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Quality Digital Outdoor versus Cheap Digital Outdoor

I still remember many years ago accompanying my mom as a teenager to buy a new vacuum cleaner for our house.  We made the drive to the local Sears and proceeded to the aisle where the vacuum cleaners were located.  The light reflected off the shiny, new plastic of the floor models located on the shelves there, and I couldn’t help but get excited about the prospect of having something new, even though it wasn’t something that would benefit me directly in any dramatic way.  It wasn’t like it was a new car; but I would use this new, shiny vacuum cleaner often because, after all, I was the kid in the house that did the vacuuming as my regular chore.  

There were all kinds of vacuums, with all kinds of snazzy design elements and features.  There were the regulars like Hoover, Bissell, and Oreck; but, there were also off brands that I don’t think even the biggest of vacuum cleaner aficionados would have heard of.  Of course there were all kinds of price points too, ranging from a several hundred dollars on down; and of course the lesser known brands were positioned in the lower confines of the price range.

My parents were always looking for the best deal, but in an era devoid of smart phones, and the high speed internet we take for granted today, it was hard to determine which model of vacuum had the most value.  So, my mom, who usually goes for the cheapest option, chose the cheapest model available.  $89.99 later, we were walking to the car with a brand new vacuum.

Fast forward eight months:  I was accompanying my mom to Sears so that we could buy a new vacuum cleaner.  The vacuum that we purchased not eight months earlier had died a horrible and dramatic death.  I still remember it well.  I was vacuuming one day, as it was my daily household chore, and noticed a smell of something burning, only to look down at the vacuum to see smoke permeating from the vent covering the motor; and not more than a few seconds later, it made an awful noise, and shut down completely. We looked at the options in the vacuum aisle, and just like my mom always did, she selected the cheapest option.  89.99 later, we were walking to the car with a brand new vacuum cleaner.

Fast forward approximately twelve months later:  I was accompanying my mom to Sears so that we could buy a new vacuum cleaner...  This cycle took place two more times.  We had tried other brands, but the thing that remained consistent was we bought either the cheapest model available, or the second cheapest model available.

What we should have done was make one purchase of a proven, and well-built option.  We may have paid a few hundred dollars more, but after two years, we would have had the same, well running, vacuum cleaner from the original purchase.

“You get what you pay for” is a saying that is prevalent in our society, and for good reason.  The choice between quality or low cost is not unique to vacuum cleaners, but everything consumers purchase.  This is especially true with outdoor digital LED signs.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of Outdoor digital LED manufacturers in the marketplace today; and that number will certainly increase as outdoor digital continues to grow in popularity.  The issue is: there are few quality LED manufacturers out there, and plenty of low cost, low quality ones.  

To help demonstrate the difference between the two, it is important to explain what actually goes into the manufacturing of an outdoor digital LED product.  

The LED chips are the foundation of a digital sign, or electronic message board (EMC).  They are a solid state light emitter that is made up of precious metals.  The type of metal depends on the color of the LED.  The purity of the precious metal is what determines how well it emits light and how much power it takes to reach the desired illumination level.  High quality LED chips from quality LED chip manufacturers, like Cree LED, have a higher quality of precious metal, and use less energy to reach the desired luminescence.  Low quality LED’s, which often are manufactured in China, lack purity in their precious metals.  This is one way that manufacturers cut costs.  The result is the need to overpower the LED in order to reach the same illumination as the higher quality, purer LED.  Having to overdrive the LED means that you are evaporating the typical life of that LED, and it ends up dimming, or failing in a short period of time.

The circuit boards of the LED module also contribute to the quality of a digital sign.  The circuit board transport the power to the LED, provide the data to the sign, and regulate its importance.  The quality of the circuit board comes down to how well it is engineered and manufactured.  Under engineered circuit boards lead to errors and massive inefficiencies.  Shoddy soldering is the prevailing culprit, which contributes to a board that thirsts for an enormous amount of power, and has a very high potential to fail.

Many outdoor digital signs require fan systems to regulate the operating temperature of the LED module.   When a module gets too hot, it fails.  Fans are a moving part in the sign and is the most susceptible component of a sign or module to fail, and is often the first place to look when a sign or module goes out.  The solution is to choose a quality manufacturer that utilizes high quality fans, or a quality manufacturer whose modules don’t require fans at all.  ADTI Media’s Sky Panel is a high quality example of this.
Outdoor digital signs are obviously, outdoors, and therefore are exposed to the elements.  Extreme cold, extreme heat, rain, wind and snow, will certainly take a swing at your digital sign depending on where it is located.  The weatherization of outdoor LED modules is imperative in ensuring it runs well for a long period of time.  The issue with low cost solutions is they cut corners when it comes to protecting their modules from the elements.  Many assemble and deliver a finished sign; the process of which includes prefabricating a structure, or cabinet made of aluminum or steel, and then mounting their modules and fans into that structure. Then they use cheap weather stripping, or rubber gaskets in attempt to keep the elements, most notably water, away from the fans and LED modules.  Often the construction of the cabinet and placement of the weather stripping is poor, or the sun and elements eat away at the integrity of the weather stripping, letting water in.  What happens next is the fans suck in the pooling water, and either they fail, or the water the fan displaces drenches the modules and they fail.  High quality digital sign manufacturers fully weatherize their modules with high quality compound, not just on one side, but both sides of the module; however, the process to ensure full weatherization means not cutting cost in manufacturing.  In order to determine how well your sign will perform in the weather you should inquire on the sign’s IP rating (Ingress Protection).  An IP rating of 67 or higher will ensure that your sign is protected fully from dust, and can resist water up to the point of immersion.

The fact is that the highest rated outdoor digital sign manufacturers are located in the United Sates, and it is widely known that the lower quality and cheaper alternatives are manufactured in China.  You must be careful in how each manufacturer markets their product.  Many companies with Chinese manufactured products state they are American made, or American assembled, which really means the manufacturer sources all the sign components from China and then assembles them in the United States; but rest assured, they are indeed, Chinese products.  Make sure that the manufacturer you choose manufactures, or sources their components from American companies.

Lamar outdoor, the largest digital purchaser in the world, sources several manufacturers for their digital billboards, and signs.  They conducted an accelerated aging test among half a dozen outdoor digital manufacturers to simulate ten years in the elements, and measured the light output each maintained over that period of time.  What the best outdoor LED manufacturers demonstrated was a consistent reading, resembling a straight line (see fig 1).  ADTI Media’s Skypanel is indicated by a light blue line.  You can observe the light that these modules emitted stayed, more or less, the same over the course of the test.  The manufacturers represented by lines that started out very high, only to drop precipitously, typically mean Chinese construction.  The modules are made with lower quality components, need to be overdriven to obtain their initial brightness, which shortens the life of the LED and means a lot less brightness after just a few years in the simulation.

In conclusion, just like my mom had a choice to either buy a vacuum of known origin and quality, or save a couple bucks and buy the cheapest one out there; you have the choice to invest in a quality outdoor sign for your business that may cost a bit more, or choose the cheaper alternative.  But just like my mom, who ended up buying four vacuums in as many years, you may find your constantly failing sign is not providing you a return on your investment, needs constant maintenance, completed at an indeterminate added expense, or needs to be taken down all together in order to install the quality sign you should have purchased in the first place.

Very Affordable & Consistent

ADTI's digital displays are very affordable and consistently produce crisp, clean images and text. When you are looking for a great return on your investment, that's a powerful combination.

- Bill Ripp, Director of Lamar Digital

We Now Have The Capability To Do So Much…

What we had for the last decade was a sign that looked like 100 watt light bulbs that you screw into a lamp. Now with the LED SkyPanel display from ADTI Media, we just have the capability to do so much more.

- Boris Said, BMW of Murrieta

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