LED displays and event industry market trends

Patrick2Joining digiLED in January 2017, I knew nothing about the world of LED displays. Not even what differentiated it from a consumer LED backlit TV. A background in video scaling and processing certainly helps, but not as much as over 250 combined years’ experience in the LED screen industry! Rest assured, our CEO, Graham Burgess, isn’t that old.

Is the events market driven by consumer trends?

To an extent, it is. Production companies regularly receive requests to provide a HD screen, or even 4K, for upcoming events. If £600 can buy a 4K TV, it’s surely not a problem to replicate a similar display on stage, is it?

Industry standard for indoor LED screens was, until recently, 3.9mm pixel pitch. But do you know how big a 3.9mm pitch screen with HD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels) would be? It would measure 7.5m in width and 4.2m in height. That’s 8.6m or 339” diagonally. Quite a large TV indeed. For 4K width, you’d need a lot of space as all dimensions are doubled: measuring 15m (w) x 8.4m (h) and a whopping 17.2m diagonal.

So, how do you go about explaining to a customer that although a 4K screen positioned centre stage would have an impressive resolution, it might just be too big?

Having a showroom is instrumental in demonstrating the comparisons between pixel pitches in relation to viewing distances. It is definitely a plus if you can offer clients an ‘eyes on’ perspective of appropriate technology for a particular project.

When assessing what’s the right kit, a key factor is to determine how close the screen will be to the audience. Is it 5m or so for the people right at the front? If the answer is yes, then you don’t need to spend so much on a high-resolution screen. A 3.9mm pixel pitch display will do comfortably providing you have the space to reach your desired resolution. Ultimately, you need to see it to believe it and experience how the eye fills the gaps between the pixels to recreate a perfectly smooth image at a certain distance from the LED screen.

In the events industry, a lot of credit must go to project managers: they have the difficult task of convincing their clients that even HD resolution is not necessarily needed to achieve great results – let alone 4K resolution. Especially if the screen size is dictated by the space available.

Events professionals constantly juggle the various factors: pixel pitch, viewing distance, screen size, content and budget considerations when it comes to getting the best results for a client at an acceptable cost.

We all aspire to have an easier life, don’t we? What if you could just say: “Sure. HD, no problem. It’ll suit the stage design and your cost expectations.”

Has 2.6mm replaced the 3.9mm industry standard pixel pitch for indoor rental LED displays?

We’ve seen that 2017 has confirmed this in my opinion. The good thing about 2.6mm is that there are 192 pixels per 500mm wide panel. Well done for those whose maths skills are up to speed: fit 10 of these panels together, and that’s your 1920-pixel width achieved. As simple as you like. At 15sqm (5m wide x 3m high), that’s a 33% size reduction compared with using 3.9mm panels, to create a HD screen.

Aside from price, the concern when going for higher resolution has always been reliability.

Each square metre of 3.9mm LED panel contains 65,536 pixels. Decrease the pixel pitch to 2.6mm and the pixel count escalates to 147,456! Thus, a 33% decrease in pixel pitch results in 125% increase in pixel count. Is that what you call inversely exponential increase or what? Just imagine the volume of components needed to work harmoniously, without overheating, and retaining greyscale, colour and brightness consistency throughout.

So, why stop at 2.6mm?

Won’t finer pixel pitch screens allow for smaller displays to fit locations with space constraints?

Sub-2mm LED screens have started to appear in the rental display market. A 1.9mm LED panel measuring 500mm wide has a horizontal resolution of 256 pixels. Thus, HD screens are theoretically achievable in 3.75m, utilising 7.5 panels to establish your 1920-pixel width, but in reality, it’s 4m as you’d need the full eighth panel. Remember to double all these figures if you’re after 4K resolution.

Several events will have screens that can easily be wider than 8m, beyond 4K resolution if using sub-2mm LED panels. It becomes complicated and expensive to have the necessary bandwidth throughout the entire video chain to cater for such high resolution. Many would judge the expense unnecessary with regards to viewing distance: such a large screen is not likely to be viewed from very close, throwing the whole benefit of a sub-2mm LED display out the window!

I believe 1.9mm and narrower pixel pitches will find a home in rental houses in a relatively small number of panels, working alongside 2.6 and 3.9mm LED screens. But for smaller displays, wouldn’t it make sense to move from the standard 500 x 500mm rental format to a HD, or 8:9 ratio panels (two panels make a 16:9 ratio canvas)? Yes, you’ll have to do a bit more maths to work out the number of panels required for a job, but if you think only in HD and 4K screens, it is a no brainer and an easier sell to the end user!

Making quality last

LED panels are fragile. Most repairs we carry out are due to module edge damage, where the LEDs are most exposed. But component choice, panel design and assembly procedure will have a huge impact on how long your screen will retain its fresh-faced delivery appearance.  It will be no surprise that a system using the best single bin/batch LEDs, driver IC and scan cards costs more and hopefully it should be designed to mitigate a rough life on the road, but users need to learn how to handle the system with derig (you know what it’s like; 1.00am and everyone just wants away) so often being the critical time.

When I joined digiLED, I was surprised to find out that we had a twelve-strong team of colleagues based in the Far East dedicated to the quality control process. Overkill, sprang to mind! However, with the volume of business our dedicated sales team are bringing in, and the fact that we implement a 228-step manufacturing process that each project is subject to, it’s pretty evident that they’re a busy bunch.

People want quality, of course. But, what’s better than quality is lasting quality. Then everyone wins, no question.

digiLED’s first ten-degree curving 2.6mm rental screen x-TEK has just hit UK soil. We truly believe we are delivering our best indoor rental screen ever – exciting times ahead! I am genuinely looking forward to hearing the reaction of clients and staff of the prestigious London-based production company that have again entrusted digiLED with the latest technology. More details soon…

Pat Lange, digiLED’s rental market expert, with the contribution of marketing specialist, Dan Brown.