Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Digital Signage Need To Know: LED Display Evolution

There is little doubt that the modern outdoor LED display is a cost-effective advertising machine. 

With a very low cost-per-exposure for your advertising message, and 24/7/365 functioning there’s no worry about this employee updating their Facebook page instead of doing the job assigned. 

Not only cost-effective, it is also willing to do what you tell it, when you tell it, and for as long as you’d like. If you want a new slide to advertise your Easter Egg hunt at the church, type your slide description request in and soon the glitzy piece of artwork has automatically been produced by a professional designer and downloaded into the LED display's ad rotation. Not every LED display can do this function, so do your homework and determine what your business needs and where to find these professionally produced slides.

LED displays are becoming smarter and the mystery of the control software is dissolving as leading manufacturers build user-friendly platforms and interfaces. Perhaps someday, you may even go to your local Sam’s or Costco and buy a “plug and play” LED display not unlike a 60” Samsung TV. There are market forces commoditizing everything!

Ah yes, we live in a marvelous age of advanced technology being focused on outdoor signs. But it hasn’t always been that way. How and from where did today’s signs come to be?

There may have been some industrious cave dwellers scratching images into cave walls, to document and tell stories but these efforts are not generally considered to be the first signs. Most historians date the beginning of signs well past Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble into the Greek and Roman era.

Stone and terra-cotta symbols and drawings were used since most of the world was illiterate. Perhaps these early sign builders were visionary as LED displays today seem to “say it” more in pictures than in words. Pictures capture the imagination and communicate ideas as well, if not better than, text- words. A symbol for a tavern, for example, communicated the idea to all.

Here is an example of what appears to be a tile sign, early Roman- a warning that the owner of the home had guard dogs. It is simple and effective.

Religious groups used the symbol of the cross, and tradesmen used their sign symbols to advertise their specialty.

As time marched on the use of symbol signs became law. In the late 1300’s a law was passed that any tavern selling ale “must” have a symbol sign. Meanwhile those “trade signs” became more ornate and unique and featured logos of dragons and lions as business identities were established.

With the onset of the 19th century (1800s) the world’s advancing technology began to shape the sign industry. The invention of the printing press established the course centuries earlier but the advent of the industrial printing press, the innovations that expanded the print area and drove the printed output to thousands of pages per hour. This was a step towards the modern sign industry of today.

The excitement of the modern sign industry did not begin until the widespread use of electricity became common place. The incandescent bulb was the backbone of the new trendy signs and designers made the best use of them.

Neon signs followed the incandescent bulb era (1910- Paris Motor Show) and glass blowers and artists began to produce not only messages but works of art. But a neon sign is unchangeable and permanent. 

In the mid to late 40s, technology again changed the sign industry with the introduction of plastics which included the changeable letter signs. Flexibility and messaging was improving.

In 1962 Nick Holonvack, Jr. of GE, developed the first red LED lamp that produced light in the visible spectrum and the race towards todays LED sign industry began.

The LED displays we see today evolved from simpler designs of the 1990s.The early LED sign industry began to gain prominence and traction in large-scale sporting venues and other commercial applications. Las Vegas and Times Square became the glowing beacons for what technology could develop.

Today, as software evolves, animation, live video and other “mind-blowing” graphics have transformed both the digital billboard industry and the on-premises signs (smaller than the billboards and owned by the resident business).

The sign industry of today produces about $50 billion dollars a year in sales. Digital signs have driven much of the excitement and the sales within the sign industry and it’s only expected to get better. 

One could say… our future's so bright… we gotta wear shades! I'm sorry, I couldn't resist!

These comments are my personal perspective and do not reflect the opinion of Vantage LED, Inc. or SignVine, Inc. or any other person or organization. If you have constructive feedback please email me at                                                
                                                    -- Mike Prongue

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