Microsoft’s Power BI business intelligence software is used by many companies today. It can be used to compile business figures and data from a wide range of data sources in the company into reports and analyses, which can then be displayed in a web browser.
However, when it comes to making Power BI content available on digital screens (digital signage, dashboards, or shop floor boards) or in interactive employee information systems, difficulties often arise. This is mainly due to the fact that interactive authentication (login) via Office 365 is required to access Power BI reports and dashboards in the browser. This cannot be done on an autonomous screen with no mouse and keyboard.
The digital signage software FrontFace offers an elegant solution to this challenge with the new Power BI plugin. This allows Power BI reports and dashboards to be easily integrated into FrontFace playlists or touch menus and combined with other media and content (e.g. images, videos, PDFs, websites, news tickers, etc.).
Two different types of integration are available: First, SSO (Single Sign On via Azure AD) can be used to enable automatic login to Power BI Online. Alternatively, the data can be hosted for playout using a so-called “Power BI capacity”. FrontFace then accesses this Power BI Capacity in Azure over a secure Internet connection and displays the content as desired.
This means that Power BI content can now be easily integrated into digital signage playlists!
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.
If you work a lot with Office documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and eventually, even use SharePoint as your intranet platform, there is often an inevitable need to integrate such files also in digital signage playlists or on interactive kiosk terminals.
When working with FrontFace, there are different ways how such an integration can be done:
1.) Integration as PDF, Print2Screen or Video
In this case, the Office files are converted into another format or exported with the respective desktop applications so that they can be displayed directly in FrontFace. As an alternative to exporting PDF documents, the Print2Screen function by FrontFace can also be used. This often gives better results in regards to display quality. In the case of PowerPoint presentations, you can either create page-by-page exports as PDF or Print2Screen, or export as video. This has the advantage that all animations and cross-fading effects from PowerPoint are fully retained. You should make sure that you always create an MP4 file and not use the old WMV format, since WMV files are significantly larger and often of poorer quality.
2.) Integration Using the Native Desktop Apps
FrontFace also enables the direct integration of EXE files in playlists and touch menus via the media object “External Application”. This way, the Office applications can be directly integrated and the file to be opened can be set in command line. A list of the available command line parameters of the Office applications can be found at Microsoft. The command line parameters allow, e.g. a PowerPoint presentation to be started directly.
However, this type of integration has some disadvantages: First of all, the Office applications must be installed on the player PC and an Office license must be available. Furthermore, security concerns can also play a role, since users with access to the system could change the files and at the same time gain access to the file system of the player PC, for example in the “Open File” dialog. Furthermore, you should also keep in mind that FrontFace starts and exits an external application here, over which there is otherwise no further control. Therefore, a direct integration of native desktop apps is only a sensible choice in a few cases.
3.) Integration via Office 365 / SharePoint as Web Page
If the Office files to be displayed are hosted on Office 365 (OneDrive or SharePoint), there is another, very elegant way for integration: As a web page in FrontFace. To do this, the file (Word, Excel or PowerPoint) must first be stored in a SharePoint document library or on OneDrive. A sharing link can then be created using the “Share” function. It is important that the “Allow editing” option is deactivated here (if desired) and otherwise the “Anyone” and “No password” sharing options are selected.
If you now open the link created in this way in a browser, the file appears in the respective online version of the Office application:
Often, however, only the display of the file contents itself is desired and therefore the display with the menu ribbon of the Office application is not what you want. Do adjust this, an additional parameter has to be appended to the URL which is:
This ensures that only the document is displayed and nothing else. There are a few other parameters that can be used for certain Office applications:
Supported Office Application
Enabled the “full screen display” of the document without the GUI of the Office online application
Hide grid lines
Hide column headings
Allow entries in calculating cells
Cell to be initially displayed / active
Hide download button
Prevent emedding codes
Page to be shown initially
Which of the methods presented here for integrating Office documents in FrontFace playlists and touch menus you use ultimately depends on the particular use case and the basic conditions.
The latest version 4.4.6 of our digital signage & kiosk software FrontFaceoffers lots of improvements as well as a very special, new function that has repeatedly been requested by our customers: Multi-user support! Although multiple users have previously been able to edit a FrontFace project from different PCs if the project was stored in a jointly accessible storage location (e.g. a network drive), in this scenario all users had the same, full access rights to the project.
With the new (optional) multi-user support, several user accounts can now be created in a FrontFace project, and users can then be granted different access rights to the various areas of a project (e.g. Players, Content, Scheduling, Publication, etc.). In this way, on the one hand, an authorization structure can be mapped and, on the other hand, the complexity of the user interface of the FrontFace Assistant can be radically reduced so that a user is only shown the allowed areas and functions.
When opening a project, the user has to log in with a user name and password and is then given the configured scope of access. In addition to normal users, one or more administrator accounts can be created, which have full access to the project and at the same time also allow the administration of the user accounts.
However, the new multi-user feature is not mandatory in a FrontFace project. As before, in the default case, the project is opened normally using the FrontFace Assistant and no user account is required for logging in. In the case of new projects, the multi-user support can be activated when creating the project, if necessary. For existing projects in which the multi-user support is not yet active, it can be activated at any time in the settings dialog. In addition to that, the function can also be disabled again.
Here is an overview of the most important new features and changes in version 4.4.6:
NEW: Optional multi-user mode for projects with dedicated rights assignment for individual users and password protection.
NEW: Paging function (e.g. page 1/x) for text elements (such as “title”) in toolbars when displaying multi-page content as well as support for placeholders.
NEW: Optional hiding of areas (left, center, right) in toolbars for even more design freedom.
NEW: Text editor and dialog for editing formatted text for text media objects has been improved and is now more intuitive in terms of line breaks and font sizes.
NEW: Improved copy & paste of formatted text in the text media object dialog.
NEW: Installation file of the Android version can now be downloaded on demand and is no longer a fixed part of the regular installation package.
NEW: New section on “Automatic startup and shutdown of player PCs” in the user manual.
FIX: Improvements regarding displaying text media objects on Android devices.
FIX: Fixed a problem with the “Launch Explorer Shell” feature when exiting the Player App as a shell replacement.
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.