In the LED: LED Display Technology: The New Focus is on Software

There’s no doubt that we live in the new age of LED technology. Those little glowing diodes are everywhere – from the large screens in Times Square and the taillights on today’s hottest supercars to chandeliers and the holiday lights people have in their homes. Still, as different as all the applications for LEDs may be, it’s basically the same LED lighting technology that’s in all of them. What makes them different? Software.

The Brains Behind the Beast

Whether built into a simple in-line controller or a series of servers, software makes one LED act and perform quite differently from another. The same holds true for the smallest ticker LED displays and the mammoth displays found in stadiums around the world.

Until recently, managing and controlling an LED display system was largely a localized process with dedicated controllers assigned to specific LED displays. Delivering and managing content was cumbersome, and attaining the desired results often resulted more in compromise than satisfaction. Today, all that has changed. New developments in LED display system software like Trans-Lux’s new epic series LED display system software make any LED display hardware better and infinitely smarter.

New Configuration and Control Capabilities

Today’s new LED display software solutions provide unprecedented control and management by offering a wide range of functionality. This includes the ability to network LED displays making it possible to configure single and/or groups of displays, and control virtually all performance parameters, manage display diagnostics and distribute content.  It’s also now possible to easily calibrate multiple displays for the precise adjustment of pixel brightness and color compensation.

The ability to synchronize multiple displays to “perform” as a single display is one of the most effective and desired applications for LED display systems. New LED control and management software simplifies this process by allowing installers to set up overall display resolution and operation in true pixel or virtual pixel modes. They can also store system configurations for use with multiple systems using custom parameters for settings like refresh rate, number of gray levels, clock frequencies, etc., to optimize display quality. Default settings are also selectable and applicable for most applications. These settings can be used to set up easy-to-follow operating parameters with menu driven step-by-step procedures. In addition to reducing the need to deploy senior technicians to the field for every installation, this functionality makes it easy for users to self-manage many aspects of their LED display systems.

New interfaces also make it easy to adjust pixel level intensity and the color of individual LED clusters using a conventional digital SLR camera. This virtually eliminates even minor LED disparities that can detract from the most intense content on the smallest pitch LED displays. Simply point the camera at the display and let the software diagnose problem areas, identify specific LED clusters and adjust them accordingly. I actually ran a test where I arbitrarily placed tape on one of our displays so clusters of LEDs appeared weak and discolored to the naked eye. Our engineers pointed an SLR at the screen, entered a few keystrokes, and I watched as the areas of the display that I obscured with tape brightened and seamlessly blended into the overall image. What took only minutes in the lab that day would have previously taken our technicians several hours if not days to achieve in the field.

The same feature sets used to control set-up brightness and color saturation can be performed automatically to ensure that outdoor LED display systems always look their best despite changing lighting conditions. Pre-set parameters for brightness and color can be programmed to kick in at specific time intervals during the day, or triggered manually as daylight conditions vary from one day to the next.

Diagnostics Made Easy

The powerful processing capabilities of new LED display system software have greatly simplified troubleshooting. Now it’s possible to perform standard diagnostics such as monitoring DC power supply voltage and temperature for each cabinet remotely and automatically. With established and programmed potential “alarm conditions”, users can be notified automatically by email of impending problems so that measures can be quickly taken to avert display outages. If problems persist, the display and/or affected cabinets can be shut down automatically to prevent serious damage. Additional diagnostics include but are not limited to monitoring LED open/short status, voltage spikes, cooling fan operation, humidity conditions, cabinet door open/closed status, overall cabinet operating status, internal ribbon cable status and smoke detection.

Controlling Content on the Network

Many LED software features are derivatives of other existing video and IT systems that are pervasive wherever you work, live and play. The invention of the Internet – thanks, Al Gore – made it possible to remotely connect to and control individual and multiple LED displays by “hanging” them on a network.

Bandwidth does continue to be an issue. Tasks like adjusting settings and running diagnostics with automatically triggered e-alerts are still possible with limited bandwidth, while calibrating individual LED clusters most probably requires a bit more bandwidth or even a hardwired connection. There are even feasible means of establishing and maintaining sufficient bandwidth to distribute content over a network connection, the gold standard for networked systems. This enables applications like programming and changing the content on billboards along remote highways to be implemented from a centralized studio location, or for campus-wide systems to display the latest informational content and emergency broadcasts. Getting your display systems networked offers numerous advantages and benefits, and over time will most likely save you money.

And this is Just The Beginning!

I believe we will continue to see even smaller LED pitches producing higher resolutions until the next display device is unleashed like the organic and printable display media already in development now. Regardless of form factor, there will always be software driving these new displays. So when considering LEDs, remember to keep software clearly in focus.