Slimmer is sexier

Slimmer is sexier

Feast your eyes on fast moving pictures without ghosting or jagged edges. Check out the quick response time displays and enhanced screen view ability.

That’s the head-turning scenario playing out in businesses and homes across the country as continuing advancements in LCD technology are capturing people’s attention.

Industry proponents say LCDs offer several advantages over traditional CRTs.

Optima’s retail product manager, David Choi, said LCDs took up less space, offered a brighter, less distorted image, emitted virtually zero radiation and consumed less power.

The tech­nology had morphed from monochrome to colour, from still images to moving images and from small to large screens.

Indeed, the LCD versus CRT tug-o-war is now in full swing. For the first time in Australia, LCDs outgunned CRT displays during the fourth quarter of 2003, according to market researcher IDC.

Despite supply problems with the 15-inch models — which stemmed from the fact most LCD manufacturers gave the green light to manufacturing and fulfilling orders for LCD panels used in notebooks and LCD-TVs rather than LCD monitors, according to Choi — IDC said

Australia was moving towards flat panel displays because of versatility and cost.

Today, the 17-inch and 19-inch are the new darlings of the home and business space. The 19-inch was the popular technology with consumers at the moment, as prices dropped in this segment, managing director of Impact Systems, Peter Agamalis, said.

“Consumers recognise the 17-inch as the entry level model, and now want the 19-inch for variety,” he said.

Part of the 19-inch appeal, he said, was the improved viewing angle.

“Traditionally, the technology has only performed a 120-140 degree viewing angle [if we were lucky it was 160], but now it’s at 170 both vertically and horizontally on a 19-inch screen,” Agamalis said.

Strength to strength

Meanwhile, Optima’s Choi said LCDs were moving from strength to strength this year. Significant growth was expected in the 17-inch and over market.

General manager of Express Online, David Gage, agreed that LCD growth was driven by 17-inch monitor sales. The company distributes Samsung, LG and Acer monitors, and 90 per cent of its sales across the three lines are from LCD.

“Quarter-on-quarter we’ve seen 40 per cent growth in LCDs, driven by 17-inch monitor sales,” he said. “My feeling is a lot of resellers have been forced into upselling into 17-inch because of the 15-inch supply issues.”

And while Express Online sees the eventual return in the next couple of months of the 15-inch market, the market isn’t so popular with other vendors.

Sony Australia’s senior product manager for business display products, James Waldren, said the company wasn’t bothering with the 15-inch market because of supply problems and cost.

“It’s more cost-effective to move up to the 17-inch or 19-inch range, and there’s better resolution,” he said.

Indeed, it would also be more cost-effective over time to swing towards LCDs and away from CRTs, BenQ’s managing director, Philip Newton, said.

The price points of LCD and CRT were still wide apart, Newton said, but from 2005 the gaps would shrink as more and more product capacity came on line for LCD and more and more CRT product was ceased.

The company is targeting the 19-inch, 20-inch and 23-inch LCD screen market, and going after mainly commercial applications such as graphics, pre-press, financial terminals, gamers, CAD/CAM and weather stations, Newton said.

These were typical market areas currently addressed by CRT products.

And whether it’s 17-inch or 19-inch, sales across various ranges are increasing. LCD sales into the channel made up 53 per cent of branded unit shipments in Q4, up from 51.5 per cent during the third quarter of 2003, IDC said.

“In the total monitor market LCD had 50.6 per cent of unit shipments during Q4 2003, signifying the movement of the Australian market towards the form factor,” IDC analyst, Michael Sager, said.

Market twists and turns

What’s shaping the Australian monitor market? For starters, Sony’s exit from the CRT monitor market shook things up, Sager said. The market was also shaken by changes in vendor rankings.

In the fourth quarter of 2003, the battle also hotted up between the branded and OEM players.

In the branded market, Samsung claimed the top spot, with LG following suit and Philips rounding out the top three list.

And while Dell was back in equilibirum and no longer had to outsource manufacturing to Samsung or Philips, the company’s massive LCD supply shortages had a hand to play in shaping the Australian monitor market.

Despite the challenges, “the overall market grew by a razor thin margin of just over 0.1 per cent from the previous quarter; but it was a sizeable increase of 14.5 per cent year-on-year,” IDC said.

Mitsubishi Electric was reaping the rewards from Sony’s bold CRT exit, general manager (Australia) of the digital electronics division, Richard Freggi, said

The company, which offers 17-inch to 22-inch CRT monitors, doubled its sales in the past six months and has welcomed many resellers into the fold since Sony’s grand exit.

It now sees about 40 per cent of its business in CRTs and 60 per cent LCDs.

Some life left

Freggi said Sony, along with others, got out of the game too soon, which was good news for Mitsubishi.

“With Sony’s exit, we’ve played our cards right,” he said.

“We decided to stay the course, and it’s working very well for us.”

The company is confident its CRT technology, which offers enhanced picture quality thanks to aperture grill technology, still has some life left.

“Eventually, we’ll also leave the CRT market, but we’re still profitable at the moment,” Freggi said. “And since we’re profitable, we’ll be the last in Australia to get off the train.”

Looking ahead, he said that in the most aggressive scenario, there would still be activity in the CRT market for the next two years.

“Even on a more conservative front, it could be another five years of business,” Freggi said.

Either way, he said resellers and consumers still wanted product.

“People on a tight budget want CRTs, and the entry-level product offers good value,” Freggi said.

“For graphic artists, engineers and scientists, they also want CRTs for the best possible picture and colour quality.”

He said the mid-market was better served by LCD technology because it offered the best overall value for money. “It’s getting cheaper and cheaper and will get more advanced over the next year,” Freggi said.

“Besides form factor and power consumption, there’s less flicker and eye fatigue.”

But Sony’s Waldren said the company’s CRT departure wasn’t premature.

“The CRT market was heading to a very low value product, and that’s not what Sony is all about,” he said. “We moved out of the 21-inch CRT market at the beginning of this year, and out of the 17-inch and 19-inch space the year before. We’re very comfortable with the fact we moved out. It wasn’t a viable business; there was a shrinking market.” Instead, the company is pushing five LCD models in its business line and seven in its home arsenal — with several colours in each range. The main difference between the two lines is cosmetic and physical style, he said.

But on both fronts, he said areas to consider included the brightness and contrast ratio, and response times — particularly for gamers. Also, size did matter — the company was pushing the 17-inch and 19-inch range.

And while the company wanted to pitch LCD to everybody, he admitted CRTs had an edge for people who needed extreme contrast ratio, and graphic artists who relied on intense colour.

But LCD technology was rapidly closing the gap, Waldren said.

“There are always technological advancements; it’s a continuing evolution,” he said.

New developments in colour calibration and colour fidelity, along with implementations of SRGB, which was a means of ensuring better colour imagery would help, Waldren said.

Improved contrast ratio and viewing angles are other notable advancements.

BenQ’s Newton said until now LCD suffered slow response time, which created huge barriers for graphics, animators and gamers.

“The major improvement LCD offers over CRT, especially in large format [19-inch and above], is image accuracy without the geometric distortion which is inherent in CRT technologies,” he said.

With the introduction of 16 milli­seconds (ms) 19-inch, 20-inch and 23-inch models, the response time issue would be resolved, he said.

A refresh rate of 16ms ensured smooth, natural-looking motion on screen.

The company expected to launch 12ms 19-inch screens later this year.

The lower the response time, the less blurring of moving images, according to Samsung’s general manager of IT, Norman Krieke.

He’s excited about the release of Samsung panels with 12ms response times.

Philips Consumer Electronics’ product manager for multimedia displays, Lisa Coggan, said while aesthetic merits were driving the switch from CRT, there were still some improvements to be made if it was to render CRT monitors completely obsolete.

“Improvements in brightness and contrasts still need to be made to bridge the gap towards CRT technology, as does the all important response time and ability to reproduce natural colours,” she said.

Coggan said the Philips product lines — particularly in the 17-inch range — would begin to address the technical challenges, offering high brightness, contrast with wide viewing angles, faster response times and 90 per cent accurate colour reproduction technology.

The battle for the home

IDC analyst Sager said the push towards the digital home was helping fuel the LCD market. LCD TVs were pushing the trend, he said. The launch of the Microsoft Windows XP Media Centre edition in Australia would also stoke the LCD fire.

“LCD displays are increasingly being sold into the digital home concept, he said.

They were being used in applications outside of their traditional PC arena.

As such, vendors were rolling out a host of features catering to the market, he said.

They included wide screen technology, integrated speakers, TV tuners, and detachable displays.

The tip from Sony’s Waldren was watch for advancements in the video processing arena.

“A lot of work is going into the video processing area to make DVD playback and video viewing,” he said.

Samsung’s Krieke said the eventual launch of all-in-one monitors/LCD TVs would get consumers even more excited.

Given the advent of convergence and interest in PC entertainment, Impact Systems’ Amagalis said resellers should look towards peddling home and IT products.

“They should also look at TV products now that the home and

IT markets are no longer segregated,” he said.

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