Mobile screens: LED screens on the move

Louis M. Brill

In the world of show business and corporate events, large LED screen video presentations have come to be a critical part of how these events are seen by their audiences. In most of these entertainment instances, the video screens are provided from various audio/visual rental companies who handle the video screen prep, the installation and the operation of the video screens. Because LED video screens offer very bright, easily viewable images, they are very desirable for outdoor, daytime events as they are for indoor and evening coverage.

Show situations that would attract these large mobile LED video screens include touring music concerts, festivals, state fairs, fashion shows, trade shows and the smaller sporting events (special competitions rather than a full season). The sponsoring site may not have the budget or a need for a permanent viewing screen, but would be well served by a temporary, large format, color, LED display.

The LED video screens are supplied to entertainment events in one of two forms. They are either deployed as LED screen modules that are transported to an event (indoors or outdoors) and assembled as a large format ready-to view LED display. The other situation is mobile, where an LED video screen is outfitted onto a trailer and then trucked directly to the site to provide a temporary first-class video presentation for that event. It's the business of M&M - modular and mobile as described by Mark Steinkemp, Marketing and Sales Manager for Daktronics, one of the few LED companies that manufactures LED video screens for both categories of use.

Mobile LED screen Mobile LED screen
Mobile LED screens
Photo credit: GoVision

Although the LED modules are a separate category of use than the mobile video truck operations, the video modules may sometimes be provided as a companion video system as part of a truck LED screen rental service. GoVision's president Chris Curtis, who operates a mobile LED screen truck fleet, noted that certain audio visual set-ups may require both types of screens (a master LED screen with satellite LED screens built up from video panels). In some cases, Curtis said, “many events can be supplied with either the mobile LED screen truck or the modular stackable LED screens. However, it is clear that video LED screen customers have their preferences, some absolutely want a truck, and others feel the opposite and definitely prefer the modular stackable LED screens on their stage or at their event.”

Use of mobile and modular LED screens is a customer enhancement that is mostly noticed where the video LED screens are not in use. These event sponsors are quick to learn competitively that the inclusion of a video LED screen enriches the event to making it more visually exciting and giving it a higher level of prestige with an enhanced customer service offering. Hence new video rental customers are created. For the rental customer to maximize the use of the video LED screen, they can provide three services for their audiences including live event coverage, advertising and public service messages.

On a modular level, the video components act as building blocks that are collected together and assembled to perform as a functional display screen. Independent power is connected to the LED screen and likewise, is a video connection to show either pre-recorded or live action content depending on how the on-site activities are being covered for presentation. Modular LED video screens have become an essential audio-visual resource for just about every major A/V rental house that provides video displays for staged events.

Major LED module providers include Lighthouse and Barco who offer their LED modules for sale. Daktronics also has a LED module, but their module is exclusively used for their corporate operated sports rental division.

Mobile LED screen Mobile LED screen
Mobile LED screens
Photo credit: GoVision

LED modular screens are scalable and can be built in many sizes or shapes to meet specialized staging needs in different budget ranges. With a flair of the dramatic, indoor LED screens can be chained to overhead pulley systems to be moved up and down or around as part of the presentation, usually for spectaculars in fashion shows or music concerts. LED video screens can also be built to conform to standard or HDTV aspect ratios. LED modules also have the advantage of being moved into smaller spaces where a permanent LED screen just might not be practical, such as a stage or inside a large tent.

Setting up a video LED module screen is very labor intensive. It not only requires gathering the video LED modules together and transporting them to the event, the LED screens must then be off-loaded, brought to the designated video spot, assembled and then prepped for its display presentation. While a few A/V companies may still follow this route in their staging set-ups, one company has combined the best of modular and mobile in setting up their indoor LED screens.

Modular Display Systems, aka MDS, (Placentia, CA) is a Southern Californian exhibit company that caters to audio visual staging for corporate events, live performances, trade shows and press presentations. For ease of use in transporting and deploying their LED modules, MDS has designed a self-lifting LED video wall that is the ultimate in video LED screen modularization, as explained by Director of Marketing, Nicolas Nicolaou.

“Our self-lifting LED wall is a self-contained video display mounted on a truss with a built-in series of winches and pulleys that lift the LED video screen to its desired viewing height. The truss and LED video modules are pre-tested at an MDS facility. This in-house service removes the labor of assembling and setting up a video LED modular screen on location. And, since the LED screen is pre-assembled and tested prior to the event, MDS clients receive a significant amount of savings in labor, drayage and transportation fees.”

Modular LED screen Modular LED screen
Modular LED screens
Photo credit: Mobile View

“Once on site, the LED screen is rolled to its designated location and stabilized by its self-leveling base arms,” said Nicolaou. “The LED screen is then raised to the desired height for presentation. An average modular LED screen is composed of either 16 LED video modules in a 4:3 (standard television) aspect ratio or 12 LED video modules in a 6:4 (widescreen format) aspect ratio. The LED-based truss systems are typically used by MDS for audiences of 500-30,000 people. We currently have four truss systems available for rental.” All MDS video LED modules are manufactured by Lighthouse, with both 6 mm and 10 mm pitch resolution.

The parallel rental market to indoor modular LED screens is the outdoor LED screen truck fleet (mobile). This refers to large trucks that contain a fully assembled, LED video screen, complete with a small video command center to manage the event's video content. The truck also has its own generator to supply power to the truck on site.

In the operation of mobile video, a truck is driven to the host site, parked in the appropriate viewing zone, and with a series of hydraulic lifts, the video LED screen is lifted into its final viewing position. To fine-tune the truck's angle of display to the audience, the raised LED screen can be rotated to create a stage front, video-based view for entire audience. Depending on viewing LED screen size and traveling distance to event, trucks could rent from a range of $5,000 - $20,000 per day. Pricing is scaled by the type of truck and scope of work in how the truck is used on site.

Most video LED screen trucks contain an on-board video production suite which offers a complete audio-visual “command center” with an editing bay that includes switching, editing and playback capabilities. Most LED screen trucks will also have a television camera package to “go live” and provide real-time coverage during the event with immediate playback through their large format video LED screen.

As for the benefits of mobile video trucks, LED video screens are easily viewed in daytime conditions. Once arriving on-site, a video truck with minimum production requirements can be set up within the hour. On touring events with multiple locations (a political rally or a music concert), LED screen trucks can be packed up and simply moved to a new site where the LED screen can be unfolded, raised into position and prepared for display.

Three full service mobile video screen providers interviewed for this article all offer similar audio visual services, each providing a small fleet of video based trucks. All of the mobile video companies offer video trucks that are self-contained and not only provide a hydraulically ready-to-view LED video screen, but also offer a complete on-board video production suite to manage the client's event coverage.

Go Visions (Keller, TX) fleet utilizes Barco (Kortrijk, Belgium) video LED screens and has a four truck fleet. This includes its GoBig truck (two trucks in use, a third available by September, 2004) with each LED screen video truck including a 9 foot by 16 foot video screen (offers a 10 mm pitch at a brightness level of 5000 nits) and its own video production facility. For really big shows, there is the GoBigger (one truck in use) which is a LED screen video truck containing an 18 foot high by 32 feet wide LED video screen and is mounted on a trailer. To match a bigger LED screen, the pitch is 14 mm, with a 5000 nits brightness level.

Go Vision president Chris Curtis, acknowledges that his video LED screen trucks “operate throughout the United States with major markets including events (fairs, festivals and concerts), outdoor sporting events and conferences and trade shows. While there is some seasonal variation depending on the market, our LED video trucks just about operate all year long supplying video screens to those who need to see the big picture of their event.”

Michael Cooper, president of Daktronics SportsLink, which operates a large mobile LED screen truck fleet, observed there are still many sporting and entertainment events without video display use, “Those event organizers quickly see that a video LED screen does make a difference by creating more visual excitement and entertainment value for the event.” Once a decision is made to acquire a mobile LED screen, Cooper said there are several factors for selecting the proper mobile screen size, including the size of the audience and the viewing distance which has to do with the size of the venue. Rental of a particular truck is determined by the number of days in use, travel distance and scope of work in how the truck is used.”

SportsLink major markets are outdoor sporting events (with about 65-70% coverage), and that is followed by fairs and festivals (with about 25% coverage). The rest is specialized such as religious events and political campaigns. To manage this event coverage, SportsLink maintains a fleet of 10 LED screen video trucks, all using ProStar video screens with sizes ranging from 12 feet by 16 feet (at a 16 mm pitch) to a 22 foot by 30 foot LED video screen (at a 23 mm pitch). All LED screens are rated at 7000 nits and can support any event from a small college sport game to a large professional sports stadium. To cover all bases, in this case, on mountain tops, Sportslink also has a dedicated ski barge with its own Snow Cat to pull a screen upside a mountain for viewing various winter ski and snow board competitions.

Mobile View (Denver, Colorado) co-owner Darrell Avey noted that, “our society today is very media oriented. Television audiences now depend on these LED screens as an expected part of their outdoor entertainment or sports experience. In fact, we've done outdoor music concerts where our large LED screens are set up on the side of the central stage and many people seem to prefer facing the LED screen, instead of watching the main stage.”

Mobile View is an owner-operator of a small fleet of four LED, video-based trucks that provide a full service outdoor video experience to its clients. Each Mobile View truck has an on-board video LED screen manufactured by Yesco (Las Vegas, NV) complete with a video production suite and on-board generator to manage the operation of that LED screen. Each video LED screen is mounted on a hydraulic lift and can be raised to an appropriate level for viewing by its audience.

Mobile View offers a variety of LED screens. Its T-series consists of two LED screens that are 11 feet by 14 feet, both operated on a self-contained trailer (with enclosed production & power). Both LED screens have the ability to be raised in the air by a hydraulic lift to the desired height and one of the LED screens rotates 360 degrees. The T-series LED screens are very portable and functional, both can be brought on-site and within minutes be operational. Each LED screen is rated at 19 mm pitch with 7000 nits of brightness. Maximum viewing distance for audience is 400 yards.

The other half of its fleet, its S-series (two trucks) is used for large scale events that host around a 10,000 person audience. This LED video screen (17 feet by 23 feet) is large enough that it? placed on its own flatbed with several hydraulic units. First the LED screen is unfolded into its final shape and once secured is lifted up into its final presentation position. LED screen rated at 19 mm pitch and maintains a brightness level of 7000 nits. Maximum viewing distance for audiences is 750 yards. The second LED video screen is even larger at 22 feet by 28 feet and is brought to large events on a trailer and usually hoisted into a viewing position with a crane. Its LED screen is rated at 25 mm pitch and maintains a brightness level of 7000 nits. Maximum viewing distance for audiences is 1000 feet.

With mobile and modular LED display screens becoming more and more available, video coverage is wherever the customer wants it to be. Outdoor video has become a mirror of entertainment and cultural and trade show endeavors and event sponsors seem intent on placing these video mirrors where large groups of people gather. Perhaps even in an event you may be attending soon.