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.