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The Anatomy Of A Video Wall

A video wall is an impressive piece of A/V technology, turning heads and drawing attention wherever it is placed. It’s probably fair to say that video walls are the ultimate attention getters, as they provide a scintillating beacon of color, motion, light and novelty that people are primed to respond to. And, of course, commercial property owners know this to be true, which is why video walls are no longer just a luxury. They are now packaged in A/V solutions where they can make a huge impact on how a business or property presents itself.

The Power of a Video Wall

Before diving into the technology that brings a video wall together, consider a video wall from the top down to the bottom, and inside out. What makes it so effective, and what can it do when it is fully unleashed? The best way to tackle those questions is to consider what makes a video wall different from just a bank of displays. And there are some notable points to consider, such as:

  • A video wall is usually incorporated into its environment – Video walls are almost always a focal point of whatever space they inhabit. As such, the wall’s aesthetic must be considered, or it’s likely going to be a clunky and awkward. Video walls look their best when they are either integrated into the space cleanly, or when they are positioned prominently in the room. And though single displays can also be immersed in a space, obviously, a lot of thought goes into making a video wall look nice, before considering the content displayed on the wall.
  • A video wall can be scaled up to incredible sizes – A single display isn’t going to get much bigger than 70 or 80 inches on the diagonal. Beyond this size, manufacturing becomes prohibitively expensive and displays are more susceptible to damage. The largest single display is produced by Samsung, and it comes in at a behemoth 110 inches diagonally. However, this size pales in comparison to what can be done with video walls. Video walls with standard form factor displays can be scaled up to 20 feet – which is larger than what most rooms can handle. Beyond 20 feet, A/V integrators have other solutions, like microtiles, which operate on the same architecture as a standard video wall. At their most impressive, video walls can be featured in sports stadiums, airports and city centers.
  • A video wall can do many more interesting things with content – This is where video walls really take off. Separate displays mean separate inputs, and that means customized content presentation. For example, a video wall that features 16 separate displays can display anywhere from one to 16 images, depending on what the owner wants. With so much more real estate to work with, video walls can be used to organize a lot of information, such as flight arrivals and departures, or event schedules. They can also be used in artistic fashion, combining a variety of media into a viscerally punchy whole.
  • A video wall has a commanding presence – Again, a video wall dominates the space it inhabits, and makes a huge impact on how people perceive the space and what they take from it. This can be used to great advantage by a smart business owner as every owner wants their restaurant, hotel, bar, or shop to be a memorable one.
  • A video wall ensures greater pixel density – With more displays comes more pixels, and more pixels means high resolution images. This is how video walls, even when they are scaled up to formidable sizes, can maintain crystal clear images that can be discerned from hundreds of feet away. This, more than anything, is what makes video walls a fit for sports stadiums.

That’s why property owners are migrating to video walls, but what goes into each one? That’s a bit more complicated. Setting up a video wall is much like setting up a single display, but it takes more planning, more infrastructure and considerably more thought. Some of the standard components that play a role in video wall installation include:

  • Mounting hardware – The displays have to be mounted to a framework of brackets, which are usually placed in the wall. This is where the extra planning comes into play. Property owners need to know exactly where they want their video wall to go, because the surface behind the video wall is going to be modified to accommodate the displays. Durable mounting frames are needed to hold hundreds of pounds of display in place, and to ensure the displays remain flush with each other.
  • High quality displays – It’s a no-brainer that video walls work best when they are built using quality displays. Although standard displays can be tied together in a video wall format, A/V integrators typically opt for displays made specifically for video wall installations. These displays are designed with thin bezels, so the border between displays isn’t as noticeable. Video wall panels are also capable of processing I/O in some cases, and can daisy chain to other displays. Daisy chaining may include power and command inputs, allowing installers to minimize cabling.
  • Microtiles – Microtiles are only necessary when a video wall’s size extends past a certain point (usually 20 feet on one side) or when a property owner wants a non-standard wall shape. Microtiles are small, modular LED panels that act like building blocks, giving installers incredible flexibility in shaping a video wall to any size or shape. They are identical to standard video wall displays in controllability, and can be daisy chained or tied to a separate processor.
  • Video wall processor – Some video walls don’t require additional muscle in the form of a separate processor, but many do. The processor consolidates I/O, and is usually flexible enough to handle any I/O arrangement. It can also encode or decode video signals into a format that can be used with the video wall. In short, the processor is the wall’s brain and heart, responding to content requests and ensuring its visual fidelity.
  • Controller – Some property owners want a control interface that is separated from the video wall. This control system might be a touch screen interface, for example, that allows the operator to change display settings, program content or timers, and switch inputs when necessary. A control system might be hardware or software based, and many owners prefer to operate their video wall through a browser, or even an app on their phone.

With so many components that have to work together to bring a video wall to life, it’s clear that this is no small undertaking. A/V integrators are able to work with their clients to place and install the wall in optimal fashion, but the client will have to provide some input into the process. What do property owners need to consider before signing off on the project?

  • What kind of content will be displayed? This, perhaps more than anything else, will drive the placement and layout of a video wall. If the point is to wow people with images and media, then the wall can be placed further away and it might be worth considering 4K displays. Some owners opt for placement high above the ground, as this can add a real wow-factor. If, however, the video wall will need to inform, then it should be brought closer to observers. That way, they can better read any text being displayed.
  • Should the display offer interactivity? Video walls can be designed with interactive panels, making for an even more immersive experience. Interactive panels can present maps, products or educational concepts, so they can go anywhere. In a shop, they allow customers to move through a variety of products and specials, looking for something that fits their taste. In a museum, an interactive video wall allows visitors to learn about the things they are interested in, and do so in a way that will be memorable.
  • What kind of ambient lighting is present? This is something that A/V integrators can clearly help with, but property owners know their space better than anyone else, and lighting is a big part of how a space looks and feels. Too much lighting, and it can be a challenge keeping glare off the video wall. Too little, and the display may feel too intense, or incongruous with its environment. Controlling ambient light is essential to a successful video wall installation.
  • How much space will the installers have to place the wall? There’s more to consider than just the displays. Processing and control equipment will need space as well, and usually in a separate room dedicated to their accommodation. Also, a video wall generates a lot of heat, and that heat has to be vented constantly. Therefore, there needs to be some space behind the video wall that can be left open to dissipate heat.
  • What is the project budget? No surprise, but as the size of the video wall grows, so will the cost. Owners can reduce project cost by opting for lower resolution displays and reducing the display count – and therefore saving money on a processor as well. In most cases, there is a happy medium between video wall size, quality and affordability, but the project budget will need to be defined to find that happy medium.

Video walls are impressive demonstrations of A/V technology, and they take an impressive amount of planning and expertise to execute. Fortunately, video walls, and the integrators who handle them, are flexible by nature, so there is a wall for every space.