Samsung’s The Wall has been showing up at trade shows for a couple of years now, and while there’s been talk of high net worth individuals and business customers buying and installing the big microLED video walls, I’d not seen one in the wild. Until last week.
Samsung did a tech media tour last week in New York and kindly brought me down to the city for a day-long tour, along with some fellow trade press people. Thank you.
The first stop after crawling through NYC traffic was at Fisher Brothers, a commercial real estate firm up in the merchant banker world of midtown, north of Times Square. The 100-year-old family company has long been an old-school kinda firm, but faced with a construction and renovation boom in NYC commercial properties, portfolio manager Crystal Fisher went to her Dad, managing partner Ken Fisher, and suggested it was time for the company to step up its technology game, to be competitive.
That’s been realized in a number of ways – the company does 3D and VR – but for the purposes of optics, a big aspect was investing in display technology that made a statement to visitors, but that also had high function.
The company’s boardroom at 299 Park Avenue now has a 146 inch pro version of The Wall – which is used for everything from presentations and video conference calls to reviews of drawings. The tight .84mm pixel pitch is important, Crystal Fisher indicated, because of the need to easily view anything from drafting details to line item numbers in spreadsheets.
With a coarser pitch display, fonts and numerals pull apart and may not even be legible. LCDs can’t get that big, and anything short of a cinema grade projector needs to have the lights down and window shades pulled. The biggest LCD would be roughly 33% smaller.
Ken Fisher freely admitted that while he knows much about real estate, he knows little about tech. He leaned on his tech-savvy daughter for guidance, but says he “gets” that big display technology and tech-centric buildings are becoming central to his industry.
“We are seeing today the groundwork being laid for how real estate will be done in the next 20 years,” he says.
Things like oversized 4K displays in boardrooms, as well as the LED tech going into the head office lobby, are becoming fundamental to recruiting tenant companies that are run or heavily influenced by tech-centric millennials.
Location used to be the big driver (and presumably still is) but how a building sets up with tech, and the look and experience it creates, are important in attracting tenants (and new staff), as well as for retaining tenants.
Being a polite Canadian, I did not ask “How much?” I am thinking north of $300,000.
The tour also took us to the west side offices of the media agency Ogilvy, which a decade ago took over an old chocolates factory and made it the main NYC offices. The ground floor has an event/presentation theater which was recently refreshed with twin direct view LED displays, replacing projections.
The 13 foot wide screens each use 1.2mm LED and look amazing. The story here is how LED allows visuals to pop whether natural light floods in or not, and things like panels can happen on the riser without projectors blinding the participants.
While microLED is definitely a tighter pitch, 1.2mm is more than tight enough to do really crisp visuals when the seats are back 20 feet and more. You could easily envision this kind of pitch display being used in venues like executive briefing centers. It would look amazing in retail and public spaces, but the wild card there is how the fragile LED pixels are protected from bumps and scrapes.
Next up – art. More accurately, the eternal mysteries of art. The Museum of Modern Art in NYC (also known as MOMA) has a renovated entry foyer that includes what I think was a 1.5mm display on a bulkhead. It was reactive, based on things like movement and sound.
Problem is, it looked like it had a loose cable, but didn’t. It was working just fine, but the artwork was just a pinkish-whitish undefined smudge. Didn’t get it, at all.
Data-driven art on LED can have a bit of a problem in that the visuals can look amazing, but few onlookers would even know they’re triggered, shaped and drive by real-time data. In this case, the visuals are not amazing and apart from a printed sign off to one side (above), onlookers would not know the screen did not have a signal/connection issue.
MOMA also had another 1.5mm in a window, showing a repeating animation of a black power-on icon on a white background.
Beats me why …
The bigger story here, though, is that large format digital artwork is now being used at world-famous galleries. Undoubtedly, with time artists will find more effective and compelling uses for this kind of canvas.
All that said, the new MOMA space had really well-designed and integrated wayfinding in its public areas.
Last stop was Times Square to see the giant PrismView/Samsung LED stack at 1 Times Square, the building that has the New Year’s Eve ball drop thing at its top. I first saw that board while here for NYDSW in October. Looks great, particularly when you start to look closely and see how many boards in that visual riot zone are getting old and due for replacement.
Even the giant American Eagle display matrix looks like crap compared to the new displays.
Don Szczepaniak, President and CEO of Prismview (which is owned by Samsung), said his company was nowhere in Times Square until recent times, and now has six boards, with more in the order hopper.
My main takeaway from the tour, and a more general look around New York: LED is definitely mainstreamed now, and the much-discussed conversion from LCD video walls is well underway.
I saw big video walls where maybe you’d expect to see them, but also in smaller retail environments. Seeing a microLED actually IN a boardroom, as opposed to being touted as something that COULD be used in a boardroom, was very interesting.
If you are in signage, and not paying all that much attention to LED tech, you are sleepwalking.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 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, on Canada’s east coast.