EMCs in the 21st Century

From cost-per-impressions to low energy usage to longer lifespans, LEDs really aren't the wave of the future anymore. They have arrived.

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Times they are a-changing. We’ve come a long way from when an electronic sign that showed the time and temperature with large amber lamps was a status symbol that only banks could afford. During the past five years especially, LED signs have become more ubiquitous and much better in a variety of ways.

What it means to sign companies and their customers is that, if LED signs are permittable in their cities, then they should get one. There is no better investment of advertising dollars than an LED sign. In the simple analysis example below, the cost per thousand exposures (CPM) of a typical LED sign is about $0.39.

Cost Per Thousand (CPM)
Sign Project Price: $28,000
Traffic Count: 15,000
Vehicle Occupancy (18+ years): 1.35
Display Life (Years): 10
CPM: $0.39

The comparable CPM of traditional advertising:

  • Newspapers – On average, the cost is about $7.39 per 1,000 exposures inside a 10-mile circle of the company’s position.
  • Television – On average, the cost is about $6.26 for 1,000 exposures.
  • Radio – About $5.47 for 1,000 exposures

And with the rapid development in technology, the effectiveness of LEDs has only gotten better. Following are some of the improvements we have seen in the last few years.

Higher Resolution

Resolution for LED displays is based on the number of pixels combined with viewing distance. More pixels at longer distances equals higher resolution. Pixel pitch is the industry term that describes the distance between two pixels. So, the lower the pixel pitch, the better the resolution, because more pixels are packed in a smaller area.

Keeping in mind that this inverse correlation-because we have seen typical pixel pitch for LED signs go from 20mm to 10mm over the last few years-means that the resolution has gotten four times better (twice as good high and twice as good wide makes four times as good all together).

The results: Picture quality good enough to make your restaurant client’s target customer’s mouth water and turn his steering wheel toward the restaurant when he sees a juicy delicious-looking burger on the LED monument sign out front. A competing burger joint nearby without an LED sign will lose, while the joint with the LED sign wins big.

Higher Brightness/Higher Life Expectancy

Brightness for LED signs is measured in nits (candela/square meter, which originally was based literally on the light of a candle). A rule of thumb is that the sun’s brightness is roughly 5,000 nits. In the olden days, an EMC was around 5,000 nits, barely competing with the sun, and sometimes losing out to bright, direct sunlight.

Over the last few years, however, standard brightness for high quality LED signs has shot up to 10,000 nits for 10mm and 12,000 nits for 16mm. Caution!  The LED signs are shipped by reputable manufacturers to run at a maximum of around 7,500 nits to be in compliance with many municipal ordinances while also handily beating the sun.

The extra nits beyond 7,500 gives the user many additional years of service (the 12,000 maximum nits on day one will decay to 7,500 over the span of a decade or so). So, the life expectancy is now truly a decade or more for most signs purchased from reputable manufacturers.

Lower Power Consumption

LED power supplies have gotten more reliable while also becoming more efficient. The result is lower power consumption. The average watts per square foot consumed by LED signs has been cut in half from roughly 20w to 10w. The result is half the energy bill. So a typical 4′ x 8′ LED sign in most of the U.S. will have an electric bill of only a few dollars a month, which is negligible in relation to the revenue the sign brings in.

Smarter LED Signs & Billboards

LED signs from quality manufacturers are a lot smarter now than they were five years ago. Today, they will let you know if they are feeling a little too hot, or if something is wrong internally (power supply getting low voltage, too hot or humid inside the housing, data not properly transmitting). The result is that technicians now can quickly diagnose and fix issues-often before the problem even shows up on the screen itself.

Also, remote reboot has become a standard feature for large applications such as LED billboards, so technicians can reboot the computer, the modem, or the entire electrical service to the sign at the click of a button a thousand miles away from the billboard.

Minimalist Design

The I-phone not only changed the mobile phone market, it inspired all technology hardware companies to minimize the moving parts and simplify the user experience. In the LED sign industry, some manufacturers have been working hard on designing and engineering simpler, lower weight, lower wind load, and more reliable signs and billboards without increasing costs or even while reducing costs.

In the billboard segment of LEDs, wind flow-through has now been introduced, creating lightweight and low wind load options that allow static billboards to be retrofitted to digital even if their structures were not built to be “digital ready” (i.e. take the heavier weight of a boxy LED billboard). In many cases, fans have been removed, which is possible if the power supply is highly efficient and does not produce much heat and wind flow cools the LEDs continuously.

One less heavy moving part (that could have problems) means lower cost, and lower weight in one fell swoop. On the cutting edge, some manufacturers are rolling out LED billboards with no data or electrical cables, and instead are using pin connections like the ones between your desktop and its monitor.

More LED Sign Applications

LED signs are not just for your monument and pylon anymore. LED wall signs, indoor screens for large format displays where LCD or projectors are too small or too dim, and cool-looking circular designs such as LED-based column wraps are changing our surroundings to a more modern look and higher advertising revenue for owners. One vinyl advertisement versus eight digital advertisements typically results in five to six times the advertising revenue. The economics are strong enough to support even these higher-cost curved applications in high traffic areas.

Life is Getting Better

So a lot has changed and will continue to change. Life is getting better for sign companies that have embraced the EMCs. But do me a favor, call them LED signs from now on. “LED” has a lot more cache and sizzle than “EMC”. Trust me-everyone wants a piece of the brave new world where LED is seen as environmentally friendly and futuristic. As they swap out their light bulbs for LEDs, their monument sign will be next on the hit parade.

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Timor Colak

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