I took a 32″ eInk display and turned it into a digital newspaper that updates every day. It’s silent, wireless and can run for months without being plugged in.
The display is based on the Visionect 32″ place and play display. This works by running two components. The eInk display acts as a thin client and has very little processing power. The eInk requires no power and the rest of the hardware just listens on an open port drawing very little power.
The display is 99% more power efficient than a traditional LCD, so the display can run for months without being charged. Because the display is a thin client it requires two external components to make it work. The first is an HTML rendering server. This fetches web-pages and renders them as a headless browser. It can then push images to the display. The second is an application server that fetches newspapers from around the country, downloads the PDF’s and turns those into images and HTML that can be processed.
The HTML rendering server runs off of a docker container provided by Visionect. A standalone server would be ideal but I couldn’t find documentation on the client/server protocol. This may be a future exploration.
Unless you are technical, I wouldn’t recommend running out and buying one. The server is setup via a docker container and I was able to get it running on my home Synology NAS backup server. The second part is the part that I wrote to fetch newspaper files from online sources like freedomforum.org, a non-profit, that works on the first amendment freedom of the press issues.
The newspaper portion runs as a simple web-application fetching large format PDF files and resizing them to fit the large format display. You can find code for the project on Github. The result is a display that is both engaging and passive. There’s no buttons, no UI, nothing to touch or fiddle with… The newspapers cycle every 10 minutes. In the morning there’s always a fresh front-page to skim. The beauty of eInk is that it’s 99% more efficient than traditional displays like LCD. This means that the display can run for months and when it needs charging I can simply top-it-up.
Why did I build this? I saw something similar online a few years ago and I couldn’t find it for sale so I decided to built it myself. I worked on a newspaper when I was in college and my editor in chief Mike Bossi would always tell people to read multiple newspapers. He said that the truth is never in one paper or one story. Every writer has bias. By getting multiple perspectives you get a better picture of the truth.
This digital display is a little reminder of that. While most websites are powered by content management systems and templates. Traditional newspapers are sill designed by hand.
The design principals that work well in newspapers can also be applied in the design of our digital products. Balance, Prominence, Margins, Columns and more. A great newspaper design helps readers skim, read, digest and understand and when you can understand without any UI at all, that’s something special.
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