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Is This The World's Greenest Video Wall?

Nov 19, 2013

Forbes Tech | 11/19/2013 - Heather Clancy, Contributor - LED technology generates plenty of articles focused on its energy efficiency properties for lighting.

But when it comes to addressing power consumption for massive, large-format video walls, laser phosphor displays (LPDs) are also starting to steal headlines.

Case in point is the huge installation at media company IAC’s Frank Gehry-designed headquarters building in New York’s Chelsea district, which runs 120 feet long by 10 feet tall. When the wall was first built about six years ago, the state-of-the-art choice for running videos on it was rear-screen projection systems.

Last year, however, IAC replaced them with close to 600 LPD “tiles” from greentech company Prysm. (It also overhauled a smaller, second wall in the lobby.) In the process, the company reduced the power and cooling costs associated with the installation by about 70 percent.

To put it another way: each tile requires about 30 watts of power, the entire wall eats up about as much electricity as nine to 15 hair dryers.

“There were also other tiles that were similar in size, but they also required lots of power,” said Vincent Luciani, chief information officer (CIO) of IAC. “As we made the case for this replacement, the costs savings that we would achieve in the power and cooling factored into the decision.”

Considering that some companies spend up to $1 million in power annually to run walls like these, that’s not an insignificant sum.

To be clear, IAC was going to replace this wall anyway, as part of a regular facility upgrade. And it took some convincing to convince Luciani: the cost of this technology, while within “industry standards” has typically been somewhat higher than some of the alternatives, although Prysm’s top sales executive won’t get any more specific than that.

“We definitely had to push the total cost of ownership (TCO) argument,” said Dana Corey, vice president of sales and technical operations at Prysm.

LPDs help save electricity by using lasers to spark or activate the phosphors that create the image displays – there are more than 43 million pixels across the IAC wall, which allow for immersive, high-quality displays. (IAC uses the walls to run digital art exhibits and other images associated with various events. They run on a 24×7 basis, regardless of whether there is anything special going on.) There is a near 180-degree viewing angle from pretty much anywhere you stand, and the technology should have a longer lifespan that competitive approaches (although it hasn’t really been around long enough for proof of that).

LPD runs cooler than other options, including rear projection, plasma and large-format LED technology: IAC actually had to build a space in the wall behind its old wall just to help dissipate the heat created by it. The infrastructure requirements associated with LPD are less intensive: you just need to make there’s space between the tiles, so air can circulate, while ensuring that the images aren’t distorted. They plug into standard 110-vote power outlets.

For IAC there was also a maintenance savings: no bulbs to replace. Luciani’s team used to have to shut down the previous rear-projection system for about two weeks every quarter to handle this task and then recalibrate everything.

What’s the downside? For one thing, this technology has been on the market only about two years so it’s at the “roots of its evolution,” as Corey puts it.

That hasn’t stopped other companies from experimenting: aside from the IAC installation, GE has installed a curved wall 60 feet long and 7 feet tall at its customer experience center in Markam, Ont. Other customers include high-tech company InfoBlox and retailer Barneys New York.

The company currently employs about 180 employees at its San Jose, Calif., headquarters and in sales offices in Beijing, Dubai, London and New York. Its last publicly declared round of funding — $100 million – came in October 2011, bringing the total raised to more than $135 million.