Night and Day LED

American-made displays show how to compete on Las Vegas Strip 7/01/2016 7:48 PM Eastern

The first thing you notice when you walk up to the Fashion Show Mall is what they call “The Cloud.” It looks like a huge aluminum spaceship just hovering over the place as if it were about to slide down the two big columns and land. Jim Vasgaard, national sales manager for Spectacular Projects, and Josh Howardson, application engineer for Daktronics, talk about how they outfitted The Cloud and Fashion Show Mall with new LED video displays for developer CGP.

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SVC: This signage project is right on the Las Vegas Strip—quite a job just getting something to stand out and get attention along that street. It’s not just one big exhibit, but there are wrap-around column displays, billboard screens, marquee pylon displays, and I think there were some improvements to existing signage. So what all did you have on your plate for this?

Jim Vasgaard: We actually wrapped some existing pylons. The south pylon is around 58ft. tall and overall 80ft. long as it wraps around the pole. The north pylon is a little bit smaller, only about 42ft. tall by 80ft. long. But what’s interesting is even at those sizes, we’re able to do full HD or high-definition matrixes. So you can use HD content and it looks truly, truly amazing. Then we did a 14ft. by 112ft. display at the entrance above Neiman Marcus and that’s got a unique curve to it. We then did some 8mm displays that are at the street level on the north and south ends. And then we upgraded some of their interior video signage along the fashion runway they use for different events and promotions. We updated that display to a tight 6mm resolution product that they can use for advertising, promotion, and live events as well.

Is that the three-screen video display right over the runway in the Fashion Show’s Great Hall?

Vasgaard: Yes, it is. It’s about 39ft. long, and those displays were about 6ft. tall. They had them split into thirds, each around 6’x13’. We upgraded and went 10’x13’ wide, so they had a good aspect ratio for live content ads. But they kept them split because they have each display on a hoist so they can move them up and down behind the fashion show or live entertainment.

With all the curved surfaces and extreme angles it must have been a big consideration just to nail down all the sight lines and exactly what you can see from where.

Vasgaard: Yes. That really was important. That’s why you have slightly different sizes on the pole wraps, to maximize the visibility from various points coming up and down the Strip, and the different properties across the street. The curved entrance sign is also highly visible from down the Strip as well as if you’re coming westbound on the street that runs by the south end of the property. So yeah, there was really a lot of time spent taking a look at how do we position the displays, what’s the optimal curve and shape?

In the glaring desert sun during the day, it’s got to be a lot more difficult to make the displays stand out. What sort of LED technology did Daktronics use to do that?

Vasgaard: We really have to be cognizant of how to compete with the sun and provide good contrast so that at any time of the day, these displays are very vibrant. Our engineers have worked very hard to ensure our display have a very rich black surface, so you’ve got very good contrast. The other thing is, like a lot of other companies, we have louvers on the display to create a little bit of a shadowbox to keep some light from shining directly onto the LED itself. But to maximize the viewing angles, we’ve come up with a unique design we called our city-view louvre, where we angle the louver a little bit and tuck the LED underneath it so that we can shorten the louver. This way we’ve got really good downward viewing angles yet still keep the sun off of the LED. So the images are very vibrant, the content is really amazing out there—you feel like you’re looking at a big-screen TV, whether it’s in the daylight or at night.

Now these LED video displays are not identical. Is there a difference on say, the pixel pitch from one display to some of the others?

Josh Howardson: Yep. So there are some different pixel pitches. The two columns and the south entry are 15mm. The smaller anchor pylons are 8mm. And then on the indoor, it’s a 6mm. So they’re probably a very similar LED, but moved closer together or further apart.

And who were the nuts-and-bolts guys on this one? Who actually did the installation of the displays?

Vasgaard: We worked with a local company called Vision Sign. They’ve been in Vegas for many years. That’s what we do when we work in a community on a project of this type. We work with local companies. We want to invest in the community. They know the area and they know the codes and understand the work requirements really well.

Yeah, just sorting through all the building codes and whose sign might block someone else’s from what direction, a local outfit would be much more familiar with all of that. But these weren’t built onsite. Didn’t you build them at Daktronics and then ship everything to the site for assembly?

Vasgaard: Yeah. Daktronics is a U.S. manufacturer. We do all of our module construction. We buy components and load all the LEDs into the circuit boards, make the modules, calibrate them, and then assemble into display sections. But to make it more efficient to handle, easier to install so you don’t have a lot of seams, we do build in smaller sections. We’re not looking to ship big, boxcar-size displays. We ship small sections out and then Vision fits the displays together in their yard. And then they disassembled it and then put it together and fit it around the poles and pylons at the property. One of the challenges was a parking garage underneath the plaza where the signs are mounted. We had to be very cognizant of weight load distribution and weight load requirements. It’s not like you want to have great big pieces of equipment working out there.

How do you carry the video content to the displays?

Vasgaard: That is done over fiber-optic cable from the control system out to the display and it uses proprietary Daktronics protocols and format, so it’s not just a DVI or an SDI signal. It gets converted into Daktronics format and pumped out to the display.

How are all of these displays controlled?

Vasgaard: The displays are controlled by the new Daktronics platform, which is called the Venus Control Suite. And that’s also the control content management system, so all of the content gets uploaded, managed, and scheduled through that.

At some point in this, did Daktronics come in and do the actual control and content connection or was that locally contracted as well?

Vasgaard: No, that was a combination of both. Daktronics will always have an onsite install supervisor to oversee the sign company and the local onsite project management. But when it comes to the finer details of configuring the control system, that’s usually someone like me, an application engineer, or other engineers from Daktronics that will come in and configure and set everything up.

And you trained all of the operators?

Vasgaard: Yes, sir. We do the full gambit. We train them on how to use it and then we also support them down the path if they have ideas on reconfiguring setup of the software and stuff like that.

We’ve talked about the hardware and how it got set up but another great thing about this is of course the content that runs on the displays. Who designed and developed the content? I know it was a number of different outfits.

Howardson: Yeah, we worked with CGP and quite a few different content providers. Some of the content was provided by Show and Tell from New York City, with Brian Henry Designs, who’s local in Las Vegas. They did some of the premium video images, the 3D content, and some of the Fashion Show branding. So if you’re in there looking at the displays and you see the feathers come flowing by and the waterfall coming down the displays—that was Brian Henry. We also worked with Houses in Motion, which is out of Brooklyn. They developed and made the holiday spectacular, which was the four-minute show that played on top of every hour through December. Houses of Current, which is out of Atlanta, did the branded images and video for the mall, primarily the content shown on the anchor pylons. And then the local onsite is the Best Agency. The Best Agency does a little bit of everything for Fashion Show. They do advertiser content. They also are the group that does all the day-to-day operation. They operate the display scheduling, time management, and then they also do the video production for the fashion shows in the Great Hall.

And that’s a huge and very high-profile creative canvas for these people to do their best stuff.

Howardson: The CGP has done a really good job at laying out what they wanted with the displays. They’re splitting their time between advertising and artistic stuff. So you get to see some things that are fresh, that it’s not just an ad in your face all the time. Some of the content is opened up to local artists who are doing interesting visual video-type artwork.

Of course the visual is the first thing you notice at the Fashion Show Mall Plaza but there’s also a very sophisticated sound system. How many zones does it cover?

Vasgaard: There are 20 zones, 69 speakers, and 68 amplifiers capable of around 48,000W.

On the visuals, you can focus your attention on one display at a time and sort of zone out the others. But when it comes to the sound, that may be a bigger task of keeping all of the various sound sources from just seeming like chaos.

Vasgaard: Yeah, we spent a great deal of time on this. It’s a very unique sound system, especially on the Strip here in Las Vegas with all of those zones. With all the storefronts in the Plaza area, you can’t just blast them out. They also have their own systems and are competing for space. So there are a large number of zones so that everything can be adjusted, and so you’re not blaring at one portion of the Plaza, while it is not loud enough on the other side. We have three or four profiles or presets set up in the sound system so that when we’re running normal day content, there’s no audio in the content. This system plays background music, there’s stuff happening, and things pique your interest. And then when there’s an advertiser who wants audio, which is also a very unique thing to the Fashion Show on the Strip—they’re the only facility on the Strip that offers this—they can sell your advertising with audio. So the sound system will change to incorporate that audio; it will lower some channels and shape the sound.

So how many people did you have to coordinate on doing all of this and getting it finished within the deadline?

Vasgaard: I think our deadline was around Nov. 1, and we actually had everything mostly operational in the summer. So that turned out really well. There could have been anywhere from 20-25 people working on the display or the system at any given time. There are usually one or two Daktronics people onsite. Vision had like a 12-man crew working in its shop to receive all the sections of the displays, and then build those sections up a little bit, and then transport them to the site to be hung. Then I think there were probably anywhere from six to eight people working onsite until the installation was finished. And then once the displays were fully installed and operational, there was probably two or three Daktronics people onsite configuring and going through the commissioning process.

You don’t get much bigger display projects than on the Las Vegas Strip, but what have you got in the works now?

Howardson: We’ve got quite a few football projects going on for the next season. We have the Atlanta Falcons. The facility is being built. The displays aren’t onsite being installed yet. That’s going to be an enormous project display with around 60-65,000 square feet of LED signs just in one display. And we have the Miami Dolphins. The Minnesota Vikings are just finishing their stadium and I think we just finished our install. The Cleveland Indians are doing a renovation. The University of Oklahoma football is also doing a very large renovation.

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