With the dozens of announcements of new display models, based on a number of different technologies, over the last year, matching a solution to customer needs has become a lot more complex. In this piece, we look at the comparative costs and benefits of choosing each of the available large format flatscreen display technologies.
In today’s European AV market, the large format display is fast moving to a dominant position in the key growth niches of digital signage, education and collaboration. Flatscreen TVs won the battle with projectors in the residential market years ago. But the flatscreen market will soon no longer be a homogeneous space, based on a limited range of technologies.
“With single-panel display solutions increasing in size, the price-gap between LFDs and video walls is beginning to close, although it is still a way off being completely comparable. Large single panels are still typically more expensive to purchase but are more straight forward to install,” said Chris Ault, key account manager at LG.
“An attractive alternative to traditional tiled video walls is LG’s new 98” Ultra HD (UHD) display which is almost equivalent to a 2×2 47” video wall configuration. We believe though that the decision between the two is less about cost and more about the application. In corporate environments like videoconferencing the seams are not suitable and LFD would be the choice, while reception areas and digital signage can make more of video wall solutions and the flexibility they offer.”
Video wall progress
But, Ault concedes that video wall technology isn’t standing still. Bezel widths, in particular, are reducing: “Bezels are still a key factor for display markets but they are continually reducing in size. At LG, we’re down to a narrow 4.9mm bezel on our 47” video wall panel and just 3.5 mm on our 55” panel, which is an accessible solution for the price point market.”
“Bezels exist for structural integrity and although products without bezels are available, they do come at a cost. We are doing a lot of work in retail at the moment and although bezel widths are a key factor, retailers and integrators are becoming more creative with how they use the screens. By applying the technology in a slightly different way, for example using four portrait screens rather than a traditional 2×2 panel configuration, we can artificially minimise the impact of the bezel. This removes the central point where the four bezels cross, resulting in a less concentrated image interruption across the same screen estate.”
With these new price points, the sweet spot for LFDs is migrating: “If you look at volume of sales for our single panel LFDs, it is the 47” and 55” panels where we’re seeing increasing demand at the moment, but there is a definite trend emerging towards bigger solutions,” said Ault. “Part of the issue with larger screens at around 65”+ is that 1080p starts to look inadequate, especially up close. However, the development of new resolutions, such as UHD, is going to push panel sizes higher because the resolution is now capable of supporting screens of that magnitude.”
The Futuresource figures (see the box below) suggest that sales this year have suffered at the high-end, but competitive pricing is likely to redress the balance. Ault reports that: “The introduction of our 98” UHD display exemplifies how LG is raising the bar for the digital signage industry focusing on higher-resolution, energy-efficient LED and Ultra HD technology. In the last couple of months we’ve also released a 60” and 65” which are being requested more and more, especially in our Commercial Pro range, shifting the balance from 42”/47” screens.”
One of the advantages that proponents of video walls often point to is the reliability inherent to video walls, with the potential to swap out faulty displays so maintaining uptime. But not everyone agrees. Craig McQueen, NEC Solutions Sales Manager, says: “On the contrary, I would suggest that if one screen fails within a video wall, the effect is far more detrimental to the overall appearance compared to a single screen which just isn’t on and therefore doesn’t really standout as an issue.”
“If it is a rental project then one or two spare UN products are normally available for a swift swap out so the situation can be quickly rectified however to the effect is minimal. As large single screens become available > 80” it is down to how quickly and easy it is to swap out. Reliability is generally very good so these are exceptional cases!”
Ault shares this view: “A single panel failing in a video wall does critically affect the whole display and it will still be unusable. Installing a video wall doesn’t necessarily protect you against product failure over a single-unit display, but if you look at LG’s failure rates across all products, it’s well below 0.3%.”
“There are things you can do to mitigate the risk, for example keeping replacement units onsite for large installations, but ultimately manufacturers and integrators are judged on how they deal with product failures. LG provides a three-year, 72-hour swap-out service as standard. However, we aim to resolve next-day, so the downtime is always minimal.”
One of the features of 2014 has been the emergence of fine pixel pitch LED displays for indoor applications, but Ault doesn’t believe that it will appeal to a wide sector of the market for the foreseeable future: “Customers are starting to ask about fine pixel pitch LEDs but with our existing technology being easier to spec and lead times on products much quicker, an LG video wall would still be the preferred option where resolution is important and budgets and timescale are tight.”
“Fine pixel pitch direct LED displays are very specialist, very niche and involve more consultation to make sure the solution is fit for purpose. For that reason it’s difficult to see this being an off the shelf product.”
“With video wall displays customers know they are 1920x1080p Full HD and are comfortable with what Full HD and 4K look like. When it comes to the new fine pixel pitch LEDs, there are so many different variants offering a slightly different pixel pitch, anything from 1.5mm. In terms of content development, it is still challenging to find content for 4K and UHD screens, so sourcing content specific to the LED pixel pitch you’re working with is going to be difficult.
Naturally, as VP for EMEA at SiliconCore (an AV News Award Winner last year), Steve Scorse doesn’t fully concur: “One of the challenges of comparing the cost and value of video wall solutions with LFDs is that the display industry terms smaller size displays, including screens as small as 32”, as ‘large format’. With technology rapidly developing, the phrase LFD should really refer to displays above 80” and only those above 100” deemed a true large format display.”
“LED screens have now moved into the LFD space due to their increasingly higher resolution but require specialist transport and installation. The cost of LFD is slowly coming down, but video walls are still used today as they are the only technology available at a certain price point, rather than the perfect solution.”
Scorse points to the advantages inherent in LED technology: “One of the major benefits of LED is that there isn’t any limitation to the size or shape of display that you can create. This allows integrators to be creative and design systems that exactly fit the space, rather than compromising on the solution. Lower pixel pitches can be used to reach the desirable resolutions of Full HD and 4K using smaller display areas.”
“The great thing about LED displays is that they can be completely seamless, with no bezel at all which is a massive advantage in key market sectors. Within command and control for example, it ensures that no crucial numerical data gets lost in the gap.”
“For fashion and advertising, the seamlessness of LED also brings increased flexibility as displays can be manufactured to any size or shape, replicating logos or motifs or catwalk style strips. The enhanced creativity really captures the attention of passersby, making digital signage more engaging and effective. This also benefits touch screen applications, giving a more comfortable experience for the user.”
How about reliability? LED screens have something of a reputation, but Scorse believes that SiliconCore’s technology overcomes some of the basic problems: “One of the most common reasons for failure is overheating. The new design of Common Cathode driven LED has a more efficient way of distributing the voltage across the red, green and blue emitters which reduces the amount of heat generated, therefore creating a much more reliable display. The lower power dissipation of the Common Cathode technology also eliminates the need for any type of forced cooling for totally silent, fan-less design.”
Ruben Rengel, Deputy Managing Director at Absen Europe concedes that: “LED display failure rates are usually more common compared to video walls, but this is easy to fix and maintain and, unlike other display technologies, LED does not suffer catastrophic failure. In the event of an identified failure, Absen’s unique ‘Hot Swap’ module feature means that modules or receiving cards do not require re-calibration on replacement so there is no system disruption. Modules are simply replaced from the front of the display, saving labour and time cost.”
But is direct LED really ready for the full range of indoor applications? Scorse reports that it is already happening: “The development of incredibly low pixel pitch LEDs like the 1.5mm and 1.9mm, with the 1.2mm following shortly, has opened up the display platform to new markets, primarily close proximity indoor applications. These are already being utilised by integrators for corporate lobby displays, collaboration suites and presentation theatres, bringing a comfortable viewing experience and the advantages of LED to these sectors for the first time.
“The benefits have been further enhanced in displays driven using Common Cathode technology as the correlation between power consumption and heat emission has been improved, resulting in market leading total cost of ownership, wider viewing angles and screens that run cool to the touch.”
Direct LED has been something of a shot in the arm as access to the technology is now offered by some of the leading names in the European market. Eyevis has launched a new indoor LED solution called eyeLED for airports, arenas, high end corporate communications, broadcast and other applications. The system is particularly well suited to bright ambient light conditions where a high light output display is required to achieve high quality representation of the content.
Eyevis says that, thanks to minimal pixel pitch, the viewer, even close up, experiences an overwhelmingly sharp image. This effect is further enhanced by impressive brightness and lack of any disturbing bezels. The new LED modules, with pixel pitches of 2.5mm and below are optimally suited for studio backgrounds, live shows and events, which by means of this state-of-the art LED-technology reach a new level of quality and efficiency. Currently, EyeLED modules are available in 2.5mm and 2.0mm pixel pitch with 1.5mm to be launched later.
PSCo’s partnership with Absen has seen marketing effort for direct LED directed to the AV channel at large. Absen’s A1 (1.9mm) and A2 (2.5mm) HD LED display series are suitable for control centres, TV Stations, conference rooms, shopping malls, hotels, retail stores and other high-end indoor applications. Using high quality black SMD LED, the displays have high colour contrast ratio ensuring they excel under challenging mixed colour lighting and in high ambient light environments. Both have a wide viewing angle of up to 160 degrees combined with an anti-reaction mask to prevent colour cast.
The A3 Pro (3.9mm) HD indoor LED display is suited to indoor stages, exhibitions, TV stations, concerts, theme parks and other environments requiring HD indoor displays for communication brand promotion and advertising. It is thin and lightweight making it easy to install and dismantle in indoor applications. It also offers front-side maintenance, has an on-board flash memory for dot-by-dot colour calibration, and its special connector design makes it easy to reduce gaps while installing.
The A3 Pro delivers high quality video performance and exclusive Absen calibration technology ensures individual panels are perfectly matched in appearance. High refresh rates ensure flicker-free HD content without any fine lines, ghosting, smearing or shadows. Content is displayed with superb brightness, colour uniformity and lowest possible greyscale error.
Despite this new momentum behind direct LED, McQueen believes that price differences will limit the progress of direct LED for the foreseeable future: “Personally I don’t think so as the cost of traditional LED is still far greater than that of LFD, especially when you look at the fine pitch products. In addition the installation of a LED wall is still more complex and requires additional processing. There is a point where size, location and brightness come into play which is when FLD will be the better solution. To be able to start to compete with LCD Ultra Narrow product, high res LED needs to be < 1.9mm pitch. The cost per sq m is c £16k psm for 1.9mm pitch and c £25k psm for 1.5mm pitch currently, so the end user must be willing to invest more.”
McQueen’s colleague at NEC, ,Jonathan Cooper, concurs: “It is hoped that pricing for high res LED screens will drop in the coming months / years as capacity improves and adoption of this technology becomes more common. There are already some rental companies that have invested in the technology. I think it is unlikely there will be a quality product on par with LCD but that LED will be a better product for certain environments / applications.”
For the present, advances in standard LFDs are satisfying the majority of customer demands: “The bezels are getting smaller however there is still a limitation due to the technology. NEC now offers 3.5mm content to content solution on our 55” range with 46” version coming out next year. Whilst these are being released we are continuing with our 5.5mm content to content range as not all clients require the smaller bezel due to the type of content they are showing.”
So what should we be expecting the customers to ask for in the short to medium term future? McQueen says: “If we are talking video wall technology then it’s definitely 46” to 55”. If we are talking standard LFD then that really varies anything from 46” to 80”. It depends on the requirement, viewing distance, location etc. As an example one of the major UK retailers we work with uses all our sizes from 40” and above. This allows them to standardise on one brand but categorise store designs into a bronze, silver and gold approach.”
Craig McQueen, Solutions Sales Manager at NEC: “To be able to start to compete with LCD Ultra Narrow product, high res LED needs to be < 1.9mm pitch. The cost per sq m is c £16k psm for 1.9mm pitch and c £25k psm for 1.5mm pitch currently, so the end user must be willing to invest more.”
Jonathan Cooper, NEC Display Solutions Business Development: “It is hoped that pricing for high res LED screens will drop in the coming months / years as capacity improves and adoption of this technology becomes more common. I think it is unlikely there will be a quality product on par with LCD but that LED will be a better product for certain environments / applications.”
The flatscreen market: what’s selling and who’s buying?
The latest figures from Futuresource Consulting tells us that the global professional large format display (LFD) market returned its largest quarter on record, with total shipments reaching 610,000 units and volume growth achieving 5% quarter-on-quarter and 15% year-on-year. But who is buying them and what are they using them for?
“We’re seeing market growth almost everywhere in this market,” says Ben Davis, Senior Market Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. “The major markets of the US and China are showing the most substantial increases – both returning bullish year-on-year growth rates in excess of 17%.”
But what of the local market? The EMEA professional LFD market maintained momentum in Q2 2014, with quarterly volumes reaching a total of 173,000 units, and YoY and QoQ growth rates standing at 15% and 4% respectively. Year-to-date market volumes total 340,000 units, up by 39,000 on H1 2013. “Drilling down into the segments, the market continued its transition to mid-range and entry level products at the expense of high end solutions, which have lost over 30% of their share. These categories accounted for over 55% of total volumes during the quarter,” says Davis.
EMEA market volumes are forecast to grow by 52% YoY in 2014, with total market volumes reaching 931,000 units. A significant proportion of this growth is associated with the second phase of the FATIH tender in Turkey where 187,000 units of 65-inch IFPDs will be installed in state schools.
“The increased demand for mid and entry-level solutions in the Western European markets is expected to lead to ASP erosion, especially in the 40-inch to 60-inch market,” says Davis. “The introduction of 4K technologies is also expected to temporarily boost ASPs in the 70-inch+ segment. In the longer term, as manufacturers transition large screen ranges exclusively to 4K resolutions, substantial price erosion is expected in the segment,” says Davis.
Futuresource agreed to provide further analysis to AV News, to reveal the target markets for the burgeoning sale of LFDs, excluding the huge educational component of the FATIH tender. The chart below reveals ‘Public display’ and ‘Retail’ as the volume opportunities. It is currently unknown how many of these displays are combined into video walls, explaining the decline in high-end / larger display sales and growth in the 40-inch to 60-inch category.
Futuresource Consulting 2014