Digital signage display manufacturers have been in a pitched battle for years over whose product has the skinniest bezels, ands therefore the least discernible seams in video walls.
First, we had narrow bezel. Then super narrow. And ultra narrow bezel. One manufacturer even, apparently with a straight face, now has super ultra narrow bezels. Which logically means the next generation will be super-duper crazy-ultra narrow bezels.
There was a time – and a fairly long stretch of time at that – when the bezels, or frames, around LCD flat panel displays were as wide as picture frames. When they were joined together to make larger visuals as video walls, the results were both impressive in scale and awful in aesthetics. You see the remnants of those ideas still, in airports due for renos, pokey shopping malls and half-empty sports bars. They’re stocked with old video walls with big, thick gridlines that break up the visuals so badly it’s anything but a treat to watch.
These days, we’re down to almost minimal bezel gaps – a matter of a few millimeters – on the premium products of the display manufacturers. It’s enough to reasonably to wonder if the industry a reached the point of diminishing returns? Does getting any skinnier matter, or is the continuing battle just an outlet for something, anything, to pitch to buyers, when the other specs on display panels all look pretty much the same?
Why bezels are so hard to kill
“Bezel” is a term borrowed from the diamond industry. In that business, it refers to a cut on a gem that allows it to be held in place. That’s pretty much what a bezel is doing with the delicate, precious liquid crystal displays – structurally held together and supported by a surrounding frame. The LCD cell is not more than a ribbon-cabled section of film. Something rigid – metal or plastic or another material – needs to maintain the shape and structural integrity of that LCD.
That’s what the bezel is all about. It’s essentially the picture frame. There’s also a bezel because the liquid crystal cell that makes up display doesn’t go right to the edges of the film, or layer. There’s a border.
As flat panel prices have dropped in recent years and LED has supplanted skinny fluorescent tubes as the backlights for displays, that’s allowed panels to get thinner and lighter, and pushed the boundaries on what was needed to serve as the frame. There’s no particular need to have thick bezels anymore, other than for aesthetic design for panels not designed to joined in clusters.
What about “zero bezel?”
It’s not likely we’ll ever see a genuinely bezel-free LCD panel, but we’ll definitely hear and read lots of announcements that push on that statement. I remember a few press releases through the years that have called video wall products seamless, or “virtually” seamless.
At CES at the start of this year, Samsung announced a “bezel-less” 4K quantum dot TV. But observers said the unit did indeed have bezels – it’s just that Samsung dubbed them frames. So … go figure that one out.
Samsung does lay claim, probably, to “the world’s thinnest bezel-to-bezel video wall” – with bezels measuring 0.9 mm on the upper and left side, and 0.5 mm on the lower and right side. I saw that at ISE in February and it was very, very nice (that’s a close-up above).
I confirmed with an industry contact his company is continuing wok to shrink bezels down even further, though he added they can’t get a whole lot smaller.
But the question remains? Is there still a visual problem with seams, or do the video wall products of the major manufacturers now have product that results in hairline seams only industry people will really notice or care about. You can still see the seams, but …
Indoor LED, aka direct view LED, displays are high resolution walls that are starting to look as good, from a short distance back, as LCD video walls. And the LEDs have no evident seams. They’re starting to reasonably compete on visual appeal, but what’s holding back adoption is the much higher cost per square foot of that tech.
That will change, as all tech invariably drops down in pricing. That indoor LED threat might be what pushes LCD panel makers to continue on with the bezel wars. They need to stay ahead of the LED competition.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for more than 13 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia.