they should, but then I realized I didn’t know how to start the Raspberry Pi without it going directly into the Screenly app.  *I’m still not sure I have that solution yet.

Screenly offers a Pro (paid) version at $10/month.  One major problem that I see with the setup is that Screenly boots up showing the Management URL, and there is NO PASSWORD on this site.  If you had your setup in a storefront window and there was a loss of power, you wouldn’t want everyone seeing the Management URL, even if it was for 20 seconds or so… especially if there was no password to stop anyone from changing or adding WHATEVER content they wanted. NOTE: I later saw that there is a login option to Screenly’s web site, and their setup image (non-OSE version) generates a unique ID to pair the online management window to your Raspberry Pi setup.

I’ve already ordered 3 – 16 GB Class 10 micro SD cards (-$7@), and a card reader ($10) which should be here in a couple of days (probably tomorrow).  At that price per card, you could easily be working on several projects and just pop one card out and another in.

In fact, to get Screenly working on a fresh Raspberry Pi, you would just need to plug in an already formatted SD card, plug in the various cables and then the power cable and Screenly should be up and running without a problem in a few minutes. *I haven’t tested plugging in a USB cable for power from the TV to the Raspberry Pi, but conceivably, it is possible.

Items needed to get digital signage working via Raspberry Pi:

  • HDTV
  • HDMI Cable
  • Raspberry Pi 2 & Case
  • 8-16GB Class 10 Micro SD Card
  • USB Keyboard & Mouse (can be wireless, with Bluetooth dongle)
  • Network Cable
  • Power Cable (possibly USB cable powered via TV)
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