Opportunities Dot Slowing Front-Projector Market

By Greg Tarr On Jun 20 2011 - 4:01am




NEW YORK — So far this year, the market for hometheater- focused front projectors, like many other CE categories, is growing at slower-than-expected levels, but analysts and manufacturers are seeing pockets of new opportunities emerging in certain markets, namely the highend market and the low-end combo DVD market.

Conversely, the market for data projectors is growing at healthier levels as corporations, government offices, schools and universities increasingly look at value-added display systems that are more economical to maintain.

On the home-theater projector side, Tamaryn Pratt, Quixel Research principal, said unit sales are up about 3 percent over 2010 levels at this time.

“This is a little soft compared to last year’s increase of over 30 percent due to the more significant increase in availability of lower-cost 1080p models,” she said. “We’re expecting a 6 percent decline in revenues over 2010, which was flat.”

Quixel said the home-theater projector market last year shipped 150,899 (units) for $306 million in factory dollar value. It is forecasting dollar volume to drop 6 percent to about $287 million in 2011.

Some of the better growth segments of the home business, she said, appeared to come in models with alternative lighting systems to bulbs — like LED. But as with other new tech CE segments, this too has felt the pinch of the economy.

“LED projector sales were really hot out of the gate and there was plenty of excitement. However, once the initial demand was saturated, we’ve seen sales stall,” Pratt said. “In a rough economy the prices are still steep, although DPI recently dropped the price of their LED unit, and there was a little lift.”

Hindering projectors with the new light sources, she said, are high manufacturing costs and limited overall market volume.

“For there to be a significant adoption, we’ll need to see LED projector price points for consumers around $6,000 or $7,000.”

Alberto Fabiano, Sim2 USA executive VP, called customers embracing LED “gratifying,” adding that for his company, “it is a thriving segment with our Liquid Cooled MICO. Look for a new, brighter model coming to market soon.”

Meanwhile, 3D is generating some interest among front-projector enthusiasts.

“It is a feature — a needed one,” Sim2’s Fabiano said of 3D. “No new performance units should be designed without it. Our product line will feature 3D at key price points.” Quixel’s Pratt said that for projectors, 3D “makes sense because it is immersive 3D, not 55- or 60-inch 3D. Even the usage makes sense as people primarily watch movies or sports events with their projector, and in those instances people can accept wearing glasses. JVC has been very successful with their 3D projector, and we are seeing strong numbers out of the gate for Sharp’s new model.”

Pratt predicted the industry will see a new class of entry 3D products in the fall, and to “expect a $200 to $300 price delta for the feature.”

Meanwhile, manufacturers like Sim2, who have turned their attention to the small, but relatively economyresistant, upscale home-theater market, said they see expansion on the horizon.

“It is curious, and clearly not reflecting other’s experiences, but our dealer base has not shrunk this year,” said Fabiano. “If anything, we have opened a dozen new highcaliber dealers to date.”

Pratt explained that players like Sim2, DPI and Runco are “holding up the high end. There has been limited unit growth, but the price points are steady and even increasing. But, interestingly, several of these high-end manufacturers have become very successful downstream (sub- $10,000). The aspirational customers who purchase the entry BMWs are also interested in buying an entry DPI or Runco model.”

“It will be interesting to see the longer-term effect on the midrange market players like JVC and Sony as it is unclear if we can grow the pie,” she added.

At the entry end of the business, Epson and Optoma “are the clear leaders,” she said, adding that Epson continues to do well with its WSVGA all-in-one projector/DVD combo model at $599.

“For this reason alone, low-resolution projectors are still alive,” Pratt said, adding that the next move to a 720p or even a 1080p combo model is inevitable.

“Last quarter, 77 percent of the market was 1080p, and all of that volume was derived from single function models,” she said.

At retail, the days of front projectors being the exclusive domain of custom installers are clearly in the past.

Mainstream CE dealers like Best Buy have embraced the category “very successfully with entry models joined by online resellers who are also doing very well with the category.

“E-tailers like Projectorpeople.com and Visualapex fuel a significant portion of the overall home projection business. Models priced above $3,000 are almost always sold at regional and independent retailers or custom installers,” said Pratt.

But more and more retailers are also embracing data projectors — tending to display such SKUs in the PC department rather than alongside home-theater displays.

Frank Romeo, Casio projector VP, said the company’s business and educational sales for its Green Slim-series projectors are running 12 percent above last year’s levels, with its distribution channels “almost evenly split between retail, pro A/V (for educational sales) and distributor.”

Romeo said the company’s targets right now have doubled after the company seeing growth of more than 200 percent every six months.

“Home-theater sales are going down and we do not sell a home-theater projector at this time. Everything we do is widescreen data projectors, with our business skewed to commercial applications,” he said.

Romeo said the secret to Casio’s success has been its non-lamp-based technology that can produce more than 2,000 lumens of brightness from a hybrid light engine using LED’s and lasers.

At InfoComm this month, Casio launched 12 new models in three series, many of which have been upgraded to include networking capability for remote monitoring and servicing. Many also now support 3D using optional activeshutter glasses.

One of those series will feature shortthrow models, which represented a growth segment in 2010 but have hit a speed bump this year, according to one analyst.

According to Pacific Media Research, sales of short-throw projectors, mainly due to the impact of interactive white boards, have decreased almost 20 percent this year from a year ago.

The majority of Casio’s sales have come from standard-throw projectors, Romeo said. However, he said that sales should pick up as the educational market, particularly K-12 school systems, opt for less-expensive standardand short-throw projectors rather than pricier interactive white boards.

According to Pacifica Media, the K-12 projector market from 2008 to 2010 grew from 29 percent to 39 percent, while government grew from 11 percent to 16 percent.

“The K-12 market seems to be going through some resurgence, and we are seeing a lot of bids coming through,” Romeo said.

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