Published on Tuesday 20 November 2018
Although AI, virtual/augmented reality and Internet of things might be stealing the tech limelight, in the world of the wayfinding designer, the pace of change in digital screen technology is equally enthralling. Over the last few years the robustness and resolution of the technology seems to have accelerated along with a relative reduction in price (and increase in acronyms).
Interactive screens with a wayfinding component have been around for a while – I think it’s fair to say with mixed results. But more and more we’re seeing digital screens being used for communicating static, semi-permanent information. At a recent exhibition the number of stands promoting digital screen menu boards for fast food restaurants was particularly noticeable.
So are we approaching a time when the decision to incorporate screens within physical signs rather than more traditional print based solutions will be based on cost and not just the vibrancy of the medium? Enabling for example shopping centres to update their mall directories at the touch of a button or signs to respond dynamically to emerging events? And in a market that seems to be particularly characterised by acronyms – what solution is the smart money on? We’ve been taking a closer look.
As with many things, it depends on the context. If the signs are to be located externally and for human scale applications, it seems LCD is still the best option to ensure adequate protection against the weather and vandalism. But with LCD screens you’re limited to manufacturer specified options and don’t have the flexibility in size and shape offered by LED.
Then there’s the question of legibility. LEDs win out against LCD for brightness, so are ideal for locations exposed to bright sunlight and benefit further from a wider viewing angle. However even with the current Ultra HD 4K LED screens, images will be pixelated if viewing from a distance of less than 7ft. Not ideal if you need to communicate more detailed, fine-grained information.
Which brings us round to OLEDs, the technology now seen in high-end TVs. When compared with LEDs, OLEDs deliver a greater contrast ratio and as they don’t require backlighting - are thinner and more flexible. Currently they are also pricier and the organic nature of the light emitting film means that they degrade quicker resulting in a poorer colour balance over time. The technology is also more susceptible to burn in and ghosting when displaying static images.
But don’t worry - QLEDs - a technology spearheaded by Samsung (that uses nanoscale photo-luminescent phosphorus crystals), offers all the high contrast ratio and colour depth properties seen in OLEDs, but with a longer lifecycle and without the burn in issues. On the downside, the screens come in a limited range of manufacturer specified shapes and sizes; require back lighting so not so thin and lacking the flexibility of OLED.
So yes there are some exciting developments taking place in the digital screen sector, but there isn’t an obvious technology choice. It’s about selecting the right solution for the context and particular application. As to the business case? Again looks like that depends too.