|Production company Wizard of Ahs sets up
a video display at the Playhouse Square
Theater in Cleveland, Ohio.
Whether it’s Coachella, Lollapalooza
or SXSW, you’d be hard-pressed
to find a major music festival
that doesn’t feature larger-than-life
video displays accompanying performers on
stage. From the resurrection of departed rapper
Tupac Shakur via hologram at Coachella 2012 and
Natalie Cole’s long-running “duet” with archival
video imagery of her late father, Nat King Cole,
video displays have become an integral part of
many acts. And with more manufacturers getting
into the game of mass-producing sophisticated
display technology, smaller local and regional
festivals are finding it more affordable to employ
them as well.
While a robust video display market offers music
festival organizers a plethora of choices when it
comes to the look they want for their productions,
the sheer number of displays available, combined
with the rapid pace at which display technology
evolves, can make it difficult to know where to
start when working with these systems.
SUGAR, SPICE AND DIODES
These days, Light-Emitting Diode (LED) displays
are the most popular way to showcase video at
music festivals. With their relatively low power
consumption, longevity and ability to offer rich
imagery even in direct sunlight, they are ideal for
More than likely, anyone tasked with
installing an LED screen display will be dealing
with a discrete system. The choice of display,
then, comes down to either a single-screen
solution or a modular system. Benefits of
single screens include greater simplicity of
installation—as many of the screens can be
mounted on a vehicle and driven to the festival
site, or even come built into a vehicle—and
greater image continuity. Drawbacks include a
fixed size and resolution.
Owing to their inherent scalability, video panels
offer the advantage of being more customizable,
allowing users to set up video walls of virtually any
size, resolution and aspect ratio.
IT TAKES ALL KINDS
LED3, a company that provides LED displays and
services for a variety of applications, including music
festivals, supplies both traditional square-shaped
LED panels, along with more unusual shapes.
“When you deploy the type of LED we sell,
you can use it for either image magnification or
theatrical dressings,” says LED3 president Bruce
Neff. “As some of it is flexible, you can wrap it
[around objects on stage] and do concave and
convex screens. We even have LED that does
90-degree corners, so you can essentially dress
out a particular design stage in a way that gives
you a lot of creativity.”
Some other companies that manufacture
LED screens in less-than-typical shapes include
ADI.tv, Barco LiveDots, Daktronics, GoVision
and Upstage Videos. These are just a few
examples—virtually all makers of quality LED
panels can offer multiple types of shapes to fit
the aesthetic of a particular festival.
Modular LED panels have some drawbacks.
These include gaps between the panels, though
generally this is not a problem with LED panels,
as well as the potential for higher power draw and
heavier overall weight. Recognizing these issues,
some manufacturers, including Absen (sold in
the U.S. by LED3), Chauvet, Elation Professional,
Lighthouse and PixelFLEX, among others, offer
lighter-weight, more efficient panels.
Another maker of lighter-weight panels is
Barco LiveDots, a manufacturer of video display
systems, along with image processing and content
management technology, for the rental and staging
and permanent installations markets. Two of the
company’s lightweight LED screens are the V14m
and V9m. The V14m weighs 28.15 pounds per tile,
while the V9m, weighs about 28.9 pounds per tile.
SAILING THE SHIP
|A video wall display at a recent ZZ Top Show.
Once one has determined the type, size, weight,
pixel pitch and resolution of a display that will work best for a particular
music festival, it’s time to
consider how to fly and/or
build it. According to Self,
this process isn’t too much
different from flying any other
staging element for a festival.
One pitfall of setup, however,
is timing. John Grasso, managing
owner of ACIR Professional,
which provides A/V systems to
a number of different markets
including the music festival circuit, says that
because video displays are relatively new to the
concert-staging process, people often overlook the
time it takes to set them up.
“There are only so many hours before a show,
and every element of staging and setup must be
carefully planned, so that you are not impacting
anyone else’s tasks,” he said.
One thing that can really put a damper
on a concert is any kind of RF interference
between different types of wireless gear on and
around the stage. While the video display itself
is wired, it will emit RF interference, which
could interfere with wireless mics and wireless
instrument packs. “It’s best to look closely at
placement so you don’t interfere with that stuff,
because on any given festival, you may have 50-
100 channels of wireless going on, and if the
video wall is spitting out RF interference in that
range, it just makes everyone else have a bad
day,” says Self.
MERCURIAL MOTHER NATURE
Most music festivals take place outdoors, so once
a video display is in place, the biggest concern
with its operation is weather. Wind is especially
dangerous, as video displays are
typically hung at the extreme
edges of the stage, where they
are most vulnerable.
If possible, Self recommends
going with a video display that
has a blow-through screen.
This type of screen features
alternating slats of LED and
open space, allowing air to move
through it. As a result, the wind
can blow through the screen,
decreasing the chances it will topple the structure.
There are certain weather conditions, of
course, that require immediate action, because
they represent potential danger to human
safety. If there is lightning, for example, the best
course of action is to clear everyone out of the
festival until at least 30 minutes have passed
without any lightning sightings. Many of those
handling the gear for festivals keep a close watch
on the weather, often hiring special weather
companies that alert them immediately to signs
of storms, high wind or any other potentially