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InfoComm 2011: Is Brightness the New Differentiator for Commercial Displays?

Fri, 06/17/2011 - 11:20am
Chris Connery – Vice President, PC and Large Format Commercial Displays, DisplaySearch
Chris ConneryInfoComm, which took place this past week in Orlando, Florida, is by far one of the world’s biggest B2B events in the video industry, with more than 30,000 resellers, integrators, and commercial end-users attending to collaborate on commercial, educational, or governmental projects. InfoComm does not have the broad awareness of CES, and new products introduced at the event tend to focus on niche markets within the bigger B2B AV industry. Overall, the event is all about real business and real projects.

The commercial AV market has historically been dominated by projection technologies for very large venues. Direct-view LED boards have also had a long presence in outdoor venues. However, TFT LCDs are now becoming a key technology for large venues, starting with indoor digital signage, including applications such as quick-service restaurants, flight information displays, digital advertising, and way-finding.

One question that always arises is: how are commercial-grade TFT LCDs different than those used in TVs? To address this, brands and panel makers with a B2B focus have tried to specify how the panels and the finished sets are different from TV displays. A key aspect is reliability: the installer community needs to be convinced that TFT LCD technology can operate 24/7 in commercial settings.

Panel makers have updated their roadmaps to call out Digital Information Displays (DID), Public Displays (PD), or Public Information Display (PID) vs. TV panels so that brands and OEMs can see the differences. At the set level, other terms have arisen to define non-display features, such as cabled remote control (via RS232), thin, uniform bezels, or other industrial design features. Many brands now use the acronym LF or LFD for Large-Format Display. With companies like Samsung making both panels and finished sets (some of which use professional grade panels and some of which do not), it is not uncommon to hear about a new “LED LCD LFD using a DID panel.” This is a mouthful even for an industry full of acronyms, but these differentiators are necessary to communicate performance differences.

Commercial displays have been using narrow bezels, and now are emphasizing “super” or “ultra” narrow bezels, as a way to position TFT LCDs in the video wall market, where very small gaps between displays are required. Rear-projection video wall vendors use the term “mullion” for the gap between display elements, but TFT LCD vendors tend to use “bezel.” But now TVs have narrow bezels, again making it harder to differentiate commercial grade displays.

In response, another specification is receiving more attention in the product lines of panel makers focusing on the commercial space: brightness. Enhancements in backlighting (improved CCFL efficiency, edge-lit LEDs, back-lit LEDs) are allowing for 700 to 1,500 nit brightness to be achieved in 55-60” TFT LCDs, enabling differentiation from consumer grade products.

High brightness is not just a marketing differentiator; it allows TFT LCDs to be effective in out-of-home environments, where installers are not in control of ambient light (think of shopping malls or airports which can be flooded with sunlight). While the consumer market is always open to specifications wars, tradeoffs between set thickness, cost, and brightness limit the adoption of high brightness, so it is likely to be the province of commercial-grade displays.

DisplaySearch is now tracking trends in brightness in our Quarterly FPD Public Display Shipment and Forecast Report.
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