Thursday, November 1, 2012

LED Signage 101 Continued: The good, the bad and how to tell the difference

-Deacon Wardlow

Having hopped around the globe a few times and seen what’s out there for Digital Signage (specifically LED Displays), I’ve seen a lot of the good, the bad and the indifferent. As a kid, I loved Times Square in NYC. It was big, bright and amazing. The tech adult in me kind of kills the joy. I look at displays which have bad pixels, panels which are discolored, slow refresh rates which cause a slight “jitter” in image transitions and overall a mix of amazing systems and poorly produced displays which I’m surprised someone’s not asking for their money back.

Spotting problems with LED Sign systems is not usually a task for the layperson. I’ve brought my friends out to see some big displays (yes, they put up with my weirdness) and ask them what they see. They see an impressive sign. I ask them to then hold their hands up like they’re preparing to take a picture and look at sections of the display in isolation from the rest and suddenly they can’t unsee what I’ve shown them. I admit, I’m one of those people who looks for the wire when the magician is pulling a trick out of “thin air” however the world needs sceptics. Some companies try to pull tricks when it’s not a magic show you’re looking for.

How can you tell when you’re getting buried in “geek speak” vs. being given the straight truth? Here are a few bits you can run with to separate the good from the bad:

1. Take the salesperson out of the equation and ask to speak with a tech or engineer for the company. If they don’t have one, you should start raising the red flag. Techs and engineers are problem solvers by nature and you can’t solve a problem by holding back information. They’ll often tell you a lot more than you ever wanted to know, but you’ll get a straight story more often than not. Don’t let the salesperson reword anything or jump-in on the conversation.

2. Look at the documentation. Does the manufacturer lay everything out in an easy-to-understand format? Is there any “funny English” in the documentation or software help file? Do they have replacement guides covering every component in their system; when someone’s 80 feet in the air, they don’t often want to be on the phone and would prefer a simple sheet showing what has to be done, step-by-step.

3. Don’t let someone bury you in “geek speak” and numbers. When it comes down to it, an LED sign system is fairly uncomplicated. There are important technical details, but the system itself should be easy to explain. Why do they put conformal coating on a power supply or why do they NOT put conformal coating on? Why do they build the system the way they do? How long have they developed software for the system and how many changes have occurred over the years? If they don’t make their own software or engineer their build (from scratch), raise the red flag high.

After a brief conversation using these tactics with the manufacturer, you should get a clearer picture of what you’re really getting from them when you chose them as a partner. At the end of the day, it’s not their system which will go up in front of a business, it’s your business’ reputation and name people will associate with the system. Make sure it’s a solid solution which will benefit both the end-user and yourself. Dig deeper.

*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.

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