Evolving Video Wall Dynamics

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(Image: © jonathan brawn)

It’s going to sound like a bad joke—but when it comes to displays, bigger is better. Setting aside a few questionable comments that might engender, it happens to actually be true. As an industry, we have been seeing an increase in average screen size, along with the growth of screen sales into a variety of different applications, most notably digital signage. This trend is only magnified when we talk about video walls, which has become a real hotbed of advancement in technology and dramatic increase in uptake. Looking at the current state of video walls, we see a marked improvement in our options in the last 12 months—and a number of specific advances as we move into the last quarter of 2018.  

First, let’s review where LCD video walls sit. They are still the dominant force in multi-display matrixes and will remain so until a certain price-per-square-foot tipping point is hit. We have seen a few updates to this venerable technology; the major manufacturers keep slimming down bezel sizes to minimize those distracting mullions. Samsung has reigned for a while with their 1.7MM UHF-E series of video wall LCDs. LG had been hot on their heels with the 1.8MM VH7B series (both measured bezel-to-bezel, of course!). 

However, there are some challengers today. LG showed a prototype of a 1.2MM BtB video wall display system at InfoComm this year that was indeed impressive. There are physical limits to how narrow the bezels can be due to edge electronics, and this shows some nice improvements in this area. LG has also been pushing its OLED video wall panels (although not at the 1.2MM BtB size). These deliver the kind of image quality standard LCDs cannot approach—it would be interesting to see other manufacturers attack this with quantum dots! The OLED tiles are also able to be curved—both concave and convex—a trick much harder with LCD, although we have seen tech demos showing that it is possible. As the adoption of OLED increases, prices will continue to decline and manufacturing improve. I won’t use buzzwords like “game changing”, but they are definitely serious contenders. 

Barco has also been striding ahead with the UniSee platform, which is so much more than a “simple” display. Their approach, as you see often from them, is to develop a complete and very advanced platform, and UniSee is no different. It combines mount-ing, processing, and a “bezel-less” design (reminiscent of the older bezel-less plasma display designs, remember those?) with essentially just a small gap between the displays. Watching this system in action is impressive as well; the mounting, displays, and processing all work together seamlessly. 

Moving away from the traditional video walls, we have the wave of even hotter, new technology in direct view LED displays. Hold on, before anyone yells at me, I know that dvLED is not new, it has been around for decades, and has seen wide adoption in sports arenas and even billboards. Of course, I have to recognize that, but they have really changed immensely in the last 12 months. There were more than 50 vendors at InfoComm showing dvLED, and an equally impressive number at DSE this year, as well. This shows a true movement in the industry, especially within digital signage. Most manufacturers now offer narrow (or fine) pixel pitch indoor dvLED products, suitable for much closer viewing distances than ever before. This allows for a much broader use of them—projector replacement, LCD video wall replacement, and of course, digital signage are all natural fits. DVLED can be brighter, completely seamless, and is quite flexible in how it is installed (smaller cabinet sizes than a lot of LCDs, after all). We have even seen the big three of flat panels—Samsung, LG, and NEC, all enter the market with dvLED display solutions. That has got to tell you something: when the really big boys get into it, there must be a reason! Yes, they are still expensive, especially for the really fine pitch product, but the market demand is real and will only continue. 

This all begs the question: Why? What is driving all these manufacturers to build better and better video wall displays? Why is bigger better? This trend is driven by simple human nature—we get jaded. As displays become more and more a part of our everyday lives (and they certainly have), we start to tune them out. Especially the displays that are trying to advertise to us; digital signage can fade into the background if we are exposed to it frequently. Also, wide adoption of this technology will create parity across its users, which also kills the desperately sought differentiation that leads to large scale deployments of displays. Large video walls, especially bright and colorful ones, demand attention. Unusual shapes and integration into a space grab your eye and refuse to let go. It’s truly a race to keep the customer connected to our messaging. And with the advances we are seeing into the next generation of video walls we get to enjoy, the future really is bright.