LED Walls vs. Projectors

One of the trends we're seeing in the integration Biz is the meteoric rise of LED video walls. As few as 5-7 years ago, video walls really only made sense for outdoor sports stadiums and really big churches with really big budgets. Here we are in 2016 however, and the calculus has changed. 

A question we're fielding a lot lately is, "When does it make sense to consider a video wall instead of a projector?" I wish there was a hard and fast rule for that, but I'm not sure there is. But here are a few parameters we look at.

Ambient Light Levels

In the past year or so, I've worked with churches that are not the modern "black box" style of sanctuary. One had a giant 300 sq. ft. stained glass window right next to their screen. And yeah, it faced south. My first thought was video wall for them for two reasons. First, it would have the punch that no projector ever would making it possible to actually overcome all that ambient lighting. Second, and maybe more importantly for me, the blacks would actually be black. You see, a screen will only ever be as dark as the white screen ever gets. When there is that much ambient light in the room, it's never going to be darker than light grey.

That destroys contrast which makes the already not bright enough projector seem even more washed out. By contrast (see what I did there?), the background of a video wall—the space between the pixels—is black. And when the LED is off, it's black. I don't care what the contrast ratio spec says about a projector, it only matters if the room is very dark. In a full light situation, the screen looses. 

Projector Brightness

This one is a little more subjective, but we're finding that if a church wants to talk about a projector in the 12-14K lumen range or higher, we should probably start talking about a video wall. Now, I should make it clear that a video wall is not going to be the same initial cost as a 14K lumen projector. It's going to cost more up front. However, when we do the math, often the delta is low enough that it makes sense to go with a video wall. 

Video walls don't need lamp changes, they can be mounted to the wall or flown and don't require a clear path from viewing screen to projector. The overall service life of a video wall is likely to be longer, and they generally require less maintenance. At the end of the day the wall may still be more money, but the extra value it brings is often worth it. Not every time, but sometimes. 

Screen Location

Some churches want to use a big screen as a backdrop to their stage. Projectors can be problematic because if people get too close to the screen, they'll cast shadows unless you do rear projection. But rear projection requires a big backstage area. If you want to do a wide screen, you'll need to blend the projectors, and that can be tricky and may need adjusting from time to time. And the screen will still be competing with stage light. 

When we switched from a 16K projector to a video wall at Coast Hills, the biggest thing we all noticed was that the stage lights had no effect on the video image. Whereas before we had to be really careful where we pointed the lights, how much haze we used and even where we hung fixtures, the video wall had enough power to punch through all of it. And the blacks stayed black no matter what. 

Like I said, there are no hard and fast rules. Yet. Video wall technology is advancing at breakneck speed and almost every year we're seeing an increase in pixel density, and a decrease in weight and cost. Brightness isn't changing much; they're already bright enough. But we're also seeing refresh rates go up, and processing quality improve all the time. 

All of that to say, if you're thinking about replacing or upgrading some projectors, especially larger ones, it's worth looking into video walls. They don't make sense in every case, but when they do, they're a big win.

This post is brought to you by Nemosyn. The guitar player practices, the keyboard player practices, the vocalists practice, how does a sound guy practice? Nemosyn record. Practice. Perfect your mix. Visit their website at Nemosyn.com.