When I reviewed Intel’s Dawson Canyon NUC and GoRite’s dual HDMI lid for it, one of the obvious uses for the combination of the two was digital signage. That got me to thinking; how hard would it be to set up a NUC to run a four screen video wall?
Well, as it turns out, not that hard at all. Before I get started, let’s get something straight; I knew exactly ZERO about video walls going into this. To call me a video wall novice would be like calling a newborn baby a slow walker. So if you’re a video wall expert and you feel like laughing at me, go ahead, but you’re only hurting yourself.
So I did a little research, and found that most video walls use either special displays, separate adapters, or proprietary controllers to run. I didn’t want any of those. Fortunately, I came across a company called OnSign TV, which specializes in video walls. While their hardware looked impressive, what caught my attention was the software-only option, which was meant for exactly what I wanted to try: a fully PC-based video wall.
After downloading the Windows version of the OnSign TV software, I was surprised to find how easy and intuitive it was to set up. I created a “campaign” and add my PC as a player in about five minutes:
I was able to upload a test video and everything worked perfectly!
Actually, not so much…
True, the OnSign software did exactly what it was supposed to, but it only displayed on one of my four screens (the primary on-board display), which was exactly NOT what I was hoping for. I played around with the display settings, but couldn’t get it to display on more than one monitor. All four monitors were there, and I had them set to extend. They all worked fine, but when I ran the OnSign software, I still only got one screen of content. Then I took a look at the Intel Graphics Options (not the same as Display Settings). Here only my on-board displays were available. That made sense, as I would expect the Intel drivers to only work with Intel adapters. As far as it was concerned, there were no other displays to be concerned about. I was about to give up on the Intel tool, but then I noticed this:
If you don’t know, collage is a setting that essentially turns your two monitors into a single, wide display. For example, using an extended desktop with two 1080P (1920X1080) displays gives you just that; dual 1080P displays. Collage takes those two displays and merges them into a single 3840X1080 display. I decided to see what this would do with the video wall, so I enabled it.
Once enabled, I went back to display settings and found a slightly different configuration:
So I tried the OnSign campaign again and voila! The image miraculously split onto all four displays. I ran a video of an old commercial. I had to use a lower res video, so what you see below is only 480p. Turns out the campaigns are cloud-based, and with the free account I’m limited to 2MB files. I noticed occasional lag between the on-board and lid displays, too, which was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected.
Looking at the CPU during playback, it sustained 90% or above while the video was playing, and spiked to 100% a few times:
This was on an i5 Dawson Canyon, so I may repeat the test with an i7 to see if it makes a difference. The heavy CPU load wasn’t a shock to me, given it’s pushing the video through the USB interface via software. I certainly wouldn’t recommend trying to run anything else on the system while the video wall is doing its thing.
The GPU was hit hard as well:
So if you’re going to try this, expect to be pushing both the on-board and USB GPUs to the wall. Hey, it’s a software-based solution; can’t expect miracles.
My setup looked a little silly because it’s just the two monitors on my workbench, plus the two I pulled off my desk for testing. Not exactly configured for aesthetics, but I wasn’t going to start my own business or anything. I just wanted to see it work, and it worked surprisingly well. For a real setup, I’d want four matching monitors, mounted together. Not this monstrosity:
Also, I’d spend some time ripping the bezels off my monitors to minimize the lines between them.
I have absolutely no need for a video wall, or digital signage of any kind. I just did this to see if I could do it. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and functionality of the OnSign software. They’ve even got versions for Android and a handful of other OSes. I had only a minor hiccup with the display drivers before I was up and running, and I was able to turn my NUC (with the GoRite lid) into a video wall with no extra hardware. Sure it wasn’t “professional grade” work, but given the fact that I was doing this with free software and no video wall equipment, I can’t complain. Still, I think I’ll go back to setting up my mission control workstation. I wonder if GoRite can squeeze a couple more display ports on a NUC.