Working to create informed clients is in the vendor’s and manufacturer’s joint best interest.

This issue, SRO's Display Column examines key issues facing the LED rental industry from the perspective of two industry veterans — one representing the rental and staging world, and the other representing a manufacturer's point of view. SRO recently sat in on a conversation between Darren Moffett, an account executive at A/V rental company McKnight Visual, Inc., and Randy Green, a longtime large-screen industry veteran who now serves as the North American representative for Toshiba's Techno Rainbow LED screens. The two men have worked closely together in recent months, as McKnight is the first rental company in North America to add Techno Rainbow LED screens to its rental inventory.

Here, the two men chat about the issues vendors and manufacturers face, and debate as they figure out the best way to sell their products and services to prospective clients for use on major shows and events.


A setup of Toshiba Techno Rainbow LED screens at a recent trade show. Manufacturers like Toshiba need to work closely with vendors to make sure clients get maximum value from their products.

DM:

When sending out proposals for LED screen rentals, it's amazing how many different variables come into play. Potential clients sometimes are uninformed about important factors. The most common is the time-frame they need for the equipment and logistics involved. A one-day event potentially could have different setup requirements than a four-day event. They also are usually quoted quite differently.

Far too often, I'm told they only need the LED screen for X days, and it ends up being something else. Then the client doesn't understand why, in the end, the quote was more expensive than the first draft.


LED can be utilized for corporate presentations like this one.

Therefore, I suggest that if the event has multiple LED screen locations, make sure you spec each area appropriately, and if you are using different technologies in each area (like 10mm, 15mm, truck mount, etc.), explain your recommendations. Ask the client all the appropriate questions to head off any potential hiccups on site, as well as costly additions. Clearly state on the proposal what is and is not included (extra stage hands, security, power, etc.).

Rigging and staging are the two biggest expenses that often get overlooked. Just because the client tells you they have the staging taken care of, don't assume they have planned for it to hold the LED screen.

Make sure you actually talk to the staging company and work with them to determine what the LED screen needs to be set up, and who will be responsible for it.

RG: Also, I find it useful to have a spec sheet for each product handy that includes various screen sizes, and all the required information for rigging, dimensions, weight, current power requirements, and types of connections, and make sure you use industry-accepted terms.

A small, one-page CAD drawing that can be faxed or emailed is also useful. Is it rigged with chain motors or sitting on a platform or stage? What is the surface it will be built on? Is there easy access for flight cases? Where will the processing rack and playback equipment be in relation to the screen? The more information you can provide on the front end will result in fewer surprises, a more successful show, and a happier customer.

DM: One thing I often find falls through the cracks is whether or not the event has appropriate permits, and checking to see if you need any engineering permits. It creates major havoc when you are told everything is fine with the screen location and the appropriate permits have been granted, and then when you start setting up at a particular venue, officials put up a red flag because they know nothing about the truss structure you are using to hold up the screen, even though you sent that information to the event coordinator long ago.

Again, never assume. Always make sure you have talked to all the appropriate people. This can literally make or break your setup.

In particular, one-day events sometimes have tight setup schedules, so find out what time-frame you have to work with, and quote labor appropriately. The operational and logistical sides of each gig are just as important as the signing of the contract, because if you can't deliver on the back end, chances are you won't be asked back to that particular event.

Another important factor, obviously, is budget. With this challenging economy, budgets are tighter than ever. Make sure a potential client has realistic expectations, and qualify the event's needs. Many event producers have heard about LED screens, and some have even seen them at various events. But of those people, many don't understand the difference between a 25mm screen and a 10mm screen. So educate them about the different types, and make recommendations based on what they are trying to accomplish.

RG: Setting aside the cost issue for a moment, the most important technical consideration in determining whether an LED screen is appropriate for a particular event is the venue's ambient lighting. Of course, projectors are not bright enough for outdoor presentations, so 5,000-plus NIT. (Ed. note: A NIT is a unit of measure for the light output of LED screens.) LED screens are a given outdoors. Contrast is also very important. If you are in bright sunlight and you have your screen surrounded by white banners, the sun will reflect light off those banners and make your screen look washed out and dim. I find it best to surround the screens with as much black or dark borders as possible. This will improve your contrast and the apparent brightness of your screen.

Indoors, only a small percentage of events can satisfactorily utilize projection. If there is any daylight involved, such as a lobby or atrium, LED must be used to be really effective. When the screen is the focal point of the show, and lighting can be controlled, projection can work. But if the screen is ancillary and lighting decisions are made for other reasons, projectors will not be bright enough to get the message across. Remember: a 10,000ANSI lumen projector is still only 20% to 25% as bright as a 1,500 NIT indoor LED screen.

After the customer decides on LED, picking screen size and resolution (pixel pitch) are the next key factors. How many people will be viewing the event? Where will they be in relationship to the screen? Is more than one screen required? And if so, why? What types of viewing angles are required, horizontal and vertical?

For smaller crowds (500-1,000) that are located close (20ft.-50ft.) to the screen, higher resolutions are necessary so that the closest viewers can see a clear, detailed image.

Higher-resolution screens range from 6mm to 15mm. (Note: 4mm and 5mm screens are on the near horizon.) If a large pixel-pitch screen is used for a small gathering, all close viewers will see is light coming from a bunch of dots. Therefore, color compound distance and minimum viewing distance are important. The color compound distance is the absolute distance where the three discrete colors blend to make white — this is determined by pixel pitch and pixel type.

The minimum viewing distance is somewhat more subjective and is where the picture displayed looks natural without seeing discrete LEDs. The minimum viewing distance is always greater than the color compound distance.

If you have a larger crowd, and the closest viewers are more than 50ft. away, then larger screens and larger pixel-pitch screens can be effectively used. Larger pixel-pitch screens range from 20mm-30mm.

But screen size is also important. A smaller screen with high resolution can have a beautiful image up close, but be totally the wrong choice if people need to view the screens from far distances. Conversely, a large screen with low resolution may be low-cost and reach a long distance, but the wrong choice if a high percentage of viewers are up close and need to see a clear image.

Usually, the rule of thumb is the maximum viewing distance is 8 to 10 times the screen size diagonal, and minimum viewing distance is 2 to 2 1/2 times the diagonal. (Ed. note: The screen diagonal, like your TV at home, is measured from one corner of the display diagonally to the other corner of the display. For example, a screen 3ft. tall by 4ft. wide measures 5ft. diagonally.)

Some other technical considerations include the types of signals to be used, the ability of the LED processor to successfully deliver those inputs to the screen, and specific production requirements. For example, if lighting-control or event-control automation is being used, the screen's processor must be able to interface with the automation or control systems.

Keep in mind there are variables and circumstances that always cause exceptions, and it is important to be flexible. But overall, when choosing which LED screen is right for your production, it is important to weigh the costs versus all the benefits. If this is done considering all the variables, including the most important variable — your customer's satisfaction — you will find that the lowest-cost LED is not always the correct choice.

DM: I know exactly what you mean.

I was prospecting an event not too long ago, and a lady I spoke with was generally receptive to the notion of using LED, but she made a very strong statement.

“I saw an LED screen at a recent event and looked twice at it because it looked so terrible,” she told me. “Why would I want one if it looks that bad?”

I was shocked by her comment. I asked her about the event and venue size, and it definitely sounded like the wrong screen was picked for the job. I then spent time educating her about different screen types and the prices associated with them.

She ended up spending money on the most expensive screen because she was holding a similar event, but didn't want anyone to have the kind of reaction she told me about. If a client is just looking for the “cheapest LED screen,” determine what their needs really are. You might be pleasantly surprised by the selections made by an educated and informed client.


Darren Moffett is sales manager at McKnight Visual, Inc., a Los Alamitos, Calif.-based company that specializes in LED screens, videowalls, video/projection systems, and sound reinforcement. McKnight has more than a decade of experience supporting corporate presentations, conventions, and entertainment events across the country. His specialties include comprehensive project management, design consulting, custom engineering, technical support, and logistical coordination.

Randy Green has worked in the broadcast and large-screen industries for more than 20 years, as both a large-screen customer and manufacturer's representative. He served for more than 10 years as a product and project manager for Sony's JumboTron division, and has managed or provided on-site technical support for more than 100 JumboTron installations around the world.