The Display Wars are Over… Sort Of

Remember back in early 2010 when we compared Plasma screens and LCD display technology? Well, that post covered a lot of ground, and the decision-tree is still a valid and great tool. But now we have a third horse in the race, and it looks like a triple-crown winner… if price is no object. LED-lit LCD screens are almost perfect.

The difference between plasma and LCD wavered for some time, with each offering different economic and visual benefits depending on the model, price, and time in the life cycle of HDTVs. But in the past couple of years, with the advent of increasingly sophisticated LED backlighting, we finally have a true winner. With its unmatched energy efficiency, LED-based LCD is the best flat-panel HDTV technology. Unfortunately, it’s also generally the most expensive. — CNET Technologies, June 2011

Okay all you traditional (digital print, routing, illuminated channel letter) sign professionals, here’s something you are familiar with: Cold Cathode and LED. Yup. It’s here, too, in dynamic digital signage. Traditional LCD HDTVs use cold cathode fluorescent lights (CCFLs) to illuminate the screen. CCFLs are similar to the fluorescent lights you might see in your lamps and overhead light fixtures. They use a charged gas to produce light. LED-LCD screens, like their name implies, use light emitting diodes (LEDs) to illuminate the display.

LED LCD BrightSo what are the advantages when it comes to digital signs? Well, as you might have guessed, LED-LCD is thinner, brighter, and the contrast ratios are out of this world.

For this advantage, LED HDTVs command a premium; for all major HDTV manufacturers, LED-backlit HDTVs can cost a few hundred dollars more than CCFL-backlit HDTVs of the same size. Generally, plasma HDTVs tend to be the least expensive, priced at equal to or slightly less than CCFL-backlit HDTVs. However, that savings means the screen will be thicker and much more power-hungry, even if it does offer as good a picture as an LED-backlit HDTV.

How good the picture looks, especially if you’re a videophile or a cinema fanatic, is the most vital aspect of any HDTV. Specifically, peak white and black levels determine how detailed a picture can look on a screen. Historically, plasma HDTVs have produced the best black levels, but the domination of plasma in this field, however, is over. The current PC Magazine Editors’ Choice HDTV, the LED-based LG Infinia 47LW5600, puts out only 0.01 cd/m2, the best level we can measure.  Of course it’s an LG – one of LobbyPOP’s favorite brands!

So, you if you recall that decision tree of our LCD-Plasma comparison post, then consider this your update. If energy consumption is important, you will be looking at LCD, of one kind or another. If price is most important, you will be looking at plasma for the larger sizes. If quality, however, is your mantra, and price is no object, then the new LED-LCD screens will be your pick. But always, always, always choose a commercial screen and NOT a consumer model for your sign systems.

It bears more than a mention here: Commercial screens have what it takes to get the job done, vs consumer screens that pale in comparison.

The main differences are:

  • Commercial units have MORE modes of Video/Picture selection.
  • Commercial units have “Adaptive Picture Mode” and consumer units does not.
  • Commercial units allow for PC inputs, which few consumer models offer.
  • Commercial units have more Decorder formats.
  • Commercial unit has actual HDMI in with HDCP. Most consumer units have HDMI  In, as DVI with Adapter.   This is a pretty big difference.
  • Often, commercial units have separate antenna in and separate cable in (more versatility).  The consumer units usually have a single antenna/cable input.
  • Commercial units come with a two- or three-year warranty on-site. If you use a consumer model for a commercial sign application, you void the warranty.
  • Commercial models have heat management systems to accommodate continuous operation. Consumer models are not built for 24-hour operation.

Well, you get the picture! (Pun intended 😉 )

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Our Predictions All Came True…

Back in 2007, one of our blog posts predicted that the “traditional” sign industry trade associations would be looking at dynamic digital signage as the new frontier. That, we can now boast, is a prediction fulfilled. See our July post of 2007 for the exact prediction for the International Sign Association’s involvement to come. That day has come!

Digital sign pioneer and explorer, Lyle Bunn, Strategy Architect, published this in Digital Screenmedia Association news:

Enter the massive base of static sign and digital graphics providers. It is telling that both the Screen Graphics Industry Association (SGIA) and International Sign Association (ISA) have dramatically increased their focus on digital signage in their respective October and April Las Vegas conferences.

How about another prediction – one so important we built our entire LobbyPOP premise upon it. We began our foray into electronic digital signage in 2006 after extensive research, specifically choosing an “Edutainment” format for our own specialized content. LobbyPOP content is very recognizable, and always provides engaging graphics, quality video, voiceover and music to present interesting and important facts about a particular industry’s products and services. We dubbed this “edutainment” as a reflection of the education and entertainment value encompassed in quality content. Now, without blowing our own horn too much, this year in March, Digital Signage Today featured an article which touted a “new” concept, “Infomercials coming to digital out of home.” Wow- the sound of thunderous applause here at LobbyPOP headquarters! 

In a move that in hindsight seems incredibly obvious, advertising technology firm rVue has partnered with a direct response TV firm to bring direct response ads to the digital signage networks using rVue’s Demand Side Platform.

 Yes, it seems incredibly obvious to us!

“It is a very exciting time, and we’re really working hard on bringing forward some what-we-believe-to-be-very-important initiatives and solutions for our space,” rVue founder and CEO Jason Kates said in a recent phone interview.

As anyone who follows our blog knows, we squirm when the words “important” “initiatives” “solutions” and “our space” are all in the same sentence.

“We must be one of the last media in the world who haven’t had this developed as a full-blown opportunity for us,” Kates said.Social Media, Google, Online Content Convergence

Perhaps. Perhaps not… Can it be the new frontier has been soundly mapped already? Hardly! We have much to learn and review when it comes to touchscreens, social media on display, and content delivery technologies. We are eagerly watching developers create the new, converging technologies that will empower screens like never before. We are beta testing some exciting new content delivery vehicles as well! You may therefore be looking for our next big prediction, considering our track record 🙂 Well, we never want to disappoint, so here goes:

We see Google, Social Media, and Microsoft all becoming critical to the digital media platform. What we see also is the confusion this creates in the marketplace, as clients and media providers try to sort out what is relevant and important. Of course, we have some thoughts on these subjects. You’ll have to read our next posts to learn more…  Remember our motto: A Step Ahead… is a Great Place to Lead!

Part 4: CLEVR Readability for Dynamic Digital Signs

If you are following this series, you know we are talking about the science behind good sign design, and how this applies to digital sign content as well. In our first post, we reviewed content considerations as  a whole. This brought us to Part 1, CLEVR acronym for Conspicuity, Legibility, Visibility and Readability. We reviewed Conspicuity and what it means in the application called Dynamic Signage. Part 2 discussed Legibility, and how this relates to dynamic content for digital sign systems. Visibility and a great tip for improved dynamic signage was presented in Part 3. If you haven’t read up on the premise, do so with the links above.

And now, to complete the series, Readability is our subject today!

A readable display allows people to quickly and accurately recognize and understand information, in particular, alphanumeric characters. The message should be clear and unambiguous. In traditional sign design, a few words to convey important information is all that is required. The same can be applied to dynamic signage. Again, these displays are not television. It is not a seated audience, for the most part, watching the screen with no other distractions. In an ideal world, there would be nothing but the screen. In reality, there is likely to be other signage, noise, people milling around, and multiple distractions. The dynamic display message, therefore, should be built much like static signage.

This means the concept of readability takes on great importance. If you have only a few minutes to engage your viewer, you should make certain your message is readable – that the message is conveyed quickly and clearly. While we love our HD content, LobbyPOP always includes on-screen text and clear voice-over in bite-sized chunks to assure no part of the message is obscured or lost. Text is often white with a pin-line outline, to assure it shows clearly on any motion background.

Dynamic Signage displays are alphanumeric displays, using letters and numbers, along with graphic images and sound, to convey messages. The contrast ratio for the characters is an important element in readabiliy and legibility.

ReadabilityIn their book, Human Factors in Simple and Complex Systems, Robert W. Proctor, Trisha Van Zandt explain that under optimal conditions, for black text on a white background, the font stock width-to-height ratio is ideally 1:6 to 1:8. For white characters on a black field, the optimal ratio is 1:8 to 1:10. Thinner lines for white on black images are required because of a phenomenon called radiation or sparkle. This is where the light color “bleeds” together due to the contrast -the eye’s reaction.

Keeping the core message concise, and the entire message in a ten to fifteen second clip, is a good rule of thumb. This does not mean that a 30-second spot is not desirable. On the contrary, the core message can be emphasized and repeated in ways that assure readability and recognition. This is the heart of all advertising: Repetition. So whereas traditional static signs can be read several times over in the space of a few seconds, thereby assuring a point is communicated, a dynamic sign can enhance this and “force” repetition upon the viewer by repeating the same points in slightly different ways, with supporting information in concert, much like bullet points in a presentation. 

How many words? How much information per minute? We have validated that seven words or less for the core messaging, and up to eight supporting messages within a 60-second spot can be read and comprehended.  So go forth and multiply your advertising!

Next post: The Power of Imagery – why this is in the wheelhouse of dynamic digital signage!

Part 2: CLEVR Legibility for Digital Design

If you are following this series, you know we are talking about the science behind good sign design, and how this applies to digital sign content as well. In our first post, we reviewed content considerations as  a whole. This brought us to Part 1, CLEVR acronym for Conspicuity, Legibility, Visibility and Readability. We reviewed Conspicuity and what it means in the application called Dynamic Signage. If you haven’t read up on the premise, do so with the link above.

TextbookToday, we focus on Legibility. As we learned, CLEVR is evaluated according to the application.  Within a textbook, for example, conspicuous text is not the aim. Legible and readable content is of great importance.

A document from the International Sign Association (ISA) regarding sign legibility gives us a clear definition, “Legibility: The physical attributes of a sign that allow for differentiation of its letters, words, numbers, or graphics and that directly relate to an observer’s visual acuity. Legibility is considered an objective stimulus.”

What does this mean for dynamic sign content?

The “physical” attributes would in this case be the contrast between message text and background, the clarity of the image, glare or reflectivity of the display screen, size of the text and graphics, and the motion effects that may be in play.

Typographic elements are the focus here, no pun intended. Font style, size, color, spacing, and whether the font is ornate, upper case, lower case — these are all factors that create degrees of legibility. Obviously, light yellow letters on a white background will not be particularly legible. If, however, you add a black pin-line around each, you can increase legibility. Now, factor in motion – if you have created an electronic message with letter characters that bounce on the screen, you have decreased legibility. The same goes for very small fonts, which are commonly used in the “fine print” for car commercial interest rates and lease information.

Signhugger.com Blog Series

Signhugger.com Blog SeriesA case can be made for some legibility loss, however!

We, as sign designers, are sometimes drawn to a zesty or ornate font, in order to convey a particular spirit or feeling in our messaging. Some typefaces are just designed to stand out from the crowd. To the degree that a typeface has personality, spirit, or distinction, however, it almost always suffers proportionally on the legibility scale.  We have found over the past three years that when designing dynamic content, less is more. The most legible typefaces are “transparent” to the reader–that is, they don’t call undue attention to themselves.

Look for fonts that not excessively light or bold, weight changes within character strokes are subtle, and serifs, if the face has them, do not call attention to themselves. Use zesty or elegant cursive styles in moderation, and keep their movement to a minimum.

Next post, we look at the quality of Visibility. Yes, another factor in good dynamic sign design!

Content Design is… Sign Design

When Booz Allen Hamilton asked marketers which organizations would become more important to them by 2010, media companies, media planners and communications planners topped the list, with 52% believing they would be more integral. Ad agencies of record? Only 27% thought they would be more integral. At the same time, 53% of media sellers say they expect to do more business directly with marketers.

We hold firmly to the belief that the strongest visual communications companies in North America are perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between creative, engaging content, and millions of small and medium businesses. Already deeply immersed in visual communications, the digital sign company professional must make absolutely certain they bring to the table their deep expertise, and not undervalue it. Electronic digital signage has much the same mission of digital print signage: To convey a message in a readable, conspicuous and legible manner in order to elicit a positive action on the part of the viewer.

Digital SignageWhat many creatives and ad agency executives forget is that electronic digital signage is SIGNAGE, not television. It is a hybrid product, including elements of the best commercial spots we see today, but clearly featuring the fundamental message for which it is established.

Just what elements of science are found in sign design that are not found on the list of considerations for ad agencies and media houses? There are three, and every sign professional knows them:

  1. Legibility
  2. Conspicuity
  3. Readability

In our next post, we’ll talk about the scientific principles and human factors research that give us these “rules” for sign design!

All In One, vs. Delivery Systems – Where They Fit

We classify digital content delivery systems into four types:

  1. All In One Systems: a media player is connected to a screen, and content is updated via USB or flash drive or other method. The software is local, in other words, not web-based, and the playlist formatting and management software is loaded onto the media player. This type of system is appropriate where content does not need to be changed often; where internet or wired connectivity poses a challenge; or where budgets are limited.
  2. Wireless or Wired Content Delivery Network:  This type of system employs a “controlling” computer where a more advanced IT professional can arrange place-paced content schedules, and then deploy across the internet or within a local network to update players and screens. Advanced systems allow content to be pushed to screens automatically, report back on screen problems, and allow for unlimited variations of content: by geography, time of day, store zone. The cost of these systems can be higher, but the ease of use is often better than option 3.
  3. Cloud-based Content Systems: Here, a content management system is cloud-based, meaning web-based, on a remote server. The cost can fall between options 1 and 3, with greater scheduling options and deployment ease than option #1. Here, however, you must rely upon the software, server and configuration of the management tools to set up your files, crop, time and place them. In most cases, the time to upload quality HD files and then view them on the cloud-based application makes this a cumbersome model. On the plus side, you can give access to multiple users – if you trust them – to create content for particular events or regions.

LobbyPOP has preferred products for all three types of content management scenarios. We can advise you and end-users in the best application for current and future needs. Next post will talk about this consultative process!