NEW YORK —
So far, 2012 hasn’t seen a lot of new development in front-projector technology, but that hasn’t deterred interest in the two-piece approach to big-screen entertainment.
According to analysts, first-quarter home-theater projector sales showed slow and steady growth as consumers gravitated toward high-value and lowerpriced, multipurpose projectors.
This has led to greater traction for lower-resolution 720p HD models, taking a pinch out of the FullHD 1080p business, and helping to drop average selling prices and factory dollar value in the process.
Manufacturers that cater solely to the premium, upscale home-theater projection market, on the other hand, have maintained sales volumes from last year by pushing the midrange segments, 3D-capable models, and new projectors offering alternative LED light sources to those based on service-intensive UHP bulbs.
Meanwhile, so-called 4K projectors led by Sony are just starting to hit the market, leaving the industry curious to see if this will spark a new direction they will have to follow.
According to market research firm Quixel Research, shipments of home-theater-specific front projectors in the United States were up 11 percent to 34,543 units from the same period in 2011, but were down 33 percent from the 54,221 units sold in the fourth quarter last year.
Tamaryn Pratt, Quixel principal, said some of the year-to-year unit shipment growth could be traced to lower-cost 720p HD models and price-reduced stepup 3D front projectors.
Unit shipments of 720p HD front projectors rose 2 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011 and was up 3 percent for the first quarter of 2011. But 720p HD models only represented 8.49 percent (up from 5.66 percent a year ago) of the U.S. home-theater frontprojector business.
According to Quixel, projectors with FullHD 1080p resolution continue to dominate the business, with 91.4 percent share of market, but that was down almost 2 percent from 93.3 percent in the first quarter of 2011, following the renewed interest in 720p products. Also indicative of the downscale trend, factory dollar volume for U.S. front projectors dropped 1 percent to $72.19 million from the first quarter of 2011 and 32 percent from the preceding quarter.
The overall volume decline, as well as volume declines in the luxury DLP and three-chip DLP sectors, pushed revenues down 32 percent quarter to quarter and was flat year to year, Quixel reported.
“The top end of the market is still viable but flat for the past year,” Pratt explained. “The reality is that consumers can buy a whole lotta projector below $10,000 as well as below $5,000. It is up to manufacturers to work with their retailers to offer a story to keep the high end of the market healthy.”
As a front-projector display technology, liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) share gained 6 percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2011.
First-quarter 2012 shipments of 3D front projectors, on the other hand, fell 39 percent from 19,298 units in the seasonally impacted fourth quarter of 2011 to 11,723, but were up 606 percent from the same period a year ago.
Alberto Fabiano, Sim2 USA executive VP, said his company enjoyed “wild success following the launch of its $28,000 M.150 high brightness active 3D LED-based HD DLP projector system in the early part of the year.
“The LED projector developed quite surprisingly for us, and we are very happy about it,” Fabiano said.
Pratt at Quixel said that while Sim2 had a nice first quarter, “the overall LED home-theater segment was down almost 40 percent from Q1 2011, while traditional lamp based products grew 11 percent for the same time period.
She said LED technology still needs to keep up with changes in the rest of the market while getting brighter and less expensive.
But 3D, she said, has become more pervasive.
“There is a minimal price delta in certain segments of 3D. The challenge is the high end where the product lifecycle is longer and they were unable to quickly integrate the technology,” she said. “It has challenged their value proposition in light of the strong values under $10,000.”
Meanwhile, Sony and JVC started one of the newest trends in the front-projector market last year with the introduction of the first home-theater-targeted 4K projectors.
Sony is now selling through Sony stores and custom installers its $25,000 VPL-VW1000ES consumer native 4K SXRD video projector.
“Sony has done a good job in positioning their new 4K model, and I suspect they can capitalize on their body of work if their marketing activities are sustained over time,” said Pratt. “The CEDIA dealers have long memories and want manufacturers that have proven loyalty.”
But rival manufacturers said that without native 4K content on the immediate horizon and talk already starting to surface an 8K format in development, market confusion is going to be an unavoidable obstacle.
“With video streaming, and satellite and cable companies compressing signals more and more, picture quality is getting weaker and weaker, so what are you going to gain by adding 4K to the mix?” one projector manufacturer told TWICE.
At the premium end of the consumer home-theater projector market, business continues to trend toward higher-value midrange models.
Jennifer Davis, Runco marketing VP, said, “We continue to see strong sales in our LightStyle-series projectors with its strong price-performance engineering. Runco has always emphasized video performance, and that remains the centerpoint of our value proposition.”
For the rest of the year, Runco will be “looking to maintain our midrange business driven primarily with the award-winning QuantumColor Q-750 and Light- Style-series projectors,” said Davis. “In parallel, we will grow our premium (over $10,000) offerings this year with the launch of the LightStyle LS-12d 3D projector.”
Value has been key with more mainstream-focused brands as well. Edward Gurr, Vivitek sales and product management director, said his company is seeing “slower but steady growth in the dedicated home-theater projector market this year.” In addition, the company has seen growth in multipurpose/crossover models that can be used in the office and the home.
“Consumers seem to be looking for high-brightness, multifunctional projection devices that are also native 1080p, but are powerful enough so that typical hometheater settings, such as ambient lighting, isn’t an issue,” Gurr said. “It seems like people want to enjoy their HD content without the limitations that a dedicated home-theater projector provides.”