Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Holidays from the Vantage LED blogger team!

-Deacon Wardlow
Scott, Mike, and I (Deacon) wish you all  happy and healthy holidays
and a safe entry into the new year. We've worked hard over the last year to create a path for others to follow (and save many of you a few missteps along the way).

We hope this past year has been a good one for you, your friends, family, business and customers. We look forward to writing more informative blogs, articles, resources and pieces to help you on your journey to Digital Signage excellence.

We wish you all the best and good tidings for 2013. The blogs will resume from the 8th of January (we all need a little time to recharge). In the interim, please take some time to check out some Blog highlights which I believe should be very helpful for anyone (either highly experienced or just getting started) with Dynamic LED Signage and Digital Signage in general.

Benefits of LED Signage
-How an LED Sign can help business
-LED Signage earning potential

Costs of an LED Sign: Questions and responses to the cost of investing in LED Signage/Digital Signage
-How much can an LED Sign Cost?
-Short term gain, long term costs (cost of a "cheap" LED Sign)
-"Value Line" vs. Single Level of quality (i.e. why there aren't iPhone or Droid "lite" versions)
-Is an LED Sign (or any Digital Signage) an investment or a purchase?
-Selling the value of a Digital Signage Solution (LED Sign, LCD, or other)

The dangers of "cheap" and buying from a non-domestic company
-Domestic LED Sign manufacturers vs. off-shore
-Importing from China
-Low quality systems' affect on business
-Supply Chain Logistics on components
-Beware of a "bait-and-switch"
-The Ghost of LED Signs past (the cost of going with the cheapest option)

Articles on Content Creation & Sign Management
-Why DS Fails
-Keeping Content Current/interesting
-Ensuring text comes through LOUD AND CLEAR
-LED Signs & Free Speech
-Create a call to action with Digital Signage
-The benefits of PSAs (Public Service Announcement)
-Get the most from your website (Digital Signage is online as well)
-Being a good neighbor with LED Signage
-Content scheduling/creation (planning ahead)

LED Signage "How To"
-LED Sign Permitting Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3
-Finding a reputable installer for LED Signage
-Sourcing the best LED Sign manufacturer for your business
-Calculating Power Costs
-Information on the National Electrical Code as applied to LED Signage
-Electrical Safety Certification Marks explained
-Different LED Sign Sales approaches
-Project Management with LED Signage
-Embracing new technology for business
-CRM/ERP Options for your business

-Simple LED Sign troubleshooting

LED Sign Information (color values, virtualization, etc.)
-How Color Values are calculated
-Viewing Size vs Cabinet size (big differences can add up to false $$ savings)
-Controller options for LED Signage
-Virtual Resolution (aka pixel sharing)
-LED Sign Components
-Service Access options for LED Signs
-The truth behind "ultra bright" LEDs
-Communication Methods for LED Signs
-Myths and Misunderstanding about LED Signs
-The good and bad of LED Signs and how to tell the difference

-Powder Coating
-New Coating materials (Dragon Skin)

Dangers to LED Message Centers
-How to protect against heat
-Power (undervoltage)
-Power Supplies
-Is after service an after-thought?
-The Value of a warranty
-On Site Service Warranties (underwritten vs. carried by the manufacturer)
-Proper Conformal Coating
-Silicone Coating on the back of LED Modules
-The cost of going cheap on component choices from a manufacturer

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Simple LED Sign Repair

“Anything that can possibly go wrong, does, usually at the worst possible time.”

-         Murphy’s Law

Rocket scientists at NASA believe this as gospel while others dismiss it as extraneous folklore.  But what if it is true? It sure seems like events conspire to ensure that “no good deed goes unpunished!”

Combine the hyped-up and misconstrued prediction by the Mayans regarding the end of the world this month with Murphy’s Law and imagine this scenario:

Your toy store, “Santa’s Toy Wonderland”, is running the biggest sale of the year this Friday, December 21st, 2012 and last night your team unloaded a tractor-trailer full of hot toys that every parent in town is desperately searching for. You have toys ranging from battery-powered fire engines that kids can race up and down the sidewalk on to the latest Wii console.  Santa himself would be impressed!

Your graphic designers just uploaded the new animation for your two-sided, full-color, 10’ x 6’, LED sign. Last night you tested the content, and it “popped!” It looked great and now, right now, you just arrived in the parking lot at 5AM on Friday morning and there is no image on the LED sign.

What do you do? What can you do? Can you do anything? Well, if you’re the owner of the LED display you can call the owner of the sign company who sold you the LED sign and wake him up at 5AM and tell him you are declaring an “LED Emergency”- perhaps the first ever in the LED sign industry.

Here are a few simple things that the sign company owner knows to make his problem solving easier:

  • The controlling software and hardware engineering is pretty impressive but the actual problem troubleshooting is fairly straightforward.

  • Almost all problems are either: A/C power source, computer on/off, cables, power supplies, or controller cards (of some type depending on brand and model).

  • LED signs are a matrix of lamps that comprise modules, a matrix of modules that comprise cabinets and a matrix of cabinets that make up the complete LED sign.

Knowing this, do not panic, even if you are the rookie LED sign repair technician- stay calm!

Is the entire LED sign off? Quality LED signs incorporate a controlling computer that must stay on constantly to “talk” to the LED sign. Is it on? Perhaps an evil elf in your shipping department turned your LED sign off last night, to give you a heart attack at this very moment! Check the main power switch. If it’s off, turn it on and see if the LED sign comes back on. Also, make sure the sign itself has not tripped a circuit breaker (or multiple circuit breakers depending on how it is wired). If one side is off and one side is on, it’s possible that an individual circuit breaker may control each side of the LED sign and only one breaker has tripped.

Does one side of the LED display appear “on” and the other side “off” with no condition described thus far present? Could be that a data controller (one unique data controller per side) is bad, or the cable sending data from the card is bad.

Do you have only a block of multiple LED modules out on one side? If so, a power supply which feeds a group of these LED modules may have failed.

Or, do you have just a row of LED modules that are off or that share a common lighting problem? If so you may have a bad LED module at the first feed point for that row. An IC chip could be bad on that first LED module.

Some troubleshooting strategies that your licensed LED sign technician will employ to narrow the problem search down include checking cables and connections, swapping LED modules and replacing damaged components. They will be careful and safe, and will always use their safety harness when working high.

But as a toy store owner, what can you do? If you are not a skilled technician getting involved in the actual repair can be costly and dangerous. Do what you can without getting hurt or making it worse:

·         Check your content scheduler. Has your ad expired? Perhaps it was scheduled to run just one day. If your scheduler doesn’t show current ads, expired ads, and ads currently playing you are missing out on a great feature! 

·         As previously stated, check for physical power interruptions to the LED display and also ensure that the software has not dimmed your display to zero nits. The LED display can be on but dimmed down to zero brightness.

·         Make that call to the installing sign company. During peak business times every hour that LED display is down is lost sales revenue. Call them right now.

Quality LED signs have surge suppression engineered into the product. If not, surge suppression should be added to the building’s electrical system. What this does is to “bleed off:” excessive voltage and current. Usually the culprit that damages sensitive electronics is over-current. When the power goes off and then comes back on, the voltage is low, and because Ohm’s law insists, the current is high. High current can damage electronics if a surge suppressor is not incorporated into the installation.

With LED signs, as with all electronics, lightning can be devastating. This is why every sign must be grounded to an earth ground (copper stake driven 6 feet into the ground). This may cause the lightning to follow the path of least resistance to the earth. Maybe this saves the LED display, maybe it does not.

Every LED display needs to be covered under the general liability insurance policy of the business to avoid catastrophic scenarios like fire and lightning.

Hopefully you, working with your local sign company and a supportive US manufacturer can get the LED sign back up and running to cause a stampede through your front door by noon! Not all sign companies are alike and not all signs are alike. Some seem to demand constant repair attention, while others run for years without service issues. Do your homework before buying and select wisely to make your purchase an “investment” rather than a “basket on the top of a pole” that you throw dollars into.

Remember that Murphy’s Law is a myth and the Mayan’s were speaking of the old calendar running out of pages. I hope.

Merry Christmas!

- Mike Prongue (with technical assistance from James Anderson)

**All posts, thoughts and writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Selling Value with Digital Signage Solutions: A simple equation = more sales

-Deacon Wardlow
 Nobody likes feeling helpless and (worse) being forced to admit to ignorance. When a client reaches out for help, they're expecting someone to bring them the solution and to make it clear and easy-to-understand why the solution presented is the best option available. As the knowledgeable "expert" it's up to you to make the value proposition to the client so the investment with Digital Signage is easy to make. The client's demonstrated a need by coming to you, it's up to you to demonstrate how that need can be met with the best overall Digital Signage (DS) package.

Simple calculation for the Value Proposition: V=BR (Value = Benefit and Return (either on Investment or Objective)

How do you achieve this Value Proposition? Let's take the example of an outdoor LED Display (as this is my particular area of focus):

Build a case for the display by first demonstrating your efficiencies -Why is your company the best to handle this request?
-What is your history and experience providing these solutions?
-How will it be executed/installed? (Having the client visualize the DS solution in place and working gets you closer to "yes.")

You should then move to your manufacturing partner (usually you're coming to the table with one or more partners). Your manufacturing/other partners should be able to provide cut-sheets on the product, information demonstrating why this solution is beneficial for the client's market segment, etc. If the partner can't (or even worse, won't) provide this information, it may be time to look for a new partner.

The typical "dollar shift" is a tried/true means of showing how the client can move money they spend on radio/print/other advertising over to their on-premise solution for a greater return on visibility and reaching their larger potential client base. The more people see the messages, the greater the return on their investment in the DS system and return on objective i.e. community outreach, increased presence in the market, interest in their business and product/services, all of which usually equates to a return on the initial investment with a typical 10%-15% growth in earnings.

Build the value by showing the Benefit of working with you/your partner(s) and the Return they stand to gain with the solution in place BEFORE giving them the final price for the solution. This helps build the reality of the proposed system and overcome the "sticker shock" syndrome of many clients. Selling on price is a reality we all have to face from time-to-time, but if there's no value you're just selling a number which anyone down the road can beat. Make sure you leave your best proposal with the client and you'll find you win more deals, more frequently (often when you weren't the lowest price). If there's value in what you're proposing, clients will pay for it.

There'll be no new posts next week and we'll start back up again in the new year. Thank you for your readership, your comments (online and off), your feedback and your desire to learn more. I hope we've been helpful this year. Happy holidays, I hope this past year has been good to you and yours and the next year is even better.

*I invite you to comment here and/or email me directly with requests at Vantage LED has white paper resources and more educational material on the website (, please check it out when you have a moment. Note all posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Planning and Quality Content: How Current LED Sign Owners Benefit More From the Holidays - Join The Club, You Can Too.

-Scott Hofheins

One of the greatest times to be an LED sign owner is around the holidays. While many businesses are decorating their store, sending out mailers, and doing their best with temporary signage, LED sign owners are resting easy. They have likely pre-scheduled most of their holiday content earlier in the year, and know the sign is working hard to bring in the shoppers. If you don’t own an LED sign now, you may want to seriously think about taking the plunge and investing in a product that works all day, every day with no overtime pay!

You can’t re-face a traditional sign every time a holiday comes around and changeable copy boards are limited to static text that is difficult to change. LED Signs provide such a great opportunity to communicate often and directly to your audience, it’s surprising to see some businesses not taking full advantage of this.

I’m not just talking about Christmas. Any holiday like Valentines day, Memorial day, Columbus day and Thanksgiving are all great times to communicate specific promotions or events to your patrons. Mike posted an awesome post about being a hero with PSA messages, and Deacon had some great insights on why you should keep your content fresh.

There are many reasons some people may not be using their sign to the fullest extent. One of the biggest is the “Not Enough Time” factor. It takes time to get good solid content created and scheduled for your sign. Most small to medium organizations are already utilizing their staff above capacity. After the initial excitement of a new LED sign installation, the updates tend to become less frequent as the staff re-focuses on their other responsibilities.

There is a solution to this: Pre-Planning. Most LED sign software these days has some sort of scheduling option. Use it! Take some time to pre-program most of your general holiday messages into the schedule. I promise, it will be worth it. With an LED sign you have the ability to communicate one message on Christmas eve, and another Christmas day. You can advertise “fine wine” New Years eve, and “hangover remedies” New Years morning. Direct dynamic advertising has never been easier.

But what if you don’t have time to actually create the content? Pay someone to create the content for you. You may think this is overkill, but you have a very expensive sign that is advertising your entire organization to the traveling public; it’s worth the investment at a reasonable price. Do some research online and look for people who create content specifically for LED signs. It takes a slightly different approach than website design, or print media to be done effectively and utilize the full potential of an LED sign.

If you don’t own an LED sign, and are thinking about getting one, now is a good time to see how effective they can be. Gifts and shopping are at the top of everyone's mind so it’s just a matter of making sure they see what you have to offer. An LED sign can sometimes be like those shelves at the checkout counter, you weren't thinking about the batteries for all the toys you just bought until you looked to your left and saw them hanging right there, conveniently easy to reach.

Do your research (this blog is a great place to start) and make sure you plan ahead and use the experience of others to help you make a good choice. Plan for some of the things I’m talking about here. Look for a company that has software that takes the pain out of content creation and scheduling. If you don’t have a graphics staff, include the cost of a  Content Creation Service in your budget before you buy the sign. This will save you time and money in the long run.

An LED sign is a powerful tool and a solid investment. When it’s used effectively with quality content and planning, you will see a substantial ROI, more street visibility, and ultimately more sales to grow your business.


P.S. I may not post again until after the new year, so I just wanted to say thanks to those who read our blog and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and hope you have a great New Year. This year has been great, and I’m looking forward to an even better 2013 where we will continue to post more insights and tips for the sometimes confusing, but always exciting LED sign industry.

I hope this post has been informative and helpful. As usual, I welcome ALL constructive comments. Please feel free to comment and add anything I've missed, or additional tips you may have regarding this topic. Please visit for many other resources, white papers, and of course: Great looking LED Signs!

**All posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

LED Signs- Be a Good Neighbor!

One of the greatest victories you can gain over someone is to beat him at politeness.

-          Josh Billings

  Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength

-          Eric Hoffer

In my lifetime, the population of the United States has almost doubled! That’s twice as many people living on the same block, twice as many people on the Florida highways, twice as many people breathing what used to be “my” air, and the once empty beaches now clearly reflect this population increase. This change happened slowly over the last 50 years plus, and adaptation, lowered expectations and patience on my part has been required to deal with this. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve had to change.

The rapid explosion seen in the digital LED sign industry is requiring change also. Call them Electronic Message Centers, or LED Displays, or Outdoor Electronic Signs or whatever you want, but they are still a new technology and not everyone is moving at the light speed of the industry. What can be done to help automobile drivers, business owners, and the Sign dealers live with one another and allow the full potential of the outdoor digital media industry to be realized?

I think that Judith Martin “Miss Manners”, the icon of American etiquette, would be proud to know that her ideology would go a long way- be nice, play fair and be gracious. Here are a few tactical ideas that can sign users can employ to be a Good Neighbor:

1)  BRIGHTNESS…  An LED sign is not a lighthouse. A lighthouse sits on the coastline and emits an extremely bright light to guide ships. An LED sign should be an information center not a blinding beacon. Yet, on any road, in any city of America that allows LED signs, there is at least one LED sign that is too bright. This over-drives components shortening their functional lifetime, requires excessive energy use and therefore a higher operating cost, annoys drivers, and labels the business as a negative member of the community. Each “LED BEACON” puts another dent in the reputation of the LED industry.

What to do? One answer is to install a very common light sensing device on the sign and allow the attenuation to occur automatically. But, this is not always the most reliable method. Most software control systems allow for the scheduling of brightness levels. Program the time and the desired brightness level into the scheduler and “let it roll”. This makes it simple and controllable. Select the time the sign dims and then select the time the sign brightens using the controller software program. 
Remember if you think it's "too much" it usually is!

2)  CONTENT…  Appropriate content is vital. A $50,000 LED display can be reduced to the effectiveness of a reader board with the wrong choice of colors, the wrong content, too much motion and an overly complex message. Look at the time the driver actually has to view any message and the imperative “keep it simple” becomes critical in the design of the message. Do not allow your well-intentioned business owner to sabotage their advertising efforts by “showing off” with a psychedelic light show (for example). The goal of an LED sign is not for it to compete with the “burning man” event for attention (for example).

Cost-effective, professional content providers exist that can deliver excellent, and appropriate advertising slides and animation. Unless your customer has a professional designer on staff, they should consider using one of these services.

On the subject of slide duration timing- not too fast! The absolute quickest time is 6 seconds, many users time their slides to 10 seconds.

On the receiving end of the LED message, the driver does not want to experience a cornea-burning, cerebrum-stinging advertising message each time they drive by the offending location. This may not drive as many new customers into the business as the well-intentioned business owner anticipated! Being subtle with rich colors, simple text, and well planned message is the best way to manage an LED sign.

3)  QUIET TIMES…   “In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth…” goes the creation message, but on the seventh day even he rested. If this is the case, why does every LED sign have to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks per year?

An “essential LED sign” is one that is used for traffic control, government use, transportation information or emergency messaging. Most of the others have times when they could be dimmed to zero nits with very little loss of advertising exposure. This would probably never happen on a commercial billboard of course, but on the “Frank’s Hot Dogs” LED sign, why not turn it off from midnight until  the morning drive time? The traffic counts may drop to a near-zero after midnight so why waste electricity?

There are two ways to turn off an LED sign using software controls. The 1st way is by allowing the software to literally power down the LED display thus requiring a cold start reboot of the LED sign and the controlling computer. In cold weather, sometime the boot time creates issues for the customer as they see extraneous output on their LED sign during the boot. Also, the actual cold weather time required from boot to normal functioning may be longer than the customer desires.

The 2nd and preferred method to turn off an LED display is to simply allow the software to dim the screen to zero nit intensity. This keeps the LED sign powered-up and the computer on-line and does not require the cold start re-boot.

As the LED sign industry evolves, customs and practices will become more defined and formalized. For today, it’s simple- be a good neighbor and remember that an LED sign is just a very effective way to advertise and share information when used properly.

- Mike Prongue

** Note all posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Is an EMC (LED Sign) an investment or a purchase?

-Deacon Wardlow
Money talks, but who’s listening? It’s difficult to decide where advertising dollars should go. Newspaper readership is at all time lows, people listen to satellite radio or their MP3 players, flyers are picked up by the wind more than by potential customers and the internet grows so rapidly it’s hard to tell if you can make any headway. Where is the money best placed for the greater return.

I was speaking with a friend of mine about Digital Signage Solutions for advertising within a business or organization. The conversation basically boiled down to, “Is it a purchase or is it an investment?” He was looking at Digital Signage as a purchase. A one-time cost to his business and I disagreed. A flat screen for the home may be considered a purchase; after all, what value does the TV add? The TV is a portal for entertainment, education and actually brings a lot of value to the household, in this case it can be seen as an investment in oneself (or one's family). Digital Signage (LED Sign, LCD, etc.) is an investment. The initial cost is one small component in the greater picture against the overall value it brings to an organization.

Digital Signage (DS) requires time and effort to work. Someone using DS doesn’t just put up their displays and a couple of messages and expect people to come breaking the doors down. DS is a communication to the community, to the competition, to your potential customer base. DS is DYNAMIC and should change, be fresh, offer a perspective and information which is new to the target viewer.

Like any good investment, the foundation has to be solid to show long-term performance. Buy low, sell high doesn’t work here. DS is one of the few areas where you often get what you pay for and you don’t want to “go cheap” on a solution for your business as it won’t pay out well for you in the end. There's a big difference between a "cheap" DS solution and a competitively priced one. Whatever you end up getting, the investment is made with some kind of return expected.

You get out what you put in. The better the content, the message and the look of your DS solution, the more the target viewer will be inclined to interact (whether that means stop in the store, email, twitter, facebook, or whatever your call to action is). The investment will net you a return. The return could be an ROI (Return On Investment) or perhaps your focus is ROO (Return On Objective, such as getting the community to interact more or take part in their town/city/school/church).

After arguing my side, I asked him, "Is Digital Signage a purchase?" He agreed with me and redifined his view of a purchase as a one-off item (or service/whatever) which, while it contains value to you and a few others, does not inherently gain you a return on anything other than the pleasure of ownership. An investment in DS will help you grow your organization and will be a key element in your success. Make sure your investment is a sound one and compare what’s out there. When you shake the apple tree for a comparison, you might be surprised to see a few lemons drop. I hope the blog helps you spot the lemons and avoid the frustrations.

*I invite you to comment here and/or email me directly with requests at Vantage LED has white paper resources and more educational material on the website (, please check it out when you have a moment. Note all posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Evolving and Embracing New Technology and Change in the LED Sign Industry.

- Scott Hofheins

Change and evolution are unavoidable. Many have tried, but nobody can escape the natural inclination of individuals and society to improve. In the past, change was more often slower and less noticeable. But in today's world with improved communication and big picture thinking, technology is evolving at a supercharged rate. I would like to talk briefly about some of the challenges this presents to the LED Sign industry, and how we can face those challenges and continue to thrive as manufacturers or dealers.


We are at unique point in the evolution of our industry. More and more signs are entering the 5 -10 year+ realm with the quality, or lack thereof, becoming more and more obvious. Some signs are still going strong, others haven’t fared so well with continued issues and problems beginning the first day of installation.

This is an opportunity to witness first hand, the true results of a manufacturers efforts, that is...if they still exist. For those that do, this has presented a challenge for both dealers and manufacturers. Dealers are asking “Is the manufacturers current product going to last?” The manufacturers have hopefully been proactive and implementing solutions to be able to answer “yes”.

Another interesting problem is the balancing act of retaining a good system of production, administration and support, while not becoming so dependent on “the way we have always done it” that it takes months or years to implement a change in procedure, policy or technology. Companies that don’t balance this well can lock themselves and their customers onto a path of of long term stagnation.

Change effects hardware, suppliers, components and fabrication strategies. Even if a company can sustain the balance, they can fall short when it comes to documenting the changes and accounting for future warranty parts and support. Many companies earn a bad reputation because they cannot fully support their product due to poorly documented build records.


These challenges share a common concept: the ability to ACT. Companies who flourish do so because they can act quickly, efficiently and with purpose. They have a strong financial strategy and reliable backing, long term plans, and are not afraid to change. These principles are very important now, and will only become more so as technology grows and communication continues to improve.

The manufacturers who embrace change have continually assessed their products, and were able to make systematic changes in production immediately when issues were found, minimizing the long term effects. They have been smart with their financial health to be able to address issues and stand behind their warranty and keep product quality and customer satisfaction the top priority. They have the resources to keep good production records and spare parts stock.

Good sign companies thrive for the same reasons. They make changes when needed and are always looking at the big picture. The most successful owners I've talked to (and really any good leader) succeed because they aren't afraid to make decisions. They are able to look at a situation logically and with a clear idea of the risk vs. the reward, making changes when required without hesitation.

Stagnation is not an option. When a business stops evolving, it will eventually be replaced with a more versatile and change-ready organization. Don’t be afraid of change; plan for it, accept it, embrace it and ACT.


I hope this post has been informative and helpful. As usual, I welcome ALL constructive comments. Please feel free to comment and add anything I've missed, or additional tips you may have regarding this topic. Please visit for many other resources, white papers, and of course: Great looking LED Signs!

**All posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.