Seems like three big digital sign manufacturers – Yesco, Daktronics and Watchfire – get all the press. I recently discovered a fourth digital sign maker you should pay attention to: Vantage LED. The California headquartered Vantage LED provides large digital signs to sports arenas. They will be supplying the digital arena signs for this summer’s global soccer matches in Brazil. Vantage LED also manufactures LED Sign solutions for outdoor billboard companies and the general market (e.g. businesses, churches, schools and communities). Vantage LED is in the process of renovating a 200,000 square foot production facility in Ontario, CA to keep up with demand. Deason Wardlow works with Vantage LED and Spectacular Media and is the co-author of an interesting digital sign blog You can reach deacon directly at email@example.com
1. Deacon, what is Vantage’s history and how active is Vantage in the outdoor billboard digital sign business?
Vantage LED started out as a small customized engineered solutions company catering to EMC manufacturers on high-end OEM solutions for LED Sign systems. They’ve grown tremendously over the last 11 years. Recently the NCA (non-compete agreements) with the OEM partners ended, allowing Vantage LED to expand into the market working with select partners and resellers throughout South, Central, and North America (as well as internationally) to grow the brand and product. Vantage LED has provided Outdoor Billboard Digital Sign solutions in Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Central and South American, and the USA. The innovations (auto-diagnostic reporting, availability of redundant data, power, and communications, and high quality build have really helped grow their presence in the market.
2. What’s the useful life of a digital billboard and do some components of the sign wear out faster than others?
The “useful life” of a digital billboard will depend heavily upon the manufacturer. There are a lot of resellers in the market who are identifying themselves as a manufacturer (when they actually resell off-shore product typically from China). I’ve seen low-end builds of billboard digital signs requiring major repair and/or replacement after only a few years of operation. If the build is from a dependable manufacturer, most systems will be good for 8-10 years. Often the market will demand replacement before components fail (i.e. people move to a tighter pitch, higher resolution, newer technology). The “first to fail” components in outdoor LED Signs are typically power supplies. I can’t stress enough he importance of doing an electrical survey and metering a new display (ideally with something like a FLUKE VR1710) to ensure proper power flow and lack of surges (aka Sag) and spikes on the power feed. The next component to go is usually the fans and/or logic boards (aka distribution boards) because ESD (electro static discharge) can damage the smaller sign components effectively shortening their lifespan – this is why it’s critically important to properly ground-out displays and ensure there’s a place for ESD to go outside of the display itself.
3. What common mistakes do buyers make when they are evaluating a digital sign purchase?
Per the last question, effective “useful” life of a display. A lot of Billboard systems aren’t “future-proofed.” Surprisingly, when you look “under the hood” of many systems – you’ll find manufacturers are using simple embedded control systems and proprietary technology. The problem with this combo is two-fold. Using an embedded controller locks the sign buyer into the technology available at the time. It’s very difficult to upgrade the systems to allow for integration of new technology and/or third-party applications to run/manage the LED sign system. Using proprietary technology is great, but when it locks the user into technology ONLY provided by the one manufacturer, the user loses flexibility and can’t integrate/implement new tech down the road. With the average lifespan of an LED Sign being close to 10+ years, this means the buyer ends up with a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). This lack of flexibility and future-proofing means the buyer may have to purchase an entirely new system down the road as opposed to lengthening the use of the existing display and getting a better Return On Investment.
It’s also incredibly important to qualify the manufacturer’s support capabilities. Do they have hardware AND software engineers on-staff in their office available to answer questions and support the product? What kind of R&D is the company doing and how often do they release new technology and innovative product? In the technology universe, if you’re not moving forward (constantly), you’re falling behind and nobody wants to be left behind with a manufacturer who isn’t constantly thinking about the system as they are AND as they can be…
4. Do you install cameras along with your signs to monitor performance and if not, why not?
Cameras were important prior-to the advent of auto-diagnostics on systems. They gave owners (and manufacturers) the ability to spot problems and identify the issue for service. They also provide clients with POP (Proof of Play) as a client could login and see their ad on the system. Many digital billboards still include cameras, but I see their use lessening as manufacturers bundle auto-diagnostics with the billboard systems and the ability to pull real-time POP reporting which shows scheduled and actual content performance on a system (including any down time due to a system malfunction or power loss).
5. What support services does Vantage provide a sign owner after purchase?
Vantage LED offers 5 year on-site service and parts standard with their displays which is really unique in the industry (typically you might see a one or two year on-site service program included, but rarely a 5 year). They offer lifetime support on the software and cloudware-based controls (training, assistance, etc.). The cloudware is excellent because it allows anywhere and anytime access (people can control a digital billboard with their smartphone). Vantage LED has also assisted several Billboard companies who’ve been left without support from other manufacturers. In one case, the manufacturer went out of business and Vantage LED provided a replacement control solution (hardware and software) to get the display running. In another instance, the “manufacturer” was a reseller of Chinese product which was no longer supported and Vantage LED sent out their field technicians to get the displays back up and running (and converted them over to their cloud-based control solution). It’s excellent being a part of a company who cares enough about the end-user to go above and beyond by working to support systems they had nothing to do with, but understand the frustration of spending a lot of money on a display and being left in the lurch. This is why Vantage LED’s on-site service program is run through a third party (to give buyers an extra layer of protection and ensure they’ll be serviced no matter what happens).
The biggest recommendation I can make to someone who’s looking to invest in an LED Sign – get educated. Read Dave’s Blog (checkout the past blogs, there’s a lot of great info here!), read our blog, get as much information as possible. Don’t accept “geek speak” from manufacturer’s reps, get them to explain things simply and in a clear manner. There’s a lot of misdirection by some companies selling LED Signs. These companies don’t want an educated buyer. They want someone to look at a low price sticker and jump at the “great opportunity.” Other companies charge a lot, but don’t really deliver anything other than an outdated brand name and old technology. By understanding what’s “under the hood” a buyer can be more confident they’re getting the full value from their investment.