LED Wall vs Projection – Choosing the Right Video Package for Your Event

When choosing between LED walls or projection screens, there are numerous considerations for how to enhance your meeting or conference. It is even possible that the best solution is a mix of both. This article will show how Gravity Productions’ Project Managers work with clients and venues to make informed choices for their events. The four main considerations for choosing the right video package for your event are: the size of the meeting space, attendee experience, content management, and of course – budget.

Perform a Site Survey and Procure CAD Diagrams to Determine a Venue’s Actual Dimensions and Capacity

Working with a CAD diagram on site to find measurements.

Venues come in many different shapes and sizes. Ceiling heights and soffits could be low, and beautiful chandeliers could fall within sightlines of where you had planned to put the screens. Small adjustments can happen while on site, but that may cut into valuable time that was scheduled for other things. Getting it right the first time will save on headaches and cost. Overtime labor charges and/or extra delivery charges for additional equipment are preventable with a proper site survey and preliminary discussions with the venue. A good production partner will thoroughly explore all details, so bringing them into the conversation early and connecting them directly with the venue is key.

• Venue Dimensions – During pre-production it is important to get detailed CAD diagrams if possible. These are scaled and usually based on engineered building blueprints. Unfortunately, they are not always 100% accurate, so a thorough site survey by a Project Manager can confirm ceiling heights, locations of chandeliers, existing rigging points, or any obstructions not shown in the diagrams.

• Audience Size and Seating Diagram – Typically a venue will list a maximum number of attendees per room in various setups. It is important to keep in mind that these numbers likely do not account for the space needed for your AV setup, including the “command centers” you may need backstage or at the front of the room. Once again, your production partner can be a great resource to help work through the “if-then” scenarios and narrow things down to the options that will suit all of your needs, including expected attendance and preferred setups, such as theater seating, classroom tables, or crescent rounds.

• Screen Sizes – With the dimensions of the space and the headcount, the next determination to make is the best size screen(s) for the audience. You want to make sure that each attendee can take in all the information from your presenters! It is also important to know how much detail will be in the slides. Does the content involve a lot of small text or finer points from a web demo? The more detail you are going to have on screen, the bigger and brighter you will need your screens to be. When considering costs here, skimping on size can be a detriment to your messaging.

• Space Concerns – One of the main advantages of LED vs. projection is that an LED wall does not require any throw distance (the physical distance between the projector and screen). As an example, a 20’ wide screen being shot by a projector with a standard lens would usually need about 24’ to 30’ of distance from the screen to fill the image. Depending on the circumstances it may be possible to use a shorter throw lens and reduce that distance (while losing some brightness), use a longer throw lens from the back of the room and shoot over the audience’s heads, or rig the projectors from truss above the audience, but with an LED wall you only ever really need about five or six feet of depth to work with. So, if space is a concern an LED wall can potentially go a long way towards reducing that headache.

An extremely wide (6:1) LED wall working wonders in a ballroom with low ceiling height and space constraints.

Consider the Attendees’ Experience

How your message reaches your audience is dependent on a well-curated program with engaging presenters. The entire event needs to be cohesive so that your messaging can reach the audience through quality production. The screens need to be adequately sized for each specific event so audience members can see the details from the back of the room.

To keep your attendees engaged, you may want to research or talk to your production provider to find out what similar events are doing to keep up with technological advances and remain relevant and exciting. You can also engage with your attendees after events to solicit their feedback and use that to create a strategy for future events.

When LED walls were brand new, they were more cost prohibitive (in many cases based on scarce availability), but now that they are more common, they are also easier on the wallet. If the budget allows, LED walls can be a wonderful way to “wow” your attendees with the most impressive technology and versatile designs. Your imagination can create interesting landscapes for uniquely sized PPT content, scenic LED backgrounds, LED towers with “eye candy,” or additional surfaces for branding your event.

A massive (~18′ x 54′) 3:1 ratio LED wall rigged from truss.

Communicate With the Graphic Designers and Content Managers

As with any program, the design of your presentation slides, speaker title slides or animations, and any videos that might play during your event need to be considered in advance. Screen size, type, and brightness should be considered when developing your creative assets. They should work together, and you should maximize every pixel! This is the canvas you use to engage your audience.

• 16:9 screen ratio – The ratio for most standard projection in this era is 16:9 (alternatively 1.77:1). The ratio represents the relation of the width of the screen to the height of the screen. However, screen sizes are typically listed by height then width, which is the inverse of the stated ratio. Some examples of common 16:9 ratio screens – 7’ x 12’, 8’ x 14’, 9’ x 16’, or 11’ x 20’. Most phones and computers are 16:9 ratio or close to it. The YouTube window we all know well is 16:9.

• 3:1 screen ratio – In large corporate events, it is common to use a giant, widescreen surface either with multiple blended projectors or an LED wall. 15’ x 45’ or 10’ x 30’ to name two common options depending on room size. These are great for a center element that presenters can stand in front of providing a big impact.

• 4:3 screen Ratio – This ratio is barely used anymore unless it is for a creative purpose. This was the standard 10 years ago, but as the world has gone digital the size of computer monitors and phones have changed.

• LED walls come in square tiles – The square format of the tiles allows for more creative designs. Once you settle on a design, be sure to coordinate with your content producer. The AV team can provide a screen template so that the unique LED sizing is utilized. All too often a company will go through the effort and cost to build a beautiful LED wall but fail to maximize its value by not putting enough planning into the content. With proper budgeting, you can have custom videos that fit specific elements, speaker title animations, and widescreen presentations that leave a lasting impact on your audience.

A center 3:1 screen with 16:9 outboard screens and bonus circular screens for branding and “eye candy.”

Budget – The Cost Differences Between Projection and an LED Wall

LED Walls are at the forefront of major productions because of their crisp clarity, brightness, and flexibility in custom sizing.

• Brightness / Pixels – Just as projectors have varying brightness options (lumens), LED walls come in many different pixel pitches. This determines how close the audience can be to the wall. A larger pitch can be seen well from further away, but up close will appear pixelated. Just as projectors increase in price as brightness goes up, LED wall costs increase as pixel pitch goes down. Generally, for the corporate environment, a 2.9mm pitch works well in most scenarios. It is affordable, yet visually impressive even at close distance. Since LED walls are designed to be capable of competing with sunlight, they can be excessively bright for indoor events. Dialing back the brightness in the LED wall processor to around 20% is usually a good starting point. Too bright and your audience’s eyes may fatigue during a long day.

• Content and Creative – Aside from the technical aspects and the cost, be sure to consider the mood you want to create and the creative theme. Light vs. dark backgrounds and sharp details should play a role in your decision. If you know which screen type you plan to use in advance, that can also help inform some of the creative choices.

• Consistency – For some events, you may choose to mix LED and projection. This can help keep costs down while adding diversity in some instances. Just keep in mind that the exact color, brightness, and clarity on projection screens will differ from LED walls. If you go this route, be strategic and be symmetrical with your design choices.

• Labor – Building LED walls can be more time consuming than building projection surfaces, but well worth the extra effort. Depending on the details, you may need a few extra set / strike crew positions on the event.

– For both LED walls and projection screens, the more complicated the set-up – the more time it is going to take. Make sure that you, your production company, and the venue all understand how long it will take to build your design. Like in most things in life and business: time=money.

– If the wall is flown on rigging points, you will not need as much labor. This option is preferred as it speeds up the setup time for the event.

– If rigging is not an option, due to budget or physical limitations of the building, be prepared to spend longer on the install. You will also need more set / strike crew and ground supported rigging hardware.

– It is wise to have an LED wall engineer onsite for the entire run of show to program and monitor the technology. As with events with projection, where you would have a projectionist on-site, your LED engineer can quickly help solve problems if they arise. All technology is fallible, so it is important to have the right team assembled that can quickly swap out backup units or fix any issues that may arise.

16:9 outboard projection screens with 5 LED columns in the center.

There are Many Factors to Consider – Don’t Hesitate to Ask Questions

LED and projection both have their pros, but do not forget about your logistics while you are considering budget and design. At the end of the day, it is the job of the planner/manager to ensure everything comes together. For example, how much move-in time do you have, and which will install faster? Can you afford overtime for a long scenic build? Can the hotel drop the stage before you arrive, or do you have to fly truss or build a custom stage before that phase begins? Does your stage and scenic design allow room for ground supported walls and entry points for presenters to come on and off from backstage? Are there any difficult sight lines you need to keep in mind? Will your lighting compete with your rear projection screen? Maybe an LED wall is a better solution?

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, don’t panic! We do and we are here to help.

Bottom line: ask yourself and your A/V partner as many questions as it takes to address every part of your show, from budget to planning to setup to showtime. We know this stuff, just like you know your stuff. In the end, we want all the pieces to fit, for a perfect experience for you and your audience.