Digital Signage Content Series: Creating the Right Content Formats

By, Marlin Administrator on Monday October 10, 2011

Digital Signage Content Series: Part 4 - Final Installment

By Frank Kenna

In my last few blogs, I’ve covered the first 4 items from this list about sourcing and using content for digital signage (DS):

1. What are you trying to communicate?
2. What is the source?
3. Is the information accurate?
4. Can you get permission to use it?
5. How do you get it into a format compatible with your DS system?

Today I’ll cover #5.  As you may recall, the “it” referred to in the list is the content that’s so important for keeping your DS system fresh and relevant.

Now that you’ve found some content, you realize that you have to figure out how to actually get it into your digital signage system.  Most likely, you’re dealing with the typical formats such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF and video. 

Ideally, your content management system (CMS) is smart enough to upload these files in native format.  If so, then it’s simply a matter of doing straight uploads, keeping in mind that you want the aspect ratio (height vs. width) of the piece to most closely match the display frame to which you’re uploading.

Content Format Conversion Tips and Tools

But what if the CMS system won’t natively upload your content?  Well, you have a few options, some better than others. 


The first is to convert the piece of content into a format that the CMS will accept.  For example, let’s say you have a photo in “.tif” format that won’t upload.  Chances are that your CMS will accept a “.jpg” – most will – so you could open the photo in any image editor like Photoshop, save it as a jpeg and then upload.  That one’s pretty easy.


Moving up the complexity scale, let’s now say you have a .pdf file that your CMS won’t allow.  So you need to convert that .pdf into something it will accept.  You then determine that you want to convert it into a Word document, since you know the CMS will accept those.  But how? The answer is that you need to find a converter that’ll work while doing the least possible damage to the original content. 

The primary damage to avoid is ‘rasterizing’ the original.  Without getting too technical, most original documents with letters/words, etc., keep the text in “vector” format, which makes it easy to move and resize without sacrificing quality.  If you simply cut & paste the .pdf into a Word doc, the .pdf would be rasterized, (treated like a photo) and all the vector info would be lost.  The problem with this is when you now try to enlarge the image for your display, it will be treated like a photo – that is a bunch of pixels – and the result will be low-quality and fuzzy.  It’ll work, but you won’t like the result. 

So what you need to do is convert the .pdf in a way that retains the original vector information.  There are various software applications you can buy to do this.  There’s one in particular that I like called Zamzar.  It’s online, requires no download, has dozens of conversion options… and it’s free!  Pdf-to-Word is one of the many conversions it will handle.  Just upload the .pdf, select Word as the desired result, and they’ll email you the converted file in a few minutes. You may have to adjust some of the formatting in the resulting file, but the result will be worth it.


Now let’s take a look at PowerPoint, one of the most common apps used for electronic bulletin board content generation.  People like it because it’s easy to use and has almost unlimited design options and flexibility.  But what if your CMS won’t accept PPTs?  One option is to open the PowerPoint doc and “Save As” the file as a different format that the CMS will accept.  For example, you could save each PPT slide as a jpeg and upload those.  Not a perfect solution, but it will work.  Or you could use something like Zamzar and convert to a .swf (Flash) file, assuming the CMS will work with those.  Either method will result in some formatting issues and loss of animations and transitions, but your PowerPoint will now be displayed in your DS. 

Down and Dirty

If all else fails, you can always open up your piece of content and use the “Print Screen” button on your keyboard to take a screen shot of it.  Then paste the result from the clipboard into Photoshop or Word, save in the appropriate format and upload.  This method is down & dirty, but it’s easy and lets you get virtually anything you can see on your computer’s screen into your digital signage.

Next Time…

Getting video into your digital bulletin boards is pretty much the same story, that is, converting it into a format that will upload, but there are some important details that deserve their own blog, so I’ll tackle that next time.

In the meantime, if you’re in the process of spec’ing out a digital signage system, do yourself a favor and find one that will natively upload your most-used file types.