How to set up an information radiator into your office? Part 1 - Selecting the hardware

Ever since we started developing our analytics dashboard product, we've been interested not only about the software but also the hardware part. We've played around with different hardware to come up with reliable yet affordable setup. Basically what we needed is:

  • A large screen (40+ inch)
  • A (mini) computer attached to the HDMI port of the screen
  • A wireless device of some soft for controlling the miniPC

After our initial attempt with Rasberry Pi, we came into conclusion that we need a bit more powerful hardware to ensure that our animations run smoothly enough (currently our animations are limited to simple sliding effect when switching between screens but as Pi struggled with those we decided to look at alternatives). Our next attempt was with Android hardware that comes in many forms and price tags. We picked a model that seemed to fit the bill according to specs. With quad core CPU and 2GB RAM it has enough juice to run animations while still being affordable with a price of 120€. We also liked its sizable external antenna, which hopefully makes it less vulnerable to network connectivity issues. 

Next we needed a display. Our preference was one which would not come into the way of the content itself i.e. it should preferably be thin, and with narrow borders. From a second-hand market, we were lucky to find a 1 year old Samsung model with original package included with a mere 270EUR. Hey, why not recycle unused hardware?

We also ordered a TV stand from a local dealer that enabled easy setup without drilling holes to our office wall (with added benefit of having wheels to move the setup around if needed). 

Here's the setup right after it was delivered:

It's a sizable chunk so choose your delivery options accordingly!

Here's the leg part of the stand - as you can see it doesn't look like it's going to fall down easily (according to specs it can support screens up to 50 inches).  

On the backside of the screen, there's the standard 20x20 VESA mount that we used for attaching the rails that came with the stand. With this TV model, we had a difficulty in attaching the lower rail due to rather unthinkful positioning of an antenna cable socket (not sure if this is typical for Samsung TV:s in general or just for this specific model in question). Anyway, we felt that that the screen was attached firmly enough with the four screws on the top rail so we left it like that.

The HDMI cable from the miniPC goes to the HDMI port in the screen:

We used velcro to attach the MiniPC to the back of the screen:

Place the MiniPC so that you can get the cables neatly hidden within the bars of the stand (there's holes which allow you to route the cables). Minix in its final position:

The nimiPC is controlled via wireless keyboard/touchpad combination, which communicates with the device via a Bluetooth dongle attached to the MiniPC:

Now you're done! Depending on your screen, you may have to adjust the default settings like the brightness and contrast to fit your office lightning. In our Samsung, we also noticed some distortion in the picture due to some "smart" image processing that was taking place. While this type of processing may improve the picture quality on a typical TV program, it certainly did not do a favor for UI flat UI design. However the effect seemed to disappear by choosing 'natural mode' in the menu.

Here's what the final setup looks like:

We're quite happy with the setup overall. It does require two individuals to set it up. However, disassembling is a bit easier as you only need to open two screws on top, and two bolts to release the leg part, and then you can fit the individual parts into a car in case you need to move the setup from one location to another (e.g. from the office to an event). 

Here's a wrap up of the cost of the setup:

  • Samsung UE40ES5505 LED-TV             270EUR
  • Minix NEO X7 Android MiniPC             119,90EUR
  • B-Tech 8503 display stand                   375EUR
  • Logitech K400 Wireless keyboard        24,90EUR

Adding the price of shipping, the total cost was about 850EUR for the whole setup. We believe it's a small price to pay for the ability to have you key metrics all the time visible on a large display. 

This article was written by Sami Linnanvuo

Sami is the founder & CEO of Screenful, the company that is reinventing how businesses measure their performance. Screenful develops dashboards that are both actionable and beautiful to look at. You can follow him @samilinnanvuo.