Video Walls: The Ins and Outs

EPISODE 38 | Guest: Joe Murray, systems engineer and architect, Visix, Inc.

Video walls are big, bold and beautiful, and they always capture attention. But it’s more than just tossing a few screens on a wall and running a video. There are a bunch of factors to consider when planning and implementing a video wall installation – the screens, the players and the content all have to work together to create the “wow factor” you’re looking for. And planning and testing things out in advance is critical to ensure everything looks as good as possible before you go live to your audience.

But can you have a cool video wall without breaking the bank? We’ll explore costs, equipment, content and real-world examples of successes and fails in this podcast.

  • Learn about display and player options
  • Find out how bezels can make or break a video wall
  • Explore content ideas and design tips for video walls
  • Understand some common pitfalls and how to avoid them
  • Hear about some great installs, and a couple of not-so-great ones

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Learn more about this topic in our Masterclass Guide 1: Digital Signage Systems Overview and our blogs about video walls.


Transcript

Derek DeWitt: Some people say size matters, and when it comes to digital signage, size and video walls go hand in hand. Video walls are quite the showstopper. They’re often used in lobbies or someplace where the public can see them, and it’s a real “wow factor” kind of a thing. So, we’re going to talk about some of the ins and outs of video walls, and what they’re capable of and so on and so forth. To that end, I am here with Joe Murray, systems engineer and architect for Visix. Hi Joe.

Joe Murray: Hey Derek. How’s it going?

Derek DeWitt: Excellent. I’d like to thank Joe for talking to me today, and I’d like to thank all of you for listening.

Derek DeWitt: So, video walls, they’re big, they’re bold, they’re beautiful. What’s going on with them? I mean they’re cool, right? I mean people…

Joe Murray: They’re very cool.

Derek DeWitt: They’re a big “Whaaat is THAT?”

Joe Murray: Absolutely. Yeah. What I found was, when I used to work in support (when I started at Visix here), when I did a lot of onsite stuff, consistently customers loved the video walls. You know, any time they found out the organization had ordered like some 12-output player, something like that, they always got really, really, really excited.

And so yeah, they really are very cool. They really are eye catching, which is obviously important for digital signage. And you know, just like you said, you know, the bigger, the bolder, the crazier the size and implementation, just the cooler everything is as a whole.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, for sure. I mean, okay, so why would I do it? I would do it in a lobby as a kind of a “This is who we are!” kind of a thing, right?

Joe Murray: Absolutely. So, for example, a good lobby implementation was, we were working at a customer site and they actually had, I think it was 12 displays; they’re all full HD each, in portrait mode, side-by-side and they were bezel-less. And they actually had them under their main front reception desk. And so basically the whole desk was made of displays and it was the coolest thing.

Derek DeWitt: So, the person behind the desk is just floating above the digital content.

Joe Murray: Basically. Yeah, it was great. They had their company logo, they had their directory there, you know, that customers could just walk up and see that. It was great. And so, it was, it was crazy eye catching, you know, and this was a brand new building.

Derek DeWitt: And they were bezel-less, so…

Joe Murray: Absolutely, really looked very seamless.

Derek DeWitt: Very seamless. Wow, that’s really fantastic. So obviously that’s one reason to do it is to, is to make a statement of some sort.

Joe Murray: Absolutely.

Derek DeWitt: Why else would somebody use a video wall? Are there other reasons or is it, is it just bragging?

Joe Murray: I mean, if you’re some type of media production company or some type of high-tech company, you usually want to show off your own work. A lot of customers we’ve had will, you know, take some videos that they’ve made in-house, things like that, and just throw it up on a wall just to say, “Yeah, this is the type of content you can expect from us”, things like that.

So, I’d say generally it is a lot about statements. I haven’t seen too much of like touchscreen interactivity, although I have every once in a while. And so not a ton of wayfinding, just little unique cases here and there. I’ve found mainly it’s just a statement type of piece.

Derek DeWitt: Right. So, obviously what kind of stuff can you show on here? Obviously, like you said, we can show big, bold video. Sort of a “this is what our company does”.

Joe Murray: Right. So, we’ve actually, I’ve recently enhanced our video wall offerings across the board. And so, one thing that customers basically were demanding (and something that I totally understand that they wanted) was that they wanted one video to be able to play per output. So, our four-output player can play four videos simultaneously. Six-output can play six, eight-output can play eight.

Derek DeWitt: So, like six… So, you can have four screens with the four-output. Four screens, each one showing a different thing.

Joe Murray: Exactly at the same time.

Derek DeWitt: Or together.

Joe Murray: Exactly. You can have just one large video, you know, spanned across all the displays. But basically, what customers are saying [is], you know, “We want one unique video per output on these players.” So, for example, we had this one customer who had our 12-output player and they had 12 distinct videos playing at once, one on each output.

Derek DeWitt: Good lord, was that not distracting?

Joe Murray: It was really cool.

Derek DeWitt: Was it?

Joe Murray: I know, Sean actually saw it at one point as well and he wanted it for the website and everything. It was really, really cool and it got even better. So, they actually were using two video wall players. And one video wall player was playing 12 distinct videos, and each of these 12 displays was actually a touchscreen, and you’d go up and touch it and it would change the output on the display to another video from the other player. So, it was this whole crazy implementation. It was really, really cool.

Derek DeWitt: How does that even get thought up? Do you come up with this stuff or do they come up with this stuff and say, “Can you make this happen?”

Joe Murray: It’s usually a collaboration between our sales engineers here and then the integrator’s engineering on their end. Usually customers themselves don’t have in-house IT to come up with that. So, they’ll have an integrator of their own and they’ll work with our sales team.

Derek DeWitt: So, they go to the integrator and say, “Look, man, I want something cool that nobody else is doing.”

Joe Murray: Basically.

Derek DeWitt:  “Make it happen.” Then they spitball ideas and say, “What if we did this?”

Joe Murray: Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: Then they say, “What do you think Joe? Can you do it?” You go, “maybe”.

Joe Murray: “Yeah, probably”. The name of the game is 100% uniqueness and eye-catch and it’s just really, really cool.

Derek DeWitt: So I mean, what kind of displays are we talking about here? Are they bespoke, they’re just for this? Can I just go buy consumer-grade stuff and throw them up together?

Joe Murray: That’s an excellent question. So obviously in any digital signage application, your display is pretty important. But I would say you need to pay extra attention in video wall set ups. Because, sort of what I was hinting at earlier with the bezel-less displays, you really want, in my opinion, bezel-less displays for most video walls, because then you can take you know, four, five and six displays and sort of cram them all together. These bezels are so thin that it looks like sort of one seamless image. So that’s always really great. So, bezel-less is cool. LED backlit, you usually really want, so you get this uniform brightness across.

Derek DeWitt: Sure, that makes sense.

Joe Murray: Yeah, exactly. And one thing that you really want to avoid is consumer-grade displays. I found every once in a while, consumers and clients will just get these regular “Oh we went to Walmart and just got these full HD displays.”

Derek DeWitt: TVs, basically.

Joe Murray: They’re TVs, yeah. And I’m not knocking the consumer market; they’re good and fine. But those displays are not meant to be on all the time. They’re not calibrated from the factory, so one display might look different from the one right next to it.

Derek DeWitt: Which is not going to be awesome.

Joe Murray: Which is not going to be great. And then that’s really hard to fix later. And our hardware has something to do with that. And so, you know, a client will say, “Hey, why is there a blue hue on this display and a warmer orange hue on this display?” And the answer is, that’s your display. And you really don’t get that in the higher end enterprise digital signage display market.

Derek DeWitt: And those bezels are, I mean the frame around the screen, the bezels are quite thick.

Joe Murray: Absolutely. Now our hardware does contain a software utility to try and compensate for bezels. And so, you know, if you do have some bezels or you do have even thicker bezels, we can try and take care of that during implementation of the video walls. But ideally, you’re going to have pretty thin bezels. You know, it’ll just look better anyway.

Derek DeWitt: Is it cheaper for me, let’s say let’s say 12, I want a video wall that’s made of 12 displays. Surely there’s a display out there that’s actually one display that size. Is it cheaper for me to go the 12 linked together than to buy the big thing?

Joe Murray: Usually it’s cheaper to get 12 unique, discreet displays and put them all together as opposed to making one giant display.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, like 40 feet or something.

Joe Murray: Exactly. Those displays, we can power those, and we do have some clients with those. But those are usually built of what’s called MicroTiles and microLEDs.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Christie.

Joe Murray: Exactly. And that gets very, very, very expensive very quick, because it’s all custom made and custom designed and you have to, you generally have to work with an integrator to make that happen. And it’s a whole assembly process. It is really cool at the end of the day because you can even use those outside normally, you know, if you have the correct product specifications and correct coding. Yeah, those are very, very expensive. I will say though, they’re insanely bright. You know, I’ve seen a bunch in person.

Derek DeWitt: That’s what I was going to say. I’ve seen what are clearly supposed to be large outdoor displays used indoors and it’s, it actually heats the air.

Joe Murray: Yes. Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: You walk in and go, “Oh, my goodness!”

Joe Murray: Yeah. Those LED arrays get serious.

Derek DeWitt: Let’s roast some sausages. Pull up a chair and tell me a story.

Joe Murray: It’s eye catching, I’ll give you that much.

Derek DeWitt: It’s a little more than eye catching at that point; it’s kind of eye burning.

Joe Murray: It’s a little retina burning. I will say it is important to note that, for the most part, while those LED array systems are very cool, they are generally significantly lower resolution than just a regular full HD or 4K TV that you can get.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, that’s true. Because they’re meant to be seen from a distance.

Joe Murray: Exactly. Yeah. They’re usually high up, in a distance, something like that. So, you’ll see something that’s like, gosh, 40- 50 feet wide that’s only, you know, 720p, that’s not even full HD resolution.

Derek DeWitt: Right.

Joe Murray: So that’s important to know because you’ll get these great looking LED systems, but then they’re so low-res that if you put text up on them that isn’t, you know, really…

Derek DeWitt: Right, it looks very old fashioned.

Joe Murray: Exactly. You get blocky stuff.

Derek DeWitt: I had a 386 way back when, you know, like the “A,” it can’t make a diagonal line; it just does a series of steps.

Joe Murray: Exactly, yeah. And that’s what you get and it’s like, uh, well, okay.

Derek DeWitt: If you’re going for that low-tech look, that’s kinda fun.

Joe Murray: If you’re going for that retro look. Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: We like that. You know, I will say one thing I’ve noticed with some video walls, especially ones that, even if it’s a thin bezel, but you know, again, remember when you’ve got them next to each other, you got to double that bezel width. Because it’s bezel one and bezel two next to each other. So now it could be quite a significant black frame in there. And, and you’d see, like people are using content, say a video that they’ve made about their organization that they have on the web or something like that, and they haven’t figured out a way to change it, to incorporate the bezels. You know what I mean?

So, there’s the CEO, but the way that the video is framed, and coincidentally the way that the video wall is set up, over his left eye is this giant black cross, you know? Or the name of the company, the key letter is, it’s Visix but the “s” is missing because it’s in the bezels. So you’re like, “What’s the name of the company? Viz? Viix?”

Joe Murray: Viix! Yeah. Trying to create content specifically for your video wall is very, very important.

Derek DeWitt: I should think it’s challenging, you know?

Joe Murray: I can definitely see it as that. You really don’t want to just take the same content that you’re putting on your regular, you know, single output players and just say, “Yeah, it’ll look even better just blown up.” Well, you know.

Derek DeWitt; First off, is it the right resolution and…?

Joe Murray: Right, exactly. Yeah. You don’t want to take some standard resolution picture and say, “Yes, yes, perfect. Let’s put it up on this huge display array”, this huge display matrix that’s, you know, 8K in total resolution.

Derek DeWitt: It’s all pixelated and exploded.

Joe Murray: Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: And you’re just like, “Oh my God.”

Joe Murray: Exactly. So there definitely are considerations you want to make. You know, and really, especially with video. One thing that comes to mind (this is something I was telling you before the recording) is do you want one video per output, or do you want just one large scaled video up?

Derek DeWitt: Or to flip between them even?

Joe Murray: Or flip between them. Exactly. You can use a layout playlist to take care of that in Signage Suite. But if you’re, if you are doing that huge stretch to video, you know, you’re going to want to render the video at the video wall’s native resolution.

Derek DeWitt: Yes. Because I’ve seen video walls with stretched video images and again, it’s just, I mean, if the video wall is to make a statement, the statement you’re making is “We’re amateurs.”

Joe Murray: Basically. You know, the aspect ratio gets thrown off, the resolution’s completely wrong. And so yeah, you walk in and you see this really cool hardware with all these great displays and you’re just like, “Oh, the content is…okay.”

Derek DeWitt: Really mediocre. Yeah, you should be looking at a video wall and thinking “That is cool!” Instead of “Wow, that could be cool.”

Joe Murray: “That’s almost cool.” Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: If I have to slip into a conditional then we’re in trouble.

Joe Murray: Yeah, right. And so you really want to work with your content creators, whether they’re in-house or contracted, to say, “Hey, we’ve got this new video wall set up and we really, really want to make sure that the videos are set up properly.”

Derek DeWitt: Right. Or even if we’re going to take this video that we’ve had on the web for ages, can we adapt it, change it, shift the elements and stuff like this. And so that we can incorporate, if we do have bezels, if we can incorporate them into the design so that they’re not intrusive.

Joe Murray: Sure.

Derek DeWitt: So obviously there’s a lot of flexibility with a system like this because it’s essentially one big screen, but it’s also not; it’s also a bunch of individual screens, and you can play with that. What are some of the coolest, most interesting, most innovative projects you’ve seen?

Joe Murray: One that I saw that I just loved. It was basically this customer that had just gotten this new headquarters and they really wanted to put everything to the tens, you know, just really blow everyone’s minds. So, they got one of our eight-output players and it was actually only powering seven displays, but they were full HD, all in portrait, all crammed together. And they had, so it was all in a line, and then they had this…

Derek DeWitt: So, it’s just this horizontal line.

Joe Murray: Exactly, yeah. It’s just seven displays in portrait in a horizontal line. And they had this touchscreen system set up and you know, working with our hardware and they were running Engage.

And basically, what they had, they had ordered a creative project from us, and what would happen is, you’re in this meeting at this new headquarters and you’ve got this video wall behind you. You could actually turn around and touch anywhere on this creative project, and it would start playing music from this company, this company basically runs a bunch of radio stations. And it was really, really great because, you know, all the executives could just see exactly what their company was running.

Derek DeWitt: What’s going on in Chicago?

Joe Murray: Exactly. It’s all over the U.S. And so, we thought that was really, really great that, you know, it’s using so much cool unique stuff. It’s got our creative services involved. It’s got a giant touchscreen involved. It’s got a multi-output player involved.

Derek DeWitt: It’s in their conference room. That’s interesting, that’s where they chose to do it. That’s quite interesting.

Joe Murray: Absolutely. Yeah. And the conference room, I guess it’s worth noting, did have a glass wall directly adjacent to the video wall. And so, people just walking by in the lobby could see it, too. So, I’m sure that was part of it.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, that’s smart. So, it’s almost like they planned this as they were building that new headquarters.

Joe Murray: Absolutely. It’s really cool because it’s eye catching, but it is also functional, you know, it does something specific to the company’s product, too, which is really, really neat.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s a very smart thing to do. And I think that’s kind of the best of both worlds because, you know, I know that there have been clients in the past that have just said, “We want a video wall. And you say, “What do you want to put on it?” They say, “Uh, I don’t know.”

Joe Murray: Cool stuff.

Derek DeWitt: Cool stuff. Right?

Joe Murray: So that was really, really cool. Another client that I mentioned earlier, you know, had multiple players, player types and multiple video walls and you know, you could go up touch any part of the video wall and just that display would change to another player which had its own video going and its own directory and everything. So that was really, really cool. And they actually did all that in-house. They had a very incredible creative team there.

Derek DeWitt: Fun. I mean, they’re not, this is, it’s not cheap. As cool as it would be, a car dealership’s not going to do this, a restaurant’s not going to do this.

Joe Murray: Not super likely. Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: Maybe if you’re the MGM Grand Hotel and that’s where your restaurant is, maybe.

Joe Murray: Yeah. Honestly, yeah. Speaking of that, another client I just thought of, they were a hospital, like a surgery center, and they actually had one of those giant (I’m not sure how tall it was) maybe 20 feet, maybe 25 feet tall and probably about 20 feet wide. And it actually had a 90-degree kink in the middle of it. So, it went on a column of one of their, uh…

Derek DeWitt: So, it went around the corner.

Joe Murray: Exactly, exactly. That was super cool.

Derek DeWitt: That’s cool!

Joe Murray: That was super, super cool. And it was actually, even though it was huge, it was very low-res. It was only like 640 x 480 or something, but it was really high up in the building.

Derek DeWitt: So, it worked.

Joe Murray: It worked great, yeah. And they would play videos on it that would change depending on the season and the weather outside. And that was really, really cool. Everyone that walked in always loved that.

Derek DeWitt: I’m glad it was that. I thought you were going to say that, you know, you tap the screen and it would show you a live feed from the surgery theater.

Joe Murray: No, that was a little too risky for them.

Derek DeWitt: Is that a pancreas? What is that?

Joe Murray: It’s a learning opportunity.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. So, what are some of the, I mean there must be some video wall fails out there.

Joe Murray: Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: You must have seen a couple. We won’t mention names, but you know who you are.

Joe Murray: Let me tell you these customers. No, unfortunately, due to the complexity and the use of multiple teams to really make everything look so seamless…

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, because it’s a lot of people.

Joe Murray: Absolutely. It is a coordinated effort. And so, you know, you’ve got to have our techs in on this. You’ve got to have your integrators in on this. It had to have been designed well, you know, your integration engineering team. You’ve got to have your creative department just, you know, making stuff at the perfect resolution. It is a lot. And so unfortunately, there have been a few stories during implementation. It’s usually during implementation.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Eventually it gets ironed out.

Joe Murray: Exactly. Yeah. Eventually it gets ironed out.

Derek DeWitt: Because if you put this much money and effort into it, you’re not gonna go, “Well, uh, I guess it stinks, but heck, let’s just get it up.”

Joe Murray: “I guess it doesn’t work.”

Derek DeWitt: “This is the launch date. It’s on my calendar.”

Joe Murray: Exactly, exactly. So, it is usually during implementation that we’ll run into some weird thing like, “Oh, you know, we don’t have the right adapters on site” or “Oh, the video distribution hadn’t been tested properly.” A lot of these players due to their form factor will be in like a networking closet, not actually like behind the displays (although it’s not super uncommon for them to be behind). But basically, there’s video distribution involved, and you know, that can cause issues. EDID emulation, you know, has to play a factor sometimes. It can be a bunch of stuff. You know, if videos weren’t encoded properly, they could lag and not be at a perfect 30 or 60 frames per second. There are a bunch of things that can go wrong.

So yeah, we have had a few customers where the implementation just does not go perfectly. And it’s frustrating for everyone. You know, we certainly don’t want to see that. You know, we think they’re cool, just like you. That’s why we make them. So, we want to see them work.

Derek DeWitt: I mean, how much testing do you have to do on something like this? Quite a bit?

Joe Murray: You want to, it’s quite a bit. In a perfect world, you’re going to test every component separately. Like okay, yeah, the player’s outputting video on every single output and the software is connecting to the server properly. Our software is working with our server, and video distribution is tested and good to go, and the displays are all good; there’s no dead pixels involved. There’s a lot of stuff.

So, in Joe Murray’s perfect little world, every single little component would have been tested before an implementation. But, I mean, you know how it goes. These things are complex. There are deadlines in the real world, and you sort of say, well, you know, it probably all works; put it all together.

Derek DeWitt: Thumbnail sketch, ballpark figure, how long from, “Hey, we want to do this” until, “Alright, we’re ready to go”? So, is it a month, six months?

Joe Murray: If the customer already has Signage Suite, then that’s an excellent start because we don’t have to deploy a whole server for licensing and all that. So let’s say it’s ideal, they’ve already got Signage Suite, they’re already used to it. Maybe they’ve already got some content in mind that they’ve already been building in AxisTV Design (because they’ve got Signage Suite) and they just say, “Hey, you know what, we’ve worked with our integrator, we purchased some displays, we just want to get some hardware from you and put it all together.” It wouldn’t be much longer than deploying a regular single-output player.

We’d ship the hardware to you in the same timeframe that we ship our regular hardware, so just a few days. I would say, deploying it, a regular player can take anywhere from five to 30 minutes, usually, depending on if there’s issues or not. A multi-output player, you’re usually looking at maybe an hour or two hours and that’s it. If everything’s ideal, it’ll be, you know, basically the same time as a regular player. But, you know, we like to put in wiggle room for customers that are not used to setting up a multi-output player.

Derek DeWitt: But I could conceivably, provided all my ducks were in a row and I had it all planned out, I could conceivably get this up and running in a month or less.

Joe Murray: Oh, Absolutely. Yeah. Now, if you’ve ordered something like a creative project from us…. I’m not gonna say that our creative team is going to drop everything and immediately work. But yeah, if you’ve ordered a creative project, especially a more complex one (like the one I was talking about earlier) that can certainly take some time because, you know, greatness takes time. You want things to look great on this. You don’t want to buy all this cool stuff, have it all installed and then cheap out on the content last second.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Yeah. I mean, you’re going to, in theory, this is a bit of a…this is not a lark. You’re not going, “Let’s put up a video wall for a couple of months and then we’ll take it apart and sell it.” That would be silly.

Joe Murray: Exactly. So, you know, you need to allot a little more time than a regular single-output player, but we are aware that deadlines exist and that sometimes you’ve got a new building you’re putting together and you want this video wall up on opening day. So, we’re very used to the time crunch of “this needs to be set up yesterday”.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Well that’s everybody’s project, all the time, no matter what the topic. Except for cooking, maybe.

Joe Murray: Maybe.

Derek DeWitt: Alright. Well, video walls, they are impressive, and when done right, they can even be, dare I say, breathtaking.

Joe Murray: Wow.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Wow. They took my breath away. I’d like to thank Joe Murray for talking to me today. Thank you, Joe.

Joe Murray: Thank you, Derek.

Derek DeWitt: And we’d like to thank all of you for listening.