The hottest trinket in the tech industry? A 120-foot video wall

Summary:In business, technology is one of the best ways to boast. And few chest thumps are as loud as a single digital display that spans more than 100 feet.

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Companies really have their own personalities, don't they?

Some are the popular jocks, some are quiet wallflowers, some are authority-defying punks and some are calculating geeks that are taking over the world while everyone dances the night away.

Every action at a company is supposed to impact the bottom line, sure. But companies are made of people, and people can be any number of adjectives: baffling, annoying, amusing, and so forth. Not everything is quantifiable.

And so there are, in truth, few ways for a company to justify a massive digital display. Sure, you can use them to collaborate. Or advertise. Or present to a large group of people. But let's be honest: these wonders of technology exist to impress. The emotion they elicit in observers is far more important than any single task they could accomplish. 

Bigger is better. Size matters. Rock out with your c...ahem, I beg your pardon. (This is a family-friendly publication after all.)

The San Jose, Calif.-based company Prysm makes such displays. Their technology -- LPD, which stands for "laser phosphor display" -- allows for massive screen sizes that make the eyes of c-suite executives light up with delight. (Though to be fair, that might just be the reflected glow from the display.) How big? Let's just say that these displays are longer than my city house is wide.

In an era where the global corporation is king, and where board members debate just how big to make the logo that will be affixed to the shiny new corporate headquarters, the digital display is the next logical place where companies can signal market-dominating ambition.

I spoke with Prysm CEO Amit Jain.

ZD: Tell me about the technology behind your displays.

AJ: Prysm has invented a new display platform: LPD, or laser phosphor display. It's for the consumer and business markets. We've been filing lots of patents on this -- over 60 issued, with another 250 filed. What LPD allows is a life-like, life-size display. It eliminates the limit size. CRT [displays] can go 34, 38 inches. Projectors can only go up to certain sizes. LCD [displays] go up to 70, 80 inches, and then you have to stack them together.

LPD allows for limitless sizes. One of the most important things is, how do you serve that wall with the power and cooling needed to run it? The technology reduces the power consumption tremendously -- five or 10 times lower than traditional technology. LEDs use 10 times the power, plasma uses nine times as much, LCDs use five times as much. And [with LPD] you don't need special HVAC to cool it off.

You can incorporate it in lobbies, training rooms, all of that. This experience before was not possible. You needed very special infrastructure to bring those walls together.

There are no toxic materials in the product. Even LCD has arsenic in the glass.

Most importantly, when you have large displays, it's about image quality and color. Image quality is phenomenal. Your eyes won't get tired, unlike staring at a billboard. The gold standard for the human eye was and is CRT; you could watch all day and not get tired. Today's backlit devices push light out from the back and try to block it -- that's why you don't really get true black. It tires your eye over time. LEDs are worse -- those billboards, especially for indoor retail applications, are the worst. Each pixel is a lightbulb. In our case, the laser is absorbed by phosphor. True black is actually true black. It's emitting light uniformly, at any angle.

ZD: OK, so what I really want to know is where companies are using these displays -- and why.

AJ: Prysm video walls are being purchased by broadcast companies; retail spaces; public spaces like airports, casinos and hospitality; and stadiums. Also, control rooms and surveillance applications. We pretty much cover all broad applications of displays outside of the home.

Until now, when you visited to a major corporation, you saw projectors everywhere and LCDs stuck on the wall. Companies are looking for a much more immersive experience. If you look at any corporate building, there are video walls in lobbies, training rooms, customer demo centers, meeting rooms. A lot of these are used for presentation and collaboration. It integrates with touch [input] -- on the screen or via a touchpad, curved or flat.

GE is a classic example. They built a 180-degree curved wall [at their Innovation Center in Markham, Ontario, Canada], 60 feet in diameter, where they sell to their customers the GE story, from home smart meters to power generation. They communicate to their customers a message of all their product lines. Customers can use a pad to explore different product lines. This will be replicated at various locations beyond the GE Energy headquarters in Toronto.

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Another example is lobbies. The lobby of InterActiveCorp has the longest video wall in North America -- 120 feet long. You can look at it at any angle. It's branding all day, but in the evenings they rent out the space for $30,000 or $35,000 an evening -- to Hollywood, companies, fashion brands, whatever. They create customized content for those events for those customers. It's revenue-generating for them.

A third example is a company that has massive walls for branding and evening events, hanging high up in the air. I'll just say it's the world's leading investment bank, in New York. They do a lot of holiday meetings and training in a big auditorium. They decided to rip all that out and replace it with a massive video wall -- the entire backdrop of the stage at their New York headquarters and in Canary Wharf, London.

A fourth is Cisco. It's on rails -- a large video wall, 40-some feet, in their training room, which is broadcasting worldwide. It's sitting on rails so you can split them up, or combine them into one large screen.

ZD: Let me stop you there. Why, all this?

AJ: It boosts brand ego. It helps to impress customers -- all the major corporations are building EBCs. [As in, "executive briefing centers." --Ed.] And it's practical sometimes, in important conference rooms, like those for CMOs, CEOs, CIOs.

A last example is the number one top telecommunication company based in Dallas. They're using it for their education center, 50 or 60 feet in length, curved, full touchscreen. People can get up and use different parts of the screen. It's for training.

In Norway, they're using a 225-inch wall for audience-based telepresence. Let's say you have two rooms, each with an audience. All the top telepresence companies are working with us on a next-generation solution. Why have three to six people facing each other? When executives are negotiating, they want to see each other without interruption. Prysm allows for the true appearance of life size.

The Fortune 100 buys a lot of these. P&G have maybe 600 or 700 video walls. It's becoming normal. It's not just telepresence; it's presentation and collaboration.

ZD: And the price? What are we talking here?

AJ: We're talking 200K, 500K, or a million dollars or more. We've installed in universities, which are always starved for cash. We've installed them in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East.

We also sell digital mannequins -- seven feet tall, one person wide. You can see a model life-size.

ZD: Like the ones at American Eagle Outfitters. Those are yours, too.

AJ: Right. And we have kiosks as well. They're ADA-compliant, so that wheelchair-bound people can make true eye contact.

ZD: So...screens everywhere. Ubiquitous, even more than today. Is this some sort of nightmare from which we won't be able to wake up? Seriously -- it's bad enough that I have to occasionally pass through Times Square on the way to somewhere; I don't want that following me everywhere else, too.

AJ: (laughs) Look, we're addicted. We cannot get away from screens. We are truly in a next-generation time.

At Prysm, we're not purely focused on advertising. We had the option to go outdoors and do this, but we decided to stay indoors. We're focused on using this technology in ways you couldn't before. You'll always have a big Burberry "wow" wall to attract tourists. But we're focusing on usability.

Our goal at home is to have end-to-end active walls, instead of drywall and a television, so you can change wallpaper or connect your laptop or watch a movie or do live telepresence or monitoring security at home.

ZD: You're kidding. A video wall in my apartment? Oh, man. I can just see it now as I get ready to turn in for the night: "Honey, you forgot to turn off the wall in the living room."

AJ: (laughs) It's not harsh, it blends in with the environment. Could that be possible soon someday? We're actually working on it. Will it a create a nightmare? Depends on how people are consumed by it. My kids are consumed by my iPhone.

Photo illustration based on Steven Steigman's famous 1978 photograph "Blown Away," commissioned for Maxell.

Topics: Tech Industry

About

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. He is also the former editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation. He writes about business, technology and design now but used to cover finance, fashion and culture. He was an intern at Money, Men's Vogue, Popular Mechanics and the New York Daily Ne... Full Bio

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