A very special new feature is the ability to display PDF or XPS/Print2Screen documents with multiple pages at the same time. A typical use case is to display a multi-page portrait document in full screen mode on a 16:9 landscape screen. This makes better use of the available space. Nevertheless, the familiar “paging” function (manual or automatic mode) is still available, even if multi-page viewing is enabled!
These are the major changes in this release – FrontFace 4.7.1:
FrontFace for Windows:
NEW: Multi-page display mode for PDF, XPS and Print2Screen documents allowing to display multiple pages at the same time
NEW: Convert to Bitmaps option for PDF and Print2Screen has been optimized (improved rendering quality)
NEW: When viewing a PDF using the Chromium-based rendering, touch interaction is forced if toolbar or thumbnails is enabled
NEW: Support for HTML widgets (HTML code snippets)
FIX: Fixed an issue with incorrect rendering of SVG files containing elements outside the canvas
FIX: Player settings are now correctly applied in Preview mode when a player is selected
FIX: Fixed a problem with web server publishing when using the FTPS protocol
FIX: Several other minor bug fixes and improvements
FrontFace for Android:
NEW: Player logs can now be exported to a USB thumb drive on Android
FIX: Fixed issue with borders and padding on Android
FIX: Fixed problem with incorrectly applied background colors in certain situations
Digital signage, used to display information and/or advertising, is everywhere! Not only in shopping malls and large corporations, but also in small and medium sized businesses in the retail, service and hospitality industries, where digital signage offers many advantages, such as digital storefront advertising.
Software? Which software?
While cost, screen size and design are often the only factors considered when choosing the right hardware, software is often ignored. As soon as the screen is mounted, thoughts quickly turn to Microsoft PowerPoint or the free presentation software Impress from LibreOffice, which offers a similar range of functions. Anyone who has ever created an attractive presentation with one of these programs knows that it is not only very easy to combine text, images and graphic elements, but also to create cross-fade effects and stylish animations.
Ready, set, F5!
So, once the presentation is created, what happens next? – Very simple: open PowerPoint, load the presentation and press F5!
…but then it starts: the presentation stays on the first page. Of course, with a digital signage screen, no one is standing next to it and pressing a button to continue with the slides. Fortunately, there is a way in PowerPoint to set the display time for each slide and enable automatic paging. And, of course, don’t forget to set the presentation to “infinite loop,” otherwise it will end after the last slide and a black screen will appear.
The same thing every day, Part 1: Automation is mandatory!
Shutting down the PC manually at the end of the day… you can do it, but you will probably forget it sometimes and turn on the PC every day, log on to Windows, start PowerPoint, load the presentation, and launch it with F5 – this is not a viable solution in the long run. With a little manual work and expertise, these steps can be automated, but it is still inconvenient.
Pro Tip: Configuring a PC for continuous operation as a digital signage system is easy with the free FrontFace Lockdown Tool. This handy little program not only lets you automate the timed startup and shutdown of your PC, but also lets you configure other tasks like automatically logging into Windows, starting a program like PowerPoint, or disabling the screen saver and automatic screen going black after some idle time with a single click.
The same thing every day, Part 2: Updating content is a must!
Even though it is possible to automate the playback of the PowerPoint presentation with some effort, the frustration returns when it comes to updating the content: The presentation must first be updated on another PC, then transferred to the playback PC via USB stick or network, and then manually updated and started using mouse and keyboard. If the screen is located in a public area, interested passers-by can also follow this process live. Of course, this doesn’t look professional at all!
Lively content generates more interest!
In many cases, simply displaying text and pictures is too boring. You can even embed video into PowerPoint slides, but when it comes to current content from the Internet, such as news, weather, or Web sites, Microsoft’s presentation software quickly reaches its limits.
So, if you want more variety or need to integrate current content from the Web, classic presentation software won’t work.
What alternatives are there?
For this reason, there are special solutions: One of them is FrontFace from mirabyte. With FrontFace you can create, control, update and play professional digital signage screen presentations. In addition to a distributed architecture (the software consists of a player application for content playback and the FrontFace Assistant for content creation and control), FrontFace offers the possibility to integrate a wide variety of content types. Whether videos, streams, images, slideshows, text, PDF files or websites – with FrontFace any type of media can be easily combined into attractive playlists. Thanks to the integrated Print2Screen function, content can even be imported from any Windows application that has a print function. Content can be created with popular applications such as Word and then transferred directly to the screen presentation. By the way: PowerPoint presentations can also be integrated this way (or as video)!
If you want to drive a nail into a wall, you should use a hammer, not a drill – in other words, there is a perfect tool for every application! While PowerPoint or LibreOffice Impress are a great choice for classic presentations, it quickly becomes apparent that these programs are rather unsuitable for digital signage applications.
But FrontFace offers even more: With the integrated time control, content can be displayed time-controlled. Content can be displayed throughout the day (e.g. the cafeteria menu at noon), by day of the week, or on specific dates (e.g. for events).
FrontFace is also very flexible when it comes to updating content. There are several publishing methods that can be used to update the content on a screen: In addition to publishing via the local network, updates are also available via the cloud, web server or even offline via USB thumb drive.
FrontFace’s greatest strength, however, lies in the software’s intuitive operation and comprehensive feature set, which covers a wide range of requirements. Getting started with FrontFace is very easy even for non-IT-savvy users. However, even complex applications can be easily implemented with FrontFace. In addition to a free, fully functional trial version, short video tutorials and an English manual are available to help you get started.
A Media Library is now available as a new feature in the FrontFace Assistant (starting with version 4.7.0). This allows you to easily manage your media such as images, videos, PDFs, XPS files, and audio files throughout the entire project.
In the “Media Files” tab, you can see which media files are being used in the project and which are not. For example, you can easily keep media files in the project that you want to use later or that you want to use in rotation/exchange with others.
Replacing media files or changing file names is now much easier as the file is automatically changed or replaced at all points in the project.
A new, integrated image editor is also available for images (PNG and JPEG), allowing you to edit images directly (e.g. size, cropping, sharpness/blur, contrast, colors, etc.).
With the new Remote Control Plugin for FrontFace, FrontFace players can be easily “remote controlled” via a smartphone/tablet app. Similar to a TV remote control, playlists can be started, paused or stopped ad hoc, placeholder text in playlists can be filled, and playlist pages can be browsed interactively.
The Remote Control App for remote control via smartphone, tablet or PC is available for Windows, Android (as sideload or via Google Play) and for iOS.
The following use cases can be implemented with the Remote Control Plugin:
Welcome screen for personalized visitor greeting: Greet customers or visitors on your digital signage screen with a personalized welcome message. Use the app to start the welcome message and enter the visitor’s name directly on the smartphone.
Support product presentations at trade shows or showrooms: Show customers product videos, datasheets or live demos on your screens by simply launching the desired content on your screens with a single click with your smartphone in hand.
Museum and exhibition tours: To support a guided tour, the guide can easily access content such as videos or visualizations on multiple screens or projectors at any time.
Callup system for waiting rooms and waiting areas: With a click in the app (which can also run on a Windows PC!), staff can call patients or waiting people via the screen in a personalized way (“Mr. Doe, please go to treatment room 2!”) or simply “…next, please!”). The current presentation (e.g. advertising or entertainment program) is interrupted and the call is displayed. Optionally, this can be accompanied by an audible signal to attract even more attention!
Finally, in addition to the app control, the Remote Control Plugin also provides a REST API to integrate with external systems. For example, building automation systems can directly control what is displayed on the digital signage screens via the API.
The Remote Control Plugin for FrontFace is available for download as a free trial version. More information about the plugin and installation can be found on the FrontFace product page.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In addition to numerous improvements and new features, the latest version 4.6.0 of FrontFacealso 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.