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A Buyer's Guide to Trade Show Digital Displays

May 28, 2019

By Pierre Menard

Digital images displayed on digital displays open up a new world of changeable and moving images. When it comes to selecting digital displays, exhibitors are faced with a staggering choice of options – from small tablets to mid-sized TV screens and multi-panel digital walls. If there is video input, virtually any display screen can be adapted for use at an exhibit. But to help you pick the optimum hardware for your budget, venue, and expected audience, we’ve broken down the features, benefits, and strategies to mitigate risks of each type of display. In this article I will cover, Tablets, Kiosks, and TVs. In part 2 of this article, computer monitors, projectors and video walls will be discussed.

Tablets such as the Apple iPads, Amazon Fires and the Samsung Galaxy Tabs have become increasingly popular at trade show booths. They’re economical, interactive, and are already familiar to many of your booth staffers and attendees. With a variety of proven apps, they are often a versatile and practical choice. Although they represent the smallest available screen option, their screens can be easily mirrored on a larger, nearby monitor. This can help prevent bottlenecks when you are trying to demo content to a small group, and when you only have a couple of tablets available. At a trade show, it is recommended to either tether the tablet to furniture, branded display stand, or a person. Staff people holding tablets should practice introductions, exchanging of contact information, etc. The tablet should not hinder the connection, and the best implementation of tablets enhance the face to face connection. If attendees are expected to interact with the tablet, take the extra time to lock-out settings, and hide other icons, so that your tablet is not hi-jacked to display irrelevant information. Because of the low cost, consider having extra backup tablets to mitigate failures and low batteries, and be sure to plan a strategy to recharge the tablets overnight so they are ready for the next day.

Kiosks can be display-only or touch-screen. Touch screens add interactivity, as well as cost, thickness, and weight. Interactive kiosks are typically expensive to ship, because the best way to mitigate risk is to have everything assembled and tested prior to shipping. For the best interactive experience consider custom apps or software. Kiosks running a looped video or other simple content such as way-finding maps can usually be accomplished with a USB enabled display.

The optimum location and orientation of a kiosk depends on the interaction that is desired. To communicate information that is not interactive to multiple people, choose tall kiosk above people’s heads, choose clear fonts, and simple graphics that communicate the message in less than 10-15 seconds. If the content is interactive with many options, the best option in an exhibit is a “guided interactive tour.” A staffer engages the attendee, and guides them through the interactions, asking questions, digging deeper, and guiding the attendee to the information that best answers their questions. In this case, the display of the kiosk should be mounted vertically, so that multiple people can view it, but a limited number of people can interact and disrupt the tour. If the content is engaging, and the expectation is that the attendee will self-inquire, and self-guide, consider mounting the display of the kiosk horizontally. The limited visibility of the display, except by people standing very near the display, gives the attendee more confidence to explore. Do not expect to do a “guided interactive tour” with a table display kiosk, in the center of a crowd. The interaction is too tempting, and your presentation will be co-opted by attendees. Many times, the optimum interactive kiosk has a slanted display. The slanted shape limits the size of the audience, generating some privacy for the attendee and creates an obvious interaction zone. This same slanted form can be used for “guided interactive tours” as well.

TV screens are the most common display choice for exhibits because they are typically the most cost effective. They’re widely available in many different brands, sizes and resolutions, and are easy to set up. All come with built-in speakers, but for the trade show environment, the speakers integrated in the flat screens are insufficient in both quality and volume. If sound is included with the visual, plan to add inexpensive bookshelf speakers with a built-in amplifier. Most tradeshow booth requirements are easily covered with a consumer grade TV, but if the expectation is re-purpose the exhibit into a more permanent installation like a corporate lobby, consider upgrading to a commercial model. Commercial models are typically brighter, longer lasting, designed for continuous professional use, and come with better warranties. These extra features come at a price, as commercial monitors are often up to 3 times more expensive than their consumer-grade counterparts.

LCD TVs can display content at several resolutions. An HDTV can display content at HD resolution (1280×720 pixels). Full HD (the most common) is another step above HD, with a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels. Ultra HD – also known as 4K – is a resolution of 3840×2160 pixels. Unless the expectation is that the attendee will be within 24” of the screen and reading 12 PT font, avoid the cost of 4K screens. 4K digital displays cost more, weigh more, and 4K content is much more expensive to create.

As the size of the display increases, it becomes a significant, integral part of exhibiting success. Do not be “that exhibitor” who has a black screen, or a display that simply showing a progress bar. Have a copy of local content. Have someone who is knowledgeable make on-site adjustments to brightness, contrast, and color settings for the local environment once the booth is setup. Disable auto-brightness functions so that your picture is stable regardless of the surroundings.


  • Mounting a TV on a stand is a good option if portability and reconfiguration of the exhibit space is desired for demos and presentations. Be sure to test for stability both when the stand is stationary and moving. Avoid TV stands if re-configurability of the booth space is not necessary; they are trip hazards.
  • Mounting a TV on the face of a wall is a good, inexpensive option, and great for conference rooms, alcoves, and inline spaces. With this option, the TV sits in front of the wall. Consider putting a shelf below the TV if the TV is in a high traffic area to help visually communicate that the TV is protruding out from the wall.
  • Integrating a TV into a wall is the best solution for an island exhibit. Ideally, the digital image and surrounding static image are integrated. Because the monitor face is flush with the face of the wall, this both looks better, and can be installed in high traffic areas. Consider a wall system like SkyRise™ from Skyline that is able to flush mount the monitor even if you do not know details regarding mounting hole patterns, bezel width, or TV thicknesses in advance.
  • Mitigate shipping damage, or installation damage to the display by renting from a reputable exhibitor supplier like PRG, SmartSource, or show services. Ownership can be easily justified for multiple shows; be sure to include a case designed for protecting and shipping the display as part of the investment and justification.
Computer monitors are quite often much smaller than TV screens and come in a smaller range of sizes. Many TVs come in sizes in excess of 50 inches, while computer monitors often top out at only 30 inches. Typically, computer monitors have more pixels per inch than TV screens because they are designed for up close, long-term viewing. Choose computer monitors over TV monitors for longer interactions, where the attendee will be reading text, typing answers, or playing a game. Be sure to adjust the brightness of the screen to the ambient light conditions as well to avoid fatiguing attendee’s eyes.

At first glance, projectors seem to be an ideal trade show technology. Projectors are reasonably priced, in a small package, and capable of displaying large moving digital content. However, for trade show success, projectors require 3 things:
  • The first requirement is enough brightness (measured in lumens) to overcome show hall lighting. We’ve determined that projectors need to be at least 13-15,000 lumens to deal with show hall ambient lights. (A typical office projector is around 3500 lumens, a home projector is less than 2000 lumens.) Less lumens require a strategy for controlling the ambient light by installing in a darkened room or enclosing the screen in a darkened “tunnel.”
  • The second requirement is a screen to project onto. Just putting up a white fabric will result in sub-par results. Projector screens have evolved as much as projector technology. Light gray / silver screens result in much better images because blacks look blacker, and bright colors are not as washed out as when projecting onto pure white. Reflective coatings can also dramatically improve the brightness, and a dark boarder surrounding the projected image absorbs stray light and gives the impression of a brighter image.
  • The third requirement is a clear light path between the projector and the screen that is free from obstructions (including attendees.) Depending on the projector, that usually means a distance free from obstructions of at least 8-12’, which prompts mounting the projector overhead, which may bump into show hall regulations, depending on the booth size. A strategy for a shorter clear path, without reducing image size, might be to use a short-throw projector, or short-throw and rear projection. This type of projector reflects the image off a mirror to simulate greater distance. The mirror is not 100% efficient, so brightness is lost, both in the reflection and project from the rear. At the time of this writing, short-throw projectors should only be used in conjunction with also controlling ambient light.
  • Two final considerations when implementing projector technology is aspect ratio, and sound. Many projectors have a native aspect ratio of 4:3 like an old TV or laptop computer. In this type of projector, 16:9 content is emulated by dynamically resizing the content at a lower brightness and lower image quality. Regarding sound, it can be disconcerting if your audio sources is separate from the screen. Be sure to place the speakers near the screen, and test before going live to make sure it feels like the sound is coming from the screen.
Although, not currently an ideal trade show technology, we will be watching projectors over the next several years. Current laser projectors are bright, and do not have the lamp-life issues of older projectors. These have already moved from the large 4k digital cinema experience into the home theater market where ambient light is easy to control, and the content display is native 16:9. Expect that brighter, smaller, cheaper, innovation will bring this projector technology back to the trade show as a viable compelling option in the future.

A video wall is made up of multiple displays placed together, creating one giant image. Each individual screen shows a portion of the image, sometimes referred to as a “zone.” The displays used in video walls are commercial displays, because they must have a very thin bezel around the screen to stack them close together, and they must be capable of displaying “zones”—which isn’t generally possible with consumer-grade TVs. (A simple 2X2 array can be displayed on consumer grade TVs if a connected to a PC with a higher-end graphics card.) The modularity of video walls enables digital images much, much larger than even the largest single-screen monitors.

If the distance from the viewer to the screen is less than 8-10’, an array of narrow bezel, commercial TVs result in a sharper image. The trade-off that come with the higher resolution is a grid of thin black lines created by the thin bezel of the display. Large grid-less video walls are constructed using borderless video tiles. Most video tiles are 500mm X 500mm, (1:1 aspect ratio) although some newer tiles are conforming to the modern 16:9 aspect ratio and are sized 365mm X 640mm.

One specification that impacts the quality of a video tile image is distance between the individual LED lights, known as the pitch. The image quality improves as the pitch decreases because there is less space between the lights. However, the reliability of the tile decreases as the pitch decreases because there are many more lights, and ruggedness is highly desirable in the trade show rental world. At the time of this writing, most video tiles implemented in the trade show industry, balance cost and reliability with a pitch of 2.9mm (about 1/8”.) A good rule of thumb for viewing distance is 1m (3.3’) viewing distance per 1mm pitch, so 2.9 * 3.3’ = 9.5’ A video wall built out of 2.9mm pitch video tiles will look good from a distance of 9.5’ or greater.
  • Rule of thumb: 1m (3.3’) viewing distance per 1mm pitch, so 2.9 * 3.3’ = 9.5’
  • Close viewing or smaller screen sizes is often better served by 1 or more televisions.
Large moving images on video walls create dramatic and dynamic spaces, and are great for 3 purposes:
  • An immersive experience (becoming part of the NYC marathon)
  • Viewing the message from a long distance away (overhead signage)
  • Creating ambiance (jungle theme of Skyline’s recent EXHIBITORLIVE exhibit)
They are ideal for companies with large budgets and require absorbing additional costs to mitigate risks.

Additional expenses that should be budgeted include:
  • Large digital graphics need to be mapped to the specific pixel count of the video tile wall, and at a refresh rate of at least 30Hz (much faster than a normal video.)
  • Video tile walls require a subject matter expert during installation and setup.
  • Any failure of a large video array will detract from the entire exhibit experience; for this reason, Skyline always recommends on-site support throughout the show and 24 hour power (do not shut off the video wall until show is over.)
A digital image will always come at a higher cost with higher risks than a static image, but the digital world opens opportunities for presenting dynamic information, engaging a passerby, and interacting with an exhibit attendee. Exhibit design intent drives content and the optimum display. What have been your success stories? Do you have disaster you are willing to share, with the wisdom that you gained from that experience?


In this book, Skyline has compiled 27 blog posts originally published in Skyline E-Tips (formerly Skyline Trade Show Tips). The posts combine valuable information about trade show and event staffing, giveaways and lead management. From experienced trade show consultants, traditional marketers and digital marketing practitioners, these authors know Trade Shows and how to leverage modern technology (lead applications) and techniques to improve leads collected at your trade shows and events. We also dive into effective giveaways and booth staffing. Complete the form below to request your free copy!

monitors, tablets, trade show technology, video walls, kiosks
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