Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Digital Signage Need To Know: What makes a good LED Sign?

-Deacon Wardlow
Technology is somewhat similar to a puzzle, you need all the right pieces in the right places to get things completed properly. The problem with Digital Signage (DS) technology is a lot of people are given a blank puzzle and it's REALLY difficult to get the full picture of what's going on.

A majority of people I speak with have a simple breakdown on their "wish list" for DS. Quality, price, and performance. A good DS system should look great, have few/no problems over the lifetime of its use, be easy to operate, and be cost effective. No objections there right? Are people looking deep enough to qualify a good system? I often hear people use cars as an analogy for the sign industry... "This is the luxury car of signage and what you want is more along the lines of a economy car..."

Using the car analogy, what do people want out of a car? Four wheels, an engine, steering wheel, and brakes. Using that line of thought, a golf cart would be fine for use right? That is until you get out on the road... The problem with LED Signs (and DS in general) is people don't really understand everything that goes into a "good" or "great" system. You could have a sign that looks decent from the outside, the company has a long standing reputation and name in the business so they must be building a great system right? Surprises ensue when you crack open the system and take a really close look at what's inside driving and running that system. The luxury car you thought you were getting is a bit of a lemon and it's all because you didn't have the right questions to be sure you were getting the best for your investment (or your client's investment).

To rectify this, we're giving you three quick questions (with links to previous articles) to dig deeper and make sure you're getting what you expect...

1. How many types of LED Sign do you manufacture and are they all the same? Check Scott's article on Design & Engineering - Followup question, if they aren't the same, what's the difference?
*Not all LED Signs are the same. Some manufacturers cut corners on the build and design, sometimes different (often cheaper) power supplies or other components are used; some "features" which are touted aren't always built-in to the system you're getting, they're only available on the "higher-end" models.

2. If a manufacturer offers different models, what components are different?
In an article I wrote earlier (Sign System Components), I pointed out to be wary of a bait-and-switch. If a company offers different models (and some models are cheaper than others) you can be VERY sure the cheaper models have cheaper components or designs. Find out what is different and why the pricing varies.

3. Is the controller an IPC (industrial computer with a hard drive of 50+ gigabytes running a Microsoft/Linux Embedded operating system) or an Embedded Control Card (simple ARM-based control system running off of a 1-2 gigabyte flash card)?
You should know what's under the hood because the controller will determine how well your system performs over all and if it's capable of being upgraded down the line should some new technology become available. You should make sure your system is "future-proofed" as much as possible or it's going to become old technology faster than you can install it. This is similar (performance wise) with the differences between a golf cart and a muscle car...

If you've been following our blog the last year and a half, you'll know there's A LOT more to all this than three simple questions; if a manufacturer is direct with you, these questions will be serious eye openers. Don't be blinded by "geek speak" and "tech talk." Get a straight answer and ask for transparency. You might not like what you see under the hood, but you'll be more aware of what you're working with and be able to spot the difference between a good partner and a bad vendor.

*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.

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