Outside, digital displays are in an uncontrolled, harsh environment that is constantlychanging, meaning anything can happen to them. To successfully deploy digital displays in outdoor environments, many factors must be considered.

Considerations for Outdoor Signage

Peter Kaszycki | MRI

With indoor environments, everything is nice and comfortable. It does not rain inside, temperatures and humidity are controlled, the sun does not shine indoors, ambient light conditions do not change, the air is clean, power is consistent, the wind does not blow, and vandalism is rare. Basically, digital displays that are deployed indoors are in a controlled environment in virtually every respect.

However, in outdoor settings, everything changes – and it changes dramatically. Outside, digital displays are in an uncontrolled, harsh environment that is constantly changing.  Anything can happen to them.  Therefore, it’s important to consider the following factors and how they affect your display before choosing and deploying outdoor digital displays:





Direct Sun

  • Increased LCD temperature
  • LCD Blackout (solar clearing)




  • Reduce backlight efficiencies
  • Damage electronics
  • LCD blackout

65 to 75°F

-20 to 122°F


  • Damage electronics

Under 30 %

Over 80%

Rain, snow, dust, dirt

  • Corrode housing
  • Damage electronics
  • Dirty the LCD



Brake dust, fumes

  • Dirty the LCD
  • Clog air intakes
  • Damage electronics



Wind Load

  • Knock over display


Yes - up to 140 MPH

Ambient Light

  • Reduce readability of display

Same all day

Changes throughout the day

Duty Cycle

  • Shorter life expectancy

8-12 hours/day

16-24 hours/day


  • Destroy LCD
  • Damage housing components




The table above shows just what severe conditions outdoor digital displays have to endure. They must be built to withstand direct sunlight, extreme temperatures and humidity, rain, snow, dust and dirt, harsh windy conditions and also be protected from vandalism. It’s imperative to keep all of the above factors in mind when evaluating outdoor displays. While all of these factors must not be ignored and should factor into your purchasing decision, let’s take a deeper look into one specific factor – the impact of the sun.

The sun puts out an incredible amount of energy that cannot be overlooked.  Before placing displays in direct and indirect sun conditions, please consider:

  • Sunny environments require high-bright displays for optimum viewing.
  • Display luminance should normally be between 1,500-2,500 nits or candelas;
  • Brightness should be measured through cover glass/film, not just at the surface of the LCD;
  • Displays that maintain set brightness levels over time are preferred;
  • Some displays will lose 10-12 percent brightness/year;
  • Some displays will lose 10-15 percent brightness in hot or cold ambient conditions;

Solar Clearing of the LCD screen is a concern.  With direct sunlight and a backlight at full brightness, the LCD crystals receive a large amount of heat and could go through a phase change causing black blotches on the screen.  Solar clearing will cause degradation in the display thereby reducing the operating life.  To prevent solar clearing several factors must be addressed.

  • LCDs are rated to different temperatures; 68°F, others 80°F and some at 110°F. The higher the better, so ask your hardware provider which LCDs they use.
  • CCFLs are inadequate for outdoors. Only use LED backlight systems.
  • Ambient light sensors should be used to automatically adjust backlight brightness based on light conditions.
  • Avoid digital displays that are optically bonded to cover glass.
  • Cooling systems must be robust and reliable. 
  • The sun is worse in winter with clear skies/lower haze.
  • East/West orientations are worst. North/South orientations are best.
  • Rising and setting sun are the worst times of the day, not high noon.

There is a great deal to consider when thinking of how the sun alone will impact outdoor displays.  The LCD is not the only critical component that is affected by the harsh environments.  Most electrical components are rated up to certain temperatures and cannot be exposed to moisture or particulate debris.  Consider the following when it comes to the impact of temperature and humidity on outside digital displays.

Displays must:

  • Be designed for temperatures down to - 20°F and over 110°F.
  • Be designed and validated to be based for high temperatures and direct sun load.
  • Have a display that is “sealed” to prevent condensation forming inside the cover glass.
  • Have a start-up procedure for low-temp power up; at -20°F and high temperatures; at +110°F
  • Plan for when the display is not to be run. Consider just turning off the backlight, not the entire digital display
  • Have embedded electronics (player, modem, etc.) that are rated for internal display temperatures.
  • Cooling is critical.  Conventional A/C systems will drip, require maintenance and consume significant power.  Pick a display that has the fewest failure mechanisms.  If the cooling system fails, the display will too.  Consider alternative cooling methods.
  • Have a plan for heating when operating in freezing conditions
  • Be prepared for how temperature fluctuations can affect brightness.
  • Digital display AND mounting structure must be able to withstand significant wind loads. Have you thought about Gail winds, -hurricane force?

While the considerations related to sun, temperature, and humidity may seem overwhelming, once they are factored into your outdoor display purchase and deployment, you can rest easier knowing you have taken every precaution to protect your investment. Beyond environmental conditions, also mull over installation, operational and service conditions.

Other considerations for outside displays

If you are thinking of placing your outdoor digital displays on or near public property, you would be wise to do the research about the area.  Cities may require permits.  There could be restrictions relative to full-motion video content or static transitions, especially near streets.  What are the rules about nighttime operation?  Many structures on public properties must be certified by a professional engineer.  And Union or safety personnel may be required for the installation.  Beyond government regulations, it is important to consider some of the more practical issues that are often times overlooked.  Communication to your display through a wireless modem must be reliable.  How is the cellular service in the area?  Cellular service has proven to be more reliable than WIFI.  How will power be run to the display, and who is responsible for paying for it?  Remember, outdoor displays consumer three to five times more power than indoor.  Furthermore, power comes in many different forms.  It's a good idea to get a display that comes with a universal power supply of 85V to 265V.

The investment required to implement an outdoor digital signage campaign is not trivial, but don’t be short sighted and only consider the upfront capital costs.  Take the time to find a hardware solution that minimizes the operational costs.  While power consumption can be easily accounted for, (Do you have LED backlights?  Are the displays in direct sunlight?  What brightness are you running at? etc.) the service costs can be more unpredictable.  Vandalism, power outages, periodic cleaning, and emergency maintenance can add up to a sizeable chunk of money.  The following are specifications you should look for in an outdoor digital display:


  • What type of cover/safety glass will be used? It must be able to withstand a beating.
  • Glass should be separate from LCD screen. That way you can replace damaged glass without replacing LCD.
  • Can the digital display be serviced in the “installed” position?
  • How easy is the service and will repairmen be working in outdoor conditions (cold, rain, wind-blown dust)?
  • How modular are the replacement components?
  • Can the display be controlled, diagnosed, and updated remotely?
  • Can the display report back to the NOC operational data and alerts?
  • Can the embedded player, 3G modem and switch be automatically or remotely re-booted?
  • How intelligent is the display? Can it verify that the image is being displayed on the screen?
  • Are there provisions for the mini-UPS system so unit can “phone home” if it experiences a failure?
  • What is the “sealing” rating of the display? NEMA 3, IP 65, etc.  Washing the unit should not cause a failure.
  • How is the unit protected from insects, rodents?
  • The glass should have an anti-reflective (AR) coating to reduce reflections from eight percent to under two percent. (AR coating helps with reflections from buildings, cars, and direct sun.)
  • Does the paint finish provide protection against harmful UV rays over time?

Though there are many considerations and questions that come with properly deploying outdoor high-bright digital displays, the benefits of reaching the OOH (Out Of Home) marketplace are significant. It’s worth the time and thought to carry out your deployment after taking all points suggested here into consideration.

In summary, remember that:

True outdoor digital displays are NOT re-packaged indoor displays.  Because of the unpredictability of an outdoor environment, outdoor displays must be intelligent and robust.  Remote diagnosis, updating, and troubleshooting of your displays is imperative.  Operation through the toughest conditions and being able to withstand the #1 enemy of digital displays, the sun, is critical to the success of your outdoor digital signage deployment. 


About Peter

Peter Kaszycki is vice president of business development for Alpharetta, GA-based MRI, which provides indoor and outdoor digital displays ranging in size from 22 inches to 72 inches. He can be contacted via email at



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