For years, digital signage meant increasingly more use of LCD or plasma flat panel TVs. Flat panels were proliferating, and that has primarily meant that LCDs are replacing ageing CRTs at TV or cable stations, institutional and production/post environments.
In most cases, LCDs or plasmas are more appropriate as flat panels are relatively lower in cost. This is especially the case where there is a demand for large displays.
Again, where brighter displays are deemed essential, such as outdoors or during concerts, end-users are finding that LED outshines its duller and smaller counterparts.
There is almost no limit to how big LED displays can go, from sports scoreboards to billboards or theatrical stage backdrops at rock concerts.
Even in mobile applications towed on a barge, roaming around on a truck bed or in transportation settings, this works well. And, unlike flat panels, the outdoor variety - which are weather proof - take to outdoor settings like a proverbial duck to water.
Furthermore, while digital signage previously meant the showing of a purely alpha numeric image, and most likely a monochrome one, today the most common imagery is full colour and full-motion video predominates. LED displays have been popping up throughout the marketplace.
They are not merely confined to mammoth scale areas that are impractical for flat panels but even in relatively small scale surfaces, which were once the sole territory of LCDs and plasmas.
Furthermore, as high definition has proliferated, the pitch or resolution of LED displays has followed suit, making them capable of sharper and more realistic video displays.
That has fostered the deployment by billboard companies of newer and sharper video displays and the wholesale replacement of paper displays with roadside video screens.
In many cases, now, that means that such screens can be changed, not by a sign painter on a ladder, but by a satellite signal or even WIFI.
The latest trend driving sales of commercial LED displays is high definition quality. Now, as advertisers routinely request HD quality pitch that permits them to transfer spots from TV to billboards, vendors are scrambling to accommodate them.
Another aspect of LED that makes it a flexible solution in larger screen displays is repair.
True, individual or groups of LEDs can fail, but when that happens, their localised tiles (about the size of a ceramic bathroom tile) can be popped out with nothing fancier than a Philips head screwdriver and replaced with a spare in the field.
The defective one is then sent to a factory repair station for repair or replacement. Contrast that with the more common need in a flat panel display to replace the entire set should there be a failure.
LED displays are most commonly found in applications such as sports stadiums, billboards, theatre backgrounds and live concerts, retail setting such as shops, malls and restaurants, transportation, government and military ‘war rooms' and even corporate lobbies and educational buildings.
But, they are even showing up in odd uses, such as directional roadway signs, and even in medical displays.
According to InfoCOMM research, LED displays are calculated to number approximately 800,000 units installed (generally, measured in square metres), worldwide, and represent approximately US $8 billion dollars in installed value, from just China alone ... with, globally, all manufacturers counted bringing the figure to more than $10 billion USD (source: MarketAvenue) annually as of the end of 2008.
With all that money changing hands, 183 firms are reportedly making LED products today.
Douglas I. Sheer is CEO and chief analyst of DIS and can be reached at
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