Editorial: Spot the difference

Editorial: Spot the difference

There can be no substitute for cold, hard numbers when it comes to determining the relative success or failure of a particular product, range or category. A sleek new design, improved performance or inclusion in an attractive bundle can all provide competitive edge, but it will always be the sales numbers at the end of every month, quarter and year that ultimately decide if a vendor has released a piece of hot property or a dead duck.

The sales of liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors surpassed those of cathode ray tube (CRT) models for the first time in the final quarter of 2003, according to market analysts at IDC. Sony announced last month that it was pulling out of the CRT monitor market, other vendors are expected to follow suit this year and the history of technology tells us it is only a matter of time before CRT is finally consigned to the record books.

But its successor, LCD, has the grey area of pixel defects as an Achilles heel because of the complexities inherent in the manufacturing process.

It is not a huge problem — Acer estimated last week that about 0.2 per cent of stock leaving its premises would be returned as defective and Sony said its rate was comparable — but it is a complicated one. According to an HP white paper, 10 sub-pixel defects on a 1280 x 1024 colour panel would mean that panel was 99.9999 per cent defect-free. But it would still fail to meet the Class II mark set by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), which allows for just five sub-pixel faults. The zero-tolerance Class I standard applies to mission critical usage, medical and military customers for example. Class II accounts for most models sold through the channel.

With this in mind, Acer must be applauded for introducing a uni-versal PixelPerfect guarantee at the start of the year, even though it has retracted it just six weeks later. The vendor cited the ongoing shortage of LCD panels for its decision, a problem that has been reported by many vendors in these pages, and it would be wrong to be too critical of a daring move that was intended to give its resellers and customers an improved level of service by completely removing the grey area of acceptability levels. Acer has at least promised to honour the PixelPerfect guarantees it made in those few weeks. It will now offer the guarantee as an optional extra for a fee of $95 on laptops and $45 on monitors.

This got me thinking again about that 0.2 per cent fault estimate provided by Acer. If this figure is accurate, and close to representative of the category as a whole, maybe resellers shifting high enough volumes to make the numbers work to their advantage could offer similar guarantees to their customers as a value-added differentiator against their competitors.

Faulty pixels and sub-pixels will no doubt continue to be a sticky subject for vendors and their channel partners.

Such grey areas provide oppor-tunities for companies to take risks in an attempt to rise above the pack but these calculated gambles can be costly when they don’t go to plan.

That is the nature of business and it will be interesting to see if Acer reintroduces PixelPerfect across the board when the LCD supply shortage comes to an end. Let me know your thoughts on the subject.

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