Scheduled startup and shutdown of digital signage PCs running Windows

Not all digital signage systems need to run 24/7. In many cases, there are windows of time when such systems are not needed, or even when they are not allowed to operate due to legal requirements.

To avoid the manual effort of turning systems on and off, they can be started and shut down automatically and time-controlled. We show you how this works!

First of all, you have to distinguish between the display and the player PC: Most professional displays and LFDs offer a function to switch the screen on and off, often even with a weekly program (e.g., for different times on the weekend). This is usually set up through the OSD (On Screen Display) of the device. However, displays (like conventional TVs) that do not have such a feature can often automatically go into standby mode when there is no video source, and wake up when the video signal is available again. The easiest way to control such displays is to start and shut down the connected player PC. In any case it is better to avoid rough methods such as the use of timer adapter plugs, as this can lead to permanent damage to the screen.

The final method of starting and shutting down the connected player PC depends on the capabilities of the hardware used: Some PCs have a function in the BIOS or UEFI that can be used to define automatic boot times. The advantage of this is that it is very reliable and works even when the PC is completely turned off (as long as the AC is not unplugged!). For example, the popular Intel NUC Mini-PCs have such a BIOS (Aptio® V UEFI firmware core).

Settings for automatic power on in the BIOS/UEFI

However, if such a function is not available, the automatic start can still be accomplished using the Windows built-in tools and the hibernation function. This is done by defining a timer in the Windows Task Scheduler (TASKSCHD.MSC) that will restart the PC at the desired time. If the PC wasn’t shut down before, but was put to hibernate (again, the PC is effectively turned off!), the timer can still cause the PC to wake up at the desired time and then trigger a restart, so that a cleanly restarted PC is running at the desired time.

On most PCs, hibernation must first be enabled in the Windows power options (e.g. with the command line: powercfg /h on).

The timed shutdown of a Windows PC can also be implemented using a timer in the Windows Task Scheduler. The only thing to consider is whether the PC should actually be shut down (in the case of automatic startup via the BIOS/UEFI) or only put into hibernation mode (in the case of automatic startup via the Windows Task Scheduler).

If you find it too complicated to set up a scheduled startup and shutdown, you can also use the free FrontFace Lockdown Tool. This way you can easily set up the above functions. Another advantage is that you can also use the FrontFace Lockdown Tool to configure other features such as the automatic login of a user account without entering a password or the start of a predefined application such as the FrontFace Player App.

Settings for automatic shutdown, reboot and hibernate in the FrontFace Lockdown Tool

By the way: Even if the FrontFace Lockdown Tool can only be used to define a fixed time for startup or shutdown: The FrontFace Lockdown Tool actually only creates timers in the Windows Task Scheduler, which can be adjusted afterwards. For example, you can define different times for certain days or the weekend.

Integrate Excel Documents Into FrontFace

In an earlier article, we presented the ways in which Office documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) can be integrated into FrontFace. With the newly released Excel Viewer Plugin, Excel documents can now be integrated even more easily and, above all, directly.

Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet software continues to be very popular with businesses. Whether used for inventory lists, attendance lists, appointments, production planning, evaluations, controlling, accounting, or personnel planning—Excel spreadsheets appear in almost every area of a company. Therefore, it is understandable that Excel spreadsheets, if they are already available, are also used beyond the local workplace PC. In addition to being made available via the web and SharePoint or simply as a paper printout, their use on digital information screens, dashboards, and shop floor boards is desirable for many users.

So far, however, this requirement has often failed due to the proprietary nature of Excel: Excel spreadsheets can only be properly displayed using Excel itself. And here, the application’s focus is clearly not on the presentation. Sadly, the free Excel Viewer, which was once offered by Microsoft for conveniently displaying Excel spreadsheets, even in full screen mode, has been discontinued for many years without a replacement.

The new Excel Viewer plugin for the digital signage software FrontFace from mirabyte generates totally new possibilities for the seamless integration of Excel on large screens and digital display boards:

FrontFace is a powerful standard software for easily creating and managing digital information and advertising screens (digital signage). FrontFace supports both classic noninteractive systems, which only serve to display content, and interactive touchscreen systems, in which the user can navigate through the content.

With its standard range of functions, FrontFace already offers broad support not only for the most common media and content types, such as images, videos, websites, but also PDF documents, vector graphics or special objects such as tickers or date/time displays. If necessary, additional functionality can be retrofitted with so-called plugins (e.g., the integration of external calendar data or news and weather).

The new Excel Viewer Plugin now also enables the direct integration of Excel documents into playlists and interactive touch menus. The only requirement is that Excel needs to be installed on the PC which is used for playback (the so-called “Player PC”) in addition to the FrontFace software.

The plugin then displays the Excel file on the screen in its original state and without any loss of quality. The Excel file is updated each time, so formulas and diagrams are automatically recalculated when being displayed on the screen. This means that the displayed content always corresponds to the current content of the Excel file. Because the Excel file can be embedded from a network share or even via HTTP, the content on the screen can be updated simply by editing and saving the file.

More information about the Excel Viewer Plugin and a free trial version are available for download.

FrontFace 4.6.2: Tables, Hot Folders, Analytics Plugin, Android 12 and much more…

With the latest version 4.6.2 of FrontFace, many new and exciting features have been added to the powerful digital signage and kiosk software solution.

Support for Tables in Texts

The newly added support for tables in text media objects opens up a particularly huge number of new uses and applications: Tables can be used like in conventional word processing for both text structuring and layout purposes. The integrated table editor has a range of functions that is comparable to common word processing programs and is just as easy to use.

Support for tables in text media objects

Hot Folder with Explorer Mode and Subfolder Support

The “Explorer Mode” for the popular Hot Folder features has received another improvement: Subfolders can now also be navigated interactively. In general, Hot Folders can be used to integrate network shares into digital signage playlists. The contents of these folders (e.g. images or PDF files) are then displayed “live”. With the Explorer Mode, Hot Folders can also be used interactively. Similar to a file explorer, the files are displayed as icons and can be viewed full screen when clicked/tapped on. With this release, the support for also navigating subfolders has been added. In this way, for example, employee information systems can be implemented particularly easily, since existing documents and folders on file servers can be integrated directly into the interactive touch menu interface. Changes to files in a Hot Folder always have an immediate effect on the touch menu without having to publish again! Also for digital bulletin boards, the Explorer Mode for Hot Folder media objects is a very useful feature when running on touch screens.

Hot Folder: Explorer Mode with Subfolders

Analytics Plugin

In addition to the numerous features that are already integrated in FrontFace, there is also the option of extending additional functions by installing plugins on demand. With the new Analytics Plugin, user activities can now be tracked on interactive systems (which content was accessed when and how often?) and on non-interactive digital signage systems, the Analytics Plugin can be used to create a proof of playout (e.g. for advertising screens).

FrontFace for Android

The Android version of FrontFace, which can also be used on Android TV devices, has again received numerous enhancements and improvements. After finally supporting Android 11, the latest version is now also compatible with Android 12. This means that FrontFace can be used on almost all Android devices with Android 7 to 12! Hardly any other digital signage software offers such a wide range of hardware and operating system support. This not only actively contributes to sustainability, but also enables flexible use in times of limited hardware availability!

Below is an overview of the most important new features and improvements of the current version 4.6.2 of FrontFace:

FrontFace for Windows:

  • NEW: Support for tables in text media objects
  • NEW: Explorer Mode for Hot Folders now with support for subfolders
  • NEW: Update of the integrated Chromium engine to version 106.0.5249.119
  • NEW: Tracking of user activities using the new Analytics Plugin (optionally available)
  • NEW: Auto-recovery function in case the content cache has been damaged externally
  • NEW: Validation of projects on loading and provisioning of automatic repair actions in case of corrupted projects
  • NEW: Note on how to fix SSL/certificate issues when displaying websites in preview mode
  • NEW: Improved automatic scrolling of web pages
  • NEW: The user manual has been enhanced with numerous screenshots
  • FIX: Fixed issue with encrypted URLs
  • FIX: Improved automatic alignment of buttons in touch menus

Front Face for Android:

  • NEW: Android 12 support
  • FIX: Fixed problems when publishing very large files via SMB shares
  • FIX: Various improvements and optimizations

A free, fully functional trial version of FrontFace is available for download on the mirabyte homepage. Existing customers can download the new version in the customer area.

FrontFace 4.6.0 – New Design Options

In addition to numerous improvements and new features, the latest version 4.6.0 of FrontFace also offers new design options for playlists and touch menus: With the so-called “Container Style”, characteristics such as background colors/gradients, border type, color and thickness can be set for all media objects as well as settings for drop shadow or glow effects. This opens up numerous new possibilities for eye-catching playlists and touch menus e.g., for digital bulletin boards.

The new “Container Style” tab in the FrontFace Assistant

The version also brings the following new features and improvements:

  • NEW: Each media object now has a “Container Style” attribute. This allows configuring drop shadow, background, and border settings for each media object for even more individual designs
  • NEW: Update of OSK (On Screen Keyboard) component to newer version
  • NEW: Background music now continues to play when navigating different content in a touch menu
  • NEW: If only one (daily) timer is defined in scheduling, the playlist will always be played, regardless of the actual date and time of the player’s system clock
  • NEW: If any hidden or invisible containers are included in a layout, the container list is automatically displayed, and the hidden container is indicated semi-transparently
  • NEW: The Pinboard layout has been improved and can optionally be updated (if already used)
  • FIX: Optimization of link support for integrating PDF and XPS files
  • FIX: Fixed bug when scrolling/paging playlist pages
  • FIX: Loading of the provider logo in the weather optimized
  • FIX: Optimization of the automatic image reduction when adding large-sized images
  • FIX: Optimized brush picker/color picker controls and bug fixes
  • FIX: Fixed bug when bulk importing images in touch menu
  • FIX: Fixed navigation problems (forward/back) with hot folders
  • FIX: The integrated, Chromium-based browser engine of FrontFace has been updated. As a result, numerous recent security fixes have been integrated.

Customers who are entitled to obtain updates & support can download the new version in the customer section on the mirabyte website. For those interested, there is a free, fully functional trial version available!

FrontFace on the Amazon Fire TV Stick

The FrontFace digital signage software is not only available for Windows, but also for the Android operating system. In addition to tablets, media player boxes and mini PCs with Android as well as TVs with integrated Android TV, the compact Fire TV Stick from Amazon can also be used as player hardware. The multimedia stick from Amazon is particularly suitable for small, budget-sensitive standalone installations. In addition to the normal model, there is also a 4K version, which offers a higher resolution, and a Lite version, which is completely sufficient for digital signage purposes.

A few steps are required to install FrontFace on a Fire TV Stick. Since the stick only has a single micro-USB port, which is required for connecting the included power supply unit, a so-called USB-OTG Y-adapter cable with a micro-USB 2.0 connector and USB socket type A is recommended, at least for installation. This allows to connect a USB stick or a keyboard in addition to the power supply.

Fire TV Stick with USB-OTG-Y cable attached

First, a file manager app from the “appstore” must be installed on the Fire TV after the regular setup process of the device has been completed. The free app “File Explorer” is recommended here.

The File Explorer app must then be allowed to install apps from unknown sources so that FrontFace can be installed via “sideload”. To do this, go to “Settings” > “My Fire TV” > “Developer Options” > “Install Unknown Apps”. Then select the “On” option for the “File Explorer” app.

Now a USB stick with the APK file of the FrontFace software must be inserted (you can download the APK file directly from the FrontFace Assistant in the “Players” menu). The APK file is then installed on the Fire TV Stick using the File Explorer app.

After the installation is complete, start the FrontFace Player App from the menu of the Fire TV Stick.

FrontFace Player App setup

Next, FrontFace needs to be set up: The publishing folder must be selected in accordance with the publishing method used. In most cases, the “Web Server” publishing method is the best choice. You then need to specify the URL of a web server where the content is published to using the FrontFace Assistant. The FrontFace Player App then automatically fetches the new content from that source over the Internet.

Finally, the option to start FrontFace automatically when the Fire TV Stick is switched on can be activated if this is desired. By clicking on “Start Player” the setup is complete and the FrontFace Player App will display the published content on the screen and update itself automatically once new content has been published.

If you want to try out FrontFace on the Fire TV Stick by yourself, simply download the free trial version from the FrontFce product homepage!

FrontFace 4.4.1 – With Click2Zoom Function!

The latest version again brings a lot of new features and improvements. Here in an overview of the recent changes:

  • NEW: Click2Zoom function now available for many media objects: Media objects can be displayed in a “full-screen mode” by interactively “clicking” on them. Perfectly suited for all types of digital notice boards!
  • NEW: Click actions are now available for many media objects.
  • NEW: Many media object dialogs have been revised and now also support the expert mode.
  • NEW: Audio Media Object – now WAV, MP3 or WMA files can be integrated as media objects, including optional, interactive control (play/pause, rewind and seek).
  • NEW: The audio playback action now enables the direct selection of audio files.
  • NEW: The integrated browser engine has been updated to Chromium 84 and brings many improvements, also in terms of rendering performance.
  • NEW: Optional “Download & Execute” function in the web browser is now available, e.g., to be able to view Office files on a SharePoint Web page.
  • NEW: Detailed description in the manual how to set up the publishing of content over the cloud (e.g., Dropbox) with the Android version of the FrontFace Player App.
  • NEW: Useful tips and tricks for working with FrontFace can now optionally be displayed on the FrontFace Assistant’s start page.
  • FIX: Scrolling web pages now also works with pages that previously did not scroll due to design limitations.
  • FIX: Improved security of the integrated web browser when the Safe Mode is activated (e.g., prevention of file uploads, etc.).
  • FIX: Improvement scaling of the Player App’s maintenance menu on systems with very high DPI values.
  • FIX: The ability to cancel long publishing processes and the loading process of the preview have been improved.
  • FIX: When starting sequential playlists by an event (e.g., using the Remote Control Plugin), a page index can now be specified from which the playlist should be started.
  • FIX: The integrated on-screen keyboard has been updated to the latest version.

Existing customers that are entitled to obtain free updates & support can download the latest version for free. Prospects may download a fully functional, free 14 days trial version.

FrontFace 4.4 – Now also on Android

The latest version 4.4 again brings many innovations and improvements for our digital signage & kiosk software FrontFace, but also the long-awaited support for the Android operating system:

With the new FrontFace Player App for Android, you can now use Android-based devices as players. In addition to tablets, these also include inexpensive media player boxes and devices with integrated Android TV. Devices with Android version 8 (“Oreo”) or higher are supported.

The FrontFace Player App for Android offers a reduced range of functions compared to the Windows version: Only non-interactive functions (classic digital signage playlists) are supported. Interactive touch menus are only supported on the Windows platform. In addition, some features such as “Hot Folder” are also not available on Android. A detailed overview of the differences between the Windows and Android versions of the FrontFace Player App can be found on the FrontFace Website.

The creation and management of content, as well as the scheduling is carried out as usual with the convenient FrontFace Assistant on Windows. Here you can manage your Android players, create, and edit playlists and then publish them on the Android players.

The new FrontFace Player App for Android is perfectly suited for simpler and cost-sensitive use cases and applications: Digital shop window advertising, menu boards for restaurants, snack bars and canteens or simple information screens, etc. – Thanks to the combination of extremely inexpensive Android hardware and the also lower-priced FrontFace Player license for Android, you can now implement appealing digital signage installations, even with very low budgets!

You can download the fully-functional, free demo version to try out both the Windows and the Android version of FrontFace 4.4!

Below you will find an overview of the most important new features and changes in version 4.4:

  • NEW: FrontFace Player App for Android (8.0 “Oreo” or higher) available.
  • NEW: Preview settings (resolution, etc.) can now optionally also be persisted per playlist.
  • NEW: New “Plain” theme for touch menus (completely without button artwork) for even more individual design options.
  • NEW: Support for certificate-based client authentication when accessing websites.
  • NEW: Expert mode available in almost all dialogs (increases clarity); If an expert setting has been changed, the expert mode is automatically activated in the relevant dialog.
  • NEW: Automatic check of the minimum version when opening projects (prevents projects from being opened with an outdated assistant!).
  • NEW: Log files now have the file extension * .log.txt instead of .log as before
  • FIX: Improved behavior when processing faulty / incompatible PDF files.
  • FIX: Warning if two web browser instances (Chromium) are using the same cache at the same time.
  • FIX: Last used text colors in the editor of the text media object are now saved project-wide and can therefore be reused more easily.
  • FIX: Paging buttons in touch menus are displayed correctly, even if there are hidden pages under the pages to be displayed.
  • FIX: Tooltips in the timer preview (scheduling) were sometimes displayed incorrectly.

FrontFace 4.3.7 – Updated Browser Engine, Improved Weather Module and More…

We continuously improve FrontFace by releasing new features, fixing bugs, and delivering updated documentation. 

Please note that there has been a change in the system requirements for this version as well as a change regarding to license activation (highlighted in red below)!

Here are the most important changes of version 4.3.7:

  • NEW: Weather media object now shows the probability of rain for the forecasts.
  • NEW: Weather media objects comes with a brand new icon set called “Comic”:
  • FIX: Weather media object has a new icon for changing weather that is “more positive“ regarding sunshine.
  • FIX: Update to an entirely new, Chromium-based browser engine (using Chromium 79) with a fully isolated/sandboxed architecture for more stability and security.
  • NEW: Optional progress bar for countdown and egg timer mode of the date/time clock media object for visualizing the remining time.
  • NEW: PDF documents (local and Web) linked in Web pages can now be viewed using the Web page media object.
  • FIX: Starting with this version, FrontFace requires .NET Framework 4.8 (on most Windows 10 computers, this version of the .NET Framework is already preinstalled!).
  • NEW: Videos can now optionally be started automatically or not when being used in a touch menu button playlist.
  • FIX: Dedicated actions for showing and hiding the onscreen keyboard have been added as an extension to the previously existing toggle keyboard action.
  • FIX: Settings dialog of Player App (Maintenance Menu) is designed more clearly.
  • FIX: Fixed a problem with assigning non-existing playlists to event sources.
  • FIX: Idle timer to return to home page of a touch menu now also works correctly, when the user is interacting with a Web page that uses the “Chromium (for Touch)” browser engine.
  • FIX: Editing players within a player group now works correctly in all cases.
  • FIX: Fixed an issue with publishing player groups.
  • FIX: Fixed a problem with adding background audio files to playlist pages.
  • FIX: Fixed a problem with overlay playlists triggered by an event source that did not show up.
  • FIX: All actions that are only available in certain contexts are now context-sensitive.
  • FIX: To label the language selection buttons in multi-lingual touch menus, the language names are now used in their native representation (German, English, Français, etc.).
  • FIX: Whitelist filter of the Web page media object now also behaves correctly in case there are invalid entries in the whitelist.
  • FIX: Due to a change in the license activation system, it can happen under certain circumstances that your FrontFace license must be reactivated after the update. However, due to the change, the activation code is now much more robust to Windows feature updates, which in the past partially made a reactivation necessary when being installed!
  • FIX: Minor bug fixes.

Updates for FrontFace Plugins:

In addition to the new version 4.3.7 of FrontFace, there are also some updates for the optional plugins available:

Remote Control Plugin:

Calendar Plugin:

  • NEW: New view type “Agenda” for displaying appointments or room bookings per day in a chronological order.
  • FIX: Minor bug fixes.

The new version as full version or as fully-functional trial version is available for download on the FrontFace product website.

Touch Menus: Back to Home Page & Digital Signage Screen Saver

In this tutorial we will show you two very helpful features for your interactive touch menus with FrontFace: The “Back to Home Page” function automatically returns the menu to the start page if a user leaves the terminal without clicking “Home” button on leaving. With the screen saver feature, you can supply your kiosk terminal with additional, moving content when there is no interaction and usage.

Back to Home Page

When a user leaves the terminal without returning to the start page of the touch menu, a certain period of minutes can be defined after which the system automatically returns to the top level menu of the touch menu when there is no more interaction.

To configure this setting, open the settings dialog of the touch menu:

Here is the “Interaction Timeout” setting. Set the desired duration (e.g. 15 minutes). This ensures that the menu returns to the start page after 15 minutes without interaction.

As a result, a subsequent user can start the navigation directly from the main menu level (“Home Screen”) and does not have to manually click the “Home” button first.

Digital Signage Screensaver

Especially for interactive systems such as kiosk terminals, it is desirable to display appealing, moving content on the screen (e.g. advertising or specific calls for action) when the system is not being used interactively. You can easily create an individual screen saver with FrontFace:

First create a playlist (in addition to your touch menu), which will serve as screen saver.

Here you can insert any media objects, for example pictures, videos, slideshows, web pages or texts. In addition, with the help of a suitable screen layout, you can also add static overlay text or even scrolling text with a call for action (CFA) such as “Tap here for more information …” or “Please touch the screen!”.

Then switch to the “Scheduling” section in the Assistant and activate the “Advanced Scheduling”. Then click on the + icon in the “Event Sources” list to create a new event source.

Click on “Install a new event source plugin” and select the plugin file for the screensaver. This is named “Screensaver.ffapx” and is located in the “C:\Program Files\mirabyte\FrontFace\Plugins\” folder.

After installing the plugin, select it and click OK.

Finally, you specify the number of minutes and the previously created playlist as a screen saver:

NEW: FrontFace 4.1 – with Support for Interactive Kiosk Features

With FrontFace‘s latest release 4.1, the merger of our previous products “FrontFace for Public Displays” (Digital Signage Software) and “FrontFace for Touch Kiosks” (Kiosk Software) has now been completed into a unified product.

With FrontFace, you get a universal standard software solution that enables you to realize classical, non-interactive digital signage applications such as advertising, information or reception screens, as well as interactive touch-screen applications such as employee information systems, self service kiosks or information terminals.

Even mixed forms from both applications are also possible with FrontFace: For example, you can implement an interactive touch screen menu and install a traditional, sequential playlist with multimedia content as a “screen saver” that plays when there is no interaction at the terminal.

Thanks to the new layout technology introduced with FrontFace 4, you can now freely design your interactive menu interfaces and use layouts for both playlists and touch menus.

Existing customers of FrontFace for Public Displays or FrontFace for Touch Kiosks can upgrade for free to the new FrontFace 4, if they are eligible for updates & support.

For prospects, there is a free, fully functional trial version available as well as quick-start tutorials, including one for the new, interactive functions!