Eyes to the sky

Photo ProvidedProgress shown on Watchfire's video canopy construction.

DANVILLE – What happens in Vegas isn’t just staying in Vegas as eyes continue to be on Watchfire Signs’ upgrade of the world’s largest video screen.

Being at the half year mark now, it remains an exciting time at Watchfire Signs as crates of sections for the upgrade to the video canopy over Fremont Street in Las Vegas have made their way from Danville to Nevada and milestones continue to be met.

The Fremont Street Experience is a seven-block entertainment district in historic downtown Las Vegas.

The first section of Watchfire’s new canopy lighting is expected to be turned on in Las Vegas this week — June 13-14.

Watchfire Chief Operating Officer Kim Weninger said there are eight sections that will be shipped through October, prior to a couple months of full testing and the new video screen unveiling on New Year’s Eve.

Weninger said three sections for the Fremont Street Experience upgrade have been shipped so far since March, with the four expected at the end of this month.

The subframes of modules are put in the crates in horizontal rows. The crates are lifted by a crane to be placed for shipping.

A total of 118 crates will be shipped to Las Vegas in 59 semi-truck loads. Subframe assemblies are being shipped 18 per truckload in custom-made containers.

The sign will be built in 68 inch by 280 inch sections, called subframe assemblies. Sixty-four modules make up each subframe assembly.

There are 1,054 subframes with the video screen upgrade. Each subframe is about 5 feet by 20 feet.

Watchfire started construction of the modules in December 2018. The frames are painted and then brackets, components, wiring and modules are installed by hand. On average, five subsections can be built in one day. The modules allow light to pass through the display, which can be seen when looking at them straight on, according to Watchfire officials.

The sign will be comprised of 64,000 modules and 16.3 million pixels for the $30 million-plus project.

It’s Watchfire Signs’ biggest project to date.

Weninger said each section is being tested along the way. Each subframe assembly is color calibrated to ensure uniform color reproduction across the full display.

“So far it’s been pretty normal,” she said about the entire process. There have been some minor hiccups with crating and a few other product development issues.

Watchfire Marketing Director Carol Wade added that it helped that they had more than a year to prepare and plan for the project.

The Watchfire plant is operating 22 hours a day. Employees vary in working four to six days a week on the project.

Nancy Cunningham, a cabinet assembler for Watchfire, was putting screws into subframe braces for the project recently.

“It’s very exciting,” she said about working on this major project. She said she’s also making plans to visit Las Vegas when the project is complete.

Weninger said installation has been taking place from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. to minimize disruption to Fremont Street businesses and visitors.

They get regular updates on the project.

There’s a team of Watchfire employees there on and off on site, with differing numbers including engineers and electricians.

Wade said there also is a time-lapse camera in place catching all the work and regular photographs being taken.

Installation is being completed by local trade builders and managed by Federal Heath, according to Watchfire officials. Row by row, old sections are being taken down and replaced with the new sections. Installation will take up to eight months, with the eight sections. The new sections will be set to match the brightness and resolution of the old sections until the display is completed.

Weninger said with the screen being able to be seen clearly during the day in addition to at night, even more tourists will be able to see the screen and Watchfire’s technology. Fremont Street Experience attracts more than 23 million visitors a year.

They’re working out how Watchfire’s name could be displayed. After the video canopy is up, Watchfire will provide support for it for the length of its 10-year warranty.

Other statistics showing the scale of the project include:

• 130,000 square feet of digital signage, roughly twice the square footage of the White House.

• 49 million LEDs (brightened from 4.2 million pixels).

• 64,000 custom-designed 27 mm modules (but 66,000 are being made for backups and spare parts).

• Fremont Street Experience is adjacent to 10 casinos and more than 60 restaurants.

• The digital canopy and entertainment destination is about 1,500 feet long and is suspended 90 feet above a pedestrian mall. A light and audio show by Viva Vision plays every hour in the evening and SlotZilla operates zip lines the length of the canopy.

Watchfire Signs designs and engineers outdoor LED signs and digital billboards. It was selected from among 15 digital screen manufacturers for the canopy rebuild. Headquartered in Danville, the company started in 1932 and was originally known as Time-O-Matic. It started manufacturing electric signs, and LED signs in 1998.

It now has about 300 employees, and Watchfire has more than 60,000 LED signs in operation worldwide.


To see a Watchfire video about the Las Vegas Fremont Street Experience project go to: https://www.watchfiresigns.com/fremont-street. A sneak peek video of the first section which is nearly complete can also be seen on Watchfire Signs' Facebook page.