As one of the more exciting and tangible technologies in the hardware market, data projectors are a major area of opportunity for the IT channel. With vendors producing models that are increasingly lightweight, compact, cost-effective and cool-looking - and businesses looking at new ways to meet their data display needs - it is a market that still has plenty of scope for growth.
Acer peripherals product manager, Caroline Villien, said the projector market had grown in leaps and bounds. Quoting GfK figures, she said that in 2004 the Australian market saw a healthy 70,000 units sold. Forecasts for 2005 put unit sales at around 90,000.
"Home projectors, with about 25 per cent of all sales, are probably the fastest growing market, but business use is still 75 per cent of the market," Villien said.
Researcher, IT Market Insights (ITMI), managing director and principal consultant, John Jenner, said sales in 2003 were 70 per cent up on the previous year. In 2004 growth was tracked at 32.4 per cent.
While he predicted more modest growth for 2005, Sony's senior product manager business displays, James Waldron, said this year was still projected to be healthy.
"Australia is a relatively mature market, but globally growth is expected to be 20-30 per cent," he said.
Toshiba product manager, Justin White, said a combination of falling prices and a rise in functionality had seen projectors move across a wider section of the market.
"What you can buy today for $3000 is way beyond what you could have bought three years ago for $8000 as far as performance goes - it has fallen into the affordable category," he said.
The move by vendors to open up their channels to both the IT and AV sectors was the major catalyst behind falling prices, ITMI's Jenner, said. "AV resellers now have to compete on price as well as function against IT resellers and this has been the major catalyst in significant price reductions over the past 2 years," he said.
This competition between channels was reflected many times over at the vendor level with some 34 vendors playing in the Australian market, Jenner said. More than 800 models had become available in the last four years, putting pressure on price. While projectors were used most for PowerPoint style presentations, Epson's marketing director, Mike Pleasants, said new business applications were also a major driver of projector adoption. Of these, staff training and development and conferences were leading the charge.
With the digital home being a major shot in the arm for the consumer end of the market, a degree of crossover into the business market was also helping boost sales, Acer's Villien said.
"People, particularly in the SOHO market, are buying projectors for business use then taking it home on the weekends for a sports event or movie," she said.
The reduction in cost had also seen the projectors move out of horizontal business applications into more vertical applications, Acer's Villien agreed.
"Hospitality and hotels in particular, are also buying projectors in increasing numbers," she said. "We are also having more requests from the education market."
Along with a reduction in cost, new features such as wireless connectivity, higher resolutions, memory card functionality and imaging technologies were all combining to produce an increased ease of use argument to businesses.
For Toshiba's White, a move toward greater professionalism and a need to break away from tired looking presentations had lead people to look toward projectors with wireless functionality. The boom in wireless-enabled notebooks was also proving to make wireless projectors a natural extension.
"Nearly all the notebooks sold in the marketplace have wireless functionality, so it's very popular to have a wireless notebook and a wireless projector to match," he said. "There are less cables and luggage to travel with so wireless projectors are easier to set up."
Being able to move more than a few metres from a projector gave an added level of freedom for presenters, White said.
"Now you can let your audience either focus on you or the display depending on your presentation style," he said.
"With a tablet you can write on its screen and at the same time it will appear on the projection and it's easier for multiple people to share the projector."
Organisations focusing on higher-end fixed projectors also found wireless attractive, Sony's Waldron said.
"Most are integrating wireless into some sort of a central monitoring and control capability," he said. "With that system, IT manager or helpdesks can remotely diagnose any problems the projector may have."
To cater to business needs for greater ease of use, vendors were working to create synergies between AV and projector ranges, Epson's Pleasants said.
"The business market is also beginning to take on added features such as memory slots," he said. "Instead of carrying around a notebook, you just take your data on a card or USB key. It is that ease of use which is driving the business market."
Thanks to falling price points, projectors equipped with higher resolution displays were also piquing business interest. This was exemplified by the growing market share of XGA (1024 x 768) over SVGA (800 x 600) resolutions, Acer's Villien said.
"People are requesting XGA resolution over SVGA more and more as that is the resolution people have on their notebooks," she said. While the higher and widescreen resolutions were also growing in share - thanks to their ability to display more data, there was a limit to the relationship between projector and PCs, Sony's Waldron, said.
"Even if widescreen with its 16:9 aspect ratio takes off in the notebook market, traditional business applications are still suited to SVGA and XGA's 4:3 ratio," he said.
Changes in projectors supporting particular light engine technologies was also an area of interest for the IT channel, ITMI's Jenner said. Resellers needed to be aware of which vendors backed which technology and how liquid crystal display (LCD), digital light processing (DLP) and liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) technologies were tracking in the market place.
"Currently, LCD has 72 per cent and DLP has 26 per cent share of the market," he said.
"I sense DLP is increasing its share at the expense of LCD - and detect that more of the higher-end data projectors have multiple [three] DLP units within the projector."
Barracking for DLP, Villien said Acer had sided with the format for its light weight and recent decline in cost.
"LCD is good for when you have a big spread sheet with a lot of numbers, but if you have moving images or video then DLP is better," she said. DLP with its high contrast ratio and lifelike colours was also the preferred format for business, Toshiba's White said. Disputing this, Sony's Waldron said business use DLP projectors had a major drawback.
"Sony is an LCD house as DLP suffers from a rainbow effect," he said. "Anything that moves across the screen - such as your eyes - will see the sequence of colours DLP projects and will pick it up as breaks in colour."
Waldron also acknowledged DLP's contrast ratio argument, but said that typical business environments rendered this feature irrelevant. "You would be lucky to get better than 50:1 off a screen, so whether you have a contrast ratio of 2000:1 or 200:1 it won't really make a significant difference to the quality you get."
Backed by strong demand and a raft of features to dazzle businesses, resellers should be considering the opportunities offered by the projector market.
Sony's Waldron said plenty of resellers were doing well in a purely fulfilment capacity, offering price competitive, portable-projectors as a complementary tool to a notebook to mobile road warriors.
Toshiba's White pointed to product bundle synergies between notebooks and projectors as a way for resellers to add additional value and margin to sale.
Acer's Villien said screens were a better option.
"The screen bundles are having much more success as not every notebook user sees the value of having a projector too," she said. For skilled channel partners addressing the fixed projector market, installation services and the sale of value-adds like USB and external drives, wireless cards and routers were a major opportunity, Epson's Pleasants said.
Training services for businesses looking to take advantage of the more sophisticated features of projectors were also on the rise. "There is opportunity out there, though margin is beginning to be squeezed as a result of competition," he said. "We are also moving into a maturing market so the channel has to look at adding value around the products."
Beyond the box
Agreeing, Sony's Waldron said the channel needed to look beyond simply selling a box.
"The AV guys have been working this market for years and have developed a consultative and up-selling approach," he said. "The IT channel needs to look at that and so does retail."
For resellers targeting SME and corporates, extended warranties and service contracts addressing projector maintenance were also an attractive opportunity.
"As higher-end projectors can be networked to a remote access control system," he said. "So you can set up an email alert in case a lamp blows or if you want to program regular maintenance cycles," he said.
For Acer's Villien, the key to the channel's success in the space came down to, well, space.
"The main thing resellers need is space as you really need a screen in the store to show what projectors are capable of," she said.