Don't Be Fooled by Fake Digital Signage. The Real Stuff is Pretty Amazing!

By David Haynes
Sixteen:Nine
Founding Editor

An interesting trend is emerging in the marketing of large format display technology - projects presented on social media and other avenues as real yet only exist in virtual form. They look amazing but don’t really exist. It's all CGI.

Then there is the torrent of videos coming mainly out of China that show anamorphic illusions on big LED digital billboards in city plazas and busy shopping districts. They're called 3D screens. They're not. They're sometimes called 3D holograms, which they really, really, really are not.

More generally, these anamorphic (or what are also called forced perspective) illusions are being marketed as a feat of hardware when in fact they’re done entirely in the content creation process. In most cases, it's never mentioned that the illusion only works from a very specific angle - almost always off a corner. If you looked at the display from the front, or off to one side, the illusion isn't there and it might even look distorted.

A few in the wild even come with a disclaimer suggesting people look at the display from a specific vantage point. That’s helpful, but also doubtful many people see it or do that.

It would be reasonable to read all this and mutter, "Yeah... so???" But here's the deal...

Creative shops are now being asked, endlessly, if they can do "that 3D thing" someone saw on a billboard in China, via social media. They have to expend a lot of time explaining "that thing" isn't as impressive as the potential client thinks, and in many cases, they have to say it's not even real and explain why and how. 

LED display manufacturers now have customers who have seen things like anamorphic illusions on billboards and want to know if the LED display they bought supports that sort of thing ... or do they have to buy a 3D billboard??? The manufacturers then patiently explain whatever the client saw, if it was real, was done entirely in the creative, and that the display doesn't need to support anything beyond what it already handles.

It is great to see content producers pushing the boundaries on what can be done with creative and large format displays, and there are some really good examples of work that takes the display canvas and does something really interesting, and even mind-blowing. But some in the digital signage and pro AV industries are marketing stuff that can't actually be done.

This is a better industry when we're straight with people and sell the possible, which is pretty much boundless anyway. It isn’t difficult to find creative execution of LED displays that are all real and all spectacular.

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David Haynes
Sixteen:Nine, Founding Editor

Dave is best known around the industry as the publisher and principal writer behind Sixteen:Nine - an online trade publication that has covered the digital signage and visual communications business since 2006.

16:9 has a global readership and generates 1,000s of page views daily.

There are more than 7,000 posts on 16:9, and the count grows almost daily.