LCD Digital Signage: The Writing (and More) Is on the Wall

Students at the University of Colorado at Boulder eagerly awaited the opening of The Center for Community, a brand-new facility that is home to a variety of departments and University services. Anticipation was particularly high for the Center for Community Dining, the largest dining hall on campus, featuring food from a wide variety of countries and cultures.

Now that the center is open, students can order almost anything from tacos to sushi to Kosher and much more. And to help them decide, planners of the facility specified a unique, high-definition video wall for the dining hall entrance. This nearly 200-sq.-ft. expanse of liquid crystal display (LCD) video wall technology presents a varied combination of graphics and video, capturing the attention of anyone wanting to grab a bite to eat while hurrying to class or coming off an all-night study session. It also informs passersby of what's happening on campus.

Engage Your Audience

LCD technology has become an attractive medium for many public places, such as college common areas, to engage an audience in places of waiting or purchasing. The popularity of LCD technology in these applications has grown in part due to the capability to create high-impact video walls using narrow bezel LCD with just gaps of just 1/4-inch. Key to the appeal of LCD is its brightness and slim profile, which demands less installation space that provides a near seamless visual image.

Increasingly, college and university administrators and staff who are in the market for a video wall solution are looking for sophisticated display systems, both in terms of components and capabilities. Primary considerations when deciding on a digital display is cost of ownership and delivering effective and engaging content. At the University of Colorado at Boulder, the video wall display involved an array of 16 LCD panels, each 46-in. in size, in an eight-wide by two-high (8 by 2) configuration. The completed video wall is 15 ft. above the floor, and near-perfect alignment of the 16 LCD panels was required in order to create an almost-seamless display vista that can accommodate virtually any kind of visual content.

“Students here are bright, quick, and tech-savvy," said Janice Torkildsen, the University's director of dining marketing and customer service. "They don't read posters, tent cards on tables, or other paper-based information. But they do stop and engage with this video wall, and they do say 'Wow.' This technology orientation, combined with the University's sustainability orientation — a strong initiative to reduce paper — positions the 'Wow' wall to become our communication tool of choice."

Menus and More
Torkildsen added that the university’s goals are to display the obvious content, such as meal menus, and at some point to have live feeds from various chef stations. "But, we want the video wall to have interchangeable, engaging content, whether it's a live feed from a game in progress or information about other things happening on campus. That's the goal, and all the aspects of the video wall — its size, attention-grabbing imagery, and flexible content — support that goal."

For most colleges and universities, having an easy to install video wall, which reduces the overall cost of ownership, should be a big part of the procurement and decision making process. Where direct-view LCD is the choice, preference should be given to video walls whose mounting systems make aligning the panels easy. These mounting systems should also capitalize on the thin-bezel design of today’s leading large-panel systems, which create video walls with gaps between each panel that measure less than three-tenths of an inch. The benefits here are two-fold. First, the video wall will install quickly, and thus, at lower overall cost. Second, a virtually seamless wall ensures that displayed images are engaging, impressive, and viewers see them as high quality.

Technical Factors to Consider

Serviceability is another factor that should be taken into consideration, especially in campus settings where a constant flow of foot traffic could impact maintenance objectives. Today’s premier LCD video wall systems are advantageous because they can allow access to any of the LCD panels without the need to remove panels. This eliminates or minimizes the necessity to power a wall down to service one or more panels; a feature that has cost-saving implications and also contributes to operational continuity.

Video wall decision-makers will also want to look at systems that feature off-board component design, a feature of premier LCD systems. This feature allows power supplies and controllers to be located away from the video wall, thus removing sources of heat from the LCD panels that could induce failures or shorten their backlight life span.

Further, while some campuses have plans and the ability to recess or flush-mount their video walls; this may not be practical for all organizations. In this case, strong consideration should be given to digital display manufactures that can provide an ultra-slim profile. Video walls that offer a total mounted depth of less than four inches from the wall are ideal.

System integration specialists in the audio-visual industry will tell you that for many universities, image quality is perhaps the most important factor. Ultimately, a video wall should support a variety of content that is both engaging and informative, so it needs to look beautiful. You must be able to deliver on the promise of resolution (3000:1), brightness (700 nits), and color handling (16.7M colors).

In the case of the University of Colorado Boulder, they wanted a video wall that accentuated the look and feel of the Center for Community while providing a welcoming and accessible environment for all. Torkildsen is satisfied. "In our case, the video wall complements the facility's design, and catches your eye in just the right way. It's what we envisioned, and we know it will serve our community of students, staff, and visitors for a long time to come, in many important ways.”

Steve Seminario is senior director of product marketing for Video Walls at Planar Systems, Inc. The company is a pioneer in large-scale video walls, and focuses heavily on providing systems that meet varying needs of colleges and universities globally.