The old saying “You get what you pay for” is commonly used when comparing high-end products with lower-end ones, implying the value of the high-end product is worth the higher price and lower priced products aren’t as good. With video wall controllers, there are exceptions to that guideline: expensive legacy systems may be less capable than more modern and less expensive options, while sometimes the lower-tier products have so many restrictions they’re not worth the hassle. Even if they don’t cost much, the limitations outweigh the cost savings.
A video wall system built around Hiperwall software has some costs associated with it:
- The controller is just a normal, commodity PC, so much less expensive than most video wall processors.
- There is a license cost for the controller software, and that license has options than can add significant capabilities.
- We support fault tolerance, so another PC*, and the Premium suite license cost, but that includes all the options (à la carte option coming soon).
- We also use a commodity PC to drive each of the monitors. We do this because that additional processing power is used to provide scalability and “limitless resolution.”
- Each display also has a software license cost.
- We can accept lots of sources of different types. Some of them involve PCs or encoder boxes that cost something, and all have an associated license cost.
- A gigabit Ethernet switch and cabling costs something, but typically not very much. And, no, unlike some of our competitors, we don’t make you buy an expensive 10Gig switch.
- Last and clearly not least, the displays are the largest cost in a Hiperwall-based video wall. They are by far the most expensive component, and here, you do get what you pay for. Thin-bezel, high quality commercial displays cost a lot more than TVs, but their performance and reliability make them worth the cost.
* Another PC is also used for fault tolerance support, but it can be very low cost.
With all these costs associated with a Hiperwall-enabled LED video wall system, the feedback we tend to get from our customers and dealers, once they know the system’s capabilities, is that we don’t charge enough. (No, we’re not going to use that as an excuse to raise our prices tomorrow.) They see that we don’t artificially limit how many displays or sources they can use, and they can easily add sources and displays with just a simple license change. They can add fault tolerance and new features by simply upgrading their license and adding appropriate PCs. Hiperwall systems can scale and grow from very small to hundreds of displays and sources simply by adding more commodity components and adding to the software license. We have customers expand their systems all the time, and it really is extremely easy.
Occasionally, however, we have dealers or potential customers that are very cost conscious and are concerned by the costs of a Hiperwall-enabled system. Since the display cost is fixed, the cost of controlling the displays becomes the focus of their cost cutting. In the old days, such a customer would have used a matrix switch, which simply switches inputs to outputs, the limitations of which are readily apparent. Today, however, some monitor makers have controller boxes that drive a few displays and may cost less than the equivalent Hiperwall components. These boxes are more like digital signage players rather than video wall controllers, but they are “fully buzzword compliant,” claiming 4K inputs and lots of other appropriate-sounding jargon, so a customer doesn’t know they don’t do much. In one common example, this controller box can put some inputs on the displays it controls, but it can’t deliver those inputs to any other displays, so even though the customer thinks they’re buying a video wall, they’re really getting a bunch of giant displays with very limited control over the content. By the time the customer realizes the limitations, they will have already spent the money and will have to live with the consequences.
Of course, on the other end of the scale, some of the large display makers sell video wall controllers that are typically proprietary hardware solutions and very expensive. In those cases, too, the value proposition isn’t great. These hardware boxes usually have built-in limitations as to how far they can expand without throwing the thing out and buying a new one. Fault tolerance costs a lot when you have to replicate an expensive controller. Do you get what you pay for with an expensive, hardware solution tied to displays from the same company? I don’t think I even need to answer that for you – you’ve already answered it in your head.
So what questions should a prospective customer ask so they don’t get stuck with a system that limits them now or in the future?
- How do I expand the number of displays my system has in the future? Is the cost linear (meaning does each added display cost as much as the last, or is there a hidden cost jump)? Do I need to replace/discard anything expensive? Can I add 4K panels in the future?
- Do I need fault tolerance to minimize my downtime in case of failure? Can I add fault tolerance later if I decide I need to maximize my system’s reliability? How much does it cost and what are the benefits?
- What about adding more sources? Can I just expand my license, or is there some sort of hard limit on the sources I can add?
- How do I add new types of sources (higher resolution, faster framerate, new capabilities)? Will they just work as long as I keep the system up to date? Or do I need to replace/discard existing hardware components?
- Can I add another set of displays to make a second video wall as part of the same system? Can my content and sources be shared to that new video wall?
- Can I put any of my content items anywhere on my video wall I want? Can I duplicate it in several places? Do I have complete design freedom to design the content layout as I want it, rather than being forced to fit content in to predefined regions?
- Can I see my content live on the controller screen or is it just placeholders? Can I interact with my sources from the controller?
- If one of the components fails, how easy and inexpensive is it to replace? Is it cost-effective to have preconfigured standby-hardware ready if I can’t tolerate much downtime?
- What types of sources are supported? Can I use high frame rate video? High resolution data feeds? IP cameras and video feeds? Do they cost the same, or are some more expensive? Can I choose what type of source to use as my needs change, or am I locked into a configuration at the start?
- If I build more video walls, possibly at different locations around the world, can I share some of my sources with those other video walls? What level of control do I have over who gets access to my source feeds?
- If I want to replace my displays with direct view LED when the pixel pitch improves and prices come down, will my video wall control system still work with it?
A recurring theme of these questions is planning and preparing for the future. A video wall is a significant investment in resources and space, so getting a solution that is future-proof and expandable should be a main component of the purchasing decision. The features and ease-of-use are critically important, as is cost, but if the solution can’t grow and adapt as your needs change, the money isn’t well-spent.