While the often-overlooked Russian scientist, Oleg Losev, may have originally created the first light emitting diode in 1927, the LED as we now know it was not fully brought to life until 1962, when a young American engineer named Dr Nick Holonyak, Jr. invented the first practical visible spectrum (red) LED while working for General Electric (GE).
When he joined GE’s team of researchers in 1957, Holonyak’s colleagues were already fully involved in the exploration of semiconductor applications.
As GE scientist Dr Robert N. Hall worked towards realising a semiconductor laser in the infrared with GaAs (Gallium arsenide), Holonyak aimed towards a visible form with GaAsP (Gallium arsenide phosphide). On October 9th, 1962, he became the first person to operate a visible semiconductor alloy laser — the device that illuminated the first visible LED.
Now, 52 years on from one man’s original invention, new, robust and long-lasting LEDs now serve as light sources in countless applications, and our homes and workplaces are now full of devices that blink and brighten thanks to the tiny bulbs that have taken over the more traditional light sources in many cases.
In a statement to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the original LED back in 2012, Mary Beth Gotti, manager of GE Lighting Institute commented: “LEDs are literally everywhere.
LEDs provide lighting in a variety of electronic devices and indicators including elevator buttons, exit signs, cell and smartphone displays, TVs, PCs, tablet computers, commercial signage, full motion video screens in sports venues, microscopic surgical equipment, railroad crossings and airport taxiway lights. And they are now hitting mainstream lighting applications like parking lots, roadways, accent lighting, general lighting and more.”
And, as those within the events industry know all too well, one of the ways in which the technology is relied upon nowadays within the field is via the use of LED displays at events. Whether it’s live content streaming or accompanying video visuals, it would seem that LED has become the go-to choice for many.
Graeme McIlvride (Mac), managing director of Rave Audio Visual LLC, tells us: “Rave AV started renting out LED screens here in 2004. Back then most outdoor corporate events started after dark and projectors and screens were used. This is still the case, although some of our clients are using LED screens even for evening shows as LED screens look a lot more dynamic than projectors/screens.”
He continues: “I would say LED screens have had a much bigger effect on outdoor day events, such as sports events. Before, there was not much on offer for this but LED screens filled this gap."
"10 years ago our income was mostly from projector type work (conferences and outdoor night events), but since then we have been concentrating on LED screen hire (indoor and outdoor) and 80 per cent of our business these days is from LED screen rental. Clients (event organisers/designers) have a greater choice these days since LED screens have become available.”
One person who appreciates the choice that LED screens offer is Savio Mendonca, managing director of Glow Productions and Events LLC. He explains: They [LED screens] have been the most simple in terms of installation compared to the other technologies available. So, even if we get less time for set-up, LED gives less stress as it takes just a few hours to rise.”
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However, he believes that there is still competition for the technology from other existing formats that are also moving and developing with the times.
Mendonca says: “The use of LED in events from the last couple of years has been challenged with projection, after a drastic growth in projection-related content. For example, 3D projection mapping is hot selling and requires only projection. But LED is still a favourite of a majority of clients as there is a big difference between LED and projection cost. LED also helps in saving space at venues for setup, unlike projection which demands a lot of space.”
While space and cost are naturally important factors to consider in the planning of any event where screens are required, McIlvride suggests that there are a variety of other factors to be accounted for when using LED screens, particularly at an outdoor occasion in the Middle East, where — rather than run the risk of rain — events are more likely to get caught in a sandstorm or contend with searing sunshine.
He explains: “We are very strict here and work closely with only a few selected manufacturers. You must consider the heat and especially the brightness of the sun which is immense in this part of the world. We make sure we have the same good, reliable power supplies and fan systems in all our Pro-Screen range of screens. Another important thing to get right is the length of the shades and front mask that you use. This is important especially if the screen is facing the sun. If you don’t get this right, then you only see a ghost image on the screen!”
“Distance relates to pixel pitch,” McIlvride continues. “We have the only 6mm SMD outdoor LED screens in the area — this is very high resolution for outdoor screens. This screen can be seen clearly from six metres away. I don’t think you will get higher outdoor pitch for a good few years, as the closer the LEDs are in the modules the hotter the screen runs. The newer SMD screens offer greater viewing angles than the DIP type, giving horizontal angles of up to 160 degrees.”
So, once the angles have been arranged and the distances deemed suitable, there is still the question of which screen to use. For those reading this that may perhaps not be well-versed in the choices of display rental on offer, there are two basic types.
The first, known as modular, refers to screens that arrive at a venue in various configurations and are assembled on site to whatever specification the client has imagined. The other type — known as mobile — are screens that travel fully-assembled on the back of a truck and arrive at the venue in one piece ready to be hoisted into position and switched on using the self-contained power generator within the truck.
According to the specific demands of any event, either type of screen (modular or mobile) could be utilised — it usually comes down to build-up time, venue, the type of event and, as with all things, budget. While each has its benefits and each can also have its downfalls, for McIlvride the modular version tends to hold the most appeal.
He reveals: “We prefer the cabinet type LED screens. They are basically like Lego blocks and you can build them up to any size or shape you want. Mobile screens are very limited as they are a fixed size and shape. We find that for a lot of the bigger events we have been doing for years here, like the rugby 7s and ATP tennis for example, all the screens are built on special built structures, so cabinet type has that flexibility. These events would not suit mobile screens as you wouldn’t physically be able to fit them into the surrounding structures.”
So, with a variety of assembly options, the highest resolutions available and — seemingly — no major limits to their use, it perhaps comes as no surprise that LED looks set to remain the first choice for many of the region’s events planners for years to come.
Mendoca certainly believes this is true. He tells us: “The future of LED is very promising. It can never go out of fashion. The best part about LED is it gives us various options to select from. Multiple options in the pitch, LED mesh when we just want to fill a space yet make it look visually interesting, curved/ foldable LED makes storage much more painless! Our company is investing heavily in the latest models with respect to curved LEDs and outdoor all-weather LED.”
And McIlvride agrees that the display format of choice for many is not going away any time soon. “LED screens are the future for events,” he states.
“We find our screens are used for exhibition stands, conferences, indoor and outdoor product launches as well as all the sporting events. Concerts now have nothing but LED screens for visuals, usually lightweight mesh type for centre screens, standard screens for IMAG/side screens.
We find that we have to try and keep bringing in higher specs/resolutions to offer to event companies as well as bringing in new ideas. For example, we recently added LED spheres to our rental stock, these can be used for creative ideas in fashion shows, weddings etc. So as you can see LED screens are not just “big TVs” anymore.”
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And the fact that LED displays are no longer considered to be simply just ‘big TVs’ is something that is, most likely, making Dr Nick Holonyak Jr. a very happy man indeed.
The technological advances that have evolved since octogenarian Holonyak first invented his original diode have been no less than remarkable. In an interview with GE lighting carried out to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his invention, the then 83-year-old described the pioneering attitude that helped lead him to his discovery.
Recounting the competitive environment that propelled his determination to realise his LED goal, Holonyak revealed how at the time of joining GE he thought: “If they can make a laser, I can make a better laser than any of them because I’ve made this alloy that is in the red — visible. And I’m going to be able to see what’s going on, and they’re stuck in the infrared. I know that I’m just at the front end but I know the result is so powerful… there’s no ambiguity about the fact that this has got a life way beyond what we’re seeing."