The Unvarnished Truth About MicroLED Processing
MicroLED tech is emerging as the starlet everyone’s watching in the world of digital displays. But there’s a lot of differences in the technology and its implementation that must be considered when designing systems – especially for high end applications like home theaters, art displays, gaming setups, or even living room display systems driving high res HDR content.
One of those areas of difference is the processing for these direct-lit LED displays. That being that there are two main variants: onboard and outboard. In this article, we’ll dive into these types of processing and why you might choose one over the other.
The Two Types of MicroLED Processors
The most important consideration when selecting a MicroLED display is the video processing function. There are two primary types:
What is an onboard processor?
An onboard processor in the context of MicroLED technology refers to a processing unit that is integrated directly into the MicroLED display itself.
What is an outboard processor?
An outboard processor, in contrast to an onboard processor, is an external processing unit used in MicroLED display systems. It is not integrated into the display itself but operates as a separate component.
Consider the PC Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
I remember when the video card was nothing super special, then over time it became more and more powerful. Today, video cards which we now call Graphical Processing Units (GPUs) are incredible pieces of technology, often consuming more space and power than the computer itself!
The reason why? Because gaming enthusiasts, editors, and 3d artists all want the same thing: performance.
So what you don’t see are these users resorting to the old “on board” video chipset style of graphics processors. They just simply cannot perform to the same level that a dedicated Nvidia 4090 can.
That’s not to say that an onboard graphics chipset doesn’t have its place. Certainly it does! Consider a small form factor laptop that an individual may only use for viewing excel spreadsheets or browsing the internet. You don’t need the most powerful GPU to perform those tasks.
It’s perfectly fine to use a processor like that for simple tasks that require no high level of performance. However, in scenarios where performance is required, then an onboard GPU may not be up to the task.
TV vs Video Wall Manufacturers
There’s a significant distinction between offerings from traditional television manufacturers who sell video walls, and specialized video wall providers. Historically, TV manufacturers have predominantly offered onboard processing solutions. These are integrated directly into the display, reflecting the evolution of consumer television technology, which for decades prioritized compact, all-in-one designs.
That makes perfect sense for a television, because they are limited in size and customization, which means they must apply to as many target applications as possible. However, the video wall category is different because there is no standardization in sizes, aspect ratio, and now processing power.
Unfortunately, as some of these TV brands have moved into video walls, their approach has taken very much the same as their traditional television approach.
On the other hand, video wall companies can provide outboard processing, catering to a market that demands higher flexibility and performance for diverse applications. This divergence in offerings is rooted in the different use-cases and customer expectations in the video wall market versus traditional television.
Comparing Onboard vs Outboard Processing
When it comes to processing, MicroLED systems face a fork in the road: onboard or outboard. Onboard processing, integrated within the display itself, offers a compact solution but often at the cost of performance. It’s akin to running advanced software on a basic laptop – it works, but not optimally.
Outboard processing, on the other hand, is like having a dedicated high-performance server for your display. It’s capable of handling complex processing tasks, from dynamic range compression to advanced color grading, without breaking a sweat. This distinction becomes critical when dealing with high-resolution content or when precision is paramount.
No matter the size of your video wall, outboard processing can scale to match the display. When you require system critical applications, we can stack processors for redundant operation. The last and most important aspect to outboard processing is LACK of obsolescence.
When an onboard processor must be replaced, you will need to replace the endtire wall at significant cost. When we move to 8K broadcast, you can replace the current 4K processor with an 8K compatible one and NOT replace your entire video wall!
The Wrong Choice Could Cost You
Contextualizing the True Cost
So, what else should you consider apart from the pros and cons of each type? Think about the cost, of course, but not just the cost – the value. That’s because value is not the same thing as cost. Value plays a role when considering how much benefit you stand to gain as the cost increases.
When you examine the cost of a video wall, especially once you’ve moved into the $150k + territory, the overall effect of the price bump by moving to an outboard processor is immaterial.
Playing a Risky Game for Not Much Upside
Consider this: Spending $20k to guarantee your $150k investment performs at its peak, and allows for upgradability and serviceability is simply good math. And if you’re already investing that amount in your display, then the small incremental increase for the higher performing processor just makes sense.
Consider the cost to upgrade your entire wall because your processor is built into the system. As opposed to upgrading the processor itself to be compatible with tomorrow’s resolution or input technology. In that case, the outboard choice would save nearly the cost of an entirely new wall, and offer way less headache.
Other Reasons to "Unlock" Your MicroLED Processor
Unlocking your processor (moving to an outboard option) especially in a MicroLED system, is about more than just raw power and performance. It’s about gaining control, precision, and flexibility in how your display operates. Consider these other reasons:
Control System Compatibility: Your Other Tech's New Best Friend
Think of our outboard processors as the social butterflies of the tech world. They mingle with a wide range of control systems, making them the life of the party in any AV setup. This compatibility isn’t just convenient; it’s like having a universal translator in the world of tech, ensuring your display plays nice with all your other gadgets.
Fine-tuning and Calibration: The Art of Pixel Perfection
Who doesn’t like to have things just right? With outboard processors, fine-tuning your display isn’t just possible; it’s an art form. Adjust colors, play with contrast, and tweak brightness until it’s not just displaying pictures; it’s painting masterpieces. It’s like being a digital Picasso, but for pixels.
Or if you’re a super-calibrator, you can even target specific hues of color, replace them entirely, or expand the bit-rate with advanced features like “dynamic boosting” (not just a silly marketing term, it really is cool).
Redundancy Options: Your Safety Net in the Sky
In critical applications like command and control, it’s nice to have a safety net. With outboard processors, if something goes haywire, there’s an option for a Plan B; ready to take over without missing a beat. It’s like having a reliable understudy ready to jump into the lead role at a moment’s notice.
Choosing the Right Processor - A Visionary Decision
Onboard processing has its benefits and a place in the MicroLED video wall world. As a reminder, this type of solution can quickly become obsolete and take your video wall with it. Even still, if you are looking for a large format video wall which you use as a standard television, it might be the correct decision.
Choosing an outboard processor, however, is an investment in quality, reliability, and future-readiness. It’s a statement that you refuse to compromise on the fidelity of your visual experience, whether it’s for gaming, home theater, or professional displays.
As technology continues to evolve, this choice will not just keep you a step ahead but will redefine your interaction with digital visuals. In the end, the decision is clear: for those who seek the best performance, reliability, and flexibility, there’s no substitute for the power and precision of an outboard processor.
Choose wisely, choose outboard, and unlock the true potential of MicroLED for your next project.