How 65cubed Says It Can Make LED Displays Look Better, Last Longer And Use Less Energy

November 9, 2022 by Dave Haynes

65cubed makes and markets a technology solution that has the triple benefit of making commercial displays, like big roadside LED boards, look better, last longer, and still use substantially less energy .

The company has a small box that plugs in between the media player and display controller box of a display set-up, using a ton of graphics capabilities, smarts and supporting technology to make, it says, even lower-end, lower cost product from China look great.

I had an interesting chat with 65cubed partner Alan Larson about the technology – which I suppose is a form of video wall processing. It gets a little technical in parts of the discussion, but Larson does a good job of not taking listeners too deep into the technical weeds. 

Color reproduction and image quality are important to brands, but the really intriguing aspect to this is the ability to get another year or two out of the capital investment in a big screen, while also reducing the month to month energy usage bills.

Power usage is a much bigger issue in Europe at the moment, but it’s something that every media owner with big, bright displays should be looking at, as energy bills rise and, in Europe these days, energy availability is constrained.

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Alan, thank you for joining me. Can you tell me what your company 65cubed is all about? I just came across it literally a couple of days ago and don’t know a lot about it. 

Alan Larson: 65cubed is a color management server product designed for LED walls and other video sources. Its roots are better than a dozen years old in the high-end color management space that you might see in a very eclectic home setting, or more commonly post-production studios where color has to be absolutely spot on.

What we discovered a couple of years back as LEDs came on, was that as we modulated the color signature, there were significant changes in the power signature. So we started experimenting with that and discovered that we could apply our technology combined with some aggressive time of day, environmental conditions style algorithms to create an aggressive product for an environmental impact on LED walls and that’s what sort of got us started.

We can make the color on a digital wall look very amazing, we’ve gotten literally cinematic events on walls before. We usually range between 18-20 to the low 30s on average for a digital wall, especially outdoor settings that are on 24/27 and it varies based on how the customer wants their image and what the foot traffic or automobile traffic might be. 

So when you say 18 to 30, what do you mean by that? 

Alan Larson: If you are using say 100 Amps peak on a digital midsize wall, the second we turn our system on at the same brightness and color correct it, it’ll usually drop that peak amperage, down to 75-80% max, more typically it’s sitting in the 60s, I would suppose because most people don’t wanna blow their eyes out with the brightness, and a byproduct of that is we’ve noticed that a lot of people that sell wall time, the arbitrage people go through for the bids, is they request about a 10% grayscale on whites to lessen the risk of their walls being overloaded. 

By definition, when we take the power signature down, the advertisers are free to do what they want. We don’t care what they do because we’re not on that side of the game. But that’s a byproduct. You simply don’t get the power swings that you would in a wall that does not have our product.

So the advantages are both energy savings and better-looking visuals?

Alan Larson: Yes, and the byproduct of energy is that because you’re not stressing those LEDs as much, they run cooler. We contend that lower stress on the system and its ability to react to external conditions of interest that that’ll extend the display life and what that means is that the display owner is in it for keeps, in other words, we’ve noticed that some people just flip the displays. They bring ’em up and they’re looking for somebody else, like any property, those that use it as a long-term investment are very interested in seeing the net present value of that asset go up and know it’s gonna stay up.

And our guess is somewhere around 12-15% increased display life. In a display the size of a roadside, that’s a very substantial saving over time. 

Yeah. So if you can lower the energy costs while extending the operating life, that’s a double benefit there, right?

Alan Larson: The studies we’ve done so far on outdoor signage, to put in layman’s terms, we estimate that the savings on an average wall, call it about 25% conservatively, because we can be very aggressive in low viewership time periods like overnight, is about the same as saving two average American homes electricity every year. 

And the media company won’t really care about that, but they will care about what it means to their bottom line.

Alan Larson: And to your point, Dave, when I get asked who is your market? My market is typically the guy that owns the OpEx and the EBITDA for the company. As we’ve found again, our roots are on the studio side, but as we’ve talked to asset owners the price point and fulfillment of their displays are market-driven. Their costs underlying, they’re the only ones that really care about it, because they’re gonna get what they can get based on the location and so forth.

So if we can take 25% out of their most consistent ongoing costs, by definition, that asset owner’s gonna earn more money. 

So would your typical customer then be somebody in Oklahoma, who has a small media company and they’ve got five digital billboards along a highway and they are looking for ways to save money on that? Is that most typical or are these big media companies?

Alan Larson: We don’t care. If they have one sign, to us that savings are linear. Each sign has the same impact, of a given size. Our market is those asset owners. 

For example, I’m working on a project with a company that owns, I think around 40 roadside billboards, and they can blanket it across. Now they’re in the rural Midwest, and what’s especially of interest to them is that in the overnight hours, we can turn the savings model into the 40+ percent range because of the way we can manipulate the pixels on the screen and drive down the power consumption even further.

How do you do that? 

Alan Larson: It’s probably best I don’t give away all our secrets because some of what I’m describing is in the patent-pending process. The underlying technology, I think, has around 14 or 17 patents in the color management space, and just by reference, the roots of this company come out of ex-Kodak people in their digital color division. 

The actual author of most of the patents is the retired Chief Technology Officer for that division with a Ph.D. in Color Physics out of MIT, so it’s pretty heavy stuff. When I talk about some of the concepts of the color gamut, most people’s eyes go shut in about half a second. So we have to be careful to tone it down a little bit. 

Count me among those! 

Alan Larson: The overnight hours, basically what we do is we sit between the video player and the wall’s controller. So in a production setting, you unplug the HDMI into the video controller and insert our box between the player and that video controller, and then put another little segment of HDMI cable and we’re in line between the two, and what happens is, because we know a particular color red, let’s call it the OU Crimson color. That’s a branded color. We can reproduce that color to that PMS standard if you’re thinking of it as a paper representation. We’ve never seen it. If someone says, I want to bid with pure IBM Blue, I think we’d probably win the deal. Now, what that means is that we put a scope against a screen, and we measure upwards of 8,000-9,000 patches. We call them patches, but they’re effectively samples. So if I feed that OU Red to the screen, I’m gonna make this up because the numbers are huge. Each digital pixel gets a digital command that tells it what colors, how to turn the pixels on, how bright it should be, and so forth.

But let’s just say in simple terms, the color for that OU Red is the number 1234. We have a very nice reference scope that looks at it and says, we got 1234, but the best that screen could spit back, because all the pixels in the world are made in one big bucket over in China, it spits back 1662. “Why?” It’s cuz it does. It has nothing to do with the controller. It has nothing to do with anything else. Then we know. Oh cool. So that means we have to send at the number 1553, whenever we see 1234 for any given pixel and it’ll spit back the actual image of 1234, and poof, we do that for all the colors in the gamut and that’s what brings out the true color. 

Now, a lot of people talk about, moving the white point. That’s a fallacy in our world because a white point is actually what’s called D65 or 6,500 Kelvin is pure white. When you properly set red, green, and blue (RGB), when they’re running to true calibrated and color-managed perfection, that white is the Venn diagram intersection of those color spaces. It never moves no matter how bright it is. So when we reduce the illumination of a screen, we’re actually bringing down the mathematical values that told the LED to be bright, not the mathematical values that keep the color in perfect harmony, which makes a very nice cinematic look. In the evening, you can drive down the freeway or in Nova Scotia, a remote road with trees around it, and the colors are beautiful. And at night we take a much more aggressive use of the color black in a way that people can’t see cuz black on an LED wall is electrically the value of 0 Amps. So if we query 20-30% of that screen in a mathematical way, no matter where we had it set, that amount of additional power is gonna disappear cuz those LEDs are physically not doing anything, but it really looks nice and we don’t tell people how we do it because we can’t do that.

And you’re able to do more at night simply because you don’t have to drive these things as hard, right? 

Alan Larson: We’ve never actually put up a light meter, I know we could, but we use the absolute location of the display itself, and the nice thing is the geolocation of every place on the earth has an exact sunrise and sunset time that changes every day of the year.

So that means in Nova Scotia, the Sun’s gonna set at 4: 28 this afternoon, which means somewhere around 4 o’clock or maybe a little before, we’ll start taking the brightness part of that mathematical equation, slowly move it over, perhaps 45 minutes or so into a full post-dusk mode where it’ll be in an evening setting and then when the asset owner says, there’s nobody on this road, let’s flip in the low viewership mode because from, say 11 o’clock till 6 in the morning, only three cars go by, but we’re required by contract to keep that wall alive. So it’s a combination of how the marketing people wanna see it and what’s appropriate for the marketing setting.

When we do things like Las Vegas, we can’t be as aggressive, because they just love brightness out there. But I will tell you that some of those absolutely huge walls that you see, I’m assuming you’ve been to the strip, it’s nothing to take 50 grand a year and cost off of those walls.

So when I am buying your product, am I purely buying the box and the technology that’s in there, or am I buying a service and a platform? 

Alan Larson: Yes. The answer is the latter. The box is a computer. It’s a very fast computer that has boatloads of GPUs and processors because it’s creating absolute color, and saturation is different at each pixel level, which means we can maintain grayscale visibility in an almost black setting. 

Most of the time they dither out and they’re just a blob. You can actually see the changes in the subtleties of the shadows, and I’m gonna go back to your question, but a point I wanted to make earlier is because of that purity, that absolute control at a pixel level, your image will be more in focus, and it’s simply because the processor captures the subtleties between each pixel to the point where the processor doesn’t give up and approximate them as a cheap TV would, and all of a sudden you see what the director intended, not what a lower cost video display processor was able to produce. 

Now, back to your question about pricing. We sell our product in a tier of four ways. For lack of marketing intelligence, we call it the base product. It’s the kind of product you would use, say in a conference room or a church where you turn it on and you just want it to look nice and you’re gonna turn it off. The energy savings piece is incidental because they don’t care, and they plug it into a 110 circuit and call it a day. We sell that as basically the asset with the color management system and everything they want to use on it is basically a manual setting. 

Then the next one, which we affectionately call our Energy module and pops in all of the automated features for geolocation time of day, anything you wanna do that is environmentally based or schedule based, it’ll take over. In fact, when we take the color way down to the point where you go, gosh, it’s dim, the color management system can actually pull, this is the patented stuff, out warm colors or blue colors or whatever would add a little zip back into the picture. Now is it absolutely pure to the King’s English studio? No. Does it look better? Oh yeah, it does. 

So that means you can create a very pleasant brand running it about 25 to 35% of the power signature, and I’d have to show it to you cuz once you see it, you go, huh? What do you know, those facial tones came out. So that part of the product is typically sold on an energy split, software as a service model, either as an asset purchase or as a software as a service, continued service. And it’s based on an energy savings model. So technically if you were in Nevada versus New York, the price point for the same asset would probably be different in our eyes. But in all cases, the customer always wins. If they purchase the product, they will always be cash positive in less than 24 months and thereafter.

Yeah, that was gonna be a question was, yes, you could save money on this, but is the cost of the technology at a point where you’re not really saving, you’re just saving on your energy bill or whatever? 

Alan Larson: No, our play is, I gotta be able to look a CFO in the eye and go, you’ll be better off with us. End of conversation. I don’t care if you give a damn about color, you’ll be better off, and quite frankly, the entertainment companies that have a customer that comes in for three days and gambles, they honestly don’t care, right? ? Cause their market is to get people behind a slot machine.

And other people, if you go into a boardroom setting or someone that cares about their brand, oh heck, they don’t care about the energy. They want it to look perfect. They’re there to impress their customers. So it depends on the market. And by the way, the device is always hooked via a very secure tunnel to our server farm in Rochester, New York, which means nobody can actually get into the server. It’s impenetrable, and the only way you access it is through a web app that can run on any device and you can watch the behavior. You can see how much the machine is ready. You can see how much if you elect to put onboard storage and so forth, and you can do all the manipulation of the screen via the web, no matter where you are.

Since I brought that up, I’ll shift to the fourth piece of our product, which is smart automation. Because we’re keeping a heartbeat pulse on that machine, if the video path goes away, either to or from, the technician on duty will get an immediate alert on his cell phone. If we’re hooked to a UPS and the UPS is alive, so we’re alive, but the network’s connection goes down, then more than likely there’s a power failure somewhere else. Once again, we’ll notify them immediately, and the reason we can do that is that the server farm is that which actually notifies the technician, not the device itself. So it’s saying, “I lost my baby out there in the middle of nowhere. I’m gonna tell somebody about it.” As a byproduct of that, the third tenant that we sell to, and this is for people that just have a desire for it, we’ve been asked and have done camera installations. There are a lot of controllers that do camera installations, which is fine. It’s nothing unique, but again if someone is having a hard time with a consumer paying their bill because they want absolute validation of their display ads, we’ll just have the server snap a picture every three seconds and log it both locally and up on the server, and if somebody asks a question, here, knock yourself out. Here’s a log of everything that happened, and if we throw an error at the system, then if the camera’s up, we would immediately turn a live feed on and make that feed available to the technician via that text. So in rural settings like where you live and a lot of the mountain states, these guys in bucket trucks drive two hours just to find out they didn’t even need to go there. 

For example, we were at a sports bar where the network went down for six minutes and the technician got an error. By the time he read the error, the system was back up. So he calls and says, What the heck happened? We go, go talk to your network people. That’s exactly what happened. It’s that kind of stuff. The idea behind this smart service is that we do not want the distributors that buy and resell our product to get a call at 11 o’clock at night because the consumer found something wrong. We want them to be able to call their customer and say, by the way, “if it’s of interest to you, I remediated a couple of issues last week. No problem. That’s just what we do for you because we care”, and that’s why we built it. That was all based on the distributor. Because they have a business to run and every time they have to service a wall for no reason, it just takes away their bottom line above and beyond what the customer bought. This is a distributor feature. 

So I’ve been to many trade shows, but trade shows that included booths for companies who were specifically in the business of video wall processing for LED video walls. I’m thinking of companies like Brompton and I understand at a base level, I guess at most, that you’re running your signal through these boxes, which optimizes and improves the visuals that get pushed to the screen and therefore make it look better.

Is that essentially what you’re doing here or is this like another component? 

Alan Larson: No, it definitely conditions the video signal. In the high-end video market, a couple competitors I can think of, on a studio set, you’ll see Black Box, where they actually condition the camera. I’ve seen Lumigen in high-end settings. 

We’re similar in those products. There’s a thing called a LUT box. We are the highest-resolution LUT box on the market. We got our name 65cubed because we’re a 65x65x65, that’s the cube, RGB-based technology. The nearest competitor that does something like this, I think is 37 cube and most of them are like 17, and most of the calibration style activities we’ve seen from all companies are one-dimensional, not three-dimensional, and again, we’re basically hitting the color management system for a digital wall with a sledgehammer because we happen to own the asset.

Our sister company is owned by the same investor as we are so we have untethered access to all the software assets. 

So is this the sort of thing that you purely sell as a product or would you license it as well to a big-time, top-five LED manufacturer so it would just be incorporated in the overall product?

Alan Larson: We would welcome it because it’s a lot easier to sell and implement, for example, there are two ways that our system gets installed. Because we can’t control the quality of any given panel that goes on a wall, regardless of the manufacturer, we always scope the system to start with. 

So if someone owns some walls along Interstate 10 and they said, we want these fixed, we’ll actually go in a bucket truck for a couple of hours and scope the screen, and once done, it’s done and every display that’s of the same bin of LED, they’re done. But if it’s an oddball, you go do it. 

For a distributor when they receive their great big crates of panels from China, they take one out, they’re usually like 6 inches x 12 inches or foot by foot or wherever there are. They just lay it on the floor, hook a controller to it, put the scope against it, and go home for dinner. And then that entire set of crates that came in the same shipment are all done, and so the customer never gets involved in it. But no, the underlying technology of our sister company is in thousands of high-end monitors that are used in commercial settings, high-end gaming, that kinda stuff.

Who’s the sister company? 

Alan Larson: The technical name is Entertainment Experience. Their trademark company is called EE Color, and it’s embedded in our technology. We’re both owned by the same group. 

Is the product something that would be used across any manufacturer?

I mentioned the top five companies that perhaps sell a lot of this stuff at least to the major media companies, for the sides of buildings and roadside billboards, and so on. Or is this more the thing that’s gonna really improve lower-tier, lower-cost products?

Alan Larson: I can’t speak for the quality management of any manufacturer. The lower quality products, distributors that don’t sell the top three or four name brands. They love it because they can go and compete for head to head. We have clever tools we give them. We give them an image that’s basically duplicated side by side and play it in duplication on the screen, and then we tell our processor to physically not process the left side of the screen pixels and the right side we do, and it’s visually impressive because the telltale evidence of digital walls that are pushing too much electricity and don’t portray are people.

We went to the Infocom Show last June, I believe we went with a partner, a distributor that resells our product. We were the only ones that had people, not swirling colors and mountain scenes, right? Because we can produce the facial tones of anybody, whether you’re Caucasian, of color, just as if you’re looking at them in your face. When you get the people’s faces right, I guarantee you the rest of the colors are in. 

Typically what happens is people look like they sat under a sunlamp all day. Another telltale evidence of a screen often aging is that white looks turquoise. That just means the whole color skew is pushed way out, and when we bring that back in, and by the way, when it’s pushing purple, it’s pushing a lot more electricity too. When you bring it into white, the white is is the byproduct of the red, blue, and green in concert. We don’t create white, white happens, is what I’m trying to say. 

For the lower-cost products coming over primarily from China, one of the criticisms is that they use LED light admitters from a really wide “bin”, a wide assortment of bins with different Color properties, and everything else. Is the proposition here that that’s not the same worry if you’re using this kind of technology? 

Alan Larson: No. We usually tell the distributors who buy those. You have to pay attention to the bin numbers as they come in because yes, they vary widely and you find that the distributors are pretty clever. If they pull some panels out that look odd compared to the rest of them, they literally sort them. It sounds like a big pain in the neck, but they don’t want their customer to have a checkerboard on the wall. 

But no, typically the rule is if you receive another shipment that the manufacturer declares is of the same bin, you hope that the manufacturer has integrity then you go with that. What you typically find is, let’s assume the bins are off by 5% or 6% in the color signature, and it’s on the side of a wall, along a freeway somewhere. The energy curve is gonna be taken care of. These colors won’t be textbook, but again, you have a viewing discussion with the consumer for about two seconds when they look at the screen. otherwise, they’re gonna hit that semi in front of them. So you don’t have to be as particular on roadside displays as you do in company settings or boardrooms. 

You mentioned coming out of the studio world and so on. Is this primarily a product for outdoor displays that you’re gonna see from a long distance or is this the sort of thing that you could use indoors for 1.8-millimeter fine pixel pitch walls?

Alan Larson: Actually, today I’m going over to a manufacturer’s US distribution center, and I’m gonna be working with their team to set up a 0.5-millimeter, 5×9 foot wall in their boardroom. Now, the finer the pixel pitch, the more amazing the product actually. 

So last question: I was curious about energy savings.

I work quite a bit with a company over in Germany. We collaborate on things and they asked me about energy concerns in North America I say, people are aware of it, but it’s not a point of discussion. Obviously, it’s a huge point of discussion now in Europe. Are you getting questions at all about that and are the customers interested in that side of it?

Alan Larson: We’re more interested than people we’ve found. In fact, one of the reasons I went to the DPAA shows a couple of weeks ago. One of my missions was specifically to look for potential distributors in continental Europe for that very reason.

I’ve traveled extensively in my career overseas and have put a lot of time into Europe and the Middle East, and it’s a whole different world over there, and the weird thing about Americans, and probably Canadians too, is they’ve never been more than 250 miles from the day place they were born and like in Dallas where I live, you don’t see any news about New York because it might as well be Germany. They don’t get it, there’s just not something that would register. So the European thing here is nothing more than news on the nationals every so often.

And you don’t have US media companies or maybe Canadian media companies as well expressing concerns about the cost of energy and interest in your product primarily because of that. They’re more interested because of the color properties? 

Alan Larson: If they pay the bill for that asset, they care. When I was at DPAA, I got killed with acronym soup because I come out of the high-tech industry, databases, applications, and computers, and I could have given you the same three letters and some acronyms, and I would’ve thought it was something different. So I sat there and just listened and looked for the context and by and large the word “energy”, and the word “perfect color” wasn’t mentioned once in the five days I was there, and hence I met with an architectural engineering firm that’s all about energy and they went, you have uniqueness here that we believe as we do these great big installations will give us a competitive advantage, and that was the most productive meeting I had all week, actually.

So back to your question about the majors. I have approached the likely candidates that are the big display owners, the people that make them and some have amazing products, don’t get me wrong, We’ve looked at a couple of them, call it the top three or four, and we go, you know what the difference is between some of the cool things they’re doing and what we can provide, that just validates our market. We don’t care if we so-called compete against them because that’s goodness. Because they’re doing the right thing for the environment. That we’re trying to do. We’re sensitive to that. So the European piece is very important to us. We’re just attempting to get a foothold to get our product supported locally. 

All right, Alan. If people wanna know more about the company, where can they find it online? 

Alan Larson: If they go to our website, they can fill out a simple form that says, “I wan to know more” and that’s about all it does, and I’ll call them right back, or I’ll have somebody in our group call them back.

That’s, right?

Alan Larson: Right!

All right. Thanks again for spending some time with me. 

Alan Larson: Thanks very much.

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