Wednesday, July 22, 2015

My LED Sign won't work - HELP!

-Deacon Wardlow
So you purchased an LED Sign from XYZ "manufacturer" online. Maybe they had a salesperson in the area who sold you on the system - maybe they were the lowest price or seemed to have a great system. Whatever the reason, you sold it and now (when there's a problem) that company is gone like the wind... What do you do?

We're all too familiar with this scenario. I got into the LED sign side of Digital Signage because people kept asking for my help with systems (both domestic and off-shore/Chinese displays) and I quickly learned there's not a lot of support out there. International trade and a lack of standardization in the LED Sign industry have left a HUGE GAPING HOLE allowing for easy entry to market. Anyone with 5 minutes and access to a web search engine can find off-shore companies willing to (cheaply) white-label product shipped to the USA and suddenly there's a new LED Sign company in the market.

If you're looking at this article, chances are you've taken that leap and landed in a hole. If you haven't yet purchased from a company selling (or reselling) off-shore product... take these words seriously - Check our articles on buying offshore vs. Domestic. I'm biased and would rather you bought from one of our LED Sign manufacturing partners, but really anyone domestic is likely going to be better than buying product sourced from a manufacturer outside of the USA. I know there are many of you who are out of the USA/North America and yes we do cost more than the Asian options... but you really get what you're paying for with technology in this industry. Word to the wise - CHECK - RE-CHECK - and Triple-Check your potential source for LED Sign Systems... Now, let's help you out.

First - checkout the previous blogs on troubleshooting and support I and Scott have put out there:

More often than not, issues are fairly simple and can be quickly resolved without too much outside assistance. Back in the day, I needed to lean on translating A LOT of Chinese documentation and finding sources for parts - this isn't as big an issue these days. The increased amount of people buying direct from China/Korea/Taiwan (and companies buying from "manufacturers" who resell Chinese/other product) has spawned a backstage support industry as many of the reseller companies quickly disappear after a few years of opening their doors, leaving both end-users and sign companies to fend for themselves for any support and/or repairs required.

If you're stuck with a "black box" (dead LED Screen) - try some of these tips and hopefully it'll help you out.

1. Have the client clear their existing schedule - create a new message (has to be new content - just a simple 'TEST" text message) and send it to the display. If it shows, it may be the content just timed out or there's some bad content in the system. 
2. If the display is working (showing TEST) then have the client redo their content as a message may have become corrupted or have a messed up asset (image/video/etc.).

Check the cable connecting the sign and/or computer to the network (or eachother if directly connected). It's possible a cable is damaged/misconnected - a radio isn't receiving power, or something got damaged causing the display to no longer communicate.

Power Issue
1. Sounds silly - but simple steps are often best to try first - turn off the power to the system, count to 30 and turn it on again. Sometimes there's a fault in the controller or the boards, or power and rebooting the system may (temporarily) clear the error.
2. Check the source power - is the system receiving a steady 120V (or 240V - whatever source power is)? If the voltage in is less than 110 - there may be a feed problem. This would have been noticed earlier with the sign "flickering" or going out at peak usage times (morning/afternoon/evening).
3. Check the power supply (PS) - most power supplies have an LED indicator which should be on. If the indicator is off or not visible, a quick check with a multimeter should show the PS is operational and what it's outputting for power.
4. Check the leads/connections on the power supplies to the controller and the main control boards in the system. Make sure the connections are clean (not rusted/oxidized) and if there's a connecting plug - unplug and re-plug it is to make sure the connections are secure.

Controller Problem
1. Check the control system. Start with the controller (it's either a small black box (PC) or a small black box (control card with power supply using an embedded control system). Disconnect power and reconnect. Check to see if the display "blinks" when reconnected and shows anything. If it (at least) blinks... that's a good sign.
2. Check the connections from the controller to the DVI/Video card (this will be a card connected to the controller with a video cable (likely DVI/VGA computer cable). It should have some small LED indicators - if so, is there a constant lit one and a blinking one? This means there's power and signal. If there's no indicator - move to the next card.
3. Check the next card (logic board aka distribution board aka hub card) - this should have a power LED (constantly lit) and a signal LED (blinking). If you have power, but no blinking - there's no signal and there's a problem with either the controller or the video card. If you have power and blinking (signal) - check the connections to the LED modules and check power to the LED modules. If there's no power or blinking - go back to the PS (Power Supply) and check it.

Note all posts - thoughts - writings- etc. 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. Direct emails can be sent to for queries and/or assistance.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The myth of the Instant Success

-Deacon Wardlow
I was recently having coffee with some entrepreneurs in Boulder, CO and the topic of "gazelle companies" came up. These are companies who increase their revenue by about 20% every year (doubling in sales/scope every 4-5 years).

There's a myth of "instant success" out there. People hear about an app company being bought for a billion dollars, companies which are competing in the same industry as you "magically" grow their sales to three or four times your level and yet they have the same (or smaller) sized business. What's the "secret sauce" or magic mix involved? The answer is simple: hard work, persistence, creativity, and determination.

The companies I work with who are the most successful are also the most active. They play the numbers game. These companies fill their sales funnel to overflowing acknowledging they may only close on 10 opportunities out of 100 - they opt to quote 1,000+ opportunities. When they can't quote as much, they look at what they're quoting and remove the obstacles for the client to buy their product or service - they take a hard look at why they lose opportunities and fill the holes so the next one wins.

The successful companies are out there, in front of customers as much as they can be. If they're local - they hit the local market so hard every client in a 50 mile radius knows their name, their product/service, and who to call. If they're national you'll note they're heavily marketing online, active in social media, and hitting every tradeshow and event they can to get in front of national clients.

An "overnight" success is rarely anything but. If you feel your business is in a slump and you're confident you could be better - push back to the companies you work with. Don't let vendors just provide product - they should be actively helping you with marketing, sales resources/tools, digital assets for your websites, and partner with you on tradeshows. If your vendor doesn't step up as a partner, take a look around and find someone who will help you grow. Their success is (ultimately) tied to yours. Don't settle for a vendor when you can have a partner.

In business - the market doesn't reward laziness nor will clients come beating down your doors if they don't know where you are. The harder you push and strive, the more you'll see those efforts rewarded. Perhaps you won't win every deal - but the more you're out there - the more deals will ultimately come your way and you to can be an "overnight success" that leaves the competition scratching their heads at how they can stay in business against you.

Note all posts - thoughts - writings- etc. 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. Direct emails can be sent to for queries and/or assistance.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Old Technology vs. New: Does "innovation" really matter?

-Deacon Wardlow
I work with a lot of innovative companies. These companies are on the leading edge of hardware, software, and cloudware. Many people I work with (on the reseller/buyer end) contact me and ask if they should stick with the known company they've been working with for several years or take a "risk" on something new.

I have a Commodore 64 with the cassette tape drive, the 3.5" floppy disk reader, and I even have the original programs (some games and a simple word processor) I programmed back in the day. The C64 boots up with that beautiful blue screen and start prompt to this day and (somewhat surprisingly) the floppy disks and cassettes still work even though they're about 30+ years old now. Reliable and low fail rate doesn't always mean the technology meets your current needs. That C64 is excellent, but I rarely use it as anything other than a distraction.

Reliable, trusted, tried-and-true are good, but not necessarily reasons to stay with a company or manufacturer. Innovation matters, if you don't believe me - check with Apple, Samsung, Google, and others who are primarily innovation driven. In the LED Sign world (aka Direct LED Displays, Electronic Message Center, etc.) many manufacturers still run the same software they had outsourced or released six or seven years ago. Think about the smartphones people had seven years ago and what's available now, vast differences... While some technology is slow to change, you'd think there'd be some changes to the display hardware and software which improve both the end-user experience and the display quality and options.

When taking a look at options for LED outdoor signage - please take a moment to ask a few simple questions to see if you're getting something which is both current and future-forward:

1. What changes have occurred in the last 3 years which made the product better?
2. How often is the software/cloudware updated and when are new features added?
3. What is the company doing to deliver a product which meets current need while being able to be upgraded/adapted 3 - 5 - and more years down the road?
4. How are you more innovative than your competition?

If the company hasn't changed and/or upgraded its hardware and/or software options in the last 3 years (or worse, longer...), think long and hard before considering them as an option. If the company doesn't upgrade the software/cloudware at least twice a year, how does that reflect upon their reaction to client/end-user requests for new features/options? If you can't easily and readily upgrade the software or hardware to meet a future need (i.e. change the face to a tighter pitch without changing the whole sign, or upgrade the controller software to some other company's control solution) - be wary as you may be buying into a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) and that purchase most assuredly will equate to buyer's remorse down the road when the end-user wants to get more out of their system. Especially considering the lifespan of an Outdoor LED Sign Display can be 10 years or more.

There is risk going to any new company (and even sticking with the "old" option). So take time to pick the sales rep's brain on what warranties are in place. What are their guarantees and how does the company ensure the end-user (and sign company/reseller) can get parts and service even in the worst case scenario of that manufacturer being out of business or unavailable. Make sure you're not just getting a solution for "now" but looking down the road and getting the best solution overall for the end-user and yourself!

Note all posts - thoughts - writings- etc. 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. Direct emails can be sent to for queries and/or assistance.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Are Brightness guarantees a bright idea?

-Deacon Wardlow

Companies do a lot to standout in the marketplace. Some focus on USP (Unique Selling Points), others have an established name/brand, while other businesses focus on innovation in the marketplace and/or performance and strong support. Lately, instead of innovating, many companies are claiming they have a great solution already in place and innovation isn’t necessary, i.e.  “don’t fix what isn’t broken.” They’re redirecting the buyer's’ attention by claiming performance “guarantees.”

First, a guarantee and a promise are two different things. If I promise someone I’ll help with a move - I may or may not back that up when they need me. If I guarantee I’ll help with the move - maybe I’ve put something in place (like a bond, surety, or a third-party) where if I’m unavailable someone will step in and take my place (because they’ve been paid to do that). Guarantee vs. a promise, pretty simple stuff.

Lately there has been a 10 year brightness guarantee thrown about. The “brightness” guarantee is interesting. LED Sign manufacturers are still leaning on the tried/true 5 year parts warranty when others are adding (standard) a promise and/or guaranteed 5 year on-site service program. Rather than step up and put a better warranty in place, they’re claiming 10 year brightness “guarantees” (really a promise). If a display is installed, the end-user can go back 10 years later and the display will be just as bright as when it was first installed. If not (and they can’t fix it to be as bright) they’ll pay a cash refund.

They’re throttling brightness and claiming uniformity:

The display starts at 7,500 Nits (a respectable, if somewhat low, brightness level). The LEDs are likely capable of about 11,000 Nits. The system is set to increase brightness overtime. Most LEDs depreciate their light output at a set level overtime and the system can be calibrated to increase the light output on the LEDs to maintain 7,500 Nits over 10 years.

The Good: It’s great to have the LEDs maintain a level of brightness over time and this allows a certain uniform expectation regarding image quality

The Bad: Aside from slowly increasing power (operation) cost, you don’t have to wait 10 years to see performance. If the guarantee were true, a client should (in year 2 or 3) be able to swap LED panels from any section and have all the parts look the same. This isn’t likely to happen (get ready for a refund).

Picture a car in long term storage sitting in a garage with a window near the car. Over time, the part of the car exposed to light will experience fading on the paint. The paint in the shade will degrade, but much slower than the part in the light. When that car is pulled outside, the lit part will look very different from the shaded part. Signage experiences a similar issue where certain components receive more direct sunlight than others depending on where a panel is located. The fading will cause uniformity issues and the guarantee won’t hold over time.

We’ll be there for you (really?):

This comes back to a promise vs. a guarantee. With a promise, the end-user is relying on the company to be in business for the lifetime of the display (and for them to honor the promise they put out when the display was sold).

The Good: If a company is true to its word, it’ll likely follow-through on its promise and support the end-user otherwise they risk losing a brand/image they’ve worked hard to earn.

The Bad: New ownership could come in or the company could go out of business. No business is “failproof.” Companies come and go. If a company made a promise and they’re sold to someone else, the new ownership doesn’t have to fulfill the promise someone else made. If the company goes out of business, what good is that promise when there’s nobody in place to follow-through. Promise vs. a guarantee…

It’s easy to make promises, especially a promise which won’t be called on for 10 years. It’s harder to really stand behind a product line and fully support that product with guarantees and sureties in place to ensure the client is taken care of at the end of the day rather than the manufacturer. Let’s look at the fine print. Where are the terms and conditions? Is the guarantee backed by a 3rd party? How about putting aside money in escrow? If there’s no money, there’s no guarantee.

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- etc. 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. Direct emails can be sent to for queries and/or assistance.