The new world of light-emitting diode or LED has exploded. Costs are starting to fall. The range of products to choose from is increasing each day. This is amazing and opens up a lot of opportunities. But like any technical instrument of worship, you will want to choose what’s right for your facility and what best matches your application needs.
Let’s start with a simple explanation of a few different types of products.
LOW RESOLUTION OR HIGH RESOLUTION LED PRODUCTS
Let’s keep this simple. The way I am using this term, resolution, has to do with the spacing between each LED light on the panel, even though the official term that is used is “pixel pitch.” The closer the LED lights are to each other or the tighter the pitch, the better the panel will look to the congregation that is close to the panel. The farther away each LED light is from each other, the better it will look to the congregation further away. For example, a product with 3mm resolution or “pixel pitch” would look fine to an audience 15 to 20 feet from the panel, but a 9mm product would not. But a 9mm panel would look fine to an audience that is 40 or 50 feet away from the panel. All of this is assuming you’re trying to do HD or higher-quality video. Don’t forget about super low-res products. These are products that go as high as 25mm for resolution and can create very interesting atmospheres in the room.
Low res and super low-res products are mostly used as backgrounds, or eye candy to paint a stage or fill in some gaps. There are some really cool products that are flexible LED, and have models that range from super low-res to high res. PixelFLEX is one manufacturer I’ve seen that has a range of impressive products. These types of products give you a ton of flexibility when using it to create lively moving images and backgrounds that accent the lighting design in your worship space. As an example, we flew a 70 foot wide by 40 foot high LED wall for an event at Gateway Church. It used flexible LED and created a massive background for our lighting team. We were able to make this happen on our stage due to it being very flexible, allowing rigging to not be an issue, because the product was much lighter than a traditional LED wall.
If you need something that’s more of a traditional mounted screen look, these types of flexible products will probably have some drawbacks for such an application. When considering a traditional LED wall versus a specialized screen, you may want to consider your typical rigid LED products made by companies like ROE Visual, THOR or Absen. These high resolution products can really bring life to your event, especially when you’re looking for brightness. High resolution products are typically sold by companies that offer a normal, rigid LED. Because these LEDs come in panels that are latched together to make the wall, you can build an LED wall in tight spaces that are very large or odd-shaped. I have worked with Absen and ROE VISUAL. I really rely on their higher res products when doing video shoots that show the screens a lot. They create eye-popping video images that draw in the audience. If the LED walls end up in a camera shot, these companies offer processing and really tight pixel pitches, like 1.9mm pitch, that help reduce if not eliminate moiré issues.
Moiré patterns occur when a scene or an object that is being photographed contains repetitive details (such as lines, dots, etc.) that exceed the sensor resolution. As a result, a still or video camera produces a strange-looking wavy pattern as seen to the right. Some of your lower quality LED walls with wider pitch or lower resolution can cause this issue when seen by the video camera. In addition, you want to pay attention to the refresh rate of the LED wall. The higher the refresh rate, the better the product will look on video cameras that happen to shoot the wall. I stay with 2,800 Hz or higher for a reliable refresh rate.
Other benefits for using LED walls are that they are very bright and can be used outside. Larger productions, outdoor events, or shows with lots of light bleed on the screen tend to use LED. A good rule of thumb is this: If the technical expertise of the event requires a large screen, odd screen size, is installed in tight spaces, or needs to be eye-popping bright, traditional rigid fixed LED may be the right choice for you.
One question that I get is, “Can I use LED walls for environmental atmosphere use?” Of course! But it will be different from how projectors handle this. Projection mapping has this nailed. It does this by being easier and cheaper to aim a projector at the wall and using an assortment of mapping software to digitally manipulate the image to feel like it expands off your screens to surround your audience. But if you’re looking to create some cool or unique video on or inside set pieces, LED may be an option for you. LED light strips or LED tape can highlight sets or stages in a way that can create some interesting and engaging atmospheres. Check out www.superbrightleds.com or search for Elation Flex pixel tape for some options on LED tape that will make your environment pop. I have lined stages with this type of LED tape and it made for an amazing effect. Another use is creating hidden images on your set, like crosses or other objects that come alive when the LED tape is turned on.
Some more options are being able to build out windows as LED images or create odd-shaped LED walls with custom video. These are just some of the advantages to using LED over projection mapping. You can go crazy with this and costs can get ridiculous, so be careful to plan your event and research your solutions before going out and buying a bunch of LED items.
When you are weighing the costs of LED, you have to take into consideration a major advantage of LED – its power consumption. LED walls consume a lot less power than traditional projection. LED walls do not have lamps like traditional projectors, meaning you will immediately save on lamp costs by going the LED wall route. They also put off less heat than projectors and are quieter. New laser projectors have resolved some of these issues and are cheaper then LED. But, from my experience, LED still lasts longer than projection and when you do have an issue, you’re working on a portion of the screen, versus your entire screen going down when a projector lamp or laser goes out. All of this will save on your utilities, labor and HVAC costs. Make sure you put those savings on the board when you start looking into LED costs.
Let’s talk a little bit about manpower. LED walls can save you a lot of money in the long run, but they are not something you can just set up and turn on. LED walls will require a little more educated setup. Plus you’re hanging or floor-supporting something that has some significant weight. I contrast this with projection, that for the most part is pretty easy to set up. If you’re looking into LED, I would highly recommend you purchase with it a professional setup package. This means bringing in a qualified engineer to commission the system and then train you on the setup. If you’re renting, be sure it comes with a technician who can dial it in. This is especially true if you need to match it to other LED or projection that is already in the building.
Probably the biggest piece of advice that I can give you is to use LED as a tool to accomplish a project. Don’t use it just because it’s the next best thing. Use this resource and other research to make sure it fits your application. Many people will just go with LED because it’s a cool hip term. It may not be the right thing for you, so do your research, figure out how you would use it and make sure it’s the right product to accomplish your task at hand.
We live in a bold and exciting world, where almost everything we need to resolve any tech issue that may arise is right at our fingertips. Creating engaging and distraction free environments that stimulate the church congregant is attainable and the price for it is dropping. Yes, LED is still 10 percent to 20 percent more expensive than projection, but the longer lifespan, savings on HVAC, electric and lamps make LED a lot more competitive than just a few years ago. This allows us to make our decisions more on the need, versus basing our decision only on pricing.
LED walls and projection are a form of light that illuminates our services and shines a video image that engages our congregation in our worship services. It’s very exciting to see people embracing these new ideas and researching visual setups that will draw people to our facilities and hopefully allow us to introduce them to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let there be light!
About the Author
David Leuschner currently serves as the Executive Director of Digital Great Commission Ministries, a non-profit that has a mission to utilize technology to reach the entire world for Jesus Christ. From 2006 to 2017 he served on the Senior Team as the Senior Director of Technology and Technical Arts at Gateway Church. He provided oversight for all of the Technology and Live Production areas. While at Gateway, David guided and directed more than 700 volunteers, part-time and full-time staff in a mission to facilitate several hundred events a month among all venues. You can visit him on the web at digitalgreatcommission.org and audiovideolighting.com