The third in a series of articles looking at the development of projector technology focuses on connectivity – increasingly, an absolute pre-requisite for the mainstream corporate market.
“The development of Cloud-based and wireless ways to connect to projectors is an interesting one,” suggests Bob Raikes, managing director of displays consultancy Meko. “Like corporate IT departments, those dealing with meeting room applications are having to handle BYOD and the fact that those attending meetings want to show content from a variety of devices, few of which will have VGA ports.”
“Wireless is growing, and HDbaseT is a growing standard,” notes Nick Rogers, CEO of PMA Research (formerly Pacific Media Associates).
“Yes, HDbaseT is now standard on many models,” adds Steve Gore-Browne, group technical manager, display technologies at integrator Saville AV. “Panasonic has been especially instrumental in leading this adoption.”
There can be little dispute that, in many applications – even in the mainstream boardroom and meeting room market - projectors can bring value. The challenge is to communicate that value to prospective users, many of whom have been seduced by the allure of flatpanel display technology. It’s a value that good integrators bring.
“The important thing is to take on board the user experience, and sell on the basis of delivering what the application needs,” says Greg Jeffreys of Paradigm AV. “We now have quality standards, such as ANSI/InfoComm PISCR [Projected Image System Contrast Ratio] to demonstrate and even certify a delivered result.”
“A good integrator is ideally placed to offer unbiased advice on choosing the right solution,” stresses Reflex's Roland Dreesden. “The integrator is also well placed to consider the technical aspects of the installation, offering design and installation to suit the brief and space. And, of course, an integrator is in the optimum position to offer ongoing support through maintenance and managed services.”
Gore-Browne agrees. “At Saville, we ensure that the portfolio of product we offer provides the client with the very best hardware at whatever price point they are working to,” he says. “A quality integrator will always asses their clients’ needs – both for now and in the future – the hardware’s intended use, required mounting position and environment before advising on the best unit to meet these criteria. They will then ensure that it is installed correctly – and safely – and that it’s commissioned and set up to the best standards.”
“A projector is invariably part of a complete solution that will likely involve networking, audio/video distribution and so on,” says Chris Chinnock, president of market researcher Insight Media (pictured).
“The ability to make that all work together and deliver a seamless end-user solution is where the integrator brings value.”
Although he believes that projection technology will find it increasingly challenging to compete with flatpanel displays, Raikes is quick to acknowledge the progress projector manufacturers have made. “They’ve done an amazing job in boosting performance,” he says, “as well as reducing prices and making projectors easier to use.”
Jeffreys is similarly enthused. “I believe the medium/long-term future for projectors is good,” he smiles. “I think the manufacturers broadly ‘get it’ and are working intelligently to communicate their value to the AV food chain.”
Most commentators agree: the future for projectors looks brighter at the top end of the market, where the opportunities for innovation and differentiation – and thus profit – are unquestionably greater. Further down the market, the competitive environment is much more challenging: there are plenty of projector manufacturers vying for those spots on boardroom ceilings, in training facilities and in classrooms – and plenty of flatpanel displays looking to find a home where a projection screen would otherwise hang. That market may not be growing – but according to PMA Research, so-called ‘mainstream’ projectors still saw worldwide shipments of close to 7 million units in 2013, with around the same number forecast for this year – making it a very attractive, and perhaps lucrative, opportunity for manufacturers with the right products. It’s a market that, in unit terms, is ten times the size of the ‘high-end’ market – although less than twice its value.
Whether Mitsubishi’s decision to withdraw from the projector market will prove to be prescient, with others perhaps following the company’s lead, or whether it will just prove to be a single manufacturer realigning its business focus, remains to be seen. Certainly, at ISE in February, projectors were everywhere – delivering the kind of compelling images that no other technology can match. Christie, Digital Projection – with what the company claimed is the world’s first 12,000 lumen laser-based projector - Hitachi, Panasonic (another laser-based projector), ViewSonic and Vivitek were just some of the companies to launch new products at the show, while plenty of others were showcasing projectors launched since ISE 2013. From the evidence available in Amsterdam, the projector market continues to be a vibrant one.
“Web-based suppliers will simply sell whatever the end user thinks they want,” he continues. “The reality of what the end user thinks they want and what will actually work for them is often not the same.”