How many screens is too many?
There has never been more options for creating the perfect visual display. John O’Brien talks through the many solutions and whether they may be right for you.
It is hard to keep a strong industry down – the march of new display technologies continues unabated. Even with major worldwide disruption, we are seeing new units released into the market on a regular basis. So which ones are the best fit for your application? Let’s look at some of what’s out there and see how you can find a good solution to your display requirements.
What are your options?
The starting point is a single large display. There is a wide variety of units available at every price point, be they LCD or LED based. Wall mount, desktop or freestanding; single side or double side; interactive or enabling collaborations; smarts and content onboard – the options are numerous.
At up to 100″ diagonal, with inherent high resolution up to 8K and all the best image processing and enhancement features, the top line large format displays are impressive on their own. Join a few together and you can make a mighty statement for your client. Hopefully though, said client has a fat wallet. If they do, there might be alternative configurations.
If you are going down the multi-screen route, a dedicated videowall of some description might fit the bill. LCD had been the mainstay in this area for a long time and will not go away soon. Lower price and higher resolution should keep it around for a while yet. Although direct view LED videowalls have generally been more expensive compared to LCD, their cost is coming down as their capabilities increase. The trends point towards LED being everywhere in time.
Rear projection videowalls are still a thing. If you have the footprint to accommodate these beasts, controlled ambience environments such as command and control or simulation rooms benefit from their 24-7 reliability and easy rear access for servicing.
Projectors are another legacy that refuses to die. With the low running costs and long lifetime of laser or LED engines, and the artistic possibilities of pixel mapping, they are also a strong alternative where ambient light can be modulated. Blending between multiple projectors is very sophisticated these days and content can be seamlessly shown on an exceptionally large area. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for.
Coming online are more exotic technologies like transparent LED screens that double as windows. Even more funky is in-glass LED … the windows themselves now doubling as screens! These are yet to make significant market penetration but will inevitably join the mix of ingredients for your particular soup.
Pros and Cons
Cost is always going to be a driver in any business offering, and yours is no different, but there are many technical and maintenance issues to consider too. Let us break down the key elements.
LCD panels offer great resolution at close viewing distances. Their high pixel density renders text, imagery and video in clear detail. For the most part, they do not cost much to purchase up front and have low total ownership cost over their lifespans. Further, they are generally robust and reliable in always-on situations.
On the downside, many lower spec LCD panels can have intrusive bezels that don’t play well when the panels are tiled together. Some screen burn can occur with static images but is rarely a major issue. Specialist panels for LCD video walls negate some of the bezel issues but there is still a visible mullion line between screens. These can detract from the viewing experience, especially up close.
Direct view LED videowalls look good at a distance but lower pixel density can detract at closer quarters. LED walls are super bright, making them good for high ambient light and the lack of bezels helps with producing large seamless images. They can be a little more costly compared to LCD, but prices are slowly coming down as resolution goes up. There are some awesome fine pitch models available, but you will generally pay a premium for them. With innovative mounting solutions available, quick install and easy front-access serviceability complement their long lifespan. Unlike with their older rear project cousins, building real estate behind the screens can be saved.
LED is still the outdoor king. Weatherproof modules and infinite adaptability with size and shape configuration will likely keep them a major presence in our public spaces. There are some really nice consumer level products emerging here too.
Projectors can still give all these technologies a run for their money in the right circumstances. Enveloping wraparounds in museums and similar shady spaces, retractable screens when not in use, and pixel mapped after dark entertainment are all apt scenarios to shine the light from the front.
So why go for all this complexity of matching, calibrating and aligning multiple screens when you can just get one big pro-sumer LCD panel and hang it on the wall? They look fantastic and have all the bells and whistles. Upfront cost is probably the main impediment, but servicing access can also be an issue with a large mono display and you only get the one aspect ratio.
Scenarios and fits
Every technical solution outlined above has plusses and minuses. Few of us ever get an unlimited budget, so maximising return is always a primary goal. If the job is simple signage, there is no point installing a specialised planetarium projector system. Conversely, cheap and cheerful LCD panels might be out of place in a high-end foyer or immersive museum display. So, the first step is defining the scope of your job and finding the most appropriate gear to meet that.
Next up is working out the best solution that your customer can afford both now and into the future. It is well worth having that sometimes awkward discussion on running costs and long-term service versus the lower initial outlay on some products or solutions. All good vendors will back their products to last a decent amount of time, but they will eventually age and need repair or replacement. Factoring in ongoing costs and reliability can be important – total cost of ownership is a big thing for some clientele.
Ambient light can be a big factor in your decisions. Does the display need to be bright enough to view clearly in daylight conditions? LCD or LED will place high on the list here. Is your site indoors or outdoors? If primary viewing time is after dark, projectors could be a good choice.
Do you need onboard content management or easy integration with a media server or CMS? Many manufacturers have robust, affordable signage units and packages. These are often LCD-based but LED may well make inroads as it develops.
Mixing it up
Of course, no rules say that you cannot mix and match some of these display techs. It is becoming common to place multiple small panels around a large main screen. Throw in some in-glass LED or transparent screens and you have great potential to enhance your creative scope. I wait with bated breath to see what ingenious uses these will be put to. Imagination and budget are the only limits here – get your thinking caps on folks.
Like all things AV, there are myriad decisions to be made in a product landscape that never ceases to evolve. A particular technology, a trusted brand or good vendor relationship can all come into play when making these choices. But a thorough understanding of the implications of those decisions will make a difference getting the mix right.
Hopefully, you can use this guide to educate your client base while they navigate the diverse sets of options on tap.