big digital picture frames?

Dear Lazyweb, seeking very large digital picture frames. Suggestions?

What I'm looking for:

  • At least 21", 1024x768 or better resolution;
  • Able to play an MPEG on a loop;
  • Ideally, able to get that file from wifi rather than a card.

I want to get a few of these to hang in the club to replace the big messy mess of posters of our upcoming events that are currently taped all over the walls. (Really, this conversation started with me wanting to put up some actual picture frames into which the posters would go, but picture frames are surprisingly expensive.)

I am aware that actual objects marketed as "digital picture frames" aren't what I'm looking for, because when those are bigger than 11" they are priced the same as low-end HDTVs. So really what I'm looking for is a cheap HDTV with the ability to play MPEGs.

I'd really like it to load data over wifi so that I don't have to pay an employee to walk around and unplug, re-fill, and re-plug half a dozen memory cards every few days. That would be a pain in the ass, and cards would get lost or skipped.

A few folks have suggested getting one of those solid-state "linux plug" boxes to drive the monitors with, but I haven't seen any of those that have both wifi and video output that are less than $300 each. Low-end HDTVs are in the $250 range, so that more than doubles the price, which is ridiculous.


Update: Jesus, people, please just answer the question I asked instead of hypothesizing about crazy multi-thousand-dollar Rube Goldberg schemes. If you don't know the answer to my question, I will not think less of you for your silence.

Tags: , ,
Current Music: mixtaped 091

101 Responses:

  1. ydna says:

    A new target for the vandals? This will give them something other than the johns to destroy.

    • jwz says:

      Do you really think I haven't thought of this?

      We covered the kiosk screens with plexi, and didn't have to replace it very often. Maybe 3 of the covers in 7 years.

      • qtrnevermore says:

        metal cages during metal shows.
        or more projectors?
        the fiends can't break whats not in reach.

        I'll ask ze hackerspace for actual feedback.

  2. _nicolai_ says:

    You could consider using one small computer which has several USB interfaces, and then some USB to Video interfaces (eg http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/feedback/EVGA_UV16_USB-DVI-adapter.html sort of thing) to drive several screens. Upside: cheaper, easier than one computer per TV. Downside: have to run USB cable, possibly with USB signal boosters, or video cable, all over the place.

    • jwz says:

      You are correct in assuming that figuring out how to do multiple 300' USB runs is of zero interest to me.

      You didn't even get as far as figuring out that that would end up costing a thousand bucks per screen.

  3. netsharc says:

    A clever hack would be to then use the built-in tuners that these TVs have to tune to a particular channel, where you transmit from an in-house transmitter, like the iPod FM transmitter. If you have transmitters on different channels you can even show different things on different units. Googling shows some solutions where you have to buy an extra receiver for each TV. I wonder if broadcasting in the analog TV ranges is even allowed. And do they still sell TV's that have analog tuners?

    Or I guess you're looking for a system similar to what hotels have, although that's cabled and not wireless.

    • jwz says:

      320x200 != 1024x768.

      • netsharc says:

        Oh yeah...

        Well I just googled "DVB-T transmitters" and there's one model that goes for 8600 Euro. Presumably it can do HD.

        I suppose the cost/benefit calculations would mean it will be cheaper to use a trained chimp to periodically remove all SD cards, stick them into a bay of USB-chained card readers, click a button to run a script to mount/delete all files/copy new content, wait until a green light comes up on the screen, and stick them back into the TV's*). As well as having a stack of backup SD cards, which are, what, $5 for 4GB ones?

        *) And what about running the videos in a loop?

  4. sherm says:

    That seems like exactly what you want, no? (He says, violating the jwz no-firsthand-experience-random-Internet-shit prohibition).

    I have tried to ghetto-rig this type of thing before, mostly by trying to shoot VGA through the air, and that always was a (predictable) disaster.

    No cheap TVs are going to do this. That feature is just starting to find its way into midrange HDTVs, and the software invariably sucks and will be designed for watching The Yuppie Family's Yosemite Vacation and not what you want.

    • jwz says:

      That item does nothing that an identically-sized $230 HTDV doesn't do. They almost all come with built-in card readers now.

      Like I said, if it's marketed as a picture frame instead of a TV, they triple the price.

      • sherm says:

        There's a wi-fi option for triple the price + $99.

        Edit: And I haven't tried every single possible crappy TV, but every time I've seen the USB stick or DLNA trick it's been "use the remote to navigate to a file, play it, then return to the shitty media browser" and in no way provides "advanced" features like repeating a video until told not to.

        • acroyear70 says:

          with "stick a memory card or flash drive into it" devices, i keep having the hassle of "this file is incompatible (or unsupported)". one box is xvid-avi. one box is divx-avi. one box is supposed to be divx (but only does protected ones, which almost nobody sells) and mpeg-2 (never recognizes it). one won't do variable rate mp3s. one limits the number of files it will "know" to 256 (seriously, people, can't you at least spare one more byte to use a short for an index and get yourselves up to 65K?)

          the closest to all-supporting I've found is the WDTVLive ($99 from CostCo). The only hassle I've had with it is that it won't play the wmv 8 files that Picasa generates for slideshow+music videos and I have to run them through a convertor (lossy) to get them up to wmv9.

          but even with that, it doesn't support video shuffle. i have to "seed" some random playlists to get that sort of thing.

          but yeah, as soon as "photo frame" is added, the very same LCD, even at the 7" size, jumps in price by a factor. i am curious about the USB->VGA or USB Monitor adapters out there. Any Linux support? or just windows with drivers that are often incompatible with what's already on the box?

          • jwz says:

            Given that I will be displaying one-and-only-one video file on these, I should be able to figure out the one-and-only-one format in which to generate that video, so that particular idiocy shouldn't be a problem, I think.

  5. injector says:

    The closest you'll probably get out of the box is a TV which supports DLNA. The cheap ones won't have WiFi, so that means a finding a cheap Ethernet to WiFi bridge.

    Then you run a DLNA server somewhere (they are available for Mac, Linux, Windows) with the MPEG files you want the TVs to show. Someone is still probably going to have to visit each TV with a remote when the files are changed, to tell it to load the directory again. Most DLNA clients I've seen have some sort of shuffle/repeat options, usually for all the files in one directory.

    • jwz says:

      I know what DLNA is. Had you pointed me at a TV that did DLNA, this comment would have had content in it.

      • jered says:

        DLNA is the biggest pile of shit that the "industry" has heaped upon us in decades. It is surpassed only by SMI-S, and if you know what that is I pity you. DLNA is never the answer. DLNA is the problem.

        And to the post, no, I don't have an answer for jwz that doesn't cost more than a full time employee that hand-draws posters daily. And that solution would at least use an underemployed artist.

  6. rafasgj says:

    I'm with a similar problem here, but somewhat "worse", as "cheap eletronics" is not a reality in Brazil...

    The best I've go so far is to somehow mount a mini-ITX board with an HDTV (even 720p it it's cheaper). Amazon has a Zotac board under $100 (with WiFi), but you need to add storage and memory (maybe, the power supply, didn't check the details), so prices rise and it becomes too expensive.

    I'll follow your post with great interest.

    • gryazi says:

      After considering this problem, the Eee Box and other related "hey it's a PC in a VESA mount box" solutions seem like the way to go.

      Neoware, Maxterm, Wyse, HP "thin clients" are always available around ~ $100/ea on eBay and certain of them are the equivalent of a standard mini-ITX box that'd still cost $400 to build from parts [since ITX cases are huge ripoffs]. This does not solve the software end but as long as you can find anything that can handle a playlist on endless repeat and not fail on errors you can just set up "Poster1, Poster2" and let the server cycle the content. It's not plug'n'play fun but you could throw NetBSD+mplayer on a CF card and they'd probably run forever, while replacement hardware would probably continue to be available dirt-cheap in surplus until the whole bodge is obsoleted by Chinese OLED wifi-TVs-that-roll-up-like-posters. And if streaming over WiFi to a dozen displays is too flaky without screwing with multicast, it'd be easy enough to sprinkle on cron+rsync for local caches.

      Getting DVI-D instead of VGA might require some fiddling or use of the silly USB dongles a-la "Generic ITV-101 USB 2.0 to DVI-I Dual Link Video Adapter or "Encore ENMUV-2" for first Froogle hits. [Damnit, I'd *like* to think those must have some common chipset that's well-supported by now, but I have no firsthand experience, so my advice still blows.] I guess the other $8,900 or so in your estimate on the 'build your own rube-goldberg USB network' advice comes from the expense of USB-over-really-long-runs-of-CAT5 adapters?

      I want to believe that there's some cheap device in the world of Generic Media Players, but hell if I know what it is. A Roku with HDMI and Wifi built in runs $99 on Amazon now, but whether that'll be kind enough to let you blow video through a simple HDMI-to-DVI cable, and kind/not_dumb enough to let you do that playlist thing without sending an intern around with a remote if the link drops is an open question.

      • gryazi says:

        Hey, people with clue beat me to the Roku.

        Since price is a concern, by $100 I mean "something like $68, and that's without being JWZ in SF where someone you know must know a guy trying to give away a pallet of 50."

  7. skywaterblue says:

    I've seen a lot of people in Las Vegas using iPads for this, but it's obviously not the size or price you need.

  8. 7ghent says:

    You could always pick up an Atom-based Nettop for $150. You'd need to put a WLAN PCIe mini card in it, around $15-20. A cheap 22" monitor (rather than an actual HDTV) runs about $150-160. So, total cost would be $315-330.

  9. xenogram says:

    Old-tech: how about a short range TV transmitter and a DVD player? It would save you bolting extra hardware on the TVs, and it would scale well. You probably have some nice large metal bits of superstructure in the club to wire the TVs into as aerials.

    • jwz says:

      I repeat, 320x200 != 1024x768.

      • xenogram says:

        I wasn't suggesting you use that kind of resolution (1, 2).

        There may be some sort of moderately expensive transmitter, but only one for multiple sets.

        • xenogram says:

          The best person to ask about this might be some guy in a TV shop.

          • xenogram says:

            Old

            The effective resolution of an old style TV does get a bit better than 320x200 and the transmitters are readily available now. The downside is that it's not quite 1024x768 and there may be some faffing around getting it installed, the upside is that the cost-per-unit is not that much; the transmitter, the TVs and nothing else.

            New

            WHDI aka "Wireless HDMI" products are just being released now (i.e. July). At the moment, the stuff that does what you want is still expensive, or wholesale from China in 50 unit lots, but it'll probably come down as more stuff arrives on the market.

            They consist of a transmitter and one or more receiver dongles, although I get the impression that the receivers will be built into new TVs. The transmitter generally has a HDMI input, meaning you can pipe signal from PCs, DVD & Blu Ray, that sort of thing; into a seperate appliance. In any case, if you can wait 2 or 3 months to replace your posters, the technology will probably be more widely available.

            Probably will cost more, but will deliver higher resolution and involve much less faffing around.

      • xenogram says:

        Am I missing something? If the TVs are all clustered together, then you'll be wanting them to display different things on different screens at the same time, in which case you probably want stuff like this instead.

        • jwz says:

          They won't be clustered together. It's ok for them to all display the same thing.

          I figured I would write a script to auto-generate an MPEG that pans/fades across the flyers of upcoming events, then somehow distribute that file to the TVs.

          • xenogram says:

            Then if it was my money I'd wait 2-4 months and look for affordable WHDI devices. There are one-to-one transmitter-receiver kits on Amazon now for about US$200 +/- $US70, and if the one-to-many kits get cheaper it could definately be an option. They're intended for a non-technical home media market, and the lack of flakey nerdware in the middle is very attractive. YMMV.

  10. jrishel says:

    get a Roku player and either use the USB channel (local update) or the Frame Channel (RSS feed) with the cheapest HDTV you can find.

    • jrishel says:

      Roku can also be controlled by sending remote commands over telnet, so you wouldn't have to setup the channels manually if you have a ton of these...

    • jwz says:

      Kind of pricey (the HD version is $100) but promising. Have you used one? Can it load an MPEG from my server and play it on a loop? Does it cache the file locally, or will it be streaming it realtime over and over and killing my network?

      • injector says:

        I can answer the last part. The Roku has no local storage, and only enough memory to buffer a few seconds of video.

        That's likely to be true for any DLNA implementation too (I have 3 different devices, they barely cache the directory structure).

  11. pmb7777 says:

    So, you want to do exactly this: http://www.panic.com/blog/2010/03/the-panic-status-board/

    Built with this TV: http://amzn.to/9hBKGc , which has a built in CPU that you can run Chrome on.

    • jwz says:

      Why the fuck are you pointing me at a $2391 device? Does it make you feel good to be willfully useless?

      • pmb7777 says:

        Yup. I wanted to be useless in a different way than the dozens of suggestions that you should cobble up the exact same device for 1/3 the price and spend endless hours fucking with it to make it work.

        Didn't you learn from the sign? If you want to use the LazyWeb efficiently, you need to ask your fan club to just do it, not how.

        But what fun is that?

      • gryazi says:

        That's a Commodore mindset. As an Apple user, you're supposed to throw money at the problem and spend the time saved being Ray from Achewood.

      • pmb7777 says:

        Plus, I pointed you at a 46" TV. I'm too lazy to check if something closer to the size you want is significantly cheaper.

  12. rrm3 says:

    Maybe an obvious suggestion, but have you considered a projector instead of TVs?

  13. bmdesmet says:

    Gefen makes extenders which take a variety of signals and sends them over long runs of cat5/6 and breaks the signal back out to the original form and splitters which take a single input and multiplies it to multiple outputs.
    http://www.gefen.com/kvm/dproductlisting.jsp?listingCategory=Extenders
    http://www.gefen.com/kvm/dproductlisting.jsp?listingCategory=Splitters

    Assuming you want the same content on all screens, the 1:8 VGA CAT5 Distribution could be a solution but at $700 +$125/display it's not in your desired price range.
    http://www.gefen.com/kvm/dproduct.jsp?prod_id=3256

    They seem to newly have a Digital Signage system, but I won't suggest that as the configuration software is Windows only.

    I have not used the 1:8 VGA CAT5 Distribution. I have used a variety of their extenders, splitters, and converters in the past and have been happy with everything I have used.

    I noticed Central Computer has begun carrying house branded HDMI splitters and extenders.
    Examples on their site, I recall other combinations in the store that I am not seeing online.
    $100 for a 1 to 4 HDMI splitter and $40 for each display is pretty reasonable so long as running two strands of cat5e to each display is not too painful.
    http://www.centralcomputers.com/commerce/catalog/product.jsp?product_id=71484&czuid=1279750963281
    http://www.centralcomputers.com/commerce/catalog/product.jsp?product_id=71761&czuid=1279750977375

    • bmdesmet says:

      Forget to add; the Gefen stuff is all expensive. It is the most common brand I saw being used by various installers at a university when they wired up lecture halls and presentation podiums in classrooms. It's great stuff, but I'm sure it would be $200+ per unit.

      The offerings from Central Computer I think might actually be a reasonable solution combined with a cheap atom based system to provide the original video output.

  14. drkscrtlv says:

    "I am aware that actual objects marketed as "digital picture frames" aren't what I'm looking for, because when those are bigger than 11" they are priced the same as low-end HDTVs."

    How about a small digital picture frame, plus one of these?

  15. ultranurd says:

    I've used a Panasonic Viera to play MPEG-2 videos off an SD card (I don't recall the resolution, possibly not high enough) that were recorded by a basic point-and-shoot camera. Their 22" model also comes with a 6-foot cabled iPod dock, which would at least allow you to play 320x240 h.264 video off a (used?) iPod Classic, but I don't know how terrible that would look from far away (and that still has the reload and extra expense problems, not to mention iPods dangling from ceilings). Their smaller models are also only 720p, but then you jump to 32" and 1080p for at least $400/per (but they still have the card slot on the left-hand side and the iPod dock)

    As for network-enabled HDTVs, it looks like there's a feature bundling problem to some extent, in that wifi is generally only on large, fancy TVs, because obviously only large, fancy people want to play video over the network. For example, Vizio's smallest internet-enabled TV is 26" (1080p), and the premium over their equivalent 26" model without 802.11n is $80 (for a total of $510). I'm not sure if that's too far above your price point.

    Rambling: Vizio's VIA is some kind of vague extension of Yahoo! TV Widgets, which is also on Samsung, Sony, and LG LCD TVs, but the listed models from those manufacturers all bottom out at 40". (Panasonic seems to have their own thing called VieraCast, but it doesn't seem to be extensible or able to load arbitrary video.)

    The widget developers' guide says they support MPEG (although only h.264 is explicitly called out). I can't find a comprehensive list of existing widgets (maybe someone with a VIA/Yahoo!-enabled TV can browse?), but the ones advertised on Vizio's stupid Flash site seem to be all from various big-name services, not one for general media streaming... and the Widget Approval Process involves both Yahoo! and individual TV manufacturers approving each widget, so while the dev kit seems to be free I'm not clear on how you get console access to run even a non-Gallery-distributed widget... and I seriously doubt you're interested in creating a custom widget, or getting someone else to.

    • jayp39 says:

      Vizio has a 22 inch wifi enabled tv for $320 unless the description is lying.
      We have its big brother at work, if someone wants to post links to some 1024x768 mpegs I'll see if I can't get them to play, I haven't really played around with its internet functionality so I don't know if it would do what jwz is looking for, but so far it seems like it has the greatest chance of success.

      • jayp39 says:

        Looks like one of the apps is YouTube so if jwz is cool with relying on YouTube and if the YouTube app supports looping and playing high quality videos, we might have a winner.

        • acroyear70 says:

          youtube has been explicitly stopping its HD support to any 3rd party device (as in, not a web browser on a pc), and reducing the HD support for embedded videos unless the video uploader pays for HD support.

          basically, they only run HD on the web browser now, where you have to see the ads somewhere on the page.

          they killed HD support for the WDTV-Live about 5 months ago.

      • ultranurd says:

        You're totally right. I had it sorted by "Featured" not "Size" so when the 26" showed up at the top, I interpreted that as smallest. I'd agree on the YouTube app, especially if it can handle playlists á la the Mixtapes. Unfortunately I don't know anyone with a Vizio to try it with. I was assuming only an app that could play from a local network store would be good enough.

        • cfs_calif says:

          Jamie doesn't even have to get it from the 'zon if he is willing to drive to Colma and pick one up at the Target there. Seems cheap enough to get one and see if it does what he wants and if not, return it.

  16. andrewducker says:

    All the WiFi TVs I've seen have been premium models. You could try using Powerline (HomePlug) instead - you'd need one end-point per TV and one for the server, and you can get them from $30-$40 each.

    Then it's a case of finding DLNA TVs for cheap, and I'm afraid that all the ones I can find are premium models. Which is a bit shit really.

    • jwz says:

      Huh? This powerline stuff appears to just do ethernet-over-power-lines, and then they handwave video on top of that. If my TV had an ethernet port on it, the problem would already be solved.

      • gryazi says:

        If HomePlug is anything like HomePNA it's also got some special whiz-bang isochronous mode that is so proprietary that nothing uses it.

        Except, perhaps, for the video-over-[medium] bridges that nobody has actually created because everyone's spent the past 20 years skipping straight to IPTV.

  17. mayoff says:

    Sony KDL-22EX308 . 22-inch LCD with 1366x768 native resolution. Wi-fi USB adapter included. $314 at buy.com. I don't know if it can loop MPEGs.

    http://www.buy.com/prod/sony-bravia-kdl-22ex308-22-widescreen-720p-lcd-hdtv-60-000-1-dynamic/q/loc/101/214120264.html

    • sc00ter says:

      Tech specs on NewEgg and Amazon say it supports video playback. I think we have a winner.

      • jwz says:

        Sounds promising, but as others have noted, a lot of these things that can play video don't have a "play it in a loop" option. I'd love to find someone who owns one who can answer that question firsthand, so that I don't have to hunt one down in a physical store.

        • lovingboth says:

          Possibly stupid question, but if all you want to do is replace several posters with an animated display of those posters, why do it via mpeg?

          An animated .gif works as your icon and loops forever happily. Or is this 'I want to show video of the forthcoming bands' rather than just their posters? Either way, what's the cost of generating the mpeg?

          • jwz says:

            That might be good enough (color depth aside) but I would be un-shocked to learn that none of these devices support anim-GIFs. It's certainly not as popular a consumer format as MPEG.

        • netsharc says:

          The Bravia TV's don't look like they have harddisks, which means you'll have to set-up a server to host the videos. On the other hand, they do have Ethernet ports, so if you can use Powerline, there might be a chance of survival.

          One online handbook of another Bravia model mentions the looping capability, presumably (TM!) they're not crazy, and they use identical software on different model TVs. Another clue to the probably existing loop capability is that, when these TVs demo pretty videos in the store, they must be reading from a USB stick, and so a loop feature is probably top of the list courtesy of the marketing department.

  18. jklsdf says:

    You might be better off going back to that original idea and making some actual picture frames. Not to mention less frustrated in the end. They tend to just quietly perform their function and rarely engage in any kind of surprising behaviour.

    • xenogram says:

      If he did that, he wouldn't be able to complain that there are no tech-heads who can't come up with a suggestion that doesn't involve "Step 3: ???", presumably because they don't own a nightclub and have never tried this (for whatever esoteric value of "this" it is this week) at home.

      Which is not really surprising, I think he just does it because it gets him hot or something.

      • argonel says:

        Assuming standard sizes, poster frames seem pretty cheap, as in an order of magnitude cheaper than any cheap video solution. I was going to go with the blind suggestion of hitting garage sales/craigslist/thrift stores and buying cheap art, throwing away the contents and keeping the frames. Doesn't do video but it looks better than posters taped to the walls.

        • jwz says:

          If we have monitors, we need, like, 6. If we have poster frames, we need like... I dunno, 90 or 100 or something insane like that. There are a lot of posters taped to the walls right now. Not only is that a lot of frames, it's a lot of plexi to replace. Also, these frames will be being fiddled with a lot when re-loading posters, so the frames themselves will break. That's why monitors started to look economical.

          I'd like to get rid of all the ugly pieces of paper taped to the wall, but it's not worth it to me to spend a fortune just to do that. If I could get some TVs for a couple hundred each, then maybe it's worthwhile.

  19. sternutator says:

    Electronic signage is difficult to get right. At work, we gave up on fancy and use AppleTV or Minis + HDTVs. Not $1000+, but a few hundred.

    - Put your movie in a playlist and sync.
    - Initiate playback via iOS Remote app.
    - Toggle the "loop" tag.

    It used to be that the "loop" tag could be toggled pre-export, but no more.

    • edouardp says:

      I believe the loop tag can be set in Quicktime Player 7 after movie generation. The movie then loops in the Snow Leopard Quicktime Player, even though that app has no control for it itself.

      But perhaps not with an Apple TV: I don't have one to check that with.

  20. badc0ffee says:

    If you can string coax to every TV, then you could buy this: http://www.zeevee.com/residential/zvbox150

    It takes a VGA signal and turns it into a 720p QAM (digital cable) channel. It's a high initial cost ($995), but $0 extra per TV, and you can use any cheap TV with a digital tuner. Also, nothing will break on the TV side as long as it's tuned to the right channel.

  21. baconmonkey says:

    why don't you just build a flying robot that physically writes the calendar on people with sharpie? that should be pretty easy to hack together with a couple netbooks and some arduino kits. you've already got the ornithopter and zeppelin.

    • pmb7777 says:

      the sharpies will probably need to be replaced too often. he should also brew the replacement ink.

      • popekosh says:

        Ideally the robot would replenish the sharpies by harvesting materials from vandals.

      • ultranurd says:

        Just keep a tank of squids somewhere upstairs, and program the flying robots to use a scalpel attachment to dissect them and harvest the ink sacs. What could possibly go wrong?

  22. anktastic says:

    Every time I see these sort of questions you ask, I say to myself: "He actually wants this thing to work? Can't he tell this leads to desperation and Lazyweb posts?"
    MPEG-playing picture frames? That's asking for trouble. Even if you manage to find a cheap and good one, it will almost certainly malfunction in one way or another.
    I say, just keep yourself happy with what you have... most things are Majorly Borked one way or another...

  23. bdunbar says:

    If you duct-taped a hamster to a big Oxo-brand soup ladle, that might be sort of similar.

  24. thorfinn says:

    A cheap HDTV with RCA inputs + a cheap second hand iPod Touch (or abandoned old version iPhone) + a cable from Deal Extreme?

  25. also_huey says:

    Here in the land of money, what you ask for is done with a mac mini zip-tied to the back of a big monitor. ...which I suspect means they can be had used.

    I anxiously await your castigation for my unhelpfulness.

    • zenpsycho says:

      $350 for a smallish machine with wifi, dual head, and software that doesn't fuck up isn't that bad a deal. If you install the latest safari, get some kiosk software like PlainView, and write a little javascript to load video off a webserver, automatically (and cache it locally in the browser cache). I work for the multimedia department for a large government cultural institution. It really really doesn't get any better than this because, as JWZ is famously quoted as saying: Linux is only free if your time is worthless. All other solutions we've looked at (and we have looked at many) are either orders of magnitude more expensive, too big, too difficult, too stupid.

      Before mac minis came along we used a $20,000 server room full of dells and KVM extenders.

      in summary: dual head mac minis + plainview+ lingon = win.

    • hadlock says:

      my mom has a similar setup in her home office. it's a tiny acer revo atom based nettop that has a VESA mount so it mounts right on the back of her 22" display. It's got DVI out and HDMI out and supports dual monitors in both mirrored and independent mode. they were running around $300 six months ago, they've probably dropped in price since then. fullscreen youtube videos at 720p is a little rough, but that mostly has to do with the poor ion drivers and how flash is handled on atom processors.

      $300 computer + $300 display + $300 display = two $450 displays with your requirements. I don't think you can get a much more reliable, futureproof, and modular system for less.

  26. matthew says:

    Have you looked at the popcorn hour boxes? http://www.popcornhour.com/ I've got an older one hooked up to my TV playing video off an NFS server (does CIFS too) or it can read from something jacked into the USB port. You can also put a hard disk in it and upload via ftp (some sort of linux under the hood)

    The wired version of the A200 is $180, $20 more for wifi. It'll play pretty much anything you throw at it and has HDMI output.

    The only fiddling you have to do is the setup with the remote (somewhat annoying but you only do it once) then pick your directory of videos and hit play.

  27. gryazi says:

    Lazyweb also turns up Roku having some sort of Turnkey Enterprisey Solution for exactly this:

    http://www.brightsign.biz/

    ...but it runs like $300/ea, for which you could do it all with duct tape and netbooks and USB-over-NTSC-over-cans-and-string through a fresnel lens.

  28. aris1234 says:

    PopCorn Hour do a device specifically for this (no hacking or messing around needed):

    http://www.popcornhour.com/onlinestore/index.php?pluginoption=productinfo&item_id=11

    ------------

    The S-210 comes bundled with feature-rich "Store Front" Digital Signage software. From any PC you can use this application to create program playlists from a wide range of file formats. Moreover, the application's program-editing features make it easy to sequence clips and music, and even create professional transition effects. Combine all this with a highly scalable design and a very competitive price, and the S-210 is an excellent choice for your digital signage needs.

    ------

    You just need either a VGA or HDMI device to play on - so you could use an inexpensive plasma/lcd.

    The only thing it lacks is WiFi - but it does have ethernet.

  29. http://uk.eye.fi/

    Of course, advertised info is to get photos OFF cards rather than onto card. And onto cards would undoubtedly require TVs to be rebooted to see it. But better than p=0.5 that that is what you want.

  30. philhagen2 says:

    I just don't think that what you're after is available as a commodity product yet. I saw a few other comments about Apple TV, and with some refurb or secondhand units, you'd probably get 90% of what you're looking for at a fairly decent price.
    Not sure if the third-party hacks would help chip away what the device doesn't do natively, but I've heard you can write code and stuff, so.... Yeah.

    Good luck - sounds like a cool project. Maybe you could do Dali Clock on the screens to. "Countdown to xxxx show" or whatever.

  31. cavorite says:

    http://www.globalscaletechnologies.com/p-33-guruplug-display.aspx

    I don't have a release date confirmed, but I have heard that it's soon and the price will be < $200. I want to pair these up with projectors/displays for art installation work, so I'm biding my time awaiting the moment they will let me throw money at them for one.

    I also recommend getting some LCD's from dells outlet store, which has pretty great deals on refurbished displays, including many with HDMI input.

    The biggest caveat of this solution IMO is being limited to an ARM based OS distribution, but that should not be a major issue for most display system features.

    • jwz says:

      I thought I saw somewhere that those were going to be $350, once they actually exist.

      • cavorite says:

        That would be a shame, as they really can't compete well with the new Tegra2 based small form factor systems at that price. I don't know why adding the display system would bump up the price that much from the Guruplugs that are available now.

        I shall wait and see, if it's over $200 I can find something else.

        I do know that some android based TV sets will hit the market this year, but I am going to assume they will all be aimed at higher end large sets for awhile, before we see something cool and useful like desktop models. I would pay a pretty good amount for a touchscreen 20ish inch display running android embedded and 802.11g/n networking, just for a wall mount system to use at home for various android-ready tools/information.

  32. chrisbw says:

    The Cisco Digital Media Player DMP-4305G isn't amazingly cheap (Google shopping search looks like around $450), but it'll give you distributed network video, Windows-free (looks like browser-based configuration) and will run independently without having to put in a whole bunch of "enterprise-class video distribution infrastructure" or any of that crap.

    http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/ps7220/index.html

    - MPEG1, 2, and 4 Part 2 in standard definition (SD) and HD, graphics, web content, Adobe Flash 7 or less animation, MP3 audio, and tickers
    - Local storage of 2-GB capacity
    - Remote management of display (on/off, volume, contrast, and brightness)*

    and it has an HDMI port, and IR transmitter port (presumably for the aforementioned on/off/etc. control if your HDMI doesn't support it).

    • jwz says:

      You either need one per TV, or you need to go down some HDMI-over-cat5 rathole. So this is an overpriced DVD player. I don't see how this does anything that a DVD player or a Tivo doesn't do for less than half the price.

  33. qtrnevermore says:

    http://www.terminally-incoherent.com/blog/2008/03/31/using-spare-laptop-lcd-as-a-vga-monitor/
    http://everything2.com/title/Converting+an+old+laptop+LCD+screen+into+a+VGA+monitor
    recycling what people get rid of (old laptops)
    have each run off a website. your local hackerspace did something similar, and there's still a quantity of spare parts laying about.
    they may be a smaller than you desire, and obviously a fair bit of setup time. technical art project is probably not what you were going for, but it's possibly the cheapest path.

    • jwz says:

      I'd rather eat glass.

    • gryazi says:

      I looked into this in 2003 or so, when LCDs were still Sort of Expensive.

      The problem then was that generalized LVDS controllers, of the sort you might potentially bodge into working with an unknown but semi-standardized panel, cost about twice as much as just buying a monitor.

      I don't think that's changed, especially compared to the price of getting the actual-other-half-of-the-device-your-surplus-panel-would-come-from or-the-whole-thing-already-working approaching $0 due to commoditization and, as far as broken shit goes, the invention of game systems that encourage you to throw things at the screen.

  34. mattallen says:

    Could this work as a interface between the network and the display?
    http://www.amazon.com/Western-Digital-Network-ready-Player-WDBAAN0000NBK-NESN/dp/B002KKFP9Y/ref=pd_cp_e_0

    According to the manual it can play a slideshow in a loop. But not sure about a video. Maybe you can configure it to have videos in a slideshow... which is looped?

  35. I don't think there's a wifi solution. I reckon any wifi streaming TV or media streamer (like the DSM 510 I have, $180 but not great reliability or UI) is going to grab video continuously and not cache much, so bandwidth will be a problem. You'd need to hack. Doable but not ideal.

    WD do a USB mini media player for $85 which is probably a good bet. Amazon says it'll loop and auto-start something, so your employee should only need to load and swap USB sticks and power on; no messing with remote controls. That plus a cheap TV looks really good to me.

  36. quotation says:

    Many Samsung TVs, while not the cheapest on the market, will take a wifi dingus, and can have their firmware twiddled to bend to your will:
    http://samygo.sourceforge.net/

    But I'd recommend instead some very cheap TVs, and a $120 Western Digital TV Live box for each, which is significantly easier to work with: http://www.wdtvc.com/

  37. adolf says:

    Seagate makes something. Small, Wifi, HDMI, cheapish. Looking through the manual, which is of course both vague and written for morons, it may or may not require the use of (included) Magic Software on a Mac or PC somewhere. Or it may just be able to use an open network share. It does claim to support making a shortcut to a network share (whatever that is in Seagate-land) so one can get back there easily. The device can use a hard drive or other local storage, but does not require this and does not include any. It can use a local keyboard for initial setup.

    Importantly: It can play a continuous loop of pictures, in pre-programmed or random order.

    Unknown: Whether or not the slideshow mode is able to deal with shared directories whose contents will change. I doubt it, but if it does, the rest of this comment is irrelevant and your problem is solved once you pick an appropriately-cheap TV to plug it into.

    Known: It doesn't matter if it can do that or not. If incapable of dealing with changing contents, it just means that some lackey would run around the club with a pre-programmed macro remote, pointing it at each of these widgets and pushing one button[1] to restart the slideshow, whenever the photos need updating.

    Or, perhaps better: Turn it into a software problem. Assuming it caches images (which may or may not be a valid assumption on a device with limited RAM and no local storage), just feed it a directory full of (just to pick a number) 100 images. By the time it gets around to the beginning of the loop, the cache (if it can cache to begin with) will have been exhausted, and it will be forced to reload from scratch.

    Just hack your calender scripts to populate those 100 filenames with ever-changing contents. Abusing the cache in this fashion will limit human involvement to a minimum, and it's bloody simple to do.

    And: You don't have to fuck with sending a bunch of ruddy MPEG streams over WiFi, which (trust me) you do not want to do, no matter how well-suited VLC seems to be.

    [1]: I'll be flogged in public for this suggestion, since it involves regular human interaction. Please ignore it.

  38. chrisw957 says:

    I might suggest a Beagleboard. $150 arm based linux single board computer with DVI-D output. One for each TV. You can either deliver new content to them via SDCARD sneaker net, or add a USB wifi dongle to each one and deliver that way.

    Runs off a 5vdc wall wart, no moving parts. Doesn't come with an enclosure though-- but it sounds like that wouldn't be a problem.

    If you want to get fancy, it even has DSP support for MPEG4 and H264 video decoding.

    http://beagleboard.org/hardware

  39. hadlock says:

    my roommate's 40" LCD TV has an eithernet jack on the back and will do netflix without any sort of outside device, I would look into that route. Not quite wifi, but 90% there. I bet you could find a 32" tv with that featureset for under $500.