LED Walls vs. Projectors

One of the trends we're seeing in houses-of-worship is the meteoric rise of LED video walls in all aspects of presentation. As few as 8-10 years ago, video walls really only made sense for outdoor sports stadiums and really big churches with really big budgets. Here we are in 2019 however, and the calculus has changed. 

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A question we're fielding a lot lately is, "When does it make sense to consider a video wall instead of a projector?" We wish there was a hard and fast rule for that, but we’re not there. Yet.

 

Here are a few parameters we look at when we are having these conversations.

 

Ambient Light Levels

In the past couple of years, we've worked with churches that were not the typical, modern "black box" sanctuary. One of them had a giant 300 sq. ft. stained glass window right next to their screen. In this case, an LED wall was the best choice for two reasons: First, it has more punch than a projector ever could, making it possible to actually overcome the incoming ambient light. Second, and maybe more importantly, the blacks would actually be black. You see, projected content will only ever be as dark as the white screen ever gets. When there is that much ambient light in the room, it's never going to be darker than light grey.

 

Ambient light destroys contrast which makes the projector seem even more washed out. By contrast, the background of an LED wall—the space between the pixels—is black. And when the wall is off, it's black. Don't read into what the contrast ratio specs say about a projector, it only matters if the room is very dark. In a full light situation, the projection screen loses. 

 

Projector Brightness

This one is a little more subjective, but we're finding that if a church wants to talk about a projector in the 12-14K or higher lumen range, we should probably start considering an LED wall. Now, let's make it clear that LED is not going to be the same initial cost as a projector. Depending upon the lumen output and lensing of the projector, an LED wall could cost more up front. However, when we do the math, often the delta is low enough that the lifetime ownership costs make the LED wall more reasonable or even more cost-effective. 

 

LED walls don't need lamp changes, they can be mounted to the wall, floor stacked or flown from truss and it doesn't require a clear path from the screen to the projector. The overall service life of an LED wall is much longer, and they generally require less maintenance. At the end of the day, the wall may still be more money, but the extra value it brings is often worth it. 

 

Screen Location & Content

Some churches want to use a big screen as a backdrop to their stage. Projectors can be problematic because if people get too close to the screen, they'll cast shadows unless you do rear projection. But rear projection requires a big backstage area. If you want to present widescreen content, you'll need to blend multiple projectors, and that can be tricky and will need adjusting over time. Not to mention, the screen will still be competing with the theatrical stage lighting. 

 

When we switched from a 16K projector to an LED wall at a church in Southern California, the biggest thing we all noticed was that the stage lights had no effect on the video image. Prior to this change we had to be careful where lights were pointed, where the fixtures were hung and how much haze was used. The LED wall had enough power to punch through all of it, and we were able to light the stage appropriately without fear of washing out the image.

 

Conclusion

There are no hard and fast rules.  Yet, LED technology is advancing at breakneck speed and almost every year we're seeing an increase in pixel density and a decrease in weight and cost. Brightness isn't changing much; they're already bright enough. But we're also seeing refresh rates go up, and processing quality improve as well. 

 

If you're thinking about replacing or upgrading your projectors, especially larger ones, it's worth looking into an LED wall. Every environment and use case is different and it may or may not make the best sense for you. Through our assessment process, we can easily determine what is the best approach for your unique environment. 

Originally posted on ChurchTechArts