When your business or organization is looking to purchase an LED sign, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the technical specifications of the sign itself. How many colors can it display? How bright can it get? But an often overlooked part of the sign is even more important: the LED sign software. After all, even the most impressive and expensive hardware is just a black rectangle without the right software to run it.
But what should you be looking for when considering the LED sign software? We’ve compiled several questions to ask the sign company when making this decision. Of course, having developed LED sign software ourselves, we might be a little biased in what we consider important. However, see if you don’t agree that these are important aspects of all LED sign software.
- Is the setup easy? – Making that initial connection and sending your first message to the sign can sometimes seem like you need a degree in computer science. Ask for documentation on how to set up a computer to communicate with the sign and look it over; the shorter, the better. Also, remember that there is software running inside of the sign itself. Find out if the sign will require special access or settings to work with your computer network. With firewalls, anti-virus applications and other barriers, it’s often best if the sign uses a standard Internet connection to communicate.
- Can you access it from anywhere? – With people becoming more mobile in today’s society, being tied down to a single computer to change the sign message doesn’t make much sense. Ask if this will be a software package that has to be downloaded, installed and registered for every computer. There also may be limitations on where the computer can be located. Find out if the computer and the sign have to be on the same physical network to communicate.
- Does it work on any operating system? – Compatibility with your existing equipment is an important consideration. Installable software packages usually only work on Microsoft Windows, which can be a problem for Mac owners. They also can’t be used on mobile operating systems such as Android or iOS. Make sure that the software will work on every device that you want to use to control your sign.
- Is the software secure? – The worst thing that can happen to an LED sign owner is seeing an inappropriate message (or worse yet, image) on your LED sign. Ask the sign company what type of security features are present in both the software and on the sign itself. Of course, basic password protection is a must. If the sign communicates over the Internet, make sure it uses the HTTPS (secure) protocol.
- Can each person have their own username and password? – Related to the above, sharing a single password to the sign is usually not a good idea. These passwords tend to never be changed, even as the responsibility for updating the sign changes over time. Controlling who has access to the sign on an individual basis is always wise.
- Can you share and edit messages among multiple users? – Fresh content on your sign is a must, and sharing the ability to update the sign message is a great way to make this happen. The software should let multiple people work on the same sign message. We recommend setting up a “sign committee” that shares messages and content, and we bet you’ll be surprised with the amount of creativity they will provide.
- Does it have powerful content creation tools? – The heart of any LED sign software is its ability to add your own special content. While most software can do basic text, images and video clips, there are more advanced features to consider such as text outlines and placement of text over video. The ability to crop and resize images and video clips within the software can be handy as well.
- Does it come with graphics and animations? – Using your own content is great, but you shouldn’t always have to reinvent the wheel. Many eye-catching media clips should be included that allow you to get started right away without needing to have video or photo-editing skills.
- Are there built-in sign diagnostic tools? – It would be great if your sign always worked without a problem but, as with any technology, issues can and will arise. The ability to troubleshoot problems within the same software you use to control the sign is a big plus. If the diagnostic information can be easily or automatically provided to a support technician, it will make working with your sign company a much easier process.
- Is there a backup way to communicate to the sign? – If the communication to the sign fails, a data line is cut or unplugged for example, it’s very helpful to have a second way to change the message on the sign until normal communication is restored. A USB drive or other local connection can be used for this purpose. If this same method can be used to get diagnostic information and change sign settings, it can be an invaluable troubleshooting tool.
- Can it control each side of the sign independently? – If you have a two-sided sign, being able to put a different message on each side is a useful way to enhance the sign’s effectiveness. Signs that have independent side control are often referred to as having a master/master or parent/parent relationship, where signs that don’t are considered master/slave or parent/child.
- Does it have multiple ways to control the sign brightness? – The biggest competitor to your new LED sign is the sun, so understanding and controlling your sign’s brightness is extremely important. Too dim and your message can’t be seen; too bright and your sign may present a driving hazard. At a minimum, your software should allow for setting an automatic brightness that adjusts with the ambient light conditions. Another option is a brightness schedule, where the sign’s brightness is controlled by the time of day.
- Are there advanced scheduling options? – Some software packages will only let you schedule a message during a certain time of day or during a certain day of the week. Having the ability to schedule both a repeating (also called a “recurring”) message and a one-time-only message is an important feature. Being able to set a beginning and an end date in addition to a repeating schedule will also help you to make timely, targeted messages.
- Can it display a trusted temperature reading? – Time and temperature are a staple of electronic sign messaging. However, showing an accurate temperature can be a problem. Sign software that doesn’t connect to the Internet must get the temperature from an attached “temp probe”. These probes often pick up the heat radiating from pavement or the sign itself, resulting in a reading that can be off by 10 degrees or more. A more reliable source is an online weather service reading for your sign’s location.
- Does it have comprehensive training material and support documentation? – The greatest software in the world isn’t worth anything if you don’t know how to use it. Make sure that the software has clear and concise training material, as well as online resources for troubleshooting issues. We prefer video tutorials to get up and running quickly. These resources should be available before the sale; not being given access to support material until after you become a customer is a red flag.