Statistically speaking, when is what is shown to be down actually up? It happens when you don't have all the relevant numbers.
And that is exactly what happened to the projection TV market last year.
According to the official figures issued by the Consumer Electronics Association, projection TV sales to dealers ended the year 2000 at just less than 1.22 million, or down 1.3 percent from the 1.23 million of 1999. Those who don't follow these numbers closely may not realize that CEA's weekly video sales reports show analog-only projection TV sales.
When you factor in sales of digital projection TVs-figures that CEA has still not officially issued for public consumption-not only were overall sales of projection TVs not down in 2000, they were up to an all-time annual record high.
The annual rundown on the state of the projection market issued by Corning Precision Lens (formerly U.S. Precision Lens), the dominating supplier of lenses to manufacturers of cathode-ray tubes for projection TVs, provides further perspective. This report is one I eagerly await each year because it always provides a no-nonsense look at the past and immediate future of the industry.
CPL's recently issued report shows that 487,135 digital projection TVs were shipped to dealers last year. That total includes both fully integrated digital projection sets and digital-ready models-ones equipped to display one or more of the Advanced TV Systems Committee's digital TV formats (480 or 720 progressive or 1080 interlaced) when used with a set-top tuner/decoder. That was up 386 percent from the 100,325 digital projection TVs sold in 1999.
Adding that to the analog numbers issued by CEA puts the total market for projection TVs last year at 1.7 million, up 28 percent from the year-earlier total of 1.33 million.
Earlier this year, CEA announced that a total of 648,429 digital TVs were sold to dealers in 2000, against 121,000 in 1999-which indicates that 161,294 direct-view (sets with picture tubes) digital sets were sold in last year. While that was up a solid 680 percent from the 20,675 sold in 1999, it also shows that projection represented 74 percent of all digital TV sales in 2000.
That's a far cry from the 17 percent share projection holds in the overall analog market. Even eliminating sales of all 19-inch- & -under color sets from the equation only boosts projection's analog market share to about 35 percent.
While both CEA and CPL under-estimated the demand for projection TVs in the forecasts they issued at the start of 2000, they were in general agreement on the numbers. But that's not true for this year.
CEA is looking for a very modest increase in analog projection TV sales in 2001 to 1.22 million, but CPL expects to see a sharp 26 percent drop to just 900,000. It attributes the falloff to expected continuing declines in digital projection pricing that make the advanced models much more attractive to consumers.
On the digital projection front, the CPL report says CEA is forecasting that sales this year will be up 112 percent to 1.03 million units. CPL, meanwhile, is looking for a 146 percent increase to 1.2 million units, which would put more than half of all projection sales in the digital camp for the first time.
Added up, CEA foresees the total projection TV market up 32 percent this year to 2.25 million units, while CPL anticipates a lesser 23 percent rise to 2.1 million. Either way, 2001 is expected to be another record sales year.
What may be seen as a fly in CEA's statistical ointment is its published forecasts for total sales of digital TVs for this year. As issued during CES in January, and repeated several times since, CEA looks for combined sales of direct-view and projection digital TVs this year of 1,125,000.
While that calls for a healthy 73 percent increase in overall digital TV sales, subtracting CEA's outlook for digital projection TV from that figure indicates the trade group looks for sales of digital direct-view color of only 94,000 sets, which would be down 42 percent from last year.
Frankly, considering announced plans by manufacturers for lower-priced direct-view digital models, it's doubtful such a drop is likely, and it is assumed there's some as yet unexplained glitch in the numbers.
More importantly, there is real concern with the distorted picture of the projection TV market presented by the weekly sales figures CEA does release. And it's a distortion that will grow even more severe as digital models capture an increasing market share.
The solution is simple enough. All CEA has to do is regularly release weekly digital as well as analog projection sales figures. If trade secrecy or some other legitimate reason makes that impractical, then a single combined digital/analog sales total should be released. That would at least give retailers an accurate overall view of the projection TV market.
Bob Gerson, TWICE editor-at-large, has covered the CE industry for more than 30 years. He is the founding editor of the publication and its longtime editor-in-chief. In recognition of his work, Gerson was presented with one of the first Consumer ElectronicsAssociation Lifetime Achievement Awards at CES last year.