NEC and Sharp Speak Out on Display Trends in Digital Signage

With Integrated Systems Europe and Digital Signage Expo on the horizon, I thought it might be a good idea to get a better understanding of the key display trends in the digital signage sector. To facilitate this, I was able to connect with Keith Yanke, Senior Director of Product Marketing at NEC Display Solutions and Gary Bailer, Director of Product Management, Information Display Products at Sharp Imaging & Information Company of America to get their take.

GaryBailer SharpGary Bailer, Sharp Imaging & Information Company of AmericaWe covered a number of aspects of displays for the signage and related markets in our talks. Some results were not too surprising and some were. For example, both agreed that FHD resolution is and will remain the mainstream resolution for the next 5 years or so. UHD resolution panels are entering the market in sizes above 55” but are mainly geared toward more specialized niche applications. While the share of UHD panels will grow as panel vendors push out more sizes and reduce costs, they are generally viewed as best suited for standalone applications, not videowall applications.

“Even using FHD resolution panels in videowalls is often overkill especially if you are feeding 1080p content to the wall because you don’t have native content for all those pixels”, noted Bailer. “Using UHD resolution content is much better, but the impact also depends upon how many panels this is spread over and your viewing distance”.

“FHD, not UHD panels will be used primarily for higher brightness versions”, said Yanke.

Bezel width is also an image quality factor that has a big impact with videowalls, but less so on standalone single panel installations. The current bezel-to-bezel widths are in the 3.5 to 3.7mm range depending upon whose glass you use. Bailer noted that Sharp’s new 55” will have a 3.5mm gap, down from last year’s 5mm gap, and will ship by the end of Q2, as we reported in our CES report.

Keith Yanke NECKeith Yanke, NEC Display SolutionsYanke said that NEC has seen roadmaps that take the bezel width down to just under 2mm in about 2 years time frame, but that it will be very challenging to go much beyond that. “You just need some space on periphery to connect to the rows and columns”, said Yanke. “And even if you could get to a zero bezel design, the panels would be quite susceptible to damage”.

We also asked about the use of 240 Hz refresh panels in the commercial space. Sharp’s Bailer said that these displays are mostly TV panels with some additional components and longer warranties that are sold through the commercial sales channels. They are mostly a value solution for non-24/7 applications and he thinks the 240 Hz option is rarely used in the market.

Yanke agreed but noted that the improvement in motion blurring may be desirable for some customers.

Currently both managers agreed that there are three brightness buckets for commercial displays: 400-500 nits (mostly based on TV panels); 650-750 nits and 1500-2000 nits. NEC’s Yanke thinks that only 5-10% of sales are in this highest brightness range, but that could creep up a bit over the next few years. Sharp’s Bailer said that most of its sales are in the middle bucket as this offers a nice brightness level for most applications.

Consumer TV technology will spill into the commercial sector, but some aspects more than others. For example, the higher brightness of the commercial panels means there is a good opportunity to enable high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities. This could add nice visual impact to help attract attention to these displays.

Yanke said they are now discussing if and how they will incorporate HDR into commercial panels, but it is likely to be 2016 before there is any product available. However, he thinks that advertisers and shop owners could well start to ask for these displays, especially as they start to roll out as consumer TVs and people see how impactful the images are.

Bailer did not seem as enthusiastic about HDR panels thinking that end users will value wide viewing angles and wider color gamuts. He sees phosphor-enhanced LEDs and maybe even quantum dot panels coming to the commercial market to boost the color pallet. He noted that IPS panels have wide viewing angles but low contrast, while Sharp’s UV2A process offers wide viewing angles with medium contrast – a better value proposition in his opinion. Sharp is also building in color calibration in these displays to help ensure panel-to-panel color consistency – a huge need as everyone knows how non-uniform LED or LCD video walls often are only months after installation.

In terms of price trends, Yanke sees the thinnest bezel products maintaining about the same pricing, maybe with some modest cost down as 3.5mm class products replace 5mm class ones. These “ultra-narrow bezel” products still carry about a 20% premium over wider bezel panels, which is about $1200 (MSRP) in the 55” size range. But customers seem willing to pay it and more. He said that 2×2 videowalls used to be the norm, but 3×3 is becoming the new standard – typically with 55” class thin bezel LCDs.

Yanke also thinks larger-sized panels above 65” will see a moderation of price reductions from the 20-25% per range to 10-15%.

Bailer agrees that prices won’t see huge declines going forward. Rather, end users will get more for the same price such as thinner bezels, wider color gamuts, expanded connectivity like HDBaseT and other options.

However, he does think there will be more value-type TV-panel products in the future, but he is a little worried about these panels’ ability to satisfy the needs of a lot of end users.

So there you have it – a commercial display trend update from Sharp and NEC. – Chris Chinnock