China Does Big Well
Searching for scale

Searching for an edge in screen technology for a key project, Rob Brough has strict parameters to work with.

Environmental guidelines on how the 15-meter wide screens will work rule out conventional and NZ available technology. Projectors aren’t powerful enough; plasma screens aren’t big enough.

Looking outside New Zealand for solutions, the gains happening in LED screen technology in China seem to offer a way through the problem.

But the project needs bigger than big. Viewing the large format screens on a desktop computer is no good, and a sample in the mail cannot tell the story properly. So Rob goes to China. “It’s hard to believe what we found.”

Just across the border from Hong Kong, Shenzhen is southern China’s main financial centre, home to 9 million people and a major technology boomtown.

The city is just like a large American city, big, clean, safe and smart. The industry is even more impressive.

“LED billboards are everywhere, this is definitely technology that is being used,” Rob says.

Touring three factories, the Chinese sales technique is identical – meet, sit, read the brochures, see the screen, tour the factory, see the screen, read the brochures, and out.

“They were all the same. They all know each other and what each other is doing.”

The peculiarities of the Chinese business meeting aside, what they are doing is monumental.

Selecting one supplier to work with, Rob is joined by Designworks' Design Leader, Damian, Alexander and they take a day to put the screen through its paces.

“We had unlimited access to run our own material on it. It put a wide smile on everybody’s face.”

The technology places thousands of LED bulbs 3mm apart to create phenomenal resolution which views like a TV from as close as two metres away.

“LED walls have been around for a long time, but have always been for the likes of sports screens where you are 30-40 metres away.

With the functionality and adaptability Rob and Damien saw, the design capabilities possible for clients have been “turned on their head”.

Screens are available in curtain format, as floor surfaces and as giant mobile screen units to sit on the back of trucks. Multi-touch screen surfaces combined with the LED screen make a giant interactive experience for several people at once.

"With the speed and scale of the innovation evident in Shenzhen the potential for display solutions is expanding fast," Rob says.

"Shopping around in Shenzhen, some of the other technologies coming through were as mind blowing as the LED screens. From virtual wardrobes where you can try on clothes digitally, or automating whole households from a mobile phone, the age of the cheap Chinese copy is long gone," Rob says.

“They might be copying each other, but what they are making is leading edge. These guys are smart. They are developing the technology, building it and exporting it.”