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Help!
interACTIVE MONITORS
Q.
We are planning to update our interactive multimedia hardware in our exhibit. What are some of the newest monitor advancements, and what benefits do they offer exhibitors?

A.
"There is nothing permanent except change." While the Greek philosopher Heraclitus penned this truism around 500 B.C., it seems more applicable now than ever. In fact, according to The Emerging Future, a Miami consulting firm specializing in intelligence- and technology-acceleration information, computers and information technologies that use them double their capabilities every 12 to 18 months. Now that's a statistic that'd make Heraclitus' head spin.

This ongoing state of change, then, also applies to our weird little exhibiting world, and more specifically to the monitors we use within it. Thus, your question is utterly apropos, and should likely be repeated every 12 to 18 months. If exhibitors want their programs to remain current, they're wise to maintain at least a general sense of what's new and how it might benefit – or detract from – exhibit environments. To that end, then, here are a few of the most recent monitor advances that have come down the pipe, along with some observations about their exhibit applications.


Ultrawide Aspect Ratios
A conventional widescreen monitor has a 16:9 aspect ratio (a term that describes the proportional relationship between a device or image's width and its height). And in conjunction, the universal video ratio for the 21st century (at least thus far) has been 16:9. Now, however, monitors are available in ultrawide 21:9 ratios.

While this ultra-widescreen technology launched around 2010 and was mostly used for movie viewing, it has recently been making a solid impact on the exhibit industry. The 21:9 ratio offers about 30 percent more pixels in the horizontal measurement, jumping from 1,920 wide to 2,560, while maintaining the 1,080 pixel height. Bottom line, you get a wider and more immersive picture.

Aside from improved overall picture quality, these monitors seem particularly useful to exhibitors when they're employed as a canvas for presentations. Imagine a 105-inch, ultra-widescreen monitor in a 30-seat exhibit theater. Now, instead of the same PowerPoint slides, your presentation could be customized to move elements in and out of the "live" area (where you're manipulating the content). And given the extra screen width, the "out" area could remain on screen (perhaps showing a video demo or graph on the far edge of the screen while the rest of the presentation continues). This way, the presentation becomes more dynamic, and more like a large video wall.

On the downside, all of your content will need to be produced or reproduced in this wide format, much like when the world moved from standard-definition displays and content to widescreen displays just a few years ago. But for large-presentation settings, investing in the screens and custom content might be a perfect match for your needs.


4K Displays
A similar monitor improvement involves resolution. Most people are familiar with HDTV, which offers 1,920 pixels across the width of the screen. Now, imagine a monitor with 4,096 pixels, or double that of HDTV. The more pixels in the same size monitor, the sharper the image. The effect of higher pixel density is similar to the retina display on an iPhone, as it provides much sharper and more detailed images.

For the exhibitor, just like the home viewer, this monitor offers amazing resolution. Generally speaking, the larger the monitor and the closer it is to the viewer, the more benefit, i.e., the more sharpness, you'll draw from Ultra-HD TV technology.

When you're dealing with large touchscreen monitors such as 90-inch LCDs and 103-inch plasma screens, the image quality can fall apart up close. You can actually see the pixels that make up the image as the 1,920 pixels scale up in size as screen sizes grow.

The inverse is true as well. When viewing distance increases, resolution becomes less important. This is why video walls in stadiums are actually made up of pixels up to 1 inch apart, yet the low-resolution image still looks like a high-definition screen when viewed from across the field.


Transparent Screens
If you're looking for a bit of exhibit wow factor, transparent screens might be the way to go. They're one of those magical products that blow your mind the first time you see them. In essence, a transparent screen is exactly what it sounds like. If you took a desktop monitor for your computer, stripped off the entire back, and made the screen see-through, you'd have a transparent display. And this is essentially what manufacturers have done, leaving the viewer with a liquid-crystal display screen, which is a slightly shaded but mostly transparent sheet of plastic with thin metal edges.

While the visual effect of these screens is enough to make most people stop and stare, the really cool applications are still in the works. For example, various manufacturers are working on cloaking systems that turn other products into monitors. That is, what if your entire office or store-front window – or a whole side wall in your booth – were actually a transparent computer screen? This is the same futuristic technology seen in one of the "Iron Man" movies where the big guy's alarm clock is actually his floor-to-ceiling apartment windows. At a set time, the windows spring into action, sound an alarm, and provide temperature, stock-market, and travel information across the cityscape behind them.

Bottom line, transparent screens offer exhibitors a wow factor that may add a cutting-edge feel to your space. In the right situations, they can provide a unique, interactive presentation canvas that will attract far more attention than any opaque monitor.


Curved Displays
Concave, curved screens aren't exactly new to consumers, but they're relatively new in the exhibiting world, where they can offer a unique effect. When multiple curved displays are lined up next to each other on a custom mounting system, the long, gentle curve with high-definition graphics really stands out.

Many curved-screen manufacturers actually use this installation configuration at the International Consumer Electronics Show to highlight their new products. The effect is eye-catching in itself, but it'll also draw further attention to your content, which does not have to be specially produced for these displays. Plus, synchronizing multiple videos across numerous side-by-side screens is a simple process these days, and the effect creates a stunning visual within almost any space.

As you can see, both new monitor technology and inventive applications are now at exhibitors' fingertips. And as such, it's often easy to get caught up in the quest for the newest and biggest gadget. But remember that anything you add to your space should tie strongly to your message, your product, or your company. There has to be a direct reason why you're implementing a new technology. Without a solid objective, any new technology is just a shiny bauble. E

— Adam Bendig, systems engineer, Muse Presentation Technologies, Santa Ana, CA
Help Wanted
Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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