Direct-view LED video walls represent a major investment from businesses, so finding the right supplier and partner to provide the ideal viewing experience for your company is a big step.

Here are five key considerations that will help buyers make well-informed decisions.

1. Viewing Distance

Pixel pitch — the distance between adjacent LED lights — has been a focus of a lot of the marketing done by manufacturers in a hyper-competitive market, but the increasingly miniscule gap may not even be relevant to many digital signage projects that use direct-view LED.

In simple terms, the finer the pitch, the closer viewers can be without seeing the individual LED lights. A common guideline is that a comfortable viewing distance equates to 10 feet for every millimeter of pitch. So a 1mm pixel pitch display looks good as close as 10 feet away, whereas a 2.5mm LED display is best seen from 25 feet or further back. When viewers are closer than the optimal minimum viewing distance, our eyes start to see the individual LED lights and the viewing experience is degraded.

All of this means that if a typical audience — such as shoppers, employees, airport travelers, hotel guests or whoever else — is about 30 feet away from the LED display location, investing in a 1mm, 1.5mm or 2mm LED display is unnecessary. Finer pitch means more LEDs — which means more cost — so these businesses can save a lot of money by using a 2.5mm LED setup, without affecting the visual experience. To untrained eyes, from 30 feet away a 1mm will look the same as the 2.5mm.

2. Desired Resolution

No direct-view LED project should get underway until there is a clear sense of the type of content to be shown, and what that means in terms of resolution. While 4K is top of mind for many or most consumers these days, a 4K display using LEDs is very different from a 4K LCD display.

The light pixels of a 4K LCD display can be contained easily in a 55-in. panel. To do 4K using LED may take up a whole wall, because each LED display module has hundreds of pixels, not thousands.

Think of it this way. If a direct-view LED module has 200 horizontal light pixels, it will take 20 of those modules lined up side by side to get to 4,000 pixels. If each LED module is 18 inches wide, the resulting width of the 4K LED wall would be 30 feet. The finer the pitch, the narrower that wall will be — but it will still be far larger than that 55-in. LCD.

3. Customer Support and Supply

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of LED display manufacturers and resellers globally. A small fraction are well-established global consumer and professional electronics brands, and another percentage are well-established specialty display companies that have long put a focus on LED. Many others are small overseas companies that sell primarily on price, and have no real presence outside their own countries.

In choosing an LED supplier, buying on price alone is seductive, but very risky. Here’s why: when there are problems, customer support will be as many as 12 time zones away and potentially unavailable in fluent English. Some of these companies may have offices in North America and Europe, but even when they exist, these are frequently sales offices not staffed by technical experts who can provide help.

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The lower price inevitably means corners are cut to keep costs down in the manufacturing process, and that’s reflected in the quality of components used. LED experts often refer to something called binning: the classification of the tiny LED lights by their light output, voltage and color properties. Top manufacturers use lights from narrowly-defined bins, so that there’s uniformity across the display modules and any replacement modules will match up. Low-cost manufacturers select from much broader bins and use lower-quality LEDs, resulting in displays that don’t look as good from the start, and can look particularly rough when replacement modules are added and match up poorly with the original display setup.

4. Serviceability

In most commercial installations, space is at a premium because of the cost per square foot. Setting up an LED video wall that requires access from the rear to get at the electronics and connectors requires the video wall to be bumped out a foot or two from a structural wall, so technicians can do the initial installation and servicing. That space is no longer usable for anything else.

If a rear-serviced wall is built and then pushed in to adjoin with a structural wall, that video wall will need to be partially or fully dismantled to get at the electronics whenever problems arise — causing lengthy outages and substantial disruption to the environment.

By comparison, front-serviceable displays allow the individual LED modules to be removed using a magnetic tool that pops them out individually, in a matter of seconds, with no disruption. Front-serviced displays also minimize the necessary footprint of a direct-view wall, with just enough clearance required in the rear to allow air flow for cooling.

5. Regulatory Compliance

Another way offshore companies keep costs down is by ignoring certification processes for electronics, most notably the U.S. Federal Communications Commission regulations that require electronic equipment, such as direct-view LED displays, to be tested to ensure they’re not radiating interference that exceeds specified levels.

That interference can affect everything from cellphone networks to mission-critical operations like airport control tower communications.

The FCC has been cracking down on LED manufacturers and resellers who are marketing products without certification, or whose certification is fabricated. Recently, several companies have been issued substantial fines. Well-established manufacturers, by comparison, have any necessary certifications fully in place.

There are many other considerations that can affect decision-making, but starting with these five will set buyers on the right path.

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Dave Haynes

Dave Haynes is a well-known veteran in the digital signage industry. He consults to some of the world’s largest brands on their digital signage strategy and technical needs, but also spends time mentoring start-ups. A former daily newspaper journalist, Haynes has for the past decade written a highly-respected blog about digital signage, Sixteen:Nine. Follow Dave on twitter @sixteennine

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