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Electronic Signs Values and Attractions

Unrivaled use in outdoor applications of electronic-digital signage



As president of LED Lighting Technologies, Dr. M. Nisa Khan consults in the solid-state lighting industry and educates consumers about LED lighting. She has a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics, and master’s and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering. Email her at [email protected]


As revealed in ST’s 2012 Lighting Survey (see ST, —), LED-lamped signs long-predicted ascendancy over neon- and fluorescent-lamped signs has finally surfaced. Expectedly, such trends will become stronger as more signshops change to LED illumination for signs, especially as the technology advances.
Certainly, the survey considered fixed electric signs where comparisons of various illumination choices have relevance. But, LED lamps’ most unique (and unrivaled) signage use lies in outdoor applications of electronic-message centers (EMCs) and electronic-digital signage (EDS), aka dynamic digital signs (DDS).
LCD, plasma, projection and similar screen systems can also produce DDS, but, other than OLEDs, these do not use self-emissive light sources, and their outdoor usage is limited. To date, only LED-lamped DDS and EMC systems are easy to read in direct sunlight. Further, because fast-switching, arrayed, LED lamps are naturally compatible with electronics, they offer the outdoor-advertising industry sign arrangements with numerous features and qualities.

Alternative Technologies
LCD and plasma DDS-type screens are better suited for smaller or reticulated-component indoor-signage applications because practical viewing distances typically commence a few feet from the viewer. Such proximities demand screen resolutions and pixel pitches similar to those of TVs and desktop monitors. LED lamps (and the related pixel pitch) continue to diminish in size, but, to date, LED-based systems can’t achieve the necessary, indoor-view pixel pitch at reasonable costs.
OLED-system screens may eventually compete in flat-screen quarters, but the systems presently face thermal and efficiency challenges.

The Power
Dynamic, digital-type signs and displays — DDS systems — that routinely update graphic visuals offer a powerful and easily implemented advertising process. Further, on-premise, EMC — message only — systems provide effective and unprompted, business-to-customer messages. Both can inspire subsequent and positive actions.
Prior to the widespread acceptance of EMCs, some businesses used message boards where only letters — words — appeared; these were manually revised and lacked intensity. Oppositely, LED-lamped EMCs’ dynamic messages’ crisp text can draw customers off the streets and into the stores.
Chain store marketers can simultaneously distribute either type of message in numerous geographical locations from a central source. Further, ad designers can customize and, when necessary, change individual or regional messages almost instantly via the comfort of a personal computer that comprises software that will add, modify or delete their announcements.

Evocative Applications
DDS systems are most appropriate for businesses and establishments that wish to convey relevant graphic information to a targeted audience in a timely manner. In theory, the location and density of dynamic signs are chosen so that they are easily viewed, legible and not overly distracting; but these criteria vary by location. For example, visual chaos would result if every store in a typical strip mall installed an EMC that displayed its own ad message. Instead of useful information, passers-by would be visually overwhelmed and unable to extract useful information concerning any store.
Better, and certainly practiced, plazas and malls install one (or sometimes several) LED-based EMCs and, by contract, rotate their various advertising messages.
As you’ve seen, Walgreens drug stores commonly install a reader-board EMC system on or near their store fronts and by this, it presents buyer-enticing information on popular merchandise items (Fig. 1). Walgreens has reported traceable sales gains following each installation.
Other examples abound, but Walgreens and other neighborhood businesses often report successes with EMC installations, which attest that smaller, stand-alone establishments — schools, churches, banks and even larger stores — can profit from simple EMC signs.


DDS Features
LED-based DDS, e.g., large-format, outdoor-television screens with full-color video and motion, offer numerous features. The sign owner determines the DDS features of size, resolution and color capability by determining such factors as needs, budget and location. Nevertheless, they must seek such universally desirable attributes as viewing angle, color stability, durability, customer support and maintenance.
In order to deliver the customer’s content, DDS systems integrate various hardware and software systems, typically an LED-lamped, active-matrix, display screen, one or more media players, a content-management server and sometimes a light-control sensor. For smaller, local-use, stand-alone screens that don’t require multi-casting, all components are usually integrated into one hardware piece, and an outside-linked network connection isn’t required. It’s quite the opposite on larger, more expansive systems.
LED displays are typically constructed from two-dimensional, modular, plug-in units — bricks — with pixel pitches ranging from 10 to 20mm. Pitch is the distance between linked, lamp sets that usually comprise a three-lamp, RGB parcel. The cost can increase dramatically with pixel pitches below 10 mm. A desired LED display size is achieved by choosing the number of matrix modules, and pixel-pitch specifications, which depend on the viewing distances and the customer’s decision on resolution.
Specially equipped DDS systems can interact with mobile phones using SMS messaging or other protocol and hardware technologies. Such interactive systems enable marketers to significantly boost customers interactivity that may lead to customer spending loyalty. Other systems will report edited, Twitter-type messages to various mobile computing devices. This type of technology also ties in to mobile computing devices.

Business Justification
DDS attributes come with a larger price tag. Expectedly, buying marketers calculate ROI and other benefits to justify the major upfront costs as well as operational expenses.
Calculating ROI can be tricky because customer-response causes are difficult to pinpoint. Further, returns that arise from brand building and lead generation are different from point-of-purchase sales, and such returns usually take much longer to realize. Also, although DDS costs vary, the systems are much more expensive than static signs and, therefore, ROI must be determined as rigorously as possible.

As with any sophisticated electronic gadgets, electronic signs will encounter problems that stem from Internet communication failures, software and hardware malfunctions, and power outages.
During super-storm Sandy, nearly half of New York City and New Jersey residents lost power for a prolonged period. Several weeks later, a community college’s EMC read that the institution was closed weeks after the storm, even when it opened after power was restored within a week.
Clearly, the college administrators saw the difficulties associated with reprogramming a digital sign after a power disruption. As a temporary cure, workers installed obstruction blocks in front of the sign to cover the erroneous message. Such a problem could be resolved by adopting a system that can update content manually or via automatic data feed from other sources.







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