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Digital Signage

With the cost of flat-panel monitors falling like snow in the Northeast this winter, the timing has never been better for considering a move into the digital signage market. Aside from pitching them to doctors, dentists and other professionals for their waiting rooms, the screens are popping up in restaurants, retail stores, delis, diners, and even on gas pumps. And like a Web page crowded with banner ads, the human eye moves to the one that’s animated. Dynamic billboards simply grab more attention at airports and in storefronts than static signs do.

Staking one of the largest claims to the market in digital signage real estate is NEC Display Solutions of America, which in October began shipping what can only be called an LED video wall. Available for indoor and outdoor settings, these professional grade, made-to-order LED panels are a bezel-less design featuring a refresh rate greater than 800Hz, and are driven by a standard dual-link DVI-D interface and 14- and 16-bit color processing. Both also include automatic brightness controls to ensure evenness between panels. Setup software automatically calculates the matrixing and dot-pitch corrections for optimal accuracy.

Indoor and outdoor models employ multicolor lamps with red, green and blue LEDs that comprise each pixel. These lamps were developed and supplied by Nicha Corp., credited with the invention in 1993 of the blue LED, and are said to be the longest-lasting lamps on the market today. Servicing can take place from the front or rear of the panels, and NEC provides LED Wall Manager Control software as well as mounting and video distribution processors and cabling options.

The indoor model, the LED-06AF1, is brightness-rated at 2,000 NITs, which is about 10 times that of an ordinary LCD desktop display with a rated contrast ratio of 3,500:1. We stood in front of one of these units at a recent launch event and could not look directly at it without squinting.

The indoor model also employs black LEDs and an improved shader to boost contrast and reduce reflections. When viewed from a distance of 15 to 20 feet or more, the 6mm pixel pitch was barely noticeable. The LED-06AF1 is intended for “live sign” applications in retail stores, shopping malls, broadcast studios and other areas where large numbers of people will view the display from varying moderate distances.

More impressive is the outdoor unit and its 7,500 NIT brightness rating. With its 15mm pixel pitch, the outdoor LED-15BF1 boasts a 4,500:1 contrast ratio and a NEMA rating for dust and moisture ingress protection of IP65. Explained briefly, the first digit of the “ingress protection” rating indicates how much protection is provided from solid objects, which usually means dust or sand. The highest rating is 6, which means it’s totally impervious to dust incursion. The second digit indicates protection from liquids.

A rating of 8 (the highest) means the unit can be totally submerged in water and survive. NEC’s outdoor LED wall scores a 5 here, meaning that it can withstand water jets from any direction and will not be damaged by a slight ingress of water. The LED- 15BF1 is intended to be used for billboards, sports arenas, concert halls, airports and other public areas.

The indoor and outdoor LED products began shipping in October 2010 and are covered by a three-year parts and labor warranty. Both modules will be built-to-order with a 120-day lead time.