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.

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