Outdoor TVs Appealing To A Broader Market

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NEW YORK –

Although a niche segment of the flatpanel TV category, outdoor models are emerging as a growth opportunity replete with healthy margins and virtually untapped market penetration levels.

Thus far, the category has remained the province of the custom installation channel, with spill over into A/V specialty accounts equipped to provide the installation teams required for a wide variety of exterior set-ups.

It was recently revealed at the Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA) event that about one third ($33.6 billion) of remodeling budgets were spent on outdoor spaces in 2011, with projections for significant growth in 2012 as new systems come aboard.

Tom Dixon, marketing VP for one of the leading outdoor TV brands –SunBriteTV – said his company estimates that over 1 million U.S. homes today have patios outfitted with full outdoor kitchens.

“People are spending between $75,000 and $500,000 on the outdoor category, so this is the perfect add-on piece,” Dixon said, adding that the biggest challenges remain generating awareness of the outdoor TV category and making prices more economy friendly.

For the most part, the segment has been represented by a handful of manufacturers specializing in building proprietary weather-resistant cabinets capable of placement around pools, and in porch and patio settings in virtually any North American climate.

For consumer placement, display technology has been almost exclusively relegated to 32-inch or larger LCD displays treated for reduced glare and reflection in well-lit conditions.

Among some of the key brands representing the segment today are Cinios, Runco, Séura, SunBriteTV and Toshinaer.

According to consumer display market analysts Quixel Research, outdoor TV represents “a real market.”

“It is 100 percent clear that consumers want to watch TV outside,” said Tamaryn Pratt, Quixel principal. “They are already watching outside, but it is interesting and almost comical how they are achieving that goal.”

Pratt explained that much of the competition in the outdoor segment isn’t coming from new outdoor TV makers but from regular low-priced flat-panel indoor TVs that the consumer can readily replace if destroyed by the elements.

“The market runs the gamut from exotic custom installation of flat panels to front and rear projection. But most folks are just wheeling their TV outside each time they want to watch or putting up a cheapo TV and taking it down when it is ruined,” Pratt said.

Mike Kroll, president of new outdoor TV resource Cinios, said that conditions are aligning for what should be a market take-off.

“We anticipate increasing growth due to two trends. One, the past recession has people generally staying closer to home, embracing the value of family and friends and hence entertaining around the home – so an outdoor TV makes a great addition to the backyard,” said Kroll. “The second trend is that the overall TV market has matured in the U.S. – everyone has at least one and the brands have settled into more stable market shares. That signals consumers looking for the next thing.”

As with most things these days, the greatest impediment to a wide-scale market take-off so far has been the economic collapse and fast falling prices for conventional indoor LCD TVs.

“The price has to be right,” Pratt cautioned. “If the price is much more than double [the cost a comparable in-door TV], consumers will move to a different alternative or not buy. Yes, the quality is different with true outdoor TVs, but pocketbooks are stretched these days and people just make do.”

“Until recently, the price delta between the Sun- BriteTVs, Séuras and now-defunct Pantels has been too high to support sales of more than 200,000 units a year,” Pratt continued. “These companies have higher manufacturing/assembly costs and don’t buy large quantities, so it has been challenging to expand the outdoor TV category.”

This year, however, has witnessed a change in both participating brands and retailers taking the plunge into these specialized waters.

Kroll of Cinios, said that while custom installation is the driving the channel today, “We absolutely see this category opening up to a broader channel base. Initially it will be slow because of the high price points and perceived difficulty of installation. But with new product lines featured to align with those channels, and increased introduction of wireless HDMI and even the AT&T U-verse wireless box, we expect to see strong growth.”

SunBriteTV, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., is pushing this expansion through the recent introduction of a re-priced consumer outdoor TV line called Signature.

The line features more broadly appealing prices for sets that are thoroughly protected against the elements including heat (one of the leading killers of TVs placed outdoors), rain, insects and direct sunlight that can wash out the image.

Signature model prices run $1,495 (32 inches), $2,795 (46 inches), $3,995 (55 inches) and $5,995 (65 inches).

“We systematically lowered the price of our line by 40 percent with one click of the mouse [four] weeks ago,” said Dixon.

Green Bay, Wis.-based Séura, meanwhile, which has marketed lines of specialized LCD TVs for alternative in-home applications, recently ventured into the outdoor market with the addition of its 1080p weatherproof Storm LCD TV series including the following pricing and screen sizes: $5,000 (42 inches), $6,500 (47 inches) and $8,500 (65 inches).

The Storm models include LuminOptics technology, which works together with a colorless dual-layer anti-reflective safety glass to render a bright image in sunny environments.

Cinios of Irvine, Calif., is a new company with an outdoor TV lineup called the Hurricane series, including the following prices and screen sizes: $1,895 (32 inches), $2,795 (42 inches) and $4,595 (55 inches). A second-generation Backyard TV line is planned for later in the year, Kroll said.

Another recent comer is Toshinaer, of Huntington Beach, Calif., which introduced a line of weatherproof LCD TVs in the $4,600 (42-inch), $8,600 (52- inch) and $26,000 (60-inch), screen sizes. The 60- inch piece adds LED backlighting.

All Toshinaer models incorporate a photocell that senses sunlight to automatically brighten or dim the picture as needed.

The sets also include a thermostat-controlled internal cooling system, marine-grade speakers and powder-coated aluminum bezels.

Some upscale players, including established custom-install resource Runco International, of Beaverton, Ore., will continue to cater to the well-to-do segment, cognizant that the outdoor trend is not universal even among the custom trade.

The company markets the weather-tight Runco CP-52HD ($13,995 suggested retail) 52-inch native 1080p LCD TV. The company also provides Weather- Brite LCD-based external signage screens from Runco parent Planar for some installations.

“Some of our dealers are finding great success with outdoor displays and others do not,” said Jennifer Davis, Runco International marketing VP. “This variation is driven by their own client base and the weather in their region. Many of our traditional residential dealers are finding success in light commercial work in corporate and hospitality projects, where our Planar Weather- Bright outdoor signage product is a great fit.”

“It is a category of product that can differentiate a dealer and provide a new range of possibilities for their client.” Davis added.

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