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Selling high-end monitors to the SOHO market . . . flat-out fabulous?

Selling high-end monitors to the SOHO market . . . flat-out fabulous?

Not long ago, only design and imaging professionals could afford the extravagance of a large display, but today falling prices and new technologies make 19 and 21 inch monitors a compelling choice even for SOHO market-bound mortals.

Not only do larger displays offer dramatically more viewable area than their 15 and 17 inch counterparts, but the newest Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) also feature technological innovations like flatter picture tubes and reduced-depth cases. That makes the new-generation monitors sleeker and more attractive both in terms of saving desktop space and in terms of family and small business economics.

It is a well-known fact that the average life cycle of a computer in the SOHO market tends to be stretched well beyond the usual one year. This is often done through smaller upgrades of the existing legacy system and is premised on the idea that monitors bought with it should last anywhere between five to seven years.

However, the initial investment required for a purchase of a 19 or 21 inch monitor does not look promising when it comes to building your client base in the SOHO market. For even though they are undoubtedly better predisposed to fulfilling the role of a trusted "family peripheral" (as in trusted family doctor) and their average street price is almost a third lower today than it was five years ago, the fact is they are still very expensive.

According to Panasonic's product manager, Chris Lau, a 21 inch monitor that cost $10,000 in 1994 can now be bought for $3000. Now, we all know that is still simply out of reach for a great majority of the SOHO market.

The fact that is often overlooked, how-ever, is that as SOHO users become ever more sophisticated in all matters technological, most will think equally hard before deciding on the least expensive offering.

For instance, the "use-by" date-conscious SOHO customers undoubtedly look at the cheapest monitors around with low image quality with suspicion. At the other end of the price spectrum, an elite class of graphics monitors (such as Sony, Panasonic, Hitachi or Samsung) offer pinpoint image accuracy, built-in connec- tivity, and fantastic colour fidelity. But, of course, you pay for these benefits, and monitors at this end do not necessarily spring to mind as an ideal offering for an average family.

On the positive side, their technological and ergonomic advantages over cheaper and smaller displays give high-end monitors a logical lead (or a perception of it) in the longevity race. And, remember - longevity matters to SOHO customers.

Looks are important

While price still determines the popularity of certain models at the low end of the market, Leighton Wu, general manager of Sydney-based reseller ADO Electronics, believes brand name, quality and even the way a monitor looks are of equal importance.

"Whether you sell them in the open [as an individual product] or in the closed [as part of a package] market, image is everything. Ninety nine per cent of the time, we sell the manufacturer's name and image, rather than a product as such," Wu says.

He does admit, however, that SOHO customers get turned on by the idea that they're buying an innovative, cutting-edge product and this is where your marketing skills should come in handy. You could start with the fact that monitors are shaping up - their necks are becoming shorter and their "tummies" flatter. But, what's in it for the customer?

Short-neck

The latest monitor buzzword - short-neck - refers to technology that permits a shallower tube. According to Dipak Kumar, Hitachi's manager for IT and multimedia, this allows a 19 inch monitor to have the same size chassis as a 17 inch one, or a 21 inch monitor to have a tube whose depth is the same as that of a 19 inch monitor. Theoretically, short-neck tubes save desktop space as a result. In reality, not every vendor makes good use of this innovation.

A monitor with reduced depth will save only about two inches of desk space on average. One of the shortest-depth 19 inch monitors, Compaq's V900, measures just 17 inches deep. Nokia and Panasonic use shorter-yoked tubes, while some other manufacturers minimise case depth by rearranging and miniaturising internal components.

Yet, knowing that space saving is one of the biggest market drivers, both in corporate and SOHO markets, even those two inches can make a difference.

And then there are several variations on the theme of flatness. You might assume that "flat" means lacking three-dimensional curves, but in the realm of monitor tubes, it's more abstract than geometric reality. All the vendors tend to describe their monitors with some variant on the word flat - flat-square, optically flat, perfect flat, or vertically flat - though all the screens are curved to a degree. At present, no industry standard defines flat, so variances abound.

Distinct advantages

New flatter tubes offer two distinct advantages over old-style CRTs: there's virtually no reflected glare to tire eyes and little if any detectable curvature around the edges of the image. Spreadsheets appear square and symmetrical, and colour images look as though they were laid out on a piece of photographic paper - an improvement over earlier "flat" CRTs. As such, the newer flat-screen CRTs are better for graphic artists or others who need to work extensively with complex images.

So, should a large high-end monitor be on your SOHO customer's desktop? It depends.

The new vanguard of 19 inch displays offer smaller footprints, flatter screens, lower prices, and less glare than ever before. From a reseller's point of view, there are also several value-add themes to be considered in trying to sell them to the SOHO market.

Leighton Wu's experience indicates that selling more expensive monitors separ-ately, as opposed to selling cheaper monitors as part of a top-quality SOHO package, can work out cheaper for the customer. In addition, this strategy can earn you a customer's eternal gratitude, practically expressed in the "purchase of services".

"Most of the time resellers make no more than $50-100 selling monitors," Wu reveals. "But if you offer on-site services, that's where the money is. Unfortunately, many dealers don't take that into consideration."

So, smaller monitors from Compaq, Dell, Samsung or Lucky Gold Star represent solid choices for buyers with an eye on the bottom line because they are usually sold as part of affordable SOHO desktop packages. But IBM, Mitsubishi, NEC, and Panasonic displays, that focus on excellent graphics quality in the high-end district, have to be sold separately, skilfully and, most importantly, with services. And, according to Kumar, that little bit more effort put into the initial sale will be rewarded with better margins.

However, there is no guarantee that a 19 or a 21 inch monitor will make you any money at all because, as Panasonic's Lau suggests, the most popular monitors sold as an "upgrade" in the SOHO space are still 17 inch displays. However, if a monitor is sold as a productivity tool, which is often the case, then the hand-in-hand rule (bigger screen = more productivity) applies and sales are sure to follow.

"Four A4 pages can fit on to a 19 inch screen and read legibly," Lau advises. "This appeals to people like accountants and - voila - you have your niche market."

Yet, for a long time that might be all that you will get out of selling top-quality large displays - your niche. Why? Because high-end 19 and 21 inch monitors have a combined market of around 20,000 units in Australia, while 15 and 17 inch displays are still sold in hundreds of thousands.

The good news is there is already talk about 23 inch monitors, which means that the SOHO preference for 15 and 17 inch monitors could soon become a preference for 17 and 19, with 21 inch just around the corner.

Hence, you can start thinking of your niche as of the hidden treasure you already discovered, but haven't told anyone about. And when the first 23 inch monitor arrives, open a bottle of champers and don't forget to send us a glass.

Hitachi and Fujitsu team up on plasma displaysby Michael DrexlerJapanese computer makers Fujitsu and Hitachi will jointly produce Plasma Display Panels (PDPs) in order to trim costs and speed development of large-scale flat panel displays.

The two companies announced a joint venture, Fujitsu Hitachi Plasma Display, which will produce PDPs at a factory to be purchased from Fujitsu. The new company will be equally held by its parent companies and will be capitalised at 20 billion yen ($263 million), with operations beginning in July.

PDPs work by passing electric current through a layer of gas sandwiched between two plates of glass. The current, which runs through a wire grid, causes the gas to glow at certain points, thus creating the pixels that create an image. Not only is the display much thinner than conventional TVs and monitors, but it is also brighter and can be easily seen in a fully lit room.

The joint venture will use Fujitsu employees and an existing factory in the southern island of Kyushu to produce the displays.

Large-scale displays

The venture will have headquarters in Kawasaki and will be evenly staffed by employees from both companies.

The president of the new venture has yet to be decided.

"The primary use of commercial displays will be in airports or anywhere where large-scale information displays are required," said Fujitsu representative Bob Pomeroy.

The move will help the companies position themselves in a competitive market that is expected to reach 3 million units by 2003. Rival NEC is also expected to reveal plans to increase its production of PDPs sometime by the end of the month.

Fujitsu was the first to mass-produce colour plasma displays in 1989 and then in 1998 it became the first company to build 42 inch displays. Hitachi has been developing PDP technology since 1970.http://www.hitachi.comhttp://www.fujitsu.co.jpTo USB or not to USB - weighing the pros and consby Susan SilviusHamlet didn't lose sleep over whether to buy a monitor equipped with the Universal Serial Bus, but your customer might, even though most buyers don't consider the option a priority yet. According to Stanford Resources, a monitor research organisation in the US, fewer than one-fifth of the monitors purchased in the first half of 1999 will have USB connectivity.

Adding around $100 to a monitor's price - plus the cost of buying compatible peripherals - USB is typically found only on premium monitors. USB came of age only recently with the release of Windows 98, which made USB truly plug and play and devices simpler to add. Late versions of Windows 95 supported USB, but compatibility was as predictable as the stock market.

The most practical USB configurations sport an integrated active hub with up to four downstream ports for attaching USB peripherals directly to the monitor. Older devices that lack a USB interface can't connect to some monitor's USB ports - and if your customer has got old devices, you should let them know that the cost of buying compatible peripherals usually far outweighs the benefits.what's new from . . . HitachiThe owner of tube technology, Hitachi was a pioneer in many tube-design developments. Now introducing a new series of its 19 inch monitors, Hitachi claims customers can expect to see better performance and lower prices as the market moves from 17 to 19 inch displays.

Among the features enabling better performance, the new series 19 inch Hitachi monitors contain super high contrast, short tube length, USB port, frequency to 107K and easy OSD, according to the company.

In the 21 inch high-quality display segment, Hitachi also expects several improvements that will lead to higher resolution and accuracy and feature short-tube, a new 100 degree tube design, USB connection and flat screen. Hitachi officials claim their new 21 inch monitor will be smaller than the current 19 inch version, delivering significant desk space savings.

Hitachi CM-761 19 inch short-length monitor. This CRT monitor with anti-static, anti-reflection coat has an 18 inch viewable image size. Energy Star and VESA DPMS compliant, it also features multiple language OSD (on-screen display) and new dark tint panel which displays a higher contrast picture.

The company claims Hitachi CM-761 is shallower than some 17 inch monitors, making it perfect for small desktops.what's new from . . . CompaqCompaq offers a variety of flat panel displays, of which the 18 inch flat panel display TFT8000 might just be that perfect opportunity for upsell.

According to Compaq, the TFT8000 features 16.7 million colours for a "true colour" photo-realistic image and a "new in-plane switching technology gives the screen a wide-angle viewing area of 160 degrees without loss of colour density or contrast.

"With its high resolution, the TFT8000 supports the most commonly used resolution for comparably sized 21 inch CRT monitors, as well as graphic modes for Macintosh and Sun Microsystems platforms," officials claim.

15 inch TFT5000. The TFT5000 has a 15 inch fully viewable, wide-angle screen with SuperBright technology and a 16.7 million colour pallet.

Compaq says the TFT5000 is designed to adapt to every business environment using a pivot mode which rotates the screen 90 degrees for portrait or landscape viewing.

The TFT5000 also offers high resolution with "advanced algorithms that smoothly scale lower resolutions to full-screen" and comes with Automatic Setup, which fine-tunes picture clarity and focuses automatically.what's new from . . . PanasonicUtilising Panasonic's recently developed ZenTan CRT technology, the PanaSync SL90 has a reduced depth display monitor of 19 inches in a traditional 15 inch body.

The monitor offers a resolution of 1600 x 1200 with a 0.25 dot pitch. Other visual considerations are the AGRAS coat on the CRT that Panasonic sources claim reduces ambient light reflection and image diffusion by up to 30 per cent. Colour is supposedly enhanced by an internal shield that blocks out natural magnetic influences. The monitor's focus is achieved through the combination of the shorter depth of the ZenTan CRT and the DQ-DAF electron gun. This reduces image flicker and fine-tunes focus.

Attempting to address environmental concerns the SL90 automatically drops to 4W whenever the computer is inactive and sources claim that the monitor complies with energy efficiency ratings and ergonomic standards.what's new from . . . SamsungSamsung prefers to call SyncMaster 700p its "top of the line" display, claiming it "delivers the perfect combination of performance simplicity and value for high-end graphics, design, CAD/CAM and desktop publishing applications".

The 17 inch display offers plug-and-play compatibility and has a "razor-sharp, perfect flicker-free image for the most demanding professional applications".

SyncMaster 700p Plus should also give you total command over all screen functions, Samsung officials claim.

"At the touch of a button, our unique Digital Display-Director lets you access colour temperatures in 100 Kevin increments, control Moire and expand viewing capability in one of five languages."

SyncMaster 700p offers complete plug-and-play compatibility, claiming to take full advantage of Windows 95 and Macintosh capabilities. The display is TCO 95-compliant and adheres to EPA Energy Star Standards for emission and power consumption.

SyncMaster 900p. Another monitor Samsung likes to describe as a "top-of-the-line display", SyncMaster 900p delivers a "combination of performance simplicity and value for high-end graphics, design, CAD/ CAM and desktop publishing applications", the company claims.

This 19 inch display offers plug-and-play compatibility and has an UltraClear coating to eliminate screen reflection.

Its high refresh rates ensure sharp and flicker-free images and are well suited for professional environments. SyncMaster 900p also has Digital Display-Director that lets you adjust colour temperatures.

Compaq Tel (02) 9911 1999

Hitachi Tel (02) 9888 4100

Panasonic Tel (02) 9986 7400

Samsung Tel 1300 369 600


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