By Richard Ventura, Vice President of Business Development and Solutions, NEC Display Solutions of America
In our connected age, businesses need to work smarter to grab customers' attention. One way to do this is with digital signage in outdoor environments to interact with consumers. In fact, targeted marketing campaigns toward customer demographics can change dynamically based on factors such as weather conditions, inventory fluctuations, sales and events.
Before a business can plan an outdoor marketing campaign, however, it needs to determine the right technology for the right application. There are three main options for digital outdoor signage — LED, LCD and projection — and each has its own benefits and ideal applications.
Direct-view LED considerations
Direct-view LED offers higher brightness, larger size, durability and longer lifecycle. Designed specifically for the outdoor environment, outdoor LEDs require less heating and cooling support and need simpler enclosures and fixtures, like their LCD counterparts. Programming options are also are becoming more customizable, giving users another reason to include this technology in their outdoor marketing campaigns.
When considering LED for outdoor applications, having the right pixel pitch is crucial. If users are looking for the same quality and resolution as LCD, the LED display needs to be bigger and placed farther away from viewers because of higher pixel pitch. For outdoors, pixel pitch can be anywhere from 6 mm to 25 mm. Costs per inch and cost per pixel also skew higher with LED.
Retail and entertainment verticals are using outdoor LED for applications like wrapping a building, billboards, large venue signage, queue displays or kiosks. Smart cities are putting technology in non-traditional areas, incorporating LED signage into directory boards and way-finding stations.
LCD displays are the ideal choice for indoor digital signage applications, and now, with additional technology features and the help of enclosures, they are increasingly popular within outdoor digital signage applications. LCD technology enables higher-resolution capabilities without breaking the bank from an installation perspective. LCD is a more standard technology in that it utilizes normal video input, is a self-contained system, and does not require special mounting solutions, external video processors or controller boxes.
Applications for outdoor LCD displays include restaurant digital menu boards or outdoor kiosks, including drive-thrus, with an appropriate enclosure. Retailers can use LCD video walls or LCDs outside a building, and smart cities applications include traditional signage and directory boards. A key point to remember is ensuring the display is designed to handle harsh weather extremes, direct sunlight and solar load. Not having the right solution for the application can lead to equipment failure.
A key outdoor application with projectors is the use of projection mapping. Projection mapping is when an image is projected onto almost any type of large surface, such as stone, ice, metal, etc., changing the entire look and feel of an environment. A projector can be housed almost anywhere, providing an easier installation process. Projectors can cover a much larger area for a lower cost, even when enclosures and cooling features are taken into account.
While lamp life is another cost factor, solid-state light source technology is gaining traction. This means less maintenance and longer laser life will make projectors more durable.
Considerations for the installation environment
How bright an outdoor display needs to be depends on its location. For example, a QSR drive-thru, which customers view from up close, would need a lower brightness than a billboard, which is seen from a distance. Projectors placed farther from the surface need a higher brightness. Also, consider whether the display is exposed to direct sunlight, as it would need higher brightness.
Climate-specific considerations include extreme temperatures and humidity. If a display in a humid climate requires an enclosure, moisture may develop inside the enclosure, which means an outdoor-specific LED rather than an LCD would be better for that climate. Extreme temperatures require calculating the heating or cooling element needed. If the application merits a touch screen, a more durable outdoor option would be better suited.
Taking into account these considerations and the application for which the signage is being used will help a business choose the right type of outdoor signage, helping it to attract foot traffic, market to chosen demographics, and boost visibility and brand awareness.
Richard Ventura is Vice President of Business Development and Solutions for NEC Display Solutions (www.necdisplay.com). He can be reached at email@example.com.