What To Think About When Looking For Outdoor Displays

Guest Post: Chuck Lewis, Palmer Digital Group

A lot of thinking, engineering and testing goes into designing an outdoor digital kiosk that will work well, and last.

Chuck Lewis
Chuck Lewis

Unlike indoor digital kiosks, almost every aspect of an outdoor digital kiosk has to be scrutinized and designed properly to survive  the heat, cold, moisture and winds that are part of outdoor environments.

If your business or clients are thinking about outdoor displays, here’s a rundown on some key points to consider:

Use an outdoor rated display

Commercial displays have come a long way in the past five years. When designing an outdoor kiosk, make certain that the display you choose is rated for outdoor environments. The display should be rated at -40 F to 122 F, and survive at 95% relative humidity. The display brightness should be at least 2500 nits, and unit should have a protection rating of at least IP56, which means it means it is sealed against dust and no gets in, even when blasted by water jets.

It is also a plus when the outdoor display comes with its own health monitoring. These displays, when plugged into the internet, can be accessed remotely and checked to monitor the operating temperature, as well as a variety of other indicators, to make sure the display is performing at its peak levels and all the internal systems are in check.

Commercial displays rated for indoor use or even semi-outdoor use – usually meaning they’re brighter – will likely run into several unwanted issues. Direct sunlight and its heat-load will quite possibly cause isotropic failure of the LCD, turning all or part of it black and rendering it useless. The power supplies may also overheat.

Media players vs SOC

When designing an indoor digital kiosk, using a standalone media player or the system on chip (SOC) media processor built into certain commercial displays is really a matter of preference.

When designing an outdoor digital kiosk, this question needs serious consideration. If you find that the built-in SOC in the outdoor rated display will work with your content, then I strongly suggest you go with this. The built-in SOC in an outdoor rated display (if the display you choose comes with an SOC) is already designed for harsh environments. Using this SOC eliminates your environmental performance worries.

If your application absolutely needs to use a media player for specific reasons, then be very careful in choosing which media player you for your outdoor kiosk applications. As with the outdoor commercial displays, this media player needs to perform at -40 F to 122 F, and survive at 95% relative humidity.

These media players exist, but you will need to do some homework in order to find the one that performs the best for your applications. Choose wrong, and even the ideal outdoor-ready display is of little use if there’s no signal.

Fans will fail

I have been asked this question from clients for several years.

There are still products out there being marketed as outdoor digital kiosks, but using high bright commercial displays not rated for outdoor elements, and heat exhaust fans that may develop issues.

The biggest flaw to these outdoor kiosk designs are the fans. Once a fan fails (and they always fail), a domino effect starts to happen. The other internal fans can start to overheat and then fail, as well as the display.

The display will most likely go isotropic first, and then turn completely black before shutting down. The internal integrated components, such as a media players and routers, may also overheat and shutdown.

The only way to make sure the fans do not fail is to support the outdoor kiosk with a preventative maintenance program for the client. And who bares the extra cost for this PM service…the client?

Stay away from filters

When designing an outdoor digital kiosk, stay away from internal filters. If you choose the right outdoor-rated display, and integrated components, you will not need internal filters. And that’s a good thing.

Filters can serve an important purpose in a kiosk design, but there is a fundamental operating flaw – filters need to be changed!

Once the kiosk has been installed, and the filters are put in place, you can count on one thing happening: the filters will never be changed again, even though they need to be.

The result: filters will become clogged over time, and cause an internal domino effect. Refer back to my earlier comments on how “Fans will fail.”

Conclusions

When designing an outdoor digital kiosk, make certain to use outdoor-rated components. That means the display AND the media players. They have to be rated to survive the brutal cold of Minnesota, the insane heat of Phoenix, and the humidity of Houston or Miami. There are places where all three come into play!

Stay away from internal cooling fans and filters. Make certain the materials used in manufacturing your kiosk are rated for outdoor environments.

Make certain to design the outdoor kiosk based on the recommendations of the manufacturers’ specifications, specifically as it relates to the displays and media players.

As designers and manufacturers, our job is to deliver outdoor digital kiosk solutions that perform in harsh environments, and will last for years to come. This is what the client deserves.

2 thoughts on “What To Think About When Looking For Outdoor Displays”

  1. Dear Chuck,

    Thank you for the very important review about outdoor kiosks that you have presented here, however the outdoor rated screens or media players will survive the humidity, moisture, dust, salty air, rain, but do nothing with heat. The heat requires cooling but you don’t prefer fans because of high rate of failure neither filters that blocked quickly.

    From my experience I found the closed air circulation system offered by some manufacturers like Infinitus is a solution for blocked filters and Advanced cooling HVAC is the other solution for not working fans, what is your opinion.

  2. Dear Clark:

    I agree with the above post regarding screen survival. Generally, a screen is within a protective enclosure. The applicable standard is important. What you want is a system compliant with IEC/EN/UL 60950-22. The “-22” is where the requirements for outdoor equipment lie. This demands that the system be essentially impervious to dust and water, not just the screen. This prevents dust from settling on live mains-supply wires and cables amongst other things. The real “gotcha” is that the temperature rating established through this testing does not include the solar load. The solar load, as you mentioned, leads uncooked screens to go isotopic in relatively little time in direct sunlight.

    A robust system will maintain the screens temperatures below their rates maximums. At or not far above the maximum rated temperatures even the film stacks of the screens can begin to wrinkle. That is generally around 60-65C. Easy to type, much harder to do.

    For perspective consider how hot a glass table top gets in the sun on a summer day. They can easily hit 90C. Your high brightness display is also heating the screen from the rear when using the full screen intensity to overcome the incident rays of the sun.

    In short, screens require cooling to survive for any reasonable length of time and realize a good MTBF.

    There are many varied ideas for cooling. AC systems are very expensive to run. My preference is for using correctly specified fans that will move adequate air under the worst conditions. If filters are not used then the outer structure becomes just an external dressing and everything inside needs to withstand the demands of 60950-22.

    The challenges are many and they are difficult; but they can be overcome when the laws of physics are obeyed.

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