Jason Barak, D3

January 31, 2018

16:9 just released a Special Report called The Total Guide To Fine Pitch LED. It’s a big, 70 page look at the display technology, coming at it from all kinds of angles.

The free report (you can download it here) came together, in part, because of sponsors - like the major one, custom LED design firm D3. They not only contributed to the report, but two of their main guys went along with me when I went to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China in November to get a deep look into the companies and technologies.

They go over there a lot, and knew who I should talk to and what I should see. To their everlasting credit, the tour was in no way about them. George Pappas and Jason Barak just wanted to ensure I got a good look, and that I made the most of my limited time over there. Shenzhen is vast and bewildering, so that help was incredibly valuable. Stupid me thought I could get 4 or 5 meetings in per day, but I had no idea about Shenzhen traffic or the sheer geographic scale of the place.

Jason runs the business development, client-facing side of D3, and in the wake of the report coming out, I wanted to catch back up with him to talk about what’s going on in fine pitch LED, which is a LOT.

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Jin Fan, ClearLED

December 6, 2017

One of my big takeaways from the trade show circuit earlier this year was my conclusion that transparent LED was starting to look really good.

If you're not with me on what that is, think LED displays that are a bit reminiscent of window blinds, with the LED lights on the louvers. What you end up with, when it's done well, are super-bright, full-color and full-motion LED displays that you can still kinda sorta mostly see through.

The indoor versions go into windows - so you don't have a solid mass like a normal LED or LCD display blocking the view. When they're used outside, they can turn a normal building into a multimedia facade - but again still allowing natural light into the building.

The company that's arguably doing the most in this emerging area is ClearLED, which is based in beautiful Vancouver, B.C. That owes a little bit to CEO and co-founder Jin Fan realizing the company that started in Shenzhen, needed a North American footprint for sales and support. But also because Vancouver is where she's from.

I chatted with Fan recently about the company and technology.

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Antoine Doublet, Deepsky

November 29, 2017

The last interview and meeting I took on my recent trip to Asia, getting a crash course on the technology and manufacturers doing fine pitch LED, was with Deepsky.

The LED display startup is based in Hong Kong, but has deep French roots, as you’ll be able to pick up easily in the accent of Antoine Doublet. He’s the Head of Global Sales for the company, but an engineer to the core. I rarely talk to someone in a sales function who is as technically sound as Antoine.

Having visited a range of manufacturing plants in the suburbs of Shenzhen and Taipei, it was fairly weird to find myself in an office tower high-rise in the Western New Territories part of the city,  overlooking the harbor. That building serves not only as head office and R&D lab, but down in the basement areas as the core manufacturing facility.

Deepsky is not a typical LED company, nor is the product they are bringing to market. The fine pitch LED displays we all know are made of tiny LED lights surface mounted one by one on circuit boards. Deepsky is using emerging technology, called Chip On Board, that does things very differently, and from Doublet’s perspective, can change the whole LED sign market.

I just had my audio recorder going to spare me from taking notes, but I realized as we chatted that our talk had the makings of a podcast episode.

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Florian Kall, LightnTec

August 22, 2017

LED billboards and signs are now commonplace, and not just in Times Square and other landmark locations in big cities.

But putting in LED has its challenges. Cost is the obvious one, but there are other issues, like the engineering needed to ensure a structure can handle all the weight involved with typical LED boards.

They’re a lot thinner and lighter than they used to be, but with all the metalwork, plastic and wiring, they still result in big, heavy walls.

So I was intrigued by a self-funded start-up out Germany, called LightnTec, that has developed technology that does LED on thin, lightweight plastic rolls of film. It’s light enough to just put up like a vinyl banner on some scaffolding or hang off a wall - without worrying about the weight.

LG showed a transparent LED film at a couple of trade shows this year, so if you were around, you might have a rough idea of what’s up here. But that was low-rez and one color  of light - white. What LightnTec is developing is the full RGB range of millions of colors, and it does full motion video.

I spoke recently with CEO Florian Kall about this Made In Germany technology.

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Curt Thornton, Provision

August 15, 2017

Hologram is up there with artificial intelligence as one of the most abused terms in tech these days - with all kinds of stuff being labelled as holograms when they’re nothing more than reflections or projections. 

Provision has been marketing what it calls 3D holographic media for a bunch of years, and while purists might argue it’s not fully a hologram, it’s a lot closer to holograms than most stuff. Walk into a drug store chain and you might see a kiosk with a motion media piece floating in front of a coupon kiosk, visually and physically detached from any display device.

It’s eye candy. It’s wow factor. But it’s also media that’s making a difference, because they draw eyeballs and pull people over to machines that might otherwise get ignored. They put these things in and coupon redemption rates in the stores went from 1 to 2 percent to 17 percent - across multiple brands, and in the case of the drug store chain, across 500 stores.

I talk to Provision founder and CEO Curt Thornton about his company, the technology and where things are going, including big national rollouts and life-sized 3D holograms.

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Meric Adriansen, D3

June 27, 2017

I find, more and more, that some of the more successful companies in this business are a bit like stealth submarines. They run silent and deep, and you don’t hear much about them or see them around.

That would apply pretty nicely to D3, a New York company that is in the LED display business. D3 started outside in New York’s Times Square - with some iconic LED boards. Now the company is indoors, with narrow pixel pitch displays in some premium retailers. I’d say who, but that will get the company in trouble with certain publicity-wary clients. Suffice to say, you’d reply, “Oh really …”

D3 is also doing corporate, including a job it CAN talk about - the amazing 13K lobby of the new Netflix offices in Los Angeles.

I saw D3 recently at InfoComm, and asked why the company just had a teeny booth and no LED displays, when it was surrounded by less successful companies with massive displays.

The management team did that because LEDs are already becoming a commodity, D3 Co-Founder and Managing Partner Meric Adriansen told me. The real secret is in the video processing and software and, of course, the idea and the content. It’s also, of course, waaaay cheaper to pull off, and easier for set-up and teardown.

Adriansen and I went to the back of a noisy InfoComm hall to chat, and you can hopefully hear us over the guys who decided to tear down some nearby scaffolding right after we started.


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Special Episode: Chats From ISE 2017’s Exhibit Halls

February 7, 2017

This is a special edition of 16:9 Podcasts - interviews recorded in and around the RAI Amsterdam at Integrated Systems Europe this week in Amsterdam.

I am doing a bunch of sit-down podcast recordings this week in and around the giant pro AV show, to be streamed in the coming weeks, but I also wanted to grab some quick interviews about things I see in my travels around the many exhibit halls here.

On this episode, you will hear from a series of companies, large and small, including Sony, Sharp, NodeArk and Condeco. These interviews were recorded today and I am posting this as I wait for the press room happy hour to start.

Oh, it has! Yay. 

I'm heading back home this weekend, and next week's podcast will be the normal format.

Also, look for a new 16:9 Projects Podcast, with Michael Tutton, coming this Friday.

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Rich Ventura, NEC Display Solutions

January 4, 2017

Rich Ventura now has the launch codes and the secret handshake instructions to act as the 2017 chairman of the Digital Signage Federation. He’s been active in the organization for several years, and has big plans for the year ahead.

He’ll go into that in the latter half of this podcast episode, but we spend the first part of it talking about his role as Vice President of Business Development and Solutions at NEC Display Solutions.

We talk about how NEC operates and what makes it different, newish technologies like Raspberry Pi, the overall state of the flat panel industry, the emergence of direct view LED and a pile of other topics.

We also talk about what the signage industry, and particularly the display side of it, looks like in 2017 and beyond.

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Daniel Siden, Lightvert

December 7, 2016

This week’s podcast is a little tough, because I’m going to ask listeners to get their brains around something they really need to see. And something that’s just emerging from R&D, so you can’t see it.

But, it’s more than worth listening to Daniel Siden talk about Lightvert, a UK-based start-up that has technology that creates huge digital billboards that only exist in your vision. The company has come up with a way to use something called persistence of vision to safely print an image directly on the retina of viewers. But only momentarily.

Think of it this way. When you see something bright at night, and then look away, that bright image is still there in your eyes, for a heartbeat or two. So what if that was a logo?

It uses narrow reflector strips mounted on the sides or corners of buildings, and a thin, very high-powered laser beam to make it happen.

Siden was in London, and we chatted by Skype. Have a listen, as this guy does a way better job of explaining the hows and the whys of Lightvert.

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Iles Guran, Armodilo

November 30, 2016

Software and display companies get a lot of attention in the digital signage industry, but projects don’t happen without the gear that holds screens in place and keeps them protected.

I travelled up to St. Jacob’s, Ontario - just outside the Canadian tech hotbed of Kitchener-Waterloo - to speak with Iles Guran, one of the two co-founders of Armodilo, which has built up a thriving little business making enclosures and stands for what you might call one to one digital signage.

Guran is a graphic and industrial designer first, and you can see it in the curves, material choices, colours and functionality of Armodilo’s products. They’re anything but tablets just protected by a bit of metal or plastic. Armed with not much more than an idea and some reference samples, they booked a big exhibitor trade show when they were starting up, and hoped they’d see some interest. They ended up being swarmed at their little booth, and left the show with one of the event’s big awards.

The company has seen steady growth in the last four years, and had to relocate a year ago to a new facility. They’re already wondering if it’s going to be big enough.

Guran talks about how tablets are being used for interactive digital signage in a bunch of interesting ways, and also goes into both the opportunities and challenges.

We chatted in the company boardroom, which was concrete, metal walls and lots of echo ...

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Phil Lenger, Show And Tell

November 23, 2016

Phil Lenger of Show and Tell is a busy guy, but he slowed down long enough to sit recently for a chat in his company’s New York offices, near Penn Station.

He even offered a sip or two from one of the many, many bottles of seriously good bourbon he has stocked in the corner of Show and Tell’s meeting space.

But I behaved myself, and so did he. That allowed us to have a reasonably coherent talk about the background of his company, which definitely leads with creative but does a bunch more.

Show and Tell has for years and years developed and pushed content to many of the giant LED displays around Times Square. His team also manages some of them. But the company is in to a lot more than just spectacular ad displays, including retail.

One of the projects you may have seen in your travels is the Fashion Show Mall up by the Palazzo and Wynn in Las Vegas.  We had a good, frank talk about a lot of things, including the current state of much of what’s called digital signage creative.

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Michael Schneider, ESI Design

November 16, 2016

I had a chance recently to tour the New York studio and offices for ESI Design, which has done some amazing experiential digital work in public spaces, as well as museums and in retail settings.

Michael Schneider is a senior experience designer and creative technologist at the company, and we spent time talking about the design process behind creating big, interesting and memorable digital canvases.

Among many, many projects through the years, ESI Design was the firm behind the giant fence board-like experience at the Wells Fargo office tower in Denver, and a sensor-driven ambient media wall in the lobby of a building in Washington, D.C.

To Schneider, and to the rest of the team at ESI, it’s not about the tech, it’s about the story.

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Brad Parler, Blinds.com

November 9, 2016
A couple of years ago, an old industry friend, Raffi Vartian, said I really needed to see something. He sent me a link to a video, I watched it, and I sent back a note saying, "That’s FREAKING brilliant."

The video was for a corporate communications project at the Blinds.com offices in Houston, Texas, and it showed staff-facing messaging being done in a way I’d never seen. 

The guy behind that was and is Brad Parler, a video production geek who got an entry-level job at the company to pay the bills of his growing family. He was in sales, but stuck his hand up when the company decided to add digital signs through the facility. They needed to figure out how, and what to use for needed content.

What he came up with went over big, not only within the company, but around the signage industry. Now he’s getting asked to speak at conferences, and doing what he can to spread the gospel about the importance of populating screens with truly good, attention-grabbing, effective content.

We spoke recently by Skype.

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Luka Birsa, Visionect

September 14, 2016

This week, I’m speaking with Luka Birsa, the CTO and co-founder of Visionect, a Slovenian tech company focused on solutions that use Electronic Ink.

If you’ve got a Kindle or Kobo e-reader, think of that display but used instead for updated bus schedules at stops, or for telling people whether a meeting room is booked or free. Or on the back of an 18-wheeler.

In our chat, we talk about the origins of the company, and what e-paper is all about. We also answer a big question - Where’s Slovenia?

Luka will fill you in on why end-users would choose e-ink displays over LCDs or other tech, and where it’s a fit and where it’s not. He also talks about what’s coming for the technology - like larger, full color displays that could happily run just off solar power.

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John Wang, IAdea

July 27, 2016

In this episode, John Wang, the CEO of Taipei-based IAdea, talks about the roots of his company, which primarily makes commercial-grade media players and all-in-one devices for the digital signage market.

He recalls starting up the business right out of school in Taiwan, and unfortunately timing that startup right when the first Internet bubble burst. Wang talks about the idea of Information Appliances - the IA in IAdea - and the journey taken by the company to today.

Now a trusted supplier for many signage software firms and network operators, Wang talks about staying on top of emerging technologies and where his company, and the business as a whole, are going. He also goers into the perils of cheap devices and the importance of commercial, rugged product for the signage business.

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Randy Pagnan, RP Visual Solutions

July 20, 2016

This week I am speaking with Randy Pagnan, the RP in RP Visual Solutions, an Anaheim, California company that's in the business of designing and manufacturing the special structures that hold signature digital signage projects in place.

In this conversation, done at last month's InfoComm trade show in Las Vegas, Randy talks about the origins of his company and some of the most notable projects he's done, include the giant, curved LED wall in the Westgate SuperBook in Vegas, and the digital-heavy Microsoft stores.

Randy also talks about the future for display tech, and how fine pixel-pitch LED will have a big impact, with LED display as easy to buy as carpeting. His goal: be the best LED carpet-layer out there.

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Jennifer Davis, Leyard/Planar

July 6, 2016

In this episode, I’m speaking with Jennifer Davis, who is Chief Marketing Officer for Leyard and also the VP of Marketing and Product Strategy for Planar, which is now owned by Leyard. So she’s one busy puppy these days.

Jennifer grabbed us a meeting space on the exhibit floor at InfoComm last month, and we spent a half-hour talking about the LED display business, and what it has been like transitioning from a small company based in gloriously weird Portland to being part of a giant LED display company based in Beijing.

We finished off talking about the near absence of women in this business, particularly in senior roles, and what might change that.

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Rick Cope, NanoLumens

June 29, 2016
In this episode, I’m speaking with Rick Cope, the founder and CEO of NanoLumens, which makes and markets its own line of unique indoor and outdoor LED displays from its facilities in Atlanta.

Rick has a really interesting background, coming out of the US Marines, working for DARPA, making electric cars 20 years ago, and then getting into areas like fuel cells and battery charging systems.

Rick talks about how NanoLumens got started, how his business has grown very crowded, and how he plans to go after overseas companies he believes are violating NanoLumens' patents.  He also talks about the stinger missile he has in his office.

We did this interview on the floor at InfoComm, which is why it’s so noisy. That’s his wife Karen Robinson laughing and yakking in the background. She’s EVP for Strategy at the company.

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Bill Dunn, LG MRI

May 3, 2016

Bill Dunn is the founder and CEO of LG MRI, a suburban Atlanta company focused on producing ultra-reliable, long-lasting outdoor LCD displays. You can see LG MRI product on urban sidewalks, attached to bus shelters and placed around busy outdoor areas like shopping centers and campuses.

Dunn, an engineer to the core, talks about his company’s military and aerospace roots, his expansion into new markets like fast food, and the staffing, processes and equipment applied to every job and product. All outdoor displays, he’ll reinforce, are not created equal.

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