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  1. Computer Skills
  2. Electronics
Computers

Creating Raspberry Pi Advertising Displays

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:ShortLanguages:

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a £25/$35 computer that was originally created to help solve the issue of a decline in the computing skills of children in the UK. It has since been re-purposed by an eager community of hackers and makers and can be found powering projects around the world.

Objective

Using a Raspberry Pi and Screenly software, I'll show you how to create a device that will display advertising content for a real estate window. I'll explain how to use a schedule to control the content via a laptop connected to the same network as the Raspberry Pi.

Requirements

  • A Raspberry Pi
  • A blank SD card with at least 4GB of capacity
  • TV / Monitor with HDMI port
  • HDMI cable
  • Wired network access for your Raspberry Pi and laptop

Screenly

Screenly is an operating system built for the Raspberry Pi. Its sole purpose is to create digital signage via a simple-to-use web page. Once copied to an SD card, Screenly is accessed by visiting a web interface which is covered later in this tutorial. 

Creating an SD Card

Download a copy of the Screenly operating system from the Screenly website. I’m using the open source version of the software, which is completely free to use but has certain limitations, explained later.

Download the zip file to your computer and insert your blank SD card into the relevant slot on your computer. The zip file contains an image file which is the full Screenly operating system, extract the zip file to your hard drive.

Now that you have the image, you need to copy it to your SD card.

Using an Image

Creating a Screenly SD card from the command line in Terminal on a Mac

An image is a snapshot of a working operating system. It is a byte for byte copy of the original installation, and due to all Raspberry Pi models having the same architecture, you are able to use an image to quickly share operating systems.

Creating your SD card is handled differently for Mac, Windows and Linux. Screenly has a guide to setting up a Screenly SD card using Mac, Linux or Windows. 

Setting Up the Raspberry Pi

With the new SD card ready to go, it’s now time to assemble the Raspberry Pi. You will not need a keyboard or mouse attached to your Raspberry Pi, merely an HDMI cable to connect your Pi to a screen, an ethernet cable attached to your router and then insert the SD card. Once these peripherals have been plugged in, you are ready to insert the power supply and boot the Pi.

First Boot

Screenly displays the device IP address upon first boot.  Access the control panel via a web browser.

For the first boot, the Raspberry Pi will take a little longer than normal to start, as it has quite a lot of behind-the-scenes configuration to complete. Once the boot is completed you will see a screen that shows the IP address and port number that the router has assigned to the Raspberry Pi. 

Make a note of these as you will need them later. Typically, the IP address will be in the internal IP range, for your router, and the port number is 8080 so the address may look like [IP Address of Raspberry Pi]:8080. Or, in my case, 192.168.0.27:8080

Using Screenly Open Source Edition

To administrate the Screenly application you need to open a browser session on your computer, and in the address bar type in the IP address and the port number that you noted earlier.

You will now see a screen, similar to the image below, that is the starting point for the project.

The Screenly schedule overview

Working With Assets

Assets are the individual pieces of content that are placed into the schedule. Assets can be images, videos or web pages.

Assets are either active or inactive. Active assets are those that are being used in the schedule, and inactive assets are not being used.

To add an asset click on Add Asset at the top right of the screen to show something similar to:

Adding an asset
  • Assets can be uploaded, or linked to, via a URL 
  • In this guide you’ll be uploading some content which will be stored on the Raspberry Pi
  • Give the new asset a nickname, so it can be easily identified.
  • Click Upload
  • Choose which file you would like to use the asset type will change depending on the content you upload
  • If the content is time sensitive you can alter the start and end date of any asset
  • Change the duration so that customers can read the content. Ten seconds is usually sufficient

Once the asset is created, it is placed in the inactive assets section as shown:

Inactive asset

To make an asset active you need to click on the on/off switch located to the right of the asset. The asset will now move to the Active assets section and will be used in the schedule.

Scheduling Content

The schedule is where the sequence of assets that you wish to display, on the screen, is created. Tell Screenly what to show, the duration and quickly change the sequence to meet your requirements. I’ve created two assets, called House 1 and House 2. These are simple .png image files that I created, in Inkscape, for this tutorial.

Each asset will be on the screen for ten seconds before moving to the next asset. Once all of the assets have been displayed the schedule will loop back to the start.

The sequence is easily changed so that a particular asset is played at a certain stage: In the sequence, left-click and hold the mouse button down over the active asset that you wish to move, and then drag it around the schedule. 

Note that you can not move an active asset to the inactive assets and vice versa. To move assets between the two you will need to turn them on or off.

Designing Content for the Screen

Screenly can be used on any size of screen, but it is important that you design your content for the screen that you will be using. For this tutorial, I used Inkscape to design some content with a resolution of 1920x1080, which is the standard resolution for a 1080p television.

A template created in Inkscape

Adding Video

Screenly Open Source Edition is a little picky when it comes to video. Any video that you wish to play must be mp4 or H264 encoded. If you wish to play other types of video then you will need to purchase the pro version of Screenly.

Results

In this tutorial, I have shown how to construct an advertising system that will provide a real estate office with an eye catching design and a simple means to administrate the content. 

This project can be extended in order to advertise different information for clubs, car dealerships and sports shops.  In fact, anywhere that a display of rotating information would be useful.

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