Mining Solutions Company Increases Productivity with Black Box Digital Signage [Case Study]

Many companies are using digital signage for corporate communication to replace posters, boards, and other printed notices. The real-time messaging saves the cost and time associated with printing posters and static signage. Moreover, small and large organizations are leveraging the benefits of digital signage to:

  • Increase sales and profits
  • Inform, educate, notify, and alert
  • Encourage certain behavior
  • Satisfy customers or employees
  • Improve business processes

Find out how a worldwide leader in high-productivity mining solutions found a real-time digital signage solution to improve communications and processes, and increase productivity.

Read the case study: Mining Solutions Company Increases Productivity with Black Box Digital Signage

Need help planning your next digital signage solution?

Black Box offers digital signage solutions that range from plug-and-play to highly scalable, sophisticated solutions. If you’re considering a larger deployment with a fully integrated network solution, enlist the help of a seasoned digital signage professional. Contact a Black Box technical engineer at 877-877-2269, or comment below.

Nine types of fiber optic cable and how you use them

Simplex vs. duplex patch cablesSimplex-Duplex-Types-Fiber-Optic-Cable

Simplex cable has one fiber, while duplex (zipcord) cable has two fibers joined with a thin web. Simplex (also known as single strand) and duplex zipcord cables are tight-buffered and jacketed, with Kevlar® strength members.

Because simplex fiber optic cable consists of only one fiber link, you should use it for applications that only require one-way data transfer. For instance, an interstate trucking scale that sends the weight of the truck to a monitoring station or an oil line monitor that sends data about oil flow to a central location.

There is a unique application where simplex cable can support two-way communications if the equipment can transmit and receive on two different wavelengths. For example, transmit could be at 1310 nm and receive could be at 1550 nm. This application is found more with single-mode cable.

Use duplex multimode or single-mode fiber optic cable for applications that require simultaneous, bidirectional data transfer. Workstations, fiber switches and servers, Ethernet switches, backbone ports, and similar hardware require duplex cable.

Indoor/outdoor cableIndoor-Outdoor-Cable-Types-Fiber-Optic-Cable

Indoor/outdoor cable uses dry-block technology to seal ruptures against moisture seepage and gel-filled buffer tubes to halt moisture migration. Comprised of a ripcord, core binder, a flame-retardant layer, overcoat, aramid yarn, and an outer jacket, indoor/outdoor cable can be run from building to building. Because indoor/outdoor cable is typically plenum-rated, it can be run from equipment room directly to the other equipment room without worrying about fire-safety codes or terminating the cable within 50 feet of the building’s entrance. The cable should be run in a conduit.

Interlocking armored cable is jacketed in aluminum interlocking armor so it can be run just about anywhere in a building. Ideal for harsh environments, it is rugged and rodent resistant. No conduit is needed, so it’s a laborand moneysaving alternative to using innerducts for fiber cable runs.

Outside-plant cable is used in direct burials. It delivers optimum performance in extreme conditions and is terminated within 50 feet of the building entrance. It blocks water with dry blocking, absorbent tape, or powder. If it is armored, it will require grounding. Outside-plant cables are also rodent resistant. If they are too used in aerial applications, they will have a messenger strength member. Outside-plant cables also have a much higher tensile strength and can withstand the rigors of long, campus-wide installations.

Distribution-style vs. breakout-styleDistribution-Style-Breakout-Style-Types-Fiber-Optic-Cable

Distribution-style cables have several tight-buffered fibers bundled under the same jacket with Kevlar or fiberglass rod reinforcement. These cables are small in size and are used for short, dry conduit runs in either riser or plenum applications. The fibers can be directly terminated, but because the fibers are not individually reinforced, these cables should be broken out with a “breakout box” or terminated inside a patch panel or junction box.

Breakout-style cables are made of several simplex cables bundled together, making a strong design that is larger than distribution cables. Breakout cables are suitable for conduit runs and riser and plenum applications.

Loose-tube vs. tight-buffered Loose-Tube-Tight-Buffered-Types-Fiber-Optic-Cable

There are two types of fiber optic cable construction: loose-tube and tight- buffered. Both contain some type of strengthening member, such as aramid yarn, stainless steel wire strands, or even gel-filled sleeves. But each is designed for different environments.

Loose-tube cable is specifically designed for harsh outdoor environments. It protects the fiber core, cladding, and coating by enclosing everything within semi-rigid protective sleeves or tubes. Many loose-tube cables also have a water-resistant gel that surrounds the fibers. This gel helps protect the fibers from moisture, which makes loose-tube cable great for harsh, high-humidity environments where water or condensation can be a problem. The gel-filled tubes can also expand and contract with temperature changes. Loose-tube cable also has a higher tensile strength than tight-buffered cable.

But gel-filled loose-tube cable is not the best choice when cable needs to be routed around multiple bends, which is often true in indoor applications. Excess cable strain can force fibers to emerge from the gel.

Because loose-tube cable is typically 250 microns, you’ll need a fan-out kit to build up the individual fiber strands to 900 microns when making the transition at the entrance point from outdoor loose-tube to indoor to tight-buffered cable.

Tight-buffered cable is optimized for indoor applications. Because it’s sturdier than loose-tube cable, it’s best suited for moderate-length LAN/WAN connections or long indoor runs. It’s easier to install because there’s no messy gel to clean up and it doesn’t require a fan-out kit for splicing or termination. You can install connectors directly to each fiber.

Additional Resources
White Paper: Fiber Optic Technology
Fiber Cable Selector
Custom Cable Configurator

Part 2 – How to Set Up a Dynamic Video Wall Without a Video Wall Processor

In just seven quick steps, take our AV-over-IP video distribution system from a static video wall to a dynamic video wall with switching and control. No additional video wall processor required.

In Part 1, we covered how to set up a static video wall without a video processor. Now it’s time to turn it up a notch and learn how to set up a dynamic video wall with added control and switching.

Recall we started with the MediaCento IPX PoE Multicast 1 x 4 Kit. The kit includes a transmitter, four receivers, a PoE (Power over Ethernet) network switch, and five 2-meter (6.5-feet) locking HDMI cables. Everything you need to multicast HDMI video over an IP network and create static video walls.

In order to make the video wall dynamic, you’ll need to add to the existing system:

The additional sources and transmitters enable additional content to display, and the controller enables you to take full control over the IP-based transmitters and receivers.

Let’s dive right in to the MediaCento multicasting system and get the controller up and running.

Step 1: Connect Additional Transmitters to the Switch and Source
In this scenario, we have one additional source, a laptop, so we will need one additional transmitter. Connect the second transmitter to the PoE network switch using a CATx cable. Then, using a locking HDMI cable, connect source – in this case, a laptop – to the transmitter unit.

Step 2: Connect the MediaCento IPX Controller
Connect the power supply to the controller and connect it to the network switch using a CATx cable.

Step 3: Access the Controller’s Web Interface
Use the Web interface to configure the controller. Open the Web browser, and type the IP address in the address field.

Note: For more details regarding IP addresses, see the user manual included with the controller.

Step 4: Detect Units
In the Web interface, go to the Hardware tab and:

  • Click the “Detect Units” button. The controller automatically detects all receivers and transmitters on the network. In this case, the IP address of the transmitter connected to the laptop is 169.254.4.73 and the iCOMPEL media player is 169.254.2.58.
  • Optionally, rename the receivers for easier setup. Click the “Show OSD” button to show the receiver’s IP names on the displays, and then click the “Rename Device” button to rename each of the receiver’s IP addresses to a findable name. For example, C1 R1 (for column 1, row 1), C1 R2, C2 R1, and C2 R2.

web-interface-hardware

Step 5: Update Group Settings
In the Web interface, go to the Groups tab and:

  • Name this group to “2×2 Video Wall” in the Title field.
  • In the “Receivers not in Group” list, select the receivers that you want displayed in the video wall and click the > button to add them to the “Receivers in Group” list. The receivers will appear below the lists.
  • Check the Video Wall This will open the video wall settings where you can specify the number or rows and columns in the video wall as well as monitor information (i.e., bezel width and monitor height and width). It also displays a video wall table.
  • Enter 2 for the number of rows, and 2 for the number of columns. The table will change to show a 2×2 video wall table.
  • Drag and drop the receivers where you would like them displayed in the video wall table. (This is where having the receivers renamed to something more meaningful helps with setup.)

web-interface-groups

  • Click the “Save Group” button.

Step 6: Enable Full-Screen Video Wall
Still in the Web interface, go to the Custom Display tab and select which source you would like to connect to the grouping that was just created. To switch the iCOMPEL media player to show the video wall across all the screens, click the box in the 169.254.2.58 (the IP address associated with the transmitter connected to the media player) column, 2×2 Video Wall row. Then, click the “Switch” button.

web-interface-custom-display

Step 7: Switch Content to Dynamic Display
To switch the display from the video wall only to show the source from the laptop in column 1, row 1, click the box in the column with the second transmitter, 169.254.4.73, and click the “Switch” button.

web-interface-custom-display2

The screen will change to show the content from the second source. In this case, it is pulling content from a Web page.

dynamic-display

Still in the Custom Display tab, click the “Save as a New Preset” button to make the configuration available in your dashboard. The dashboard is available on the mobile application; therefore, with the preset defined you can switch and control the displays from your mobile device.

That’s it! In just seven steps we took the static 2×2 video wall and made it dynamic with switching and control. This is just a snippet of the system’s capabilities. The system can create up to 8×8 video walls with 64 screens.

Need help planning your AV solution?
Enlist the help of a seasoned AV professional. Contact a Black Box technical engineer at 877-877-2269, or comment below.

Cable Basics: Fiber Optic Cable Construction

Fiber optic cable provides one of the most effective means today for safe, and long-distance communications, and it offers a number of advantages over copper. Fiber optic cable construction consists of a core, cladding, coating, strengthening fibers, and a cable jacket.

fiber-optic-cable-constructionCore
This is the physical medium that transports optical data signals from an attached light source to a receiving device. The core is a single continuous strand of extruded silica glass or plastic that’s measured in microns (µm) by the size of its outer diameter. The larger the core, the more light the cable can carry.

All fiber optic cable is sized according to its core’s outer diameter. The two most common multimode sizes are 50 and 62.5 microns. Single-mode cores are 8.5–9 microns.

The cores of OM1 and OM2 multimode cable are made differently than the cores of laser-optimized OM3 and OM4 cable. OM1 and OM2 have a small defect in the core called an index depression. This enables them to be used with LED light sources. OM3 and OM4 are manufactured without the center defect to enable them to be used directly with VCSELS for greater speeds and distance.

Cladding
This is the thin layer that surrounds the fiber core and serves as a boundary that contains the light waves and causes the refraction, enabling light to travel the length of the fiber segment. Typical fiber cladding is 125 microns.

Coating
This is a layer of plastic that surrounds the core and cladding to reinforce and protect the fiber core. Coatings are measured in microns and can range from 250 to 900 microns.

Strengthening fibers
These components help protect the core against crushing forces and excessive tension during installation. The materials can range from aramid yarn (Kevlar®) to wire strands to gel-filled sleeves.

Cable jacket
Just like copper cable, fiber cable comes with PVC and plenum-rated jackets. Whether you choose PVC- or plenum-jacketed cable depends on where you are going to use the cable. PVC cable is typically used for patch connections in the data center, wiring closet, and at the desktop. Plenum cable is used when you need to route a cable through the buildings air plenum. Plenum cable has a flame-resistant jacket to inhibit the spread of fire.

Fiber cable and connector colors
To easily recognize what type of fiber cable you have in the data center, the cable jackets, connectors, and connector bodies are color-coded.

OM1 62.5-/125-Micron Multimode Fiber
Jacket: Orange
Connector: Beige
Connector Body: Beige

OM2 50-/125-Micron Multimode Fiber
Jacket: Orange
Connector: Black
Connector Body: Black

OM3 Laser-Optimized 50-/125-Micron Multimode Fiber
Jacket: Aqua
Connector: Aqua
Connector Body: Black

OM4 Laser-Optimized 50-/125-Micron Multimode Fiber
Jacket: Aqua/Violet
Connector: Black
Connector Body: Aqua/Violet

OS2 8.5-Micron Single-Mode Fiber
Jacket: Yellow
Connector: APC: Green, MPO: Black; UPC: Blue
Connector Body: APC: Green; UPC: Blue

Additional Resources:
White Paper: Fiber Optic Technology
Blog post: Understanding Fiber Jacket Color Coding
Webinar: High-Density Fiber Connectivity for Data Centers

Part 1 – How To Set Up a Static Video Wall Without a Video Wall Processor

Easy to set up. How many times have we heard that phrase in the AV world? And, how can a system with multiple devices, cables, and displays be a simple installation? Well, I’m here to prove it is. In just six quick steps, take our AV-over-IP video distribution system from a packaged box to an impressive, eye-catching video wall. And, there’s no need for an additional video wall processor to do the job.

Start with the MediaCento IPX PoE Multicast 1 x 4 Kit. The kit includes a transmitter, four receivers, a PoE (Power over Ethernet) network switch, and five 2-meter (6.5-feet) locking HDMI cables. Everything you need to multicast HDMI video over an IP network and create video walls. The system is perfect for:

  • A digital signage application with screens in a different building or store.
  • Distributing high-quality medical imaging video across a hospital campus.
  • Streaming video to classrooms in schools.
  • Sharing video in command and control room setups, or in corporate training settings.

Now it’s time to share how fast you can have the above up and running.

Step 1: Plug in the Switch
Plug in the PoE network switch to a power outlet.

Step 2: Connect Transmitter and Receivers to the Switch
Connect the transmitter and four receivers to the PoE network switch using CATx cables. The PoE switch eliminates the need for external power supplies, making the installation even easier and more cost effective. Plus, PoE power offers reliability, flexibility, safety, and scalability.

Step 3: Connect Source to the Transmitter
Using the included locking HDMI cable, connect source (i.e., digital signage player, PC, Blu-ray player, DVD player, etc.) to the transmitter unit. Make sure the receivers are on the same channel as the transmitter. If so, the units will automatically connect and video will pass through showing the same video on each screen.

Step 4: Connect the Screens/Monitors to Receivers
Using the remaining four locking HDMI cables, connect the screens/monitors to each of the four receivers. NOTE: Sources connected to receiver units will show IP address before connecting.

At this point you will have videos on all screens. To get a video wall, you’ll need to access the transmitter settings on the Web, which we’ll do in the next steps.

Video-Wall-Example
Video wall example running content from digital signage media player with video and RSS feed.

 

Step 5: Access the Transmitter’s Web Interface
Use the Web interface to view information about the device, upload a firmware file to the device, and configure video wall transformers. The Web interface won’t give network information or screen previews.

To access the transmitter without an IP address, open a Web browser and insert the address: http://ast-gatewayXXXX.local. The four digits after ast-gateway depend on the position of the rotary switch you’ve set. Please refer to the following table. For example, if the position is set up as 7, then the address should be http://ast-gateway1110.local.

Rotary-Switch-Table

 

Step 6: Update Settings in the Web Interface
In the Web interface, go to the Video Wall tab and:

  • Set the bezel and gap information (dimensions of screen’s inside and outside width and height), video wall size, select single host mode, and apply to all units.
  • Next, apply the specific video wall section to each receiver (i.e., top left would be row 0, column 0). To help locate which screen is which, select the “Show OSD” checkbox.
Video-Wall-Example2
Video wall after changes made in the Web interface. Each display assigned to a receiver.

 

In part two of this blog post we turn this static video wall into a dynamic video wall with control and switching.

Black Box ISTE 2015 Recap

Are cloud services and 3D printing the next wave in EdTech? After just a few days at ISTE 2015 I’ve noticed a prevalence of 3D printing and cloud services. 3D printing is an exciting new technology to bring into the classroom. Many learning concepts can be hard to visualize. By enabling students to take their work and create a tangible, physical object that they can manipulate the learning experience improves significantly. It used to be that you had to pay thousands of dollars for the ability to do this, but the influx of competitors has made the opportunity more affordable. It’s a win for students and educators.

Black-Box-ISTE-2015Cloud services have been around for quite some time, but they really seem to be coming into their own. From classroom and device management to collaboration and presentation tools, almost everything you need can now be handled from the cloud. It’s a great way to involve parents and allow students to continue to work from home. The ability to collaborate with other students around the world is also a fantastic opportunity that I wish I could have experienced. However, with the movement towards cloud services comes increased pressure on schools to improve their infrastructure and bandwidth. Luckily, many funding resources like the e-rate program have noticed this trend and are pushing more and more money towards network infrastructure upgrades.

As your school moves toward more cloud-based options and brings in e-learning devices such as iPads or Chromebooks to enhance student learning, you’ll need a secure place to store and charge the devices. You may even need to transport the devices from classroom to classroom.

Black Box has you covered with storage and charging solutions for the entire e-learning device spectrum – from small iPad minis to larger 15.6” Chromebooks. At ISTE 2015, we showed the attendees our deluxe and standard charging carts for popular e-learning devices. Most were excited about the safety-first design (no pinch points, no ledges for children to climb on, no sharp edges, and internal electrical components) and the low-cost options. And, many IT administrators I spoke with were excited to see the rack mount rails on our deluxe charging cart. The flexible rack mounting system means that you won’t have to replace your carts every time you change or upgrade your electronic devices. As technology changes, the carts can be easily reconfigured to fit your needs.

As the new fiscal year starts, get in touch with one of our education specialists! Call 1-800-355-8004 to discuss your needs. Ask about our custom designs, too.

Additional resources
White Paper: 12 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Tablet and Laptop Cart
ISTE: 10 Ways to Get Started with 3D Printing
ISTE: The 9 Hottest Topics at ISTE 2015

Why yes, virtual appliances can help your digital signage enterprise

Simplified IT operations? Check. Faster response to changing business demands? Check. Reduced power consumption? Check.

Virtualization offers something for every user. It has provided efficiencies and capabilities that were once deemed impossible when constrained within a physical world.

The architecture of today’s x86 servers allows them to run only one operating system at a time. Server virtualization unlocks the traditional one-to-one architecture of x86 servers by abstracting the operating system and applications from the physical hardware, enabling a more cost-efficient, agile, and simplified server environment.

Using server virtualization, multiple operating systems can run on a single physical server as virtual machines, each with access to the underlying server’s computing resources.

Server virtualization unleashes the potential of today’s powerful x86 servers. Most servers operate at less than 15% of capacity. Not only is this highly inefficient, it also introduces server sprawl, increased electric costs, increased cooling costs, rack capacity issues, peripheral needs, and other IT complexities that could include specialized staffing.

What is a virtual appliance?
A virtual appliance is a pre-configured virtual machine image that is ready to be run directly on a hypervisor. Virtual appliances:

  • Can be deployed in existing infrastructure under existing service level agreements.
  • Don’t have the hardware limitations imposed by traditional appliances.
  • Are easier to backup, move, and replicate.
  • Make policy compliance and auditing easier.
  • Have less security vulnerabilities and easier remediation in some cases.

Just look at these benefits
There are many reasons to use a virtual appliance. Here are some key benefits to consider:

1. Reduce Costs
Reduce hardware and operating costs by as much as 50% and energy costs by as much as 80%, saving more than $3,000 per year for each virtualized server workload.

2. Save time.
Reduce the time it takes to provision new servers by as much as 70%. Set up usually involves decompressing the virtual appliance file and loading the resulting virtual image into the virtual server. It’s that simple.

3. Improve reliability and decrease downtime.
Offices today must prepare for disaster. Should your system fail, the built-in disaster recovery of virtual appliances ensure backed up data is immediately redeployed on another virtual machine with little or no downtime.

4. Virtual appliances often run just the bare necessities.
This allows you to efficiently deliver IT services on demand – independent of hardware, operating systems, applications, or infrastructure providers.

A closer look: physical appliance vs. virtual appliance
Now it’s time to decide which solution best suites your environment – physical appliance or virtual appliance?

The following table differentiates between the two types of appliances. Understanding their differences is an important step to knowing which appliance best meets your needs.

Physical Appliance Virtual Appliance
Real hardware limitations (number of cores, amount of RAM, HDD capacity, and number of network ports). Virtually no limitation – can allocate resources dynamically from an overall pool.
Require dedicated administrative portals, user access lists, IP addresses, out of band management, and other administrative resources. Generally deployed into an environment where these resources already exist and can be leveraged.
Rely on traditional storage devices (HDD, SSD, and Flash) for backup purposes and typically require some user intervention to configure and perform. Generally connected to high availability, high reliability backup storage networks with automated mirroring performed real time.
Typically limited to a single network port and cannot perform load balancing to control availability in peak use times. Can allocate multiple NICs (Network Interface Cards) and rules for managing availability at the Hypervisor management level.
Introduces a new hardware platform and possibly a new service level agreement (SLA) for support. Leverage existing hardware and SLAs that are already in place and consistent with policies.

Virtualization applied to digital signage
Virtualization is particularly attractive for digital signage and other situations where there is limited and well defined interaction on the client side, and content management on the server side. Moving away from hardware brings more reliability, flexibility, and affordability to organizations such as airports, banks, retailers, K-12 schools, and universities that need to deliver dynamic information.

By running the digital signage content management software in a virtual environment, organizations can easily manage all of their digital signage players from a local network location or remotely. This gives organizations quick access to individual logs, schedules, content, and playlists.

Explore technology solutions
Black Box offers digital signage solutions as physical or virtual appliances – you decide which application works best for your enterprise. Their iCOMPEL digital signage solution is designed on a Linux OS. This gives you 24/7 uptime, highly recoverable storage method and file system, and minimal vulnerability to viruses, malware, and other security threats.

See Black Box’s virtual content management system for digital signage – iCOMPEL Content Commander Virtual Machine. And, check out the Black Box virtual management and monitoring system for multiple subscribers – iCOMPEL Deployment Manager Virtual Machine. Both support up to 100 subscriber units. For larger deployments, models with support for up to 500, 1000, and 1500 units are available.

Need help planning your next digital signage solution?
Enlist the help of a seasoned digital signage professional. Contact a Black Box technical engineer at 877-877-2269, or comment below.

Additional resources
White Paper: Roadmap to Digital Signage Success
White Paper: 7 Questions You to Need to Ask when Choosing a Signage System

Black Box Digital KVM Switch chosen Best of Show at InfoComm 2015

AV Technology named the DCX3000 Matrix Digital KVM Switch from Black Box a Best of Show Winner at InfoComm 2015. This innovative product was demonstrated at the show, which took place in Orlando, FL, June 17–19.

Small size and big performance set the DCX3000 apart from otherBlack-Box-InfoComm-2015-Booth digital matrix switches in its class. Created for smaller organizations that need to upgrade to digital KVM signal switching and extension, the DCX3000 reaches 30 endpoints over CATx cable. Go up to 30 feet (10 m) from the workstation to the KVM switch and up to 160 feet (50 m) from the switch to the CPU.

The DCX3000 Matrix Digital KVM Switch features zero latency and zero compression of the signal transmission. The Graphical User Interface (GUI) is simplified for ease of use. In fact, according to the judges at AV Technology, this was an award-winning feature. “The unique thumbnail preview provides a simplified graphical user interface, making it easier to view multiple screens than text-based, on-screen menus,” according to one of the judges.

Digital KVM matrix switching gives multiple users access to the same systems in real time for monitoring and controlling processes. Learn more about migrating to digital KVM.

View the full list of winners of the AV Technology Best of Show Awards. AVT bases awards in part on the ability to see and test the products it selects on the trade show floor. The decision to award a product a Best of Show designation is also based on a combination of the following criteria: perceived value, ROI and TCO, richness of the feature set, ease-of-use, reliability, versatility, and overall network impact. According the AV Technology, “The Best of Show Awards support our objective of meeting the needs of the tech manager community by spotlighting products that genuinely solve problems, offer value, and consider the operator’s PoV.”

View Black Box’s Garrett Swindell giving a brief demonstration of the GUI of the DCX3000 below. AV Technology is able to talk to product managers and team members, such as Garrett, that help develop and test products.

Congratulations to the Black Box team who is bringing the DCX3000 to market and the team members who demonstrated it at InfoComm 2015!