Part 1: Considerations

Chuck Spaulding Updated by Chuck Spaulding

Create a World in Motion

How to bring stunning video and motion to a building façade or other structure with direct-view luminaires.


We’re shooting video with our cellphones to capture our friends, children, and the world around us. We’re watching movies on our laptops. More and more digital advertising and social media rely on video. There’s more motion, more excitement, more video—everywhere. Even on the largest surfaces of all, including building façades, bridges, landmarks, and other large structures. Why? Because motion is compelling and effective. Because it’s a growing part of the urban landscape. And because it works—getting attention, triggering emotional responses, and achieving the goals of the latest generation of lighting designs.

Want to display video, animation, or motion on your structure?

You may be a lighting designer who wants to tap the power of video, a municipality that wants to turn a landmark into an icon, or a building owner/manager who wants to use moving images to draw attention to your office tower, stadium, casino, or other structure. Before you dive in, there are some initial questions you need to ask yourself, key elements you’ll need to create a complete solution, and some specific technical considerations that you need to address.

Color Kinetics and direct-view installations

At Color Kinetics, we’ve been helping our customers make motion part of their lighting designs since the very early days of display video. We’ve developed an extensive family of advanced direct-view LED luminaires that display video, as well as related technologies and components that help make it happen. In that time, we’ve gained a lot of experience, worked with some of the world’s top designers, and completed major installations—from Las Vegas casinos to some of the world’s most iconic landmarks.

We designed this guide to inspire you to make moving images part of your lighting design—and to help you get the best possible results.

We look forward to seeing your vision in motion.

Key Considerations When Displaying Video

As with any creative project, planning and forethought help ensure a successful video display implementation—one that gets the results you want. After all, you can’t just attach a DVD player to a building and hope for the best. While displaying video isn’t complicated, it does rely on a combination of advanced technology, creative lighting design, careful planning, and smart thinking.

Start by asking yourself these initial questions
  • What is your goal? To differentiate, attract, other?
  • What do you want to show? A logo, shifting graphics, messages, movies?
  • Are you displaying advertising? Getting ROI requires crisp resolution.
  • Are you displaying fast-moving animation or video? Investigate permitting regulations.
  • Where will your content come from? Internal creative group, lighting designer, freelance content creator?
  • How visible is your structure? Is it standing alone or in a crowded zone?
  • Who do you expect to see your video? People nearby, an entire city?
  • When do you want your installation visible? In daylight, at night, always?

Exploring these questions and others helps you set your expectations and ensure a common vision among your team. The better you know what you want the easier it will be to work toward designing and implementing a solution that delivers it.

A building is not a television

When people think of video, they think of the most common video viewing device—the television. While there are video display panels that resemble televisions (e.g., the jumbotrons in sports stadiums or the blazingly colorful display screens in Times Square), displaying video on a larger scale requires a different approach—one that rethinks key concepts, such as pixels, resolution, and viewing distance/angle. In short, the rules for creative displays are different, and require a different way of thinking about—and calculating—resolution.

Here are just some of the implications of large-scale creative displays to consider:

  • Pixels. While televisions use a series of tightly placed pixels, displaying video on a structure relies on points of light (e.g., our Flex family of luminaires, and ArchiPoint luminaire) or lines of light (e.g., our Accent and VAYA Tube luminaires). Mounted directly on a structure, these individually addressable points and lines of light display video via careful control of brightness. Lines of light are more appropriate for symmetrical buildings, since they can be mounted along linear architectural details. More flexible luminaires enable you to mount points of light along curved surfaces, or almost any structure.
  • Resolution. The distance between these points (pixel pitch) or lines of light is one factor that affects resolution. In theory, the closer the points or lines are, the greater the resolution. However, real-world factors often affect these distances. For example, lines of light may need to be placed between floors on a hotel. Also, the complexity of your chosen imagery dictates the level of resolution you’ll require. For example, showing colorful animated shapes in motion requires lower resolution than more detailed video imagery. It’s important to note that the number of pixels—and resolution—can be influenced or limited by the size and design of your specific structure. So when determining what kind of content you want to display, you’ll need to consider whether it’s possible given the unique specifications of your building or structure. 
  • Contrast/Brightness. Determining the right level of brightness for your display is an important consideration. For example, some projects are indoors, requiring less brightness, while other indoor installations are also intended for outdoor visibility as well (e.g., a lobby installation that can be seen/viewed from the sidewalk by pedestrians). Outdoor installations may be for night viewing only, or for daylight visibility—which requires a very bright display. The amount of ambient light also plays a role. For example, an implementation along the Equator will require brighter pixels than an implementation in inherently darker zones.
  • Viewing Distance. Where the viewer is located also plays an important role in determining how resolution is perceived. For example, lines of light may be very far apart, but when viewed from far away, they will be perceived as close. Real-world considerations also play a role here as well, since your surroundings will determine how close views can get. If viewers are only going to see your video display from when they enter your building, you’ll require closer spacing of your luminaires to achieve a video effect. If your building is viewed from a far distance with unbroken sightlines, you can achieve a video effect with luminaires placed further apart.
Note: the further the distance, the less pixilated the screen will appear. If you’re closer, you’ll see individual pixels. Seeing individual pixels is not necessarily a bad effect, unless you’re trying to achieve a uniform, smooth look. The calculations and general rules of thumb covered later in this guide can identify the specific distance where individual pixels will not be recognizable.

The brightness of the luminaires you choose also affects the viewing distance. For example, our ArchiPoint luminaires create the brightest points of light available, so they can be visible from miles away.

If the pixel is not very bright, you’ll need more pixels per square meter. More pixels per square meter reduces the pixel pitch—and reduces the required viewing distance.

If a smaller pixel pitch is needed to enable a close viewing distance, a lower-brightness luminaire may be bright enough.

If you need a large pixel pitch, then you’ll need a brighter luminaire to ensure that it’s daylight-visible.
  • Viewing Angle. An often-forgotten consideration is the angle that the majority of your viewers will encounter your structure. Crowded urban areas and streetscapes may limit the points where your structure will be visible—a factor that your design process must take into consideration when choosing a direct-view luminaire, since different luminaires offer a wide range of viewing angles.

We'll explore how to calculate and adjust these elements, but for now, it’s important to know that you’ll need to consider these important technical issues early in the process, while envisioning your direct-view installation.

Look beyond technology

Other elements that you need to consider are less technical:

  • Content. Although it’s the most visible element to viewers—and arguably the most critical to the success of a creative display—content is often left until late in the process. Ultimately, content determines the right lighting solution and design, including the control system that will be used. Knowing the content lets you determine what system can display it best, and at what level of detail.
  • A Content Creator. Direct-view video solutions may come with some basic shows on the video controller (see page X). But custom content that meets your needs will have to be crafted by a video designer—one familiar with making video content compatible with media façades on large-scale structures. Whether you’re announcing the next basketball game on the side of your arena, floating your corporate logo across your headquarters, or displaying beautiful video images—you’ll need a designer.
  •  Budget. The cost of luminaires is just one line item necessary to create an impressive direct-view video/animation/motion installation. Be sure to consider related costs, including content creation, cabling and power supplies, and installation.
  •  Installation. Anchoring direct-view luminaires on the side of a structure is a specialized skill, one that requires the assistance of an installer that knows how to mount luminaires correctly. There are installers adept and experienced with this work, as well as integrators who provide all of the many elements necessary for a media façade—content, control, lighting, installation. We can recommend appropriate partners.
  • Impact and ROI. It’s important to consider how you’ll define success for your direct-view installation. Communicating information to your viewers? Impressing them with beautiful imagery in motion? Setting your building apart from others? Breathing new life into an iconic landmark? By knowing your goal, you can ensure that you get the results you want. If you need more quantifiable results, the social media features on our ActiveSite monitoring application can help measure impact.


Part 1: Key Considerations

Part 2: Displaying Video? Here's What You Need

Part 3: Calculations for Direct-View Video Applications

How Did We Do?

Part 2: How to Display Video