Start Free Trial
    Rise Vision Blog

    Product News, Customer Stories and Updates from Rise Vision

    Early Forms of Digital Signage Technology

    A video cassette being inserted into VCR.

    Cloud based digital signage software is ever-present in the modern world. We see them all around us, from the subways and airports to our workplace or the doctor’s office. Because they’ve become so ingrained into our daily lives, it’s difficult to imagine a world without this technology.

    But it hasn’t been long since digital signage was invented. Though variations of the technology existed since the early 1920s, it was only in 1992 that the term “digital signage” was coined. In this article, we explore the history of digital signage and its early forms.

    How Digital Signage Came About

    Before the digital era, people relied on traditional communication and advertising methods which all contributed to the invention and rise of digital signage technology.

    Wayfinding Signage

    The need for signage solutions began early on when settlers started exploring the large world we live in. While etching markers in stone or bending young trees worked for a while in pointing directions, these proved to be insufficient as more travelers flocked important routes and more advanced inventions sprouted left and right.

    These traditional wayfinding solutions evolved around the same time the first motorcar was built, nudged by the need to create proper signage solutions to guide vehicles and manage the growing traffic. Stone etchings and tree-bending were upgraded to road signs and street markers. And in 1929, the first neon sign was ordered.

    Illuminating a bright light that makes it highly visible from a mile away, neon signs would be the first invention to facilitate the evolution of digital signage.


    As the world slowly developed, businesses started popping up in every block, each with a goal to attract customers and spread the word about their products. In addition to purchasing ad space in newspapers and magazines, companies began hand-drawing signs to stick onto their establishment’s walls and windows.

    After some time, these hand-drawn signs were replaced with photographs, which found their way into printed collateral and TV. This led to the buzz in marketing and advertising in the 1990s, helping early businesses introduce their products to a wider audience.

    Commercial HD Signage Displays

    A close-up of a VCR player.

    Around the same time that TV advertising boomed, video cassette recording (VCR) also became popular. These tapes stored and played video media back over and over again, which served as inspiration for early forms of retail advertising.

    The retail industry was the first to use the concept of VCR to play their advertisements in-store. This effectively brought TV commercials people watched at home to physical TV screens in brick-and-mortar stores in the 1970s, allowing customers to watch as they searched for products to buy.

    This would be the first use case of digital signage — but it wasn’t referred to as that just yet.

    The Beginning of Digital Signage

    It was only in 1992 that the term “digital signage” was born, first used by a security guard in a shopping center to refer to the video walls he saw in his workplace. The term later developed to refer to digital displays that use pieces of hardware to deliver content, specifically, a display screen and a media player.

    LED and LCD Screens

    As digital signage started getting traction, two types of screens were explored: LED and LCD. The former developed from the LED light bulb invented by Nick Holonyak, Jr. in 1962 and used small diodes to emit images on a screen.

    The latter, LCD, uses liquid crystals to display media. While the science behind how LCD screens functioned was discovered by Richard Williams in 1962, it was George H. Heilmeier that developed his theory and was credited for the invention of the LCD screen in 1964.

    Media Players

    Media players already existed when the computer was invented in the 1800s but were later made into smaller and more compact devices akin to the VCR. Media players communicate with servers via the Internet to deploy content on screens.

    Major Developments in Digital Signage History

    Before digital signage reached the wide-scale use and popularity it has today, it went through pretty significant events in history that shaped how it’s applied in the modern era.

    Digital Signage in Retail

    In the ‘90s, digital signage was most commonly used in bars. TV screens were mounted on walls showing the latest news or live streaming a sporting event. From 1990 to 1995, however, large retailers began adopting the technology to display commercials and enhance the customer experience.

    Digital Signage for AdvertisingDigital signage billboards in a bustling city.

    Initially, only big venues like airports, stadiums, and casinos were able to deploy digital signage because of its cost. But from 1995 to 2000, companies started investing in digital signs for advertising to offset the cost of installation and maintenance. They sold ad space on their digital screens and created revenue to monetize their digital displays.

    The Switch from Paper to Digital Signage

    It was in the 2000s that environmental awareness began to take off. This led companies to spearhead initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint and adopt sustainable practices. One of their priorities was to reduce the use of paper, which was done by replacing traditional posters and flyers with digital screens.

    Digital Signage in Breakrooms

    Early digital signage was mostly seen as an advertising platform. But in 2010, businesses began applying this technology for internal communications. They mounted employee-facing digital signs in office breakrooms showing entertaining videos, informational content, and training resources, among others, to boost engagement and enhance corporate culture.

    Smart TVs and Cloud-Based Content Management Systems

    In 2016, digital signage became more affordable and accessible to businesses because of the invention of Smart TVs. With WiFi connectivity and a range of features for broadcasting media, Smart TVs eliminated the need to purchase separate digital media players.

    It was also around this time that cloud-based content management systems were launched, allowing users to easily create and deploy content. This rapidly amplified the use of digital signage across industries, from healthcare and hospitality to retail and manufacturing.

    Digital Signage Today

    Digital signage has come a long way, with many important events further upgrading its technology. Now, we come into contact with digital signage screens everywhere we go. As technology develops to create new features and functionalities for digital signage, its application is only going to get more widespread from here.

    If you haven’t invested in a digital signage network for your business yet, you’re missing out on an opportunity to stand out and remain competitive. Learn more about Rise Vision’s digital signage software free trial and how we can add value to your business.


    Keep your displays interesting - pick new templates every week!

    Every week, we send Template recommendations that will make you look great and improve your audience experience. And the best part, they save up to 16 hours of content creation time every week.

    Not convinced? Check out the email we sent last week.