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Building your own public display system

I've been meaning to document how we setup our own public display system for sometime and have finally got round to it. We have 5 large displays in public areas around the school that display information. These are independent and can display different info on each screen. So what do you need?

  • Obviously - some displays - big TV's or monitors - either will do. If TV's - remember to turn off any power management features! You can get 42" models for <£300 now.
  • Mounts to fit them to a wall - typically around £20-30 mark.
  • Mini PC - anything will do - something that can run Windows.
  • If you have WiFi you don't need cabling - but otherwise a network point near the mounting location.
  • Suitably located power socket.

You need to setup is a system where the PC will boot up, auto logon and then be able to be controlled remotely by someone elsewhere in the school who puts stuff onto the displays. So this is how to do it:

Step one - build the PC
Install Windows and domain join the device.
Install the software you want to use to display stuff - we use PowerPoint.
Install iTALC and a student machine (more later).

Step Two - configure policies for these machines
Create an OU for your display PCs in Active Directory, so you can apply some special policies to them. See below:
You need to set Power Management to never let the display or PC go to sleep. Thats what the bottom policy does.
The key one is 'Displaypcs' - this makes the machine auto logon with a 'display user'.

So these are just a series of registry setting to specify auto logon, the domain, the user and finally the password.

Step 3 - iTALC
On each display PC you need to install iTALC as a classroom PC (so not as a master). Now this software is a free classroom management application and allows teachers to control PCs - but this is another use. 

You will need to setup iTALC on a PC and configure the parameters for a student PC and a teacher PC and save the configs as two separate xml files. Keep these in a network share and load them up with all new installs. You will also need to setup a network share that iTALC needs to store screen grabs and so on. There are good setup guides for iTALC out there. 

The person managing the displays needs to have iTALC installed as a master and then you need to add the display PCs to it.

Step 4 - Put stuff on your displays
So sitting in your office, you can now fire up iTALC, login with your AD credentials and view your screens:

Double click on the screen you want to manage and take charge of the device. So our devices are connected to a network share, so the user simply opens up a PowerPoint and sets it to loop - thats it. The actual PowerPoint is created on the users local machine.

So thats it really. Setting up iTALC for the first time can be a bit fiddly - but once done with your settings saved it quick and easy to deploy. Lot cheaper than commercial setups!

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