LED screen technology is being used for far wider purposes than just content, being an integral element of the set and lighting design too. Screens are also delivering immersive and social experiences for the audience, with the tech getting a lot lighter and more flexible. Claire Bicknell reports
With LED screen technology constantly evolving and a myriad of product options available, the vital prerequisite for the live industry is flexibility of use.
Screens are being installed in a variety of creative ways on and around the stage, heightening the show and experience for audiences.
“LED screens aren’t only there for image magnification, it’s about creating a stunning visual aesthetic, immersive experiences and instantly transforming atmosphere,” says ADI’s marketing and PR officer Gemma Edmondson. “LED provides the versatile and high impact canvases to display creative and larger-than-life content.”
Preston-based ADI was formed in 1991, providing LED event screens on a global scale with the recently expanded iCONIC fleet of 56 mobile LED screens ranging in size from 12sqm to 120sqm.
It also provides a variety of modular solutions and supporting services to help clients maximise the value of their screens, including event broadcast, production and social media solutions.
Clients include the 25,000-capacity Splendour Festival in Nottingham, Godiva Festival (cap. 75,000) in Coventry – which featured Busted, The Levellers, Afro Celt Sound System and Feeder this year – and Under the Stars (20,000) in East Ham, London.
“Clients want a high quality service with full project management, technical support and logistical expertise,” says Edmondson. “That is combined with exceptional and reliable products that fit their budget and brief.”
Production Resource Group (PRG), with offices in 17 countries across five continents and an alliance partnership that takes it into a further 23 countries, is a major player in the sector offering one of the largest inventories of rental equipment globally.
Its parent company was founded in New York in 1982, and PRG’s UK operation started life in 1998 through the acquisition of Light & Sound Design. Other acquisitions include XL Video in 2015, and Essential Lighting in 2008. It has three locations in the UK – Birmingham, and in London’s Covent Garden and Greenford.
“Our clients include The 1975’s world tour, a spectacular design using 3D pieces of LED as well as 2D sections and frames,” says PRG UK’s video systems designer James Morden. “With Skepta at Manchester International Festival, we had a very small amount of screen used artistically to create layers and levels within a small space.
“We’ve supplied screens for Creamfields [70,000] from its first event and each year it gets larger, with arguably the largest collection of screen at any one event. We also work with Capital radio’s Summertime Ball at Wembley Stadium [80,000] and Enrique Iglesias.”
Morden states PRG UK is seeing a “more video for all” uptake, as it becomes a more integral part of a show.
“Rather than seeing a specific trend in new technology, we’re seeing more artistes who previously wouldn’t have been able to use or afford video in their shows having uptake, as well as more established artistes asking for more.
“Each artiste is different, some in the large arena or stadium shows need iMAG screens to enable fans at the back to see them, helping to connect with them and establishing a large spectacle in terms of playback content,” says Morden.
“Smaller spaces require video as a more integrated solution as part of the show and lighting design – the video is more of a texture rather than a way of projecting the artiste to the rear of a large space.”
Morden believes the game has also changed in pixel pitch requirements.
“The next big thing is understanding that the pixel pitch race is done for large events, adding more resolution does not add any benefit but a lot of cost – more pixels need more processing, more servers and more render time, for example,” states Morden. “We are expecting a lot of stabilisation in this area, allowing for better development of HDR, which makes a massive difference to image quality along with the wider use of 4k cameras and before long ST2110 IP systems.
“Coming soon to a large screen near you will be HDR, already on TV, which adds for contrast within pictures, but at present it’s expensive in terms of render time, and also not standardised. Live cameras work in HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma), where as content looks better in PQ (Perceptual Quantiser), and we cannot mix the two … yet.”
With over 32 years experience, LED screen, video wall, AV technology hire and production specialist YSLV has three UK offices – Upminster and east London and York – and has worked with clients including the MOBO Awards and the Cauldwell Children Butterfly Ball with performances by Kylie Minogue and Peter Andre.
“Our high resolution outdoor LED screens tend to be used on smaller, more intimate, music events where the audience gets up close to the stage,” says digital development manager TK Dewjee.
“On the WKD stage at Kendal Calling (25,000) we provided our new XCITE 3.9 LED panels to deliver three fantastic high resolution screens covering the DJ booth and stage sides. As our panels have such a high resolution, audiences can perceive a picture even when very close to the screen which is not possible with older, lower resolution LED technology.
“The trends are certainly pushing the boundaries of technology towards creativity and creating non-standard designs utilising a broad range of AV technology. Audiences are increasingly being wowed by new and exciting designs, including screens that move stages. The XCITE 3.9 panels can be joined together to create a big screen, or individually as visual lighting effects; they also curve up to 10 degrees between panels to create concave or convex curves.”
All of its equipment can be provided as dry hire or a full-service solution where YSLV delivers, set-ups, stands-by and removes.
“Interactivity will become an important part of tours and productions,” adds Dewjee. “This will involve the audience using a variety of technologies including camera sensors and audiences’ smartphones to enhance and develop the AV experience of a performance.”
Creative Technology (CT) is one of the world’s leading suppliers of specialist audio-visual equipment to a diverse range of industries including live music, entertainment, corporate, sports and exhibitions.
Established for over 32 years, it has worked with artistes including Mumford & Sons, Kylie Minogue, Queen + Adam Lambert, Bastille and Mariah Carey. It has a London office, as well as offices in Portugal, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Singapore, Japan, China and the US.
“It’s been a good year for us, a little different as we’ve not had as many big tours, but we’ve had Mumford & Sons, Queen + Adam Lambert, and we’re also strong on the festival side, with Glastonbury [147,500], Download [111,000], Reading [90,000] and Leeds [80,000], where we’re supersizing the screens with huge, curved iMAG screens,” says head of music and entertainment Graham Miller.
“How LED is used depends on the artiste and the show’s setting. Sometimes the wow factor is the goal through
the sheer scale of a show, and other clients may be looking for something a bit different.”
Miller agrees that the pixel contest is over, and the flexibility of what you can do with a screen is a vital factor.
“The race for higher and higher pixel counts has stopped. It can be difficult to push that number of pixels to screen anyway with the 4K cameras needed, which is not cost effective on tour.
“You’re looking for something that’s a bit clever and different that ticks a lot of boxes. If you can curve it, that’s good as the designers can get creative with it. We’ also look at whether a product is lightweight, transparent, and is strong. There’s a lot out there, but you need to know a product is ready and reliable for the job before investing in it.”
Reliability is key
Ilfracombe-based S+H Technical Support has worked with clients including 10cc, Portishead and Kylie Minogue, and is approaching its 27th anniversary year.
“We’re one of the world’s leading suppliers of starcloths, LED video products and drapes, for both hire and sales,” says director Terry Murtha. “Our outdoor and indoor LED video products are available from 3.9mm to 20mm pixel pitch, and we also have new video banners at 2.5mm.
“Reliability is the important factor that clients want from their supplier.”
Based in Langley, Berkshire, 80six is a full technical video production specialist which works with artistes including Public Enemy, Dizzee Rascal, Wu-Tang Clan, J Hus, Nothing But Thieves and Andy C. It offers dry hire as well as full service.
“We provide a one-stop solution for all video needs for our clients,” says director Dan Hamill.
“LED technology is becoming more creative, and people are really getting stuck into it with flying cubes, LED ceilings and LED floors. We look for the most adaptable panels to suit the requirements from our clients.”
Safety is of the utmost priority across the sector, with heavy panels having potentially horrific consequences if not installed correctly.
“We are by the book when it comes to health and safety,” adds Hamill. “We build the screens as by the manufacturers’ instructions rather than by what we think is okay. It’s unfortunately too easy to get hold of equipment and just build it.
“What I don’t hear enough of is people going around on site and actually checking and signing-off on the installation.”
In terms of trends, Hamill states everything is “getting lighter, stronger and smaller” and audience expectations for LED depend on the scale of the artiste.
“People expect big shows and big productions to have impressive LED.”
Production Technology, or Protec as it is generally known, is a multinational operation celebrating its 20th anniversary.
It has bases in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where it was heavily involved in the Jeddah World Fest (40,000) held this month. It also works across Africa and Asia.
Clients include Roger Waters, Shakira, Kasabian, Duran Duran, Justin Timberlake and Usher.
“Resolutions are improving very quickly, which in turn is pushing processors, media servers, switchers and signal chain kit forwards to cope with such high resolution content playback,” says head of video Scott Walker.
“LED and video content is incorporated much more as an element of the show, and audiences are looking to be immersed in a concert more than ever,” he says.
“Screens are being designed and rigged more creatively as stage designs get better and better to make audiences feel like they’re much more part of the show, rather than just watching a performance.
“We recently had a very last-minute request to supply well over 1,200sqm of LED screens for the Pope’s visit to Abu Dhabi, which required some very quick planning and execution, but it was pulled-off without a hitch,” adds Walker.
For what’s next, Walker highlights XR – a combination of virtual and augmented reality – as the next big thing for concert LED.
“This is augmenting real-time 3D content into camera shots to make artistes have the ability to interact with live generated content,” explains Walker. “There are a few people starting to use it, but soon it will be everywhere.”
Operating for over 30 years, Hawthorn has offices in Melton Mowbray, Cambridge and London. Artistes it has worked with include Mark Knopfler, Status Quo, OMD and Steven Wilson.
“Having supported Steven Wilson previously, our Concert Touring division was once again chosen to supply video, lighting, draping and rigging equipment for his tour performances in the UK and Europe,” says group head of video David Barton.
“Renowned for putting on a visually spectacular show, Wilson’s latest tour was no exception featuring a raft of new and exciting visual elements including the use of holographic projection,” he explains.
“We supplied a 9m x 4.5m GLUX LED video wall to display the stunning video content; with the shows touring around various sized venues, including London’s Royal Albert Hall [5,200], the LED backdrop really needed to pack a punch.”
Offering a full in-house service including preparation and testing facilities, in-house content production and 24/7 support, Barton echoes Murtha’s comments that reliability is the client’s key priority.
“When a show is on tour, often for months on end across multiple countries, the team want the peace of mind that comes from using well maintained, reliable equipment,” says Barton. “The biggest demand we see for our LED screens is the need for reliability; other concerns are that it’s quick to rig and de-rig and it’s lightweight, especially important for touring artistes.”
The company has added 200 panels of 2.5mm Absen PL2.5 Pro LED to its inventory in 2019.
“These panels offer high brightness and contrast, offer curved locking and at only 12.5kg per panel they’re lightweight. The advanced auto-lock and auto-eject features speed up rigging and de-rigging, and that’s a feature every technician is looking for.
“Technology is advancing so quickly and we’ve already seen leaps and bounds in pixel pitch, weight and speed of rigging,” adds Barton.
“The industry is demanding more unusual screen arrangements, whether that’s angles, curves, the use of Kinesys or even 3D shapes; it’s certainly not all about your standard rectangular LED backdrop now.”