Friday, September 27, 2013

Digital Signage How To: Networking Basics

-Scott Hofheins

The invention of the computer changed the way we see and interact with the world forever. Likewise, networking these computers together changed their very definition. It lets them work together like a single organism powering the internet, cloud applications, email, commerce, Youtube, name it.

The sign industry is no exception. We’ve gone from basic serial communication, to high speed 4G Cellular modems on full color digital billboard networks. Knowing how computers and networks function, even on a basic level is a worthwhile goal for anyone in the industry. My intention is to keep this as simple as possible, while still providing an accurate picture of how it all works.

Network Neighborhood
These days a computer can be anything: cellphones, laptops, desktops, signs, even cars! Networks are a collection of these devices organized into virtual neighborhoods in a virtual world. Just like us, these devices share information, maintain their ‘home’, and communicate with others across the globe. They have laws and standards that they must abide by, or the system can break. We call the most fundamental law TCP/IP and is the final word in whether or not devices can communicate with the others.

Just like your house, these devices must have registered addresses according to TCP/IP rules. The address and other settings will look something like this:

  • IP Address: (your actual address)
  • Subnet: (the limitations of your address)
  • Gateway: (the address of the gateway to the internet)
  • DNS #1: (the address of your phone book)
  • DNS #2: (your backup phonebook)
Because everything is automated in this virtual world, devices cannot communicate over the network without an address. The mail man might show up, but if there is no number on a house he will run away confused, and usually drop your packet in the process. He doesn't even knock on the door.

Organization and Keeping the Peace
To avoid miscommunication and provide standard design structures for our private networks, TCP/IP tells us that our devices cannot communicate with another device unless it they both have addresses within a designated range. This is important for security and organization. You may not want the Hatfield area talking to the McCoys, it could get ugly. So you setup your Hatfield devices on a range of thru 100, and your Mccoys on a range of thru This way, they still live in the same network without causing any issues.

Public and Private
Because this entire virtual world is governed by a strict numerical government, there is a limited number of addresses available. To minimize this problem, they have separated the world into Private Networks, and Public Networks. Private Networks have a smaller number of addresses they can use legally, at their leisure.  The Public Network has all the rest of the addresses, governed by the almighty ICANN. They keep a record of all public addresses and who they are assigned too. All communication between Private and Public networks rely on this record.

Private address numbers can be duplicated, as long as the duplicate numbers aren't in the same network. The mail labeled 1600 Pennsylvania in Springfield MO, will not go to the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania in Washington DC because they are in different "neighborhood". This is why it’s important that Public Addresses cannot be duplicated number for number, because they are in a single neighborhood we call “The Internet”.

Gated Communities
So how do we communicate with the public addresses like Google, or Facebook? Or across the internet, to email our grandma? Well it’s all about The Gateway. Every private network that wants to communicate to the outside world (or in some cases a larger internal network) must have a Gateway to these places. This is a device like a router, that will direct your devices communications back and forth correctly, over the internet. In other words, the gateway is the device that labels your communication for 1600 Penn in Springfield, MO...not Washington DC.

The Phone Book
Numbers are great, but not so easy to remember. You really don’t want to have to type in to get to Google right? So we have DNS, or Domain Name Servers. These devices keep track of who’s name, is associated with what number. So when you type, the DNS server looks up the number for that name, and sends you to the right place. Usually your Gateway (Router) will communicate directly with the DNS servers online, (this is why in a typical home network your Gateway address and DNS address are the same).

The Basics
It seems complicated at first, but when you really lay it out and look at the basics, it starts to make sense. Just remember these key points.
  • Every device must have an IP address to access the network.
  • To communicate with other devices, the addresses for each device must be in the same range.
  • Devices access the internet through a Gateway. If you do not provide a Gateway address for the device, it can still communicate to your private network, but no further.
  • The DNS server is your phone book, it looks up the numerical IP address associated with the name you typed into the browser and sends you to the right place.

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, September 24, 2013

Digital Signage Need to Know: Why simple software is better with DS.

-Deacon Wardlow
Simple is better. Look at all the things which have taken off in popularity because of simplification:

Point-n-Click cameras: (as opposed to complicated cameras which required a careful study of light, timing, range, etcetera)

Computers: say what you will about Apple, but the Lisa was in a ton of schools because it gave children an intro to the world of computing which was easy and familiar and now even toddlers can operate a tablet (before they can even speak)

Web Browsers: no dialup, no need to know a BBS (Bulletin Board System) phone number or access address and log information. Browsing information from another system is as simple as a search or entering a web address.

Web Design: one of my first jobs coding was developing a web site, the interview was a blank piece of paper where I had to write the code (on paper, completely from memory) to make a website look like a printed out page in front of me. Now web development is as simple as drag-and-drop

Digital Signage (DS): hold up here you say? DS is getting simpler and the leaders in the industry understand change is necessary.

Taking Apple's new iOS 7 platform for example. The system has a tremendous number of back-end changes which most end-users won't appreciate. While I don't like the flat colors and simple look, I understand what Apple is going for. They want the interface to change, but remain intuitive. Apple opted to go back to their roots of "simple is better" and make that happen both in the way the iOS device works and looks. 

It's important for DS to be simple. DS systems are made to convey content to the public. Sometimes the purpose is for financial gain, other times the goal is more outreach and objective oriented rather than income-driven. With DS, the common saying is, "Content is King." The problem with content is it needs to update dynamically, it needs to change frequently, and it needs to be timely and informative to the public. The difficulty most end-users have with DS systems is the control solution almost requires a computer science degree for some systems while others make the end-user jump through a ton of hoops just to schedule a simple piece. Want dynamic conditional messaging? I hope you're well versed in SQL-based systems and java scripting. 

Change is happening and it's out there. When reviewing LED Sign and other DS systems, take a test drive or ask for a video/example of the control suite for the system. Can the software be learned quickly? Is it easy to use? The easier something is to use, the more frequently it'll be utilized and with DS the more frequently it's updated and maintained, the better. Find out how frequently updates are made with the system. Can the manufacturer customize the solution (while keeping it simple) for specific end-user requests? Is the software capable of being used anywhere and anytime? Can someone access the system from a mobile device or are they locked-in to a single use instance (one installation on a PC in an office or a requirement to pay for additional installations?). 

The easier something is, the greater the appeal. Droid and Apple are demonstrating that with the smartphones in the market, even Microsoft is moving to the cloud to give users better access to systems. Is your manufacturer forward thinking or falling behind the times? If the system your promoting isn't simple to use, the easy answer for the client is go elsewhere for their needs. If the system your promoting isn't simple to use, the easy answer for the client is go elsewhere for their needs.

*Please comment here and/or email me directly with requests, questions, or follow-up 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 noted.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Digital Signage Need To Know: Things To Consider During a Live LED Sign Demonstration

- Scott Hofheins

LED signs are expensive. You're getting a lot more for the price as the technology gets better and better, but still expensive nonetheless. When you're investing that kind of money in a sign, you want to see what your getting prior to any money changing hands. This is rarely possible because we are in a ‘build to order’ industry, but that doesn't mean you have to go in completely blind.

In addition to industry research (like reading this blog!) onsite demonstrations are a good way to see a product before you buy. The availability of a demo unit doesn't automatically equate to a better manufacturer, but if you do get the chance then demo multiple manufacturers and use your experience when researching additional opportunities. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Schedule During the Day
The brightness of an LED sign is important. It’s going to be fighting the sun all day long, 365 days a year. The sign should be just as readable as your static signage during the day, and not look washed out.

Display Quality
  • The image should be even and crisp along the entire face of the display. No “tiles” or “squares” should be visible, just a clean even image standing from multiple viewing angles.
  • The colors should deep and full. Avoid signs that have a ‘Washed Out’ look,  similar to when you increase the brightness on the TV without adjusting the contrast.
  • Make sure you're getting an FULL color display with at least 16.8 million colors. Look closely at the image on the display, do you see any sharp gradients from one color to the next? If so the sign may not support true full color media.
  • Animations/Video should be completely fluid. Anything that looks jerky or like it has a low frame rate can indicate that the controller isn't up to par.
  • What does the actual text content look like? It should be dynamic, smooth and should “pop” at you. Movies on a display are great, but remember that This is going to be an advertising tool in most cases, so make sure the text quality and animation are just as good as the movies.
  • Make sure you can see the display from a reasonable angle, horizontally without color distortion. There are physical limits regardless of the manufacturer, but a good display will provide a wide viewing angle.

Look Inside
What better opportunity will you have to see the product before you buy? Ask to look inside and look at the parts, case construction and coating, LED layout, etc...get as much out of the demo time as possible.

LED Modules
  • Are they easy to remove? Avoid screws, quick half turn latches are becoming the industry standard for easy removal and access.  
  • A flat black finish on the modules will reflect less sunlight, and provide better contrast for the display.
  • Make sure each LED gets the same protection from the louvers. Louvers are like sun shades for the individual LED’s. The arrangement of the LED Pixels (Red, Green, Blue) can be several ways, all three in a row, column, triangle, etc… The louver design should take this into account and provide maximum protection to each LED.
  • The LED’s should be secure behind the louver panel to protect against UV deterioration from the sun. Large open areas around the pixels can cause deterioration of the conformal coating.

Internal Layout and Components
  • Imagine yourself on a ladder or in a bucket truck. Are the components easy to see, wires cleanly routed, and components accessible?
  • Is the wiring US standard? Many overseas suppliers use different colors that can cause confusion during installation and operation. Generally speaking, US uses black, white, red and Green for most of our DC power standards. If you see a lot of Brown, Grey and Blue, it’s most likely been produced overseas.
  • Are they using an embedded controller, or PC Controller (IPC)? PC Controllers tend to be more powerful, easier to network and support.
  • The control system hardware (circuit boards) should be high quality and easy to access and replace if needed. If coated, the surface should be smooth and clear. Sloppy or overly applied coatings can cause weather and overheating issues.
  • Power supplies should be high quality, conformal coated and from a standard supplier. A vast majority of the manufactures use Meanwell, some use TDK. Avoid signs with generic power supplies, or brand name knockoffs.

What is the Pixel Pitch and Matrix and Matrix of the demo unit, and how does it compare to what you're looking at buying? You don’t want to expect the same image quality on your 25mm sign that the 10mm demo produces.

Demos are inherently going to be smaller than a permanent sign, so they tend to be a higher resolution.This is usually a good thing because gives you better idea of what a larger MM Pitch would look like when viewed from a distance. But sometimes it’s easy to take advantage of the situation and leave you with the impression that you sign will look exactly the same.

A demo is a great way to not only see a potential product, but learn about LED signs in general. Of course as I mentioned before, a demo doesn't guarantee a good product or manufacturer, but it can still help you get a good feeling for the industry. Use it as an additional tool to your online research, discussions with insiders, and conversations with manufacturers and dealers.


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, September 17, 2013

Digital Signage Sale 101: Be a "go-to" person; know your LED Sign and DS information!

-Deacon Wardlow
Sales is not an easy challenge to take on. There are thousands of books out there telling people "how to sell." The books are a cure to the common ailment of "how do I close on opportunities? How to win friends and influence others, etcetera. A doctor once told me, when there are a hundred cures it typically means there are none that really work 100%. You have to ultimately find the mix of sage and new advice and techniques which works best for you and your client. The one piece of advice which seems to work universally? Be an expert in your field.

I recently had the pleasure of a day at Cedar Point in Ohio, roller coaster mecca (I highly recommend a visit if you're ever close and by close I mean within a 4 hour or so drive, it's worth it!). One of the rides had an issue and my friend and I were waiting in line for the techs to fix the problem and get the ride running. Two of the team members from the ride started chatting with us and I was incredibly impressed with their expertise in amusement parks and the rides they ran. They discussed manual rides, computer automated rides, the manufacturers of rides (who they are, where they are, what they're known for), they knew the competition's strengths (best rides) and weaknesses (low staff, long waits, etcetera), they had each spent six years (or so) working at various parks and had obviously absorbed quite an impressive bit of knowledge and experience. Those two team members demonstrated part of what makes Cedar Point great, the staff on the rides are experts and there's a reason the park has some of the best rides in the country...

When a client is looking for a Digital Signage (DS) solution, they want to feel comfortable with the person they're buying the system from. When you're selling a signage system, you're asking a client to buy a car they can't really drive until they own it (and at that point, it's too late to take things back). This is really nerve-wracking from the client's perspective. Before they buy, they need to know you (and your company) are experts in this field and can answer any question they can think up. This is where a strong partnership with your manufacturer will help (resources, training tools, a sales rep from the manufacturer you can get on the phone and get immediate answers from, etcetera). This is also where it's your company's time to shine.

Make sure the website you have is up-to-date. Do you show examples of LED Signs and other DS systems sold? Do you have a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section? Do you demonstrate brand loyalty and have information on the features & benefits of that brand (and why the brand is the best to go with)? Is your marketing material co-branded and does it quickly and easily answer your client's primary need to see what makes your solution unique in the market? Are you confident the brand you've chosen is innovative, forward-thinking, progressive, and meeting the needs of both you and the end-users? If you're not, it's time to review and get someone you feel solid with.

The more you know, the greater the trust instilled with your client. The greater the trust and the more your company demonstrates it's leadership in the field (or strong partnership with a leader), the greater your chance you'll win the opportunity over the competition. If you're not the "go-to" person for your client, they'll find someone else who is.

*Please comment here and/or email me directly with requests, questions, or follow-up 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 noted.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Digital Signage Need To Know: Border Versus Borderless LED Displays

- Mike Prongue

Down here “on the street” in the LED display industry many crazy things are said. Many ridiculous assertions are routinely made about technology, technical specifications, value and true cost.

For example- NIT value. Some manufacturers seem to measure their NIT value as whatever the other guy has +1000.

In a desperate attempt to contrive an advantage, some advantage, any advantage, some obscure product point is selected then exploited.

Recently one LED display distributor made a claim that a borderless LED display was superior because it eliminated the cost of the "dead" steel border surrounding the LED display. If you do the math, a 2.0” border for an LED display measuring 6x3’ will result in a metal border that totals around 3 square feet. If you were truly charged a rate equal to the pixel per square foot rate for the metal border then you would be getting ripped off. That doesn’t happen except in LED display “La La Land”. Nice try folks!

The price of your LED display is based on the number of pixels, not the area of the cabinet (height x width). As you know the actual size of the LED display is determined by the LED modules. Adding or subtracting LED display module columns or rows, changes the overall size. And no, you can't split a module (although variants on LED module sizes exist).

The better LED display manufacturers offer LED displays in a border option or a borderless option.

Why would anyone want a borderless display?

Thinking about why, the answer is easily determined. Your customer has a monument sign in front of his business that he is upgrading to an LED display. The city regulates the size of the sign and they are maxed out already. Every inch counts here, so why sacrifice active LED pixel matrix area for a metal border?

You would not. This is a perfect application for a borderless sign- maximizing the square footage allowed.

So we’ve stomped on the latest meaningless point of product differentiation and you understand a bordered sign consisting of 36 LED modules and one with no border with 36 LED modules should cost the same. Despite killing this myth, some desperate distributor is right now out there spinning a new story.

Select your LED display by looking at companies that are innovative, are driving technology, changing the industry with new data handling applications, and offer a 3rd party, rock-solid parts and service warranty. When you do your homework, your due diligence, you will be able to sleep at night knowing you’ve made the best choice.

When someone tells you something that makes no sense, or seems way “over-promised” it probably is. Leave these crazy claims to the more gullible and remember that you get what you pay for, and there is never any such thing as a “free lunch”.

These comments belong to me, Mike Prongue, and do not reflect the views, opinions, hopes or dreams of anyone else, anywhere else and this includes Vantage LED. I appreciate your constructive opinion which may be sent to me at     

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Digital Signage Need To Know: Notes on Successfully Implementing an LED Sign Program

-Scott Hofheins

A sign is a land sculpture designed by artists, a superbly fabricated structure by craftsmen, and a fundamental marketing investment for the business. But there is a relatively recent addition to this list: the sign is now a work of technology, designed by electrical engineers and made possible by the integrated circuit.

I am speaking, of course, about LED signs, electronic message centers, video boards, digital billboards, etc... This technology is the future of on-site advertising for a business, but how does a traditional sign company successfully integrate this product into their current offerings? The technology has been around long enough now that we are starting to see some common traits that make up a successful LED sign program.
Sell it, Don’t Forget It
It’s not enough to just sell an LED sign, you have to be able to support it. Not just “issues” with the sign, but software training, support, questions, installation and communication setup. These are things that are always going to need to be addressed. If you don’t have a good system for this, you will have unhappy customers unwilling to recommend you to others.

Materials that make up traditional signage tend to stick around for a while, but LED sign hardware does not. Just like the technology industry as a whole, LED signs are continuing to evolve at a relatively rapid pace. This is why choosing the right manufacturer is important. When you buy sheets of aluminum, you're going to usually get your standard aluminum, not aluminum version 6.5 with upgraded nanoparticles. However, with LED signs, you will get different hardware on a 2-5 year cycle depending on the manufacturer.

Whether or not this is a bad thing also depends on the manufacturer. Companies dealing in technology MUST innovate and change or they will be left behind. Companies that do this well, are able to support the previous technology within the warranty period and have the financial and organizational health to do so. Stocking parts, keeping solid internal documentation and skilled technicians make all the difference.

Skilled Workforce and Skilled Manufacturer
Supporting an LED sign program requires skilled team members, just like your fabrication shop requires skilled fabricators. It’s always a good idea to have someone on staff who has a “tech mind”. Someone who knows computers, familiar with networking, software, and current technology. This will make a significant difference in how much you can commit to your LED sign program. Nothing should stop you from selling as many signs as possible, knowing that you will be able to fully support the new technology and customers needs.

Your manufacture is key to this. Good manufacturers can provide their own tech staff and documentation to support your program. This includes working with your tech team, or with your customers directly on software trainings, communication setups and tech support issues. Your manufacturer should be a resource to you for both sales AND support, someone you can leverage to keep your program running lean and mean.

Providing What They Need
I’m sure there is a sales guy out there somewhere who could convince a school district to replace their buses with Ferraris, but not likely. LED signs are not a "bigger is better" product in all cases. These are custom built to size products that have a range of applications and needs. Find out what the customer needs, and be the trusted authority who is filling that need, not trying to take as much money as possible. What is the budget? How fast is the street frontage? Any stop lights? Any code restrictions on color, movement, etc…? These types of questions will help you get a good idea of what they need, and communicate to the customer that you really do care about their specific application. Be your customers “go to guy” on LED signs and develop that trust. It will pay off.

Realistic Installation and Setup
LED signs take a bit more setup than traditional signage. Take this into account when scheduling your installation and pricing your jobs. Traditional signage is completed after the sign is in the ground, and powered on. It either works, or doesn’t work. However, LED signs come with specific needs like communications and software (or cloudware). Setting this up will take a little bit of extra time for your crew. This is one of the main reasons I recommend a tech on staff to help your crew get all your LED projects 100% finished on the same trip.

This is especially important to remember if you are subcontracting an install crew. A common occurrence is for an installer to get the physical sign installed, and powered up, then leave the site only to return later (at more cost to you) to get the communications setup and established. Plan for this, and make sure your installers know that the job isn’t done, and they won’t get paid until the sign is communicating and the customer is sending messages to the sign.

Strong Internet Presence
Your website is also an important tool in your LED sign program. The number one place to research anything these days is Google or other search engines. The first thing these potential customers are going to see is your website, if you have one. Those without websites are easily overlooked and never called. A quality website is just like a quality street sign for your business, but interactive.

Your site doesn’t have to be complex, but should contain good information about who you are, what you offer, why they should buy from you, and examples of your work. Platforms like WordPress have made it easier for businesses to create good looking sites with a reasonable investment. This has fueled the the general idea that the quality of a company’s product is related to the quality of their website. It’s worth the investment.

Be a partner to your end users, and seek a partnership with your manufacturer. When you partner with your end user, you become a trusted part of their team able to provide expertise on all kinds of signage, including LED signs. There is always a need for this because LED signs are still new to many people, something they don’t purchase every day.

Additionally, you want to be a partner with your manufacturer, not just “another dealer” in the system. Manufacturers should provide you sales support , brochures, white papers, and staff time to help you close deals. Your business has specific needs and challenges depending on your local market and business model. Make sure your manufacturer supports this and can offer you the tools you need.

When you decide to sell LED signs, don’t be afraid to commit fully. Do your research and partner with good manufacturers. Invest in the support and sales staff needed to to hit the ground running and avoid cheap products. And lastly, always remember to think long term, long term, long term.


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.