Much of the conversation around direct view LED display technology focuses on pixel pitch — how close together the tiny light pixels are placed on the displays. In an interesting twist, right-sizing pixel pitch displays has everything to do with how far away the screen’s average viewers will be.

Matching pixel pitch to viewing distance delivers an optimal viewing experience and ensures that business partners and end users are getting the most value from their capital investments. Getting pitch and distance wrong can result in a subpar viewing experience or spending more money than necessary to produce the desired results.

Here’s a rundown of what pixel pitch is all about and the relationship between pitch and viewing distances.

Pixel pitch basics

Pixel pitch as a technical measure is the distance in millimeters from the center of an LED cluster, or package, to the center of the next LED packages above, below and beside it. These LED packages are mounted on circuit boards and backplates, which are known as modules. Those modules are tiled together to makes LED cabinets — consolidated electronics units that are seamlessly tiled and stacked to form indoor or outdoor LED video walls.

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Manufacturing costs are directly tied to the amount of miniaturized electronics packed into every square inch of a display and to the amount of time it takes for lightning-fast robotics machines to pick, place and wire thousands or millions of these lights on an assembly line. That’s why two LED cabinets from the same manufacturer with the same dimensions and core attributes can have significantly different price points.

Audience dynamics

The first LED displays to hit the market were for stadium replay boards and highway billboards. They were giant screens that could typically be seen from hundreds of feet away. They looked fantastic at a distance, but if you got close, they would look terrible because each LED light had a pitch of 16 millimeters, 20 millimeters or even higher, which made gaps between the LEDs evident and caused words and images to break up.

As LED technology has matured and manufacturing advances have enabled far tighter pitches, direct view LED has seen wide adoption for applications in which people view the display from a closer range, like advertising in airports and rail terminals, seamless video walls in control rooms and operations centers and spectacular experiential canvases in the grand spaces of public and private buildings — even parking garages.

In these application cases, designers must think carefully about audience dynamics, with particular attention to the location of the viewer and their distance from the screen.

A direct view LED display with a super-fine 1.2-millimeter pixel pitch will look amazing to viewers when they’re just a few feet away, but if viewers are 30 feet away, their eyes wouldn’t pick up the visual difference between a 1.2-millimeter-pitch display and a 3-millimeter-pitch version. On the other hand, while that 3-millimeter display might look fantastic from 25-30 feet away, it wouldn’t look great if viewers were seeing it from much closer, as they would see each light pixel and the gaps between them.

Narrowing it to the optimal pixel pitch

While many variables can affect which pixel pitch would work best in a given situation, the easiest rule for determining optimal pixel pitch is to equate each millimeter in the measure of the pitch to eight feet of viewing distance.

  • 1 mm pixel pitch = 8 feet viewing distance

For instance, if rows of desks facing a large seamless display in a control room or corporate briefing center are 20 feet or more from the display, then a 2.5-millimeter-pitch display would likely produce the most crisp and rich visuals. A finer pitch might look as good, but it would come at an unnecessarily higher cost. Going with a 3-millimeter or higher pitch could reduce capital costs, but it may sacrifice image quality.

Pitch meets resolution

If the horizontal width of an LED cabinet is 384 pixels across, it would take 10 of those cabinets tiled side by side to realize 4K’s horizontal resolution of 3,840 pixels, so a 4K video wall might truly take up a full wall in a big room.

The finer the pixel pitch is, the more light pixels are contained in each cabinet — and the smaller the physical footprint of a given resolution will be. An LED display module with a 1.5-millimeter pitch has more pixels per module than, for example, a 4-millimeter product, so it will produce a 4K resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels with much less physical space. Not only can this help organizations achieve a higher resolution, but it can also mean that fewer materials will be required for assembly, and it may reduce a video wall’s size requirements as well.

MicroLED is here

LED manufacturers were steadily narrowing pixel pitch for several years, even pushing below 1 millimeter with super-fine-pitch displays. But the next generation of displays, which uses microLED technology, is more about the size of the lights. In another ironic twist, the gap between each light is a positive in this case.

Samsung’s microLED display series, called The Wall, comes with three different pixel pitches, some higher than more conventional direct-view LED products. The magic is in how little space the microscopic light pixels take up on the LED module, which allows them to be surrounded by a deep black background that produces spectacular contrast levels.

Paired with technologies like HDR picture refinement technology, The Wall delivers visuals that rival what we are used to seeing on high-quality home televisions, making it ideal for auditoriums, boardrooms, command control rooms, home theaters, retailers, lobbies and more.

Smart selections

Pixel pitch is a critical factor in determining which direct-view LED display will suit a given deployment. Finer pitch means better image realization, but informed users know that other factors, such as viewing distance, also play a role in choosing the ideal LED video wall.

Find the best display technology for your business needs with this free assessment. Then learn more about the latest innovations in digital signage.

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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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