Dreams Live Digitally

SNA Displays
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

SNA Displays is a prominent provider of turnkey interior and exterior LED digital video displays, including many found in Times Square. SNA Displays opened its offices in 2009 as the North American arm of Sansi Technology Co., established in 1993 and based in Shanghai, and remains one of the biggest LED manufacturers and an industry technology leader. Its displays can be seen in many major markets in the U.S.
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New York City’s Times Square draws over a billion viewers annually for its world-famous New Year’s Eve celebrations and the ball drop countdown, making it one of the most immediately recognizable and photographed places on earth. Times Square is the place to see and be seen, particularly for out-of-home (OOH) billboards advertising everything from musicals to merchandise. So SNA Displays knew its head office had to be in the very heart of the action.

SNA Displays was initially located upstate in New York, but in an effort to be closer to the booming market moved to Times Square a number of years ago, increasing its staff numbers, expanding its operations and relocating to bigger premises more than once.

The company moved to the twentieth floor of 1500 Broadway, also home to ABC’s studios and the Minskoff Theatre, last April and celebrated the grand opening in October 2018. Its new space has almost eight thousand square feet, which includes a state-of-the-art demonstration wall, where customers can see multiple LED display technologies for themselves. “We moved to Times Square because it’s recognized globally as a kind of symbolic home for the digital display industry,” states SNA Displays President Dennis Hickey.

Times Square serves as the Major Leagues for digital display technology but its history of advertising and lighting goes back well over a century, to the advent of electric signage. Many of us recall unique and innovative Times Square billboards of the past, such as massive ‘smoking’ ads for cigarette companies or ‘steam’ rising from bowls of Ramen noodle soup.

The area has undergone transformations over the years – most recently a three-phase project completed in December of 2016 – and today is “a vibrant and democratic public space that exemplifies the civic, cultural and commercial life of our city, and of all great urban places,” and a gathering place which “feeds on and feeds into the spirit of New York,” according to the Times Square Alliance. Being located in Times Square holds many advantages for SNA Displays, and prospective clients can simply stroll the area to see dozens of displays made by the company.

One recent SNA Displays project at 20 Times Square (701 7th Avenue) became the highest resolution display in Times Square’s history. This 452-room Marriott Edition hotel with 40,000 square feet of food and beverage area and 76,000 square feet of retail space is covered by one of the biggest continuous external displays in existence.

The project incorporates an eight-millimeter pixel pitch, meaning the center of each pixel is only eight millimeters (0.31”) from the center of an adjacent pixel. The multi-million-dollar project was a massive undertaking, and the enormous display was made with over 26.6 million pixels for video content, with a crystal-clear resolution that is nothing less than jaw-dropping. Also, given the sheer number of total pixels, making the diodes themselves was a lengthy endeavor. According to Hickey, the 20 Times Square project was one of the most intricate and detail-oriented projects the company has ever been a part of.

Some of the company’s smaller projects take just four to six weeks, depending on variances such as tight pixel pitch displays. SNA Displays enjoys taking a client’s vision and transforming it into a heightened reality to create something remarkable.

“Our real love in this business is building something dynamic, something custom, something unique that stands out, and that’s really what we pride ourselves on,” says Hickey. “It could be a relatively small project, but if it’s going to make a better name for ourselves or our brand, we are very interested in it. And that’s how it goes – no project is too small or too big for us.”

Last year saw SNA Displays behind the ultimate larger-than-life ‘selfie,’ an enormous, fifteen-foot-tall sculpture shaped like a human head as part of a one-of-a-kind, interactive art exhibit at the Greater Columbus (OH) Convention Center. ‘As We Are’ was imagined by artist Matthew Mohr and engineered by Design Communications Ltd. (DCL).

Visitors are invited to enter a photo booth. Thirty-two cameras then fire simultaneously to capture facial images which are run through facial recognition software. The images are assembled into a flattened texture map which is then broadcast onto the exterior of the sculpture for all to see. For spectators, the result of seeing these faces appear on the head is nothing less than mesmerizing.

“We pride ourselves on our vast engineering capability, and we really excel in highly custom projects like the LED head sculpture,” said Jason Helton, Executive Vice President of SNA Displays.

The installation incorporated 850,000 pixels and a unique design with a five-millimeter pixel pitch, twenty-four custom-made layers of LED panel bands, and more to create sharp, striking images. The project is a showcase for SNA Displays and the overall industry, revealing LED technology’s advanced capabilities.

“Something like this has never been done before,” stated Helton. “We love custom-engineered solutions, and when somebody says, ‘Can you build a giant LED head?’ … yeah, we can build a giant LED head.”

To keep ahead of the competition, SNA Displays’ parent company Sansi Technology Co. invests a whopping percentage of its gross revenue every year into research and development and exploring the latest industry trends. Becoming the first company in the United States to install a 1.25-millimeter pitch LED display for example – as it did with a concourse display in CapitalOne Arena – was the result of reinvesting in the company and its products.

The LED displays are manufactured in Shanghai, and much of the other work, including support, structure, cladding, and dress-up is performed in the U.S., as is all installation, service, maintenance, project management, and administrative responsiveness.

According to Senior Director of Marketing Gerard Shallo, much of the company’s success has stemmed from its involvement and success on landmark projects.

The company works with many repeat Fortune 500 customers, and the industry relies heavily on references – and the more, the better. “No one tells your story better than a happy customer,” says Shallo.

In locations like Times Square, many tourists are so impressed by the company’s huge signs that they take photos, which are posted to social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest for the world to see. Shallo says many of the company’s video-recorded projects receive millions of hits online.

SNA Displays is celebrating its tenth anniversary in North America this year, and it continues to grow. Globally, the company now has more than 2,200 in its workforce, and anticipates growth of twenty-five percent per year, possibly higher. The company is expanding and has offices in places including Knoxville, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia; and Dallas, Texas. It also has new offices in Mexican and Costa Rican markets.

There is no doubt the world is moving towards LED displays, for many reasons. They produce brilliant, clear graphics and will last 100,000 hours – the equivalent of over eleven years – if run continuously. By comparison, LCDs last only three years. And as LED technology grows in popularity, prices keep decreasing, making it even more desirable. Displays in the future will get larger, pitches will become tighter, and they will become more attractive to corporate entities and retail space clients.

For SNA Displays, the future is looking very bright, and the company continues to invest in research and development so clients can benefit from the latest technology and innovations. At present, the company is working on several large projects, including two huge displays in Los Angeles with a combined 77,000 square feet, along with another MEGA-SPECTACULAR™ display in Times Square.

SNA Displays is also busy with some interior projects for well-known brand names. “We are going to have massive growth this year on big entertainment venues with a company that is very familiar with building malls,” says Hickey. “We have a lot to brag about this year.”

“’Dreams Live Digitally’ is our model, which fits perfectly with our culture,” states Hickey of the company’s tagline which it has been using for about a year. “From concept to project completion and beyond, we prove that our clients’ visions can be a reality. We’ve seen LED become a source of attraction in corporate lobbies, change the skylines of major metropolitan areas, and bring contemporary art to life.”

Ever-changing SNA Displays will always be there to help clients see their visions come to life. “Truly, our strength is in realizing the spectacular, impactful, grand visions of our clients,” says Senior Director of Communications Mitch Leathers. “So the slogan, Dreams Live Digitally, has a great emotional push for us. It’s our core mission now – to listen to a client’s vision and work hard to realize it.”

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