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System on Chip (SOC) Vs Media Players

A System on Chip is an integrated circuit that combines many elements of a computer system into a single chip. In the digital signage industry, this means a display that has a built-in media player, with integrated operating system, typically either Tizen (a version of Linux), Android or WebOS.

By contrast, a traditional Media player is a separate ‘box’ with its own processor, storage, networking and operating system (typically an embedded version of Windows, Linux or Android), attached to one or more displays via cables.


  • Simple solution, with minimal components, great for space constraints

  • Typically provides lower overall cost for single screen installations

  • Lower overall power usage

  • There's a wide choice of CMS supporting the key OS platforms

  • A lower chance of hardware failure, due to fewer components

  • No cables, resulting in shorter installation time and a cleaner finish


  • Not upgradeable, the whole unit must be replaced should a component permanently fail or not have enough power to cope with new content requirements

  • Limited processing/graphics power can curtail more advanced content ambitions, although this is becoming less of a factor with every new generation of hardware

  • Software licence is needed per display, which can significantly increase the TCO over 3 or more years - discrete media players can be specified to power several displays from one software license.

  • Every display requires a LAN/Wi-Fi connection - networking is not free, especially so in the corporate world.

  • Operating Systems/firmware are not typically upgraded by manufacturers after a display is made End Of Life – this can create an IT security risk and will require mitigations to ensure you don't accidentally create an exploitable device on your LAN.

  • Remote access options can be limited, which can inhibit the support methods available

  • Limited networking capabilities –corporate networks often will not approve the attachment of an SOC display due to the limited authentication mechanisms supported.

  • Synchronised, multi-screen video walls are only possible with a small subset of the more premium CMS platforms

  • Data integration is much more limited - live data on a SOC display is typically presented either as an HTML widget (which is not that efficient and can lead to slow content load times) or processed on the server and sent to the displays. This architecture can limit your ability to integrate with non-cloud legacy systems.


In Pixel’s view, the first few generations of SOC for digital signs were pretty terrible, with very limited capabilities, but now that they're relatively mature, SOC can definitely be considered as an alternative. to discrete media players, provided you take account of the caveats we've listed. They key to the correct choice is to ensure that whatever is specified will be able to achieve your content aspirations as they stand now and over the next 5 years, too. It’s not just about the hardware, either; the CMS software that’s selected to operate on the hardware has just as much effect on the overall capability of the solution.

In simple terms, we tend to favour SOC solutions for networks that have limited content complexity, with video and images being scheduled by a Cloud CMS. Discrete media players typically lend themselves to signage networks where there are more advanced content requirements, specific networking conditions, or site/screen density, such as:

  • Real time data integration, driving content or automated playlist changes

  • Multi-screen video walls

  • Enterprise network integration (security, authentication, bandwidth control and specific protocol or architecture support)

  • Local sensor or analytics integration for capturing data or triggering activity

  • High-end interaction with touch or gesture

  • Multi-screen sites or video walls

This list merely provides a flavour of the sorts of requirements that may drive a decision. As part of our engagement with clients, we gain an understanding of which approach is likely to be the best option for the long-term, including the option of a heterogenous setup, where SoC and discrete media players coexist across the same signage network.

To find out more, get in touch today


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