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A Buyer’s Guide to Digital Trade Show Walls & Displays: Part 2 of 2


In Part 1 of “A Buyer’s Guide to Trade Show Digital Displays” we broke down the features, benefits, and strategies to mitigate risk for selecting tablets, kiosks, and TV screens. In this article, part 2 of 2, we will cover computer monitors, projectors, and video walls built from LED tiles.

Computer Monitors
Computer monitors are quite often much smaller than TV screens and come in a smaller range of sizes. Many TVs come in sizes in excess of 50 inches, while computer monitors often top out at only 30 inches. Typically, computer monitors have more pixels per inch than TV screens because they are designed for up close, long-term viewing. Choose computer monitors over TV monitors for longer interactions, where the attendee will be reading text, typing answers, or playing a game. Be sure to adjust the brightness of the screen to the ambient light conditions as well to avoid fatiguing attendee’s eyes.

At first glance, projectors seem to be an ideal trade show technology. Projectors are reasonably priced, in a small package, and capable of displaying large moving digital content. However, for trade show success, projectors require 3 things:

  1. The first requirement is enough brightness (measured in lumens) to overcome show hall lighting. We’ve determined that projectors need to be at least 13-15,000 lumens to deal with show hall ambient lights. (A typical office projector is around 3500 lumens, a home projector is less than 2000 lumens.) Less lumens require a strategy for controlling the ambient light by installing in a darkened room or enclosing the screen in a darkened “tunnel.”
  2. The second requirement is a screen to project onto. Just putting up a white fabric will result in sub-par results. Projector screens have evolved as much as projector technology. Light gray / silver screens result in much better images because blacks look blacker, and bright colors are not as washed out as when projecting onto pure white. Reflective coatings can also dramatically improve the brightness, and a dark boarder surrounding the projected image absorbs stray light and gives the impression of a brighter image.
  3. The third requirement is a clear light path between the projector and the screen that is free from obstructions (including attendees.) Depending on the projector, that usually means a distance free from obstructions of at least 8-12’, which prompts mounting the projector overhead, which may bump into show hall regulations, depending on the booth size. A strategy for a shorter clear path, without reducing image size, might be to use a short-throw projector, or short-throw and rear projection. This type of projector reflects the image off a mirror to simulate greater distance. The mirror is not 100% efficient, so brightness is lost, both in the reflection and project from the rear. At the time of this writing, short-throw projectors should only be used in conjunction with also controlling ambient light.

Two final considerations when implementing projector technology is aspect ratio, and sound. Many projectors have a native aspect ratio of 4:3 like an old TV or laptop computer. In this type of projector, 16:9 content is emulated by dynamically resizing the content at a lower brightness and lower image quality. Regarding sound, it can be disconcerting if your audio sources is separate from the screen. Be sure to place the speakers near the screen, and test before going live to make sure it feels like the sound is coming from the screen.

Although, not currently an ideal trade show technology, we will be watching projectors over the next several years. Current laser projectors are bright, and do not have the lamp-life issues of older projectors. These have already moved from the large 4k digital cinema experience into the home theater market where ambient light is easy to control, and the content display is native 16:9. Expect that brighter, smaller, cheaper, innovation will bring this projector technology back to the trade show as a viable compelling option in the future.

Video Walls
A video wall is made up of multiple displays placed together, creating one giant image. Each individual screen shows a portion of the image, sometimes referred to as a “zone.” The displays used in video walls are commercial displays, because they must have a very thin bezel around the screen to stack them close together, and they must be capable of displaying “zones”—which isn’t generally possible with consumer-grade TVs. (A simple 2X2 array can be displayed on consumer grade TVs if a connected to a PC with a higher-end graphics card.) The modularity of video walls enables digital images much, much larger than even the largest single-screen monitors.

If the distance from the viewer to the screen is less than 8-10’, an array of narrow bezel, commercial TVs result in a sharper image. The trade-off that come with the higher resolution is a grid of thin black lines created by the thin bezel of the display. Large grid-less video walls are constructed using borderless video tiles. Most video tiles are 500mm X 500mm, (1:1 aspect ratio) although some newer tiles are conforming to the modern 16:9 aspect ratio and are sized 365mm X 640mm.

One specification that impacts the quality of a video tile image is distance between the individual LED lights, known as the pitch. The image quality improves as the pitch decreases because there is less space between the lights. However, the reliability of the tile decreases as the pitch decreases because there are many more lights, and ruggedness is highly desirable in the trade show rental world. At the time of this writing, most video tiles implemented in the trade show industry, balance cost and reliability with a pitch of 2.9mm (about 1/8”.) A good rule of thumb for viewing distance is 1m (3.3’) viewing distance per 1mm pitch, so 2.9 * 3.3’ = 9.5’ A video wall built out of 2.9mm pitch video tiles will look good from a distance of 9.5’ or greater.

  • Rule of thumb: 1m (3.3’) viewing distance per 1mm pitch, so 2.9 * 3.3’ = 9.5’
  • Close viewing or smaller screen sizes is often better served by 1 or more televisions.

Large moving images on video walls create dramatic and dynamic spaces, and are great for 3 purposes:

  1. An immersive experience (becoming part of the NYC marathon)
  2. Viewing the message from a long distance away (overhead signage)
  3. Creating ambiance (jungle theme of Skyline’s recent EXHIBITORLIVE exhibit)

They are ideal for companies with large budgets and require absorbing additional costs to mitigate risks.

Additional expenses that should be budgeted include:

  1. Large digital graphics need to be mapped to the specific pixel count of the video tile wall, and at a refresh rate of at least 30Hz (much faster than a normal video.)
  2. Video tile walls require a subject matter expert during installation and setup.
  3. Any failure of a large video array will detract from the entire exhibit experience; for this reason, Skyline always recommends on-site support throughout the show and 24 hour power (do not shut off the video wall until show is over.)

Many options of digital displays can be implemented to deliver your message at a trade show. In these 2 articles, we briefly covered Tablets, Kiosks, TV Screens, Computer Monitors, Projectors, and LED walls. Rather than selecting the technology and fitting the content and message to the digital display, best practice dictates starting with the message (or story), which drives the content, which drives the medium (digital display technology.) As the digital display increases in size and becomes a more critical design feature to connect with your customer, plans must be created and resources (time, money, and people) must be budgeted to mitigate risks.

What is your experience? Have you found digital displays to be a distraction, and hinder face to face connections, or have they become a strategic key part of your exhibiting success? Please share your stories.