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Tech Decisions Media Special Report --Digital Signage Flat Panels

Commerical vs. Consumer Displays
Everything you need to know about choosing a flat panel display for your business
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When you install a consumer display for commerical use, you have a high risk of failure and very little recourse when it comes to repairs or replacement. Your initial cost may be less, but in the long run, you may be wasting money.

The flat-panel display is the face of the whole room and experience in a commercial application, educational venue or in a corporate videoconferencing room. When choosing the right one for a particular application, there are many considerations including picture quality, connectivity, warranty and then there's always price. The thing about commercial flat-panel displays is that they have cousins in the consumer world that cost a lot less. It can be tempting for an end user to think the less expensive consumer monitors will work just fine, but as a rule, the commerical requirements of a flat-panel display are much more demanding than what the consumer models can provide.

"A flat panel is more than just a display on the wall," says brandon Tarnow, brand manager, Mitsubishi Electric Visual Solutions America, Inc. "It's the livelihood of the conference room and a revenuw stream if the panel is used for digital signage." Using a consumer television for a professional application jeopardizes the medium for which the display is being used. "If it's a professional environment with digital signage, and the display goes down than that signage goes away." he says. "You immediately have lost revenue and lost information."

While end users are more tech savy these days and can appreciate what a commerical display offers over a consumer version, integration companies are still responsible for educating consumers on a good investment in A/V gear. Money saved now will not pay off down the road. "Integrators have to come in and explain the difference," says Tarnow. "You can buy a TV for $400 at Walmart and put it up on the wall. But in three months, when it breaks, the integrator is going to have to come out and replace it. That costs money for maintenance and that costs money to replace the display itself."

What to Look for in a Flat Panel Display

Chuck Espinoza, CTS-D, CTS-I, CQT, ISF-C, DMC-E is the Training and Quality Assurance Engineer at Applied Visual Communications. For him, above all else, what an integrator is going to look for in a flat-panel display is the quality of the picture. "The picture quality has to be crisp, have no motion artifacts and the color has to be good," he says. "If the picture on the display doesn't look good, no matter how well it integrates, it just doesn't look good."

Versatility of both the inputs and the monitor itself is a new and interesting factor developing over the past few years. A commerical monitor can be mounted landscape or in a portrait mode, whereas consumer television cannot. End users these days are much more knowledgable about falt-panel displays that they were two or three years ago. "We have clients call with very specific requirements," says Espinoza. "It's not uncommon for an average end-user to say: 'I need the panel to be oriented vertically instead of horizontally,' or 'I need 178-degree access,' or 'I have specific EDID requirements because of our computers we'll be hooking up to it." Displays have to be able to perform at resolutions that the end users' computers and their sources can sync up to.

Connectivity

When end users are designating the need for flat-panel displays, they are looking for the basic computer connections as well as HDMI. "It is important for the manufacturers of professional commerical monitors to recognize all the various digital signals via HDMI," says Matt Rose, product manager, Display Technology at HB Communications. "A lot of time the HDMI are for use with Blu-ray, not necessarily for connection to a computer."

Consumer models are designed for connectivity that is used in a home environment, such as a 15-pin VGA connection on the side. For consumers, choosing a flat-panel display is typically price driven. They are not making choices based on various applications for the display. After quality of the picture, the next big series of issues for Espinoza at Applied Visual Communications revolve around connectivity. By answering a series of detailed questions, the inappropriate displays can be ruled out and the integrator and client can hone in on what will work for the space. Espinoza asks: "How does the flat-panel integrate? How do the connectors face? What types of connectors are they? Are they HDMI/ HD15? If I have HDMI conectors, do they connect in the back of the display pointing back? The same does for my VGA connector. Am I connecting is directly in to the display? Are they connected on the side so that the connectors go flat, the way the cable goes flat against the display?"

A commerical display has to have at least one HDMI, and at least one VGA HD15. "Usually those systems have a switcher, or some kind of video matrix in front of it that will route the different signals, so one HDMI port is enough," says Espinoza. Similarly, in the consumer market displays have to have HDMI, but they have to have multiple HDMI inputs to get the cable box, Blu-ray player and the PlayStation in because they do not have switchers.

Building on the connectivity standards, like HDMI, Mitsubishi is jumping on board with Intel OPS (Open Pluggable Standard) card slot, which opens options for many verticals. As a universal card slot, the user can pick what kind of inputs they need based on the application. "Think of it as a memory stick or USB that you can plug in to many different types of peripherals," says Mitsubishi's Tarnow. "The OPS card slot is what all of our future monitors will have going forward to accomodate on-board computer or media players, and various inputs."

In a corporate space with an on-board computer, the flat-panel displays can be networked together to run presentations just through the network. "They don't even need to bring in a laptop anymore," says Tarnow. "In education, they can have a central repository of the lesson plans." The OPS slot opens up options in many verticals. "None of that is available in the consumer product space," he says. "The consumer TVs are considerably cheaper than a professional monitor. Adding features like the Intel OPS slot or the ability to go protrait and the longer life of the display, all creates a bigger price gap."

Which Commerical Situations Might Be Okay for a Consumer Displayespinoza_top_seven_web.jpg

Logically, the best use for a consumer display is in someone's house and the best use for a commercial display is in commerical environments. "I understand the market and I am realistic in that people will buy TVs and use them in commerical spaces," says Tarnow. "If they do, my suggestion would be that they do not use a consumer display in a critical area. It's not: if the display will fail, it's: when the displays will fail."

There are commercial applications that are not as demanding as others. When trying to stay within a budget, an integrator can recommend a consumer display for an office lobby or a reception area where they are just running news during the day from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. "If they are just going to run cable and they don't want to run a big audio system or a switching system, they can just run a piece of coax with the cable signal right in to the back of the TV," says Espinoza. "It has a tuner built in. That's perfectable acceptable."

As issue that has been surfacing in the past six to 12 months is the concept of professional consumer monitors with built-in tuner and speakers that can be used in an executive's office. The application here would be more for personal use and not for the company's presentations. The executive may have the stock market up or a news channel. "Having a commerical monitor that has the ability ti have a built-in tuner and built-in speakers has been a very popular request over the last year or so," says HB's Rose.

Often in a commerical setting, it still comes down to the price. "If a customer says: 'I don't want to spend $2,000 on a professional monitor. I want to spend $900.' Then you're in that consumer product zone," says Rose. "That's when we will inform the customer: 'Be aware: this has a one-year warranty. When it breaks, and it will, you are throwing it out. So we set the customer's expectations. We lay out all the facts ahead of time prior to purchase."

Manufacturer's Warranty

Two major considerations in choosing a commerical flat-panel display are its features, which are based upon the applications, and the warranty. "The consumer models typically have a one-year warranty and an extended warranty can be purchased for additional charge," says HB Communications' Rose. "The commerical models, like Mitsubishi, have a standard three-year warranty. That's a big feature that is required when putting up a flat panel in a commerical space. They consumer pieces are meant for home use, they are not necessarily meant for heavy use 12 to 14 hours per day in a corporate or university type of environment."

life_of_a_display_web.jpgFrom a maintenance or durability standpoint, the integrators do not want to keep going back out to the same customer, because it reflects poorly on the integrator. They would like to be able to hang the monitor and trust that it will work with minimal or no maintenance, as well as minimal downtime. "If anything does break, the integrator would like the brand to stand behind the product and support them and their customers," says Tarnow. "At Mitsubishi, the support side of the equation is where we have been able to excel."

Mitsubishi offers a three-year warranty with "express replacement." That means that if a monitor goes down, Mitsubishi will send the customer a monitor replacement. Usually it gets there within two days. The customer puts the broken on in a box and sends it back to the manufacturer. "We'll replace it wihtout having to come out to repair it," says Tarnow. "In a retail environment that is using the display to help generate promotions or generate revenue, you can't be down for that long. Send us back the broken one and we'll fix it in our service centers."

In a consumer product space, typically they offer a one-year warranty. Manufacturers will void the manufacturer's warranty entirely if a consumer monitor is used in a commercial space.

Espinoza at Applied Visual Communications likes to work with manufacturers known for good customer service and advanced replacement plans. "The display can look good, the connectors are orientated the right way, it's easy to integrate, but if anything happens to that display, how quickly can we get it serviced and back into action?" asks Espinoza. "That brings up more questions about durability and warranty. How do these displays hold up under pressure? Are they rated 24/7? What type of warranty does it have? Is it a three-year warranty? Is it a one-year warranty? What does the warranty cover? Is it an overnight replacement? Advanced replacement? Is it tech onsite?"

For many commerical venues that are running satelites, running maps, running weather stations, these displays do not have any down time. "Those bulbs, the LEDs within it, the panels, the circuitries, all have to be designed for this kind of stress," says Espinoza. "It has to be designed to perform in extreme heat. A lot of the commerical displays are thicker because they have more fans built in. The consumer displays are thinnre without the gear needed for 24/7 operations."

A commerical flat-panel warranty can make or break maintenance. "As the quality assurance director at Applied Visual Communications, I'm responsible for every piece that goes in and out of that shop," says Espinoza. "I make sure it is going to function properly. If we have a piece that doesn't function, I say: get it out of our chain. We have a three-year warranty on our installed labor. I want equipment that can keep up with that warranty."

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