Using Android Devices for Arreya Digital Signage

 

 
There are two types of Android devices we commonly get questions on –

  1. Generic Android Devices, which could be called media players, tv boxes, sticks, or other nicknames, are inexpensive, easy to find, and easy to buy. Unfortunately, we do not recommend using them.
  2. Commercial Android Devices – There are several companies that have geared their devices toward Digital Signage and provide support for using them in these scenarios. Typically, the cost is higher for commercial Android devices, and you will still need to address other issues like security, remote management, and updates. Some companies provide these services for an additional cost or license fee. Usually, the cost factor of using a commercial Android device is higher than that of an equivalent Chrome device.

 

Some of the issues we have encountered testing generic Android media players are…

  • Updates – Devices rarely receive firmware updates to correct issues. Many are running very old versions of Android and will never be updated. There are still devices on the market today running Android versions from 8+ years ago, that have not and will not receive key updates for security.
  • Performance – Many devices are running generic firmware with poor performance, or missing features. We find that even with similar specifications, a Chrome device easily outperforms commonly sold Android boxes. We have encountered many Android devices with poor performance, cooling issues, media playback issues, and general freezing or crashing during content playback.
  • Security – Along with running old versions of Android and not receiving updates, many devices are configured or built in ways that leave the device vulnerable. To get the device to act properly for Digital Signage and Kiosks, many manufacturers modify the operating system and turn off or remove key features that keep the device protected from backdoors, attacks, and unauthorized applications. Very few of these devices have ANY Google support or backing, despite running unlicensed versions of the Google Play Store. Many of them have been ‘rooted’ or hacked to adjust core operating system features, because they were not designed for signage, and do not have a proper kiosk mode for use with digital signage.
  • Support – Most of the companies providing generic Android devices provide little after-sale support, especially for commercial use cases like Digital Signage where devices are running 24/7.
  • Quality – We have seen quality issues with the devices, cooling, components not matching specifications or changing between orders, and many failed power supplies after 24/7 use.
  • Lifecycle – The Android platform is designed for consumer phones and tablets. It has a one year release cycle. It has also suffered from major setbacks due to the lack of after-sale support from device manufacturers, with device manufacturers preferring you buy a new device.
  • Remote Management – Must supply your own secure remote management. No management features built in.

All of these considerations are things that a Chrome device, with Chrome Enterprise Management, will do out of the box. No extra time or money spent, just right into devices that display your Arreya Digital Signage quickly and easily.

While Arreya is compatible with nearly any modern device or OS that can display the web platform, there are still a number of key factors to consider when using a device for 24/7 digital signage.

 

Can I use a Smart TV with Arreya?

 
We do not recommend or support using the built-in player of a Smart TV to display content with Arreya.  While it may be possible on some displays, we have found the overall experience is not what our customers are looking for.  We are always testing new devices and displays and will update this document as we find new options.  We highly recommend and support using a Chrome device for the best experience with Arreya.

 

  • Performance
    • Most Smart TVs have issues with media playback and may be missing key features for other types of content.  Most Smart TVs have issues displaying simple content with a web application like Arreya.
  • Updates & Security
    • It is rare for Smart TVs to receive updates, and we have seen several models that can no longer run content due to security changes.  Smart TVs are typically on a 1yr lifecycle and are often outdated at the time of purchase.
  • Reliability
    • We have not found any Smart TVs that can run content reliably in a production setting.  Smart TVs lack remote management capabilities and will require human intervention.
  • Support
    • Smart TV manufacturers provide little support on using the TVs for this purpose.  If you encounter an issue, you are likely on your own for a workaround or fix.

Why not to use Raspberry Pi

Chrome vs Raspberry Pi

  • You have to select and install an Operating System (OS)
  • You have to build a case, make sure it has ventilation and keep cool
  • Software & Firmware Updates must be applied
  • Device lifecycle – Raspberry Pi is on a 2yr cycle
  • Remote Management – Must supply your own secure remote management.  No management features built in.
  • Security – Security is on you to configure and apply best practices
  • Performance – Raspberry Pi, even the latest models, are not recommended for video content or interactives.

One question we get a lot here at Arreya is “What about using a Raspberry Pi?”  The thing to remember with Raspberry Pi devices is that they are development boards that are used to prototype something that will be put into production if it works.  They are great for DIY, and while we use and love them here at Arreya for a variety of purposes, they aren’t a good fit for most of our customer’s digital signage or kiosk needs.

Let’s start by talking about performance.  Most of the questions we get about Raspberry Pi look at it as a more cost effective solution, with comparable performance.  But they aren’t comparable.  The optimization of Chrome devices with Chrome OS make it so even the lowest end device – a Chromebit, with similar hardware specifications, runs circles around a Raspberry Pi for content performance.  Picking a solution on one feature or metric is not a good way to look at things, so let’s look at the other ways a Raspberry Pi is different from a Chrome device for digital signage and kiosks.

There is a lot more work to do to make a generic DIY device like a Raspberry Pi into a production ready digital signage device.

There is no software that comes standard with a Raspberry Pi for digital signage, you’ll have to do the research, configuration, and testing in order to turn the device into something usable for Digital Signage.  Most customers are not familiar with locking down Linux for public use, configuring a Linux firewall properly, updating a kernel, or turning off other unused services that hackers may be looking for.

Updates and Security are up to you.  Making sure the right updates make it to a device at the right time are crucial not only for maintaining a working network of devices, but also for preventing security threats and exploits that are actively looking for outdated software to infect.  Testing those updates? That’s on you too.  Unlike Chrome where thousands of people are testing the same software, you’re on your own to test yours and if there is an issue, hope that maybe someone else had it too, and they are willing to share the solution.  There is no support number to call, no person to email.  Beyond being confident in your security, is your customer going to allow this on their network, and does it follow their best practices?

Now that you have devices deployed, how do you manage them?  That’s on you as well.  There are tons of options, and it’s up to you to make them secure.  You don’t want to be the one running an open remote desktop on your signage, just waiting for someone to find it.  This happens more than you think it would.  What about those updates you need to deploy?  How are you going to handle those remotely?  Again, there are many options, and security is a top priority – it’s all up to you.

The next thing to consider is how you are going to house your Raspberry Pi.  There are no fans or other cooling options installed by default.  You’ll have to make your own case and make sure that it is properly ventilated.  Also, you need to think about how large of a space you have available when making that case.  Is your insurance going to cover you – or your clients – if your DIY device catches fire or burns the place down?  It’s not likely to happen, but these devices have not gone through the same regulatory approvals that other devices go through as a full product for sale.

Most of our customers are asking for a solution to these problems, they don’t want to deal with it themselves.  Each of these areas is one that Chrome has focused on, and solved.  You can spend your time going DIY with a device, or for a little more money, you have the power of one of the biggest companies behind you, supporting your digital signage efforts.