One thing that keeps me interested in my career is that our industry is ever-evolving as technologies are introduced and evolve over time. After 17 years of working in the world of Pro AV distribution, I never stop learning new things. Most recently, I was tasked with learning about dvLED to help support our sales team and customers on projects. While I still have a lot to learn, here are some key takeaways that I can share based on what I have learned thus far.
Pixel Pitch & Viewing Distance
The term pixel pitch was new to me, but it is one of the key factors to think about when designing a dvLED display project. Simply put, pixel pitch is the measurement, in mm, between the individual LEDs or pixels, measured from the center of one LED to the center of the LED adjacent to it. Naturally, as the pixel pitch value decreases, the resolution in a fixed size cabinet increases and allows for a closer optimal minimum viewing distance.
For this reason, it is important that you discuss with the client where the closest viewer will be in relation to the display so that you can choose a pixel pitch that is appropriate for the specific application, remembering that as pixel pitch decreases, the equipment cost increases. As a general rule of thumb that has been shared with me, you can multiply the pixel pitch by 10 to give you the approximate closest viewing distance in feet. For example, the recommended minimum viewing distance for a 2.5-pixel pitch wall would be 25 feet.
If you are like me, then often when you think about display resolution for common applications it is typically 1080p (1920×1080), WUXGA (1920×1200), or 4K (3840×2160), understanding that there are many others, but these are most common. With flat panel displays and projectors, the image size can vary while the resolution remains constant. For example, a 4K display can be 55” in diagonal, 98” in diagonal, or several other sizes, but the resolution will always be 4K. With projection, a native WUXGA projector, whether displaying a 110” diagonal image, a 216” diagonal image, or any size for that matter, the resolution will always be 1920×1200.
This is not the case with dvLED, as the individual LEDs (or “pixels”) mounted on the surface of the module are a fixed size, so that when the size of a dvLED display changes, so does the resolution. To illustrate this, let’s look at a dvLED panel that is 16:9, 27.5” in diagonal with a pixel pitch of 1.58. The resolution of this panel is 384×216. If you require a 1920×1080 display, you will need 25 panels in a 5×5 array making a 137.5” diagonal display, while if you require a 4K 3840×2160 display, you will need 100 panels in a 10×10 array making a 275” diagonal display, requiring four times the real estate!
In many cases, dvLED displays will either be wall-mounted or flown, although sometimes they can be ground stacked with the appropriate stacking hardware. Depending upon the size of the display, they can get quite heavy. For example, a recent 165” diagonal display (6×6 array) I quoted weighed just shy of 500lbs, and a 275” display (10×10 array) weighed over 1300 lbs. It is absolutely crucial that the structure or wall on which you are mounting the dvLED or the structure from which you are rigging can support the load.
Additionally, in order for a successful installation, the dvLED cabinets need to be perfectly aligned along the x, y, and z axes so there are no visible seams between the individual panels that make up the display. Since most walls will have some imperfections and not be perfectly flat, you will be faced with either using shims or exploring mounting hardware that provides post-installation adjustment of all three axes.
Power and Data
Unlike a traditional flat panel or projector, the display does not have a single power cord with dvLED. Instead, depending upon the size and resolution of the display, multiple AC circuits are required. If we go back to the 165” 6×6 array I referenced earlier, this display required six dedicated 110v/10A outlets. In this case, each AC circuit is powering six panels with a main connection to the first, then daisy-chaining with power jumpers to the next five.
In addition to power, every dvLED display requires multiple data connections between the display and the dvLED controller/processor using data cabling, such as Cat6. The number of data runs will vary based on the overall resolution of the display, but you can expect that the manufacturer will advise you during the proposal stage on the required cabling and power requirements for the specific project.
I am seeing more and more projects come across my desk that involve dvLED, and there has been dramatic growth in overall product sales in the category over this last year. There is no reason to believe that these trends will not continue, and I look forward to continuing my education on the subject.
2021 is here, which means we have had a chance to say goodbye to what was a challenging 2020 officially. We are all hopeful that 2021 will be a year filled with opportunity. But it will not come without some uncertainty, and that will hold true for the AV industry as a whole. As an integrator, this does not mean you can’t plan to scale your business. Yet, prediction and preparation are not mutually exclusive!
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your business in some way, shape, or form. For some, the impact may not have been as severe, but for others, tough decisions were made to keep businesses alive. Those decisions were likely in the form of reducing headcount, most often from the outsourced technicians.
Now that we have rolled into 2021 with some optimism and renewed energy. It’s time to start moving into growth mode. One of the fastest ways is by augmenting your staff through outsourcing and reduce risk. This is the simple practice of augmenting your labor force to help assist your skilled W2 technicians/project leads out in the field.
This form of outsourcing has become very popular in recent years. The need to augment technicians through an outsourcing program was accelerated due to the pandemic’s impact. With technician augmentation capability, you no longer have to pass on jobs due to lack of employees, keeping your calendar full for 2021.
Now is not the time to lose control!
You have spent a considerable amount of time and effort building your business, so it is understandable that the reputation you have made through your relationships and proof of performance means everything.
They are possibly the biggest reasons for your success. By using technician augmentation it could be perfect for your business as you wade through uncertain times. Let me explain: Augmentation and supplementation are two very different things.
Augmentation gives you access to technicians that will work alongside and take direction from your on-site staff members, whereas supplementation is relinquishing an entire job to be outsourced.
It is often vital to consider technician augmentation rather than supplementation to ensure that specific processes are followed, control is maintained, and the project outcomes are as you desire. Technician help allows you to perform the job YOUR way.
We all understand the importance of kids being in school from an academic and social perspective, and it’s clear an aggressive effort is being made to get kids back on the school bus! In preparation for the upcoming school year, technology implementation will be crucial to accommodating in-room distanced and virtual learning.
So what does that have to do with technician augmentation? Well, it’s simple. Whether public, charter, or private, most schools have at least a handful of classrooms and often hundreds, if not thousands per district. Most of these classrooms are cookie-cutter in terms of technology deployment for clear reasons.
Teachers and students are trained on how to interact with the same systems, no matter what room they are in. An assisted technician staff best fills this type of repeatable work. From wire-pulling to display mounting to disposal of waste, outsourcing technicians in multi-room environments can prove to be very cost-effective and very efficient—no more hiring and firing based on a single job.
You can take comfort knowing your organization can complete the work without incurring any unwanted pre and post burden. We should all have a shared enthusiasm for what is next in our industry. The collective ability to adapt and overcome in 2020 has been remarkable, but there are more audible calls to come. The AV industry will continue to shift and change rapidly, as it did in 2020 (let’s never speak of it again). I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure outsourced Technician Assistance is a Key Part of Your 2021 Business Strategy.
Did you hear? Panasonic is extending their successful line of entry-level and standard display panels to include more sizes, more features, and more versatility. This growing line of panels are reliable, and come from a well-established brand like Panasonic – a staple in the audio-visual industry. You will notice Panasonic’s display form factor has not changed much, if any, over the decades – and that design decision is purposeful. Simply put, it makes swapping out an older Panasonic display for a new Panasonic display quite easy. Panasonic is a tried & true brand and a go-to supplier for many, many resellers and integration firms. Here are some of our favorite go-to models.
Oh yeah, they also have touch displays and video wall options – but I will save that for another blog write-up for now. I must share that their product finder is also an excellent tool to find the size and display type needed for your next project. Check it out.
2. THE FEATURES
Let’s talk features! There are so many great features, but I am going to touch on the ones that I think are more important and show why Panasonic displays are in a league of their own.
Many Panasonic displays employ 4K picture quality to render intricately detailed images. For example, the SQ1 Series features the “12-Axis Color Management function” for ideally faithful color reproduction of digital signage content, and “HDR” compatibility to express a wide brightness range from dark to bright. Equipped with the new Intel® SDM specification slot standard, the SQ1 Series can be combined with an interface board for simple but wide system interoperability.
Here’s a quick summary of the best applications for Panasonic’s multi-series professional display lineup. SQ1 Series is ideal for signage – portrait or landscape. The EQ1 is designed for and has features that are ideal for conference & meeting spaces, and this model is budget-friendly, too. And finally yet importantly, the CQ1 Series is ideal for bars and restaurants. Click here for a rundown of all features and specs.
3. THE WARRANTY
One of the best warranties in the Pro AV industry comes from Panasonic. Their flat panel display products come with a three-year limited warranty with advance replacement. Yes, 3 years – that is awesome! To further delight resellers and their customers, Panasonic adds a higher level of protection to their displays with extended support options available for purchase. In addition, if you or your staff require product training or equipment deployment assistance with any Panasonic products, they provide on-site consultation packages. Here are the details.
Flat Panel Advance Swap Program
Professional displays mission critical application are backed up with an exchange program (Hot Swap) included in the standard warranty. This includes:
• Reducing repair turn-around time on your defective display
• Replacement unit sent with two-day expedited shipping
• Shipped anywhere within the continental states
• Applies to all display models purchased after April 2018
• Replacement units are inspected and conditioned at our Panasonic National Repair Center
• Warranty for replacement unit will be a continuation of the defective one being replaced
What you can expect:
• Two Business Day Delivery
• Support 5 Days a Week (Monday-Friday)
• Free Shipping and Delivery on each instance for the flat panel swap
• Technical Support available 8AM-8PM EST (requests must be received by 12:00PM EST to meet shipping deadlines for delivery
• Same or comparable model provided
• Transportation times for larger display sizes (above 55 inches) may vary due to handling requirements
Panasonic Tech Support experts will manage the logistics of getting the replacement unit to your customers’ locations as well as to pick up the defective unit.
Please reach out to me if you have any questions about the Panasonic panel lineup or any or any of their professional equipment. I am here to help!
Alan Brawn, an AV industry veteran with experience spanning over 3 decades including management of a Pro AV systems integration company for 7 years, and one of the founding members of Hughes-JVC back in the early 1990s knows something about QSRs and Menu Boards. He is a recognized author for leading AV industry magazines such as Systems Contractor News, AV Technology, Digital Signage Magazine, and Rental & Staging, and we’re excited to share his take on the current state of the industry. Read on to see his latest contribution to Commercial Integrator Magazine, where he did a deep dive with Almo’s own Jim Nista on content creation and what works and what doesn’t.
Integrators should recognize the significant demand for digital menu boards – and then acknowledge there’s a lot to learn to deliver them effectively.
by Alan Brawn
IN THE EVER-EXPANDING REACH of digital signage, retail- and food-related enterprises dominate in market share. Both retail and food services take special advantage of the major benefits of digital signage. They use variations of digital signage communication to enhance the viewing experience, modify viewer behavior, and promote their proprietary calls to action.
The intended consequence of this is to promote customer loyalty and repeat business and show differentiation in a concerted effort to stem the flow of commoditization and the appearance of sameness. Nowhere is this more evident than in quick serve restaurants (QSR) and convenience stores. One of the most popular “go-to” solutions in those niches is the incorporation of digital menu boards.
As with most digital signage, menu boards appear quite simple on the surface. It seems that all you need to do is put up a display and a list of menu items and call that job complete. Well, not so fast. There is much more involved in the area of menu boards than first meets the eye. With the expanding competition in the food industry and especially in quick serve restaurants, this whole menu board “thing” can be an existential issue.
A report by the prepared food industry shows that 60% of restaurants do not make it past the first year and 80% go under in five years. Did you know that the average person makes more than 200 decisions about food every day, many for them unconsciously? Research shows that 74% of customers say an easy to read menu is a top priority and 30% of customers say digital signage influenced an unplanned purchase. Statistics also show viewers spend 30% more time looking at digital signage compared to static signs.
Gauntlet Is Thrown: Maximize Digital Menu Board Experience
We have all seen digital menu boards but what stands out is their varying degree of success. A group of subject matter experts out of the QSR industry estimates that more than 60% of today’s digital menu boards are done wrong. Here are some of the most common mistakes:
Poor design, use of space, and too much information on screen
Using a monotonous static image
Excessive animation where items disappear before viewer can decide › Text-only menus that are easy to ignore
Looking continuously the same with little attempt at a refresh
Poor salesmanship on best sellers
All this being said, I want to share more about digital menu boards beyond statistics and bullet points. I wanted to explore best practices, so I went to Jim Nista, the senior director of content services for Almo. He is recognized as one of the best of the best in this area and teaches extensively on the topic. Since Nista co-teaches the Digital Content and Media Expert (DCME) certification for the industry it came as no surprise that he said, “It all starts with a content creation strategy.” Of course, if we fail to plan then we plan to fail… but Nista pointed out a key question that sets the tone for what is to come. How often will the content need to be updated? The answer will impact the design, how the content will be created, by whom and in what format, and ultimately the budget.
Depending upon the frequency of updating, Nista suggests, “If there are frequent changes you may want to use an HTML platform like Google Sheets. This is fast and inexpensive but can be limiting in design choices. The other choice is referred to as free form. This utilizes a graphic designer and offers true design flexibility but is more costly. Think of this as a template versus custom graphics consideration.”
Nista notes that where budgets permit, the trend is for free form where menu real estate is not constrained by a grid or a template.
This can provide a unique approach and stand out with consumers, and be more interesting and engaging. Both approaches, templated or free form, can be done in-house or outsourced.
Most often the size of the company, how often the content needs to be updated, and budget will dictate what path to take.
Understanding Digital Menu Board Objectives
The digital menu board should be designed to enhance the viewing experience as well as modify viewer behavior as they respond to a call to action but there are two other objectives that relate directly to QSRs and food services. The content needs to help the viewer decide and make a choice and do so in a more expeditious manner. If done properly this improves customer flow. In sit-down restaurants they call this “turning over the tables more quickly.”
Nista provided his short list of design elements to keep in mind:
Know the viewer and design for them.
Keep it simple; too many items and options end up being confusing.
Legibility is key. Font choice and size determine readability.
Beware of distractions. Focus on what you want the viewer to decide upon.
Too many zones can distract, but doing “specials” can be helpful to the company and the viewer.
If it is a fixed menu don’t scroll or animate. People take time to decide and if the menu scrolls too quickly, then they don’t have that time.
Video if done right can lead the viewer’s eye. It can give subtle clues and help make decisions fast. But if not done right it can be a distraction.
Locate menu boards carefully and be easily visible but avoid impeding traffic flow.
We all know that the retail and restaurant industry is highly competitive, and unless you have a unique selling proposition, chances are you will have trouble standing out from the crowd. The current state of the industry is driving restaurant owners to look for ways to set themselves apart from the fierce competition. Many are implementing digital menu boards, which is a step in the right direction,but as one expert told me, “some of these menu boards suck!”
What we know is that simply upgrading from static menu boards to digital menu boards is not enough on its own. More effort needs to be put into the content strategy and design of these menu boards in order to drive sales, engage with customers, and enhance their in-venue experience. If properly planned, designed, and implemented, digital menu boards can tip the scale in a restaurant’s favor.
ALAN C. BRAWN CTS, ISF, ISF-C, DSCE, DSDE. DCME, is the principal of Brawn Consulting.
To work with Jim’s team on creating content for your QSR and menu board projects reach out to our Content Services Business Development Manager Todd Heberlein today.
As Almo Professional AV prepares to celebrate 10 years in operation as business unit of Almo Corporation I feel grateful and proud to be part of this great organization. Looking back to 2009, at the origination of the division we had no vendor partners and no customers while today we have thousands of loyal customers and amazing partnerships with approximately 50 of the most desired manufacturers in the industry.
While many key factors have contributed to our mutual success with our customers and vendor partners, one key driver is our intentional strategy to keep our line card relatively narrow and focused compared to other distribution companies. When it comes to displays and projectors we aim to partner with a wide range of vendors to support the demand in the marketplace, however in other product categories we have chosen to partner with only a small number of manufacturers that we feel to be the best in class. This strategy has helped Almo to remain important to our existing partners as well as enabled us to better support a more narrow set of vendors.
With this, you won’t see very many new vendor partnerships announced by Almo each year. However, when it makes sense for a new partnership in the eyes of Almo and the potential vendor and we feel the partnership will bring value to our loyal customers then we will move forward with a new product offering. The last six to nine months we have found ourselves in a situation where there were several new partnerships taking place including D-Link, Ecler, VDO360, and Vivitek.
If you have had the opportunity to attend any of our recent E4 Experience events you likely heard our keynote speaker Gary Kayye talking about the emergence of AV over IP solutions. If you think about it, all sorts of professional A/V products now have a network port and can live on an IP network. The addition of D-Link now gives our customers the ability to include the networking solutions (i.e. switches, wireless routers, etc.) along with the rest of the gear they are sourcing from Almo for their given project.
Ecler, while probably not a familiar name to you here in the United States has been providing high quality commercial audio solutions in Europe for over 50 years. Through our partnership as the exclusive distributor in the United States Almo can offer our customers high quality proven products including loudspeakers, amplifiers, DSP, mixers & more at competitive pricing all while helping dealers to maintain healthy margins on their projects.
When it comes to soft codec based video conferencing, Zoom has taken the world by storm so it’s only natural that manufacturers are offering products that integrate with soft codec platforms. One of the challenges is including different components from different vendors that may or may not be tested or certified by Zoom potentially leading to support issues post installation. One of the things that attracted us to VDO360 was their single SKU, single box ZoomRoom kit that includes the camera, audio conferencing, PC, tablet controller and all required cabling, leaving out only the display.
While we were already well served with our existing projector manufacturer relationships, the addition of Vivitek adds a little more depth to our line up and will provide our customers with quality projector hardware at price points that may have not been previously available, with strong programs to enhance dealer’s margins.
Please visit www.almoproav.com or contact your Almo Account Manager for additional details on these solutions. Next stop, InfoComm 19. Register with code ALM123 for a free pass.
I was recently asked my opinion on guiding principles for content prepared for close-up viewing versus long distance. My immediate response was that there was a category missing there. The Almo Content Design team looks at viewing distance as three different categories, not two. We design for 3 feet/1 meter for close up viewing screens, such as wayfinders, 10 feet/3 meters on informational screens and greater than that for retail/outdoor.
The “10-Foot Rule” demands legibility and clarity to ensure content at a distance is delivered accurately within the moments it takes for a simple glance. When my team works on informational screens such as menu boards or employee communication screens this is an important consideration that will drive font and icon sizing, color contrast and animation principles. We are careful to use timelines instead of cramming the screen with too much at once. In fact, our mantra is “less is always more when it comes to design on informational screens.”
When you’re working on content for touchscreens, design principles follow mobile app design guidelines. Consistency within the overall user interface (UI) becomes extremely important. Every day we all interact with a touch screen UI that breaks consistency rules. For example, an ATM where the “OK” button changes location from prompt to prompt not only confuses the viewer, it slows the interaction.
For larger screens, especially outdoor, the rule tightens. The message must be legible, of course, but more importantly it must be concise. The “5-Second Rule” isn’t really five seconds anymore – it’s less. Color, contrast and concise messaging become key.
Do you have any “rules” you follow when determining your digital signage designs?
Leave me a comment and let’s start a conversation. And stay tuned for more of my expert advice as I come back each month with a brief thought on a single aspect of digital signage.