Brian Rhatigan, Almo Professional A/V
Digital signage has been one of the fastest growing market segments in the AV industry and it continues to grow year-over-year. While the applications are widely varied a natural fit for digital signage systems is in retail environments. With limited real estate and lots of competition, retailers are always looking for ways to get the attention of prospective buyers and provide relevant messaging. An area where retailers are looking to capture an audience is outside of their store or place of business and this is true in other venues as well such as bars & restaurants, theme parks, and transportation hubs. Display technology, and the use of flat panel displays for informational signs is not new, however, when looking at implementing this technology in an outdoor environment there is a whole new set of considerations that must be reviewed during the planning stages. Environmental conditions such as heat, cold, dust, sunlight, and moisture will have a big impact on both the performance and effectiveness of this equipment.
I am still trying to find a city that offers a consistent 70-degree dehumidified environment year round to live in– but that sounds more like wishful thinking. Outside temperature is definitely at the top of the list when planning for an outdoor display. A typical operating temperature range of a flat panel is between 32 degrees and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Being that high temperatures impede electronic operation and extreme hot and cold will reduce the life of electronic components, special care needs to be taken to overcome one of the biggest contributors to electronics failure.
Moisture, not only from rain, but also from condensation is an inherent challenge when deciding to use a display outdoors. It’s a pretty safe bet that any type of electronics will not continue to operate for very long when moisture is introduced. Besides the high risk of an electrical short, corrosion on the boards and components is inevitable. Add to this that rapid temperature changes can cause condensation on the glass surface drastically reducing the effectiveness of whatever messaging is on that screen.
Unlike temperature and humidity/moisture, there is rarely a value listed on a flat panel spec sheet that describes a display’s resilience to dust and debris. However, that does not mean that it is not a concern. Since heat is usually considered the number one enemy of any electronic component’s performance, every display will have some method of dissipating that heat generated during its normal operation. This is often accomplished with fans and vents. But this becomes a two way street, allowing for dirt and debris to come inside the display and land on the electronics.
There are only two ways to address outdoor issues– either using an outdoor rated display that would have a typical operating range of -40 degrees to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, or using a standard display with an environmental enclosure.
As enjoyable as a bright sunny day is, it can wreak havoc on an LCD display. There are two main concerns, the first of which is brightness. An average brightness rating for a commercial LCD screen is usually somewhere about 500 Nits, which is fine for indoor environments, however put that screen in sunlight and it will be very difficult to view. With the increased demands on display manufacturers for products to be placed outdoors, we are now seeing displays made for this purpose with brightness ratings of 2000 Nits and higher. The second major concern is that many LCD panels, when exposed to direct sunlight, can become unstable and the image can turn black. In most cases this is temporary, although at a minimum it will cause a disruption to the messaging on the screen. Thankfully, we are starting to see manufacturers produce products that are designed to be viewed in direct sunlight.
As you can see, there are several factors that need to be addressed when retailers are looking to expand their digital messaging beyond the inside of their store. Perhaps it’s a home/garden/nursery outdoor area of a hardware chain, or maybe a menu board in front of a restaurant, or possibly a display outside a jewelry store with messaging enticing people to come into the store. Regardless of the application, there are only two ways to address outdoor issues– either using an outdoor rated display that would have a typical operating range of -40 degrees to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, or using a standard display with an environmental enclosure.
A true outdoor rated display will take all of the features of a commercial display and “ruggedize” the chassis and enclosure to make the core panel impervious to heat variations as well as humidity and moisture variations. Often an anti-reflective coating will be used on the front glass and weather proofing will be provided for the full enclosure, and of course will include a warranty that will cover the product for use in outdoor environments. Environmental enclosures will address all of these factors but will come in a package separate from the display and are meant to house a traditional commercial display inside.
Currently, outdoor rated displays are available in sizes of up to about 55-inches diagonal, and environmental enclosures are available for slightly larger screens. As demand increases, production of outdoor digital signage will follow suit, as retailers continue looking for different ways to attract customers.
Brian Rhatigan is Business Development Manager for Almo Professional A/V. Rhatigan’s specialties include audio, content management, control systems, digital signage, signal distribution and touch/interactive. Prior to his position at Almo, Rhatigan served as Business Development Manager at Electrograph Systems where he handled regional sales in the pro audio, digital signage and video distribution markets. He’s also held sales and account management roles at Electrograph, Sigmet Corporation and Computer Associates. Rhatigan has a Bachelor of Arts degree from State University of New York. He is InfoComm CTS-certified and DSCE-certified.