I work for a small college and I thought it would be interesting to set myself the goal of creating a digital sign that could display information about the college, amongst other things. As always, when I do something like this, it has to be free (Open Source) or as free as possible. I managed to achieve my goal AND I did it for free. I thought I'd share what I did so that others can duplicate or build on it.
What do you need:
A display, preferably flatscreen (I was lucky and we had one going spare).
A laptop or PC to run/control the display (being the college IT guy, I had a spare laptop lying about).
Some software to run the whole thing.
I did some research and whilst there are plenty of software solutions to create digital signage, it was either very expensive or too complicated for me or my needs. Then I discovered that the humble web browser Firefox, with a couple of plug-ins, does exactly what I want.
What does it do:
Firefox runs in full-screen mode and cycles through a series of tabs, showing each tab for 30 seconds to a minute. I have six tabs, each displaying a different webpage. Every 30 minutes, each tab refreshes so that the web pages are kept up to date. My tabs currently display:
- The college web page.
- The college Twitter page.
- The college Facebook page.
- The BBC News website.
- The BBC weather page for my area.
- Lastly, a custom information page (I'll come back to this later).
So how do you do it?:
Download Firefox from here. Install and run.
Open Firefox options and select Add-ons.
In the Search box type: ReloadEvery. Install it.
In the Search box type: Session Manager. Install it.
In the Search box type: Tab Slideshow. Install it.
Firefox may force you to restart between each one. If it does, just go back into the browser and install the next plug-in.
On your first tab, go to the first web page that you want to display.
Open another tab and load the second web page.
And so on until you have a tab for each web page.
If you were to close Firefox now, you would have to manually set up all those tabs again. So now we use the Session Manager plug-in to allow Firefox to remember your tab setup.
To do this, click on the orange Firefox button in the top left of the screen (you may need to do this differently if you have an older version of Firefox).
Select Session Manager and then Save Session. Make sure you click on the Select All button so that all tabs will be saved to the session.
Now, right-click on each tab, select ReloadEvery and select how often you want that tab to reload i.e. every 5, 10, 15 minutes or select Custom.
Click on the orange Firefox button in the top left of the screen, go to Add-ons. Click on the Options button for Tab Slideshow. Make sure Cycle Within Current Tab Group is ticked and enter the amount of time you want each tab to display.You're now ready to test it.
Click on the orange Firefox button in the top left of the screen, select Start Tab Slideshow.
Press the F11 key to put Firefox into Full Screen mode.
Stand back and watch.
How to set up a tab that displays a custom information page:
Create a simple HTML web page using either Microsoft Word, LibreOffice or Kompozer. I use Kompozer which you can get from here. You don't need to know how to code HTML. It's as easy as creating a document. With a little searching, you can find free web page templates online and tailor this to suit your needs.
Save your HTML file to a folder on the laptop.
Go back to Firefox and add a new tab (don't forget, when you're done, go back to Session Manager and save the session as above or your new information tab won't load next time you open Firefox).
On the address line of the new tab, enter the full path to your HTML file and press Enter.
(The address path should look something like c:\Users\bob\desktop\information.html
And that's it. Let me know if you find this useful.