Off with the pixels

Off with the pixels

The fatality of the CRT monitor might not be looming large, with its interim efforts at flat-panelled trendiness and the still astronomical prices of its younger sibling, the LCD screen, contributing to its endurance. But for most industry pundits the end is inevitable.

According to Craig Stockdale, managing director of monitor manufacturer MicroTouch, the decay is already setting in, with almost all CRT manufacturers abandoning 12 and 15 inch CRT monitors in favour of 17 and 21 inch models.

Even more dramatic is the fact that several CRT manufactures such as Samsung and Panasonic are making the transition from CRT to LCD production.

`A lot of CRT manufacturers are shutting down their 15 inch CRT manufacturing and are moving towards 17 and 21 inch production because of volumes and margins. They are also starting to set up 12 inch LCD manufacturing facilities,' explained Stockdale.

Yet there is no consensus on when the curtain will finally fall for the CRT. According to Kurt Baeten, general manager of Western Australian reseller Zeus, the final act will begin in about two years, when the price of a LCD monitor has parity with a CRT product.

Stockdale believes LCDs will `obliterate CRTs in the next three years', despite the recent development of the flat-panelled CRT monitor.

`It's all a matter of supply and demand. LCD manufacturers lost a lot of money making LCD screens but now the volume will increase due to circumstances such as Japan and Taiwan forming an alliance to compete with Korea, who produces the most LCD screens in the world,' said Stockdale.

However, the death equation needs to include more than price, according to Peter Stone, operations and business development manager for touch screen manufacturer and distributor Neoproducts.

`LCD monitors are three to four times more expensive than the equivalent-sized CRT monitor because LCD production yields are a lot lower than CRT yields,' explained Stone.

Yet the solution is not simply a matter of improving current production methods because the market constantly craves bigger screens. `LCD monitors will for the next two years continually be trying to match yield ratios of larger and larger CRT monitors,' Stone added.

According to the Electronic Display Industry Service third quarter 1999 report, published by Stanford Resources, the driving issue influencing the monitor market at the moment is a `movement towards larger screen sizes'. For CRT manufacturers this does not pose a problem, with production costs increasing only slightly with size. Yet flat-panelled displays `are materials intensive and suffer decreased yields at larger sizes, so costs increase rapidly with size'.

And although the majority of commentators expect the LCD monitor to eventually triumph despite this limitation, there are still those that feel that the production difficulties currently being experienced are unassailable, leaving the CRT monitor to rein supreme on a simple price and supply scale, rather than over any technological supremacy.

`LCD flatscreen monitors will never be as mainstream as CRT monitors because they will never be as cheap. This comes to us straight from LG,' said Jaimie I'Anson, account manager at South Australian distributor Leader Computers.

Overall, the PC market in Australia grew by 10.9 per cent in terms of shipments from the first half of 1998 to the first half of 1999. However, the value of the shipments actually fell by 11.1 per cent according to a report from analyst IDC, which characterised the PC monitor market as `volatile and uncertain'.

According to I'Anson, the LCD did not have much of an impact on these figures, with Leading Computers selling only one LCD monitor a month compared to about 1500 CRT monitors.

I'Anson believes that the industry will instead move towards the plasma screen, which might be as cheap and easy to make as the CRT but has its own inherent difficulties in that it decomposes.

Despite these reservations about the primacy of the LCD, I'Anson has no hesitation in predicting its increased uptake, predicting that within three years it will become relatively commonplace.

Yet the shift to LCD technology, however cosmic or imperceptible, is welcome, with a whole raft of opportunities dancing on the CRT monitor's margin-less grave.

The key to the LCD monitor avoiding the same fate as the commoditised CRT is to value-add and specialise right from the beginning.

`We're always trying to go where the product is a little bit niche,' said Zeus' Baeten. With the LCD monitor itself currently considered a niche product this is not so difficult. However, the traditional high-end corporate market, or the finance industry that needs more desktop real estate, will soon be joined by more and more industries wanting to utilise the technology. I'Anson sees the point-of-sale market being the next big area of the LCD's ascendancy.

So with everyone's finger in the same product pie, the profit margins and advantages for a reseller who specialises in the LCD will obviously be diminished.

While Stockdale believes in the whole concept of finding a niche for his company, MicroTouch's specialisation focuses on both market and product. For this reason he is adamant that the future cash trend of not only the monitor but the IT industry as a whole is touch technology. And although touch currently encompasses the CRT monitor, the market will be fuelled by the LCD screen.

`I have no doubts that the LCD monitor will offer a conduit for our [MicroTouch's] success.'

Stockdale's optimism also stems mostly from the fact that he believes it is more difficult to manufacture and install curved touchscreens, as well as the whole aesthetic issue, integral to touch's attraction.

That issue is one that will drive both the touch- screen industry and the LCD monitor onto greater heights, with the combination of the two a match made in heaven if you're like Paul Buckley, CEO of touchscreen solution provider Datatrax, who specialised in the Human Computer Interface at university. The touchscreen in general and the LCD touchscreen in particular is a much more attractive option to store and disseminate information electronically than a bulletin board, according to NeoProducts' Stone. `We designed and implemented about 2800 kiosk machines for the CES, which replaced jobs simply being pinned onto the wall.'

The LCD touchscreen solution also addresses the issue of space that clients like retailers and gaming machine hosts hold at a premium, alongside savings in power and heat reduction.

With the image a touchscreen portrays high on the list of priorities for prospective buyers, it is no wonder that the evolution of the touchscreen is linked to the rise of the LCD monitor, although the demand for large screens from touchscreen customers has so far restricted the LCD's proliferation in this and other markets.

`We are very conscious that our clients are requesting larger screens and are demanding higher resolution and output,' said Stone, who still considers price to be a barrier in providing LCD monitors that meet certain size criteria.

Yet public access will not be the sole domain of touch technology and it will expand independent of any future success of the LCD monitor. In converting to electronic options, businesses are restricted by needing to conform to the lowest denominator, the skill of the average user, which touch technology is partly designed to account for.

`For the general public a keyboard and mouse can become messy,' said Stone. `They tend to need someone who is semi computer literate around to work a PC. The touchscreen is designed for someone completely unfamiliar with operating a computer.'

The Internet also adds great value to the industry, according to Stockdale. `The Net and just the public's general thirst for information, e-mail, voice mail - the list goes on and on - will push the adoption of touch technology. People just don't want to go to too much trouble to find the information themselves.'

He predicts the touch industry will grow from its previous 1994 obscurity of $US50 million to be a $US2 billion market by 2004. Stockdale says independent research valued the touchscreen market in 1998 at $US510 million and he claims that MicroTouch is one of the fastest-growing companies in Australia.

He backs this up with figures of a $1 million turnover for the company's first year in 1994 compared to over $20 million in 1999.

Stone tells a similar story about NeoProducts' success, selling `thousands of kiosk products per annum with a revenue of about $15 million'.

And, if Stockdale's predictions are even close to reality, the story can only get better. `Touch will become a standard form of information appliance. It will replace the PC and be integrated into mobile phones, handheld devices, banking devices and so on within three to five years.' Stockdale's vision has touch and voice recognition technology ruling the IT world.

Stone is confident that several markets are ripe for mainstream touchscreen adoption. `The retail space is definitely coming about and non-cash transaction applications are also taking off,' he said, claiming that Australia leads the world in terms of touchscreens in the retail space, which is epitomised by 12.1inch LCD monitors.

Yet it is the computer reseller's stronghold, the consumer product market, that Stockdale sees as the fastest-growing opportunity. He quotes figures of $US176 million in 1998 blowing out to $US1 billion by 2004 in this space alone and envisages every home and desktop eventually utilising touch technology.

And certain worldwide initiatives back up his optimism. Korean companies LG and Samsung, who lead the market in the volume of LCD monitors produced, will integrate touchscreens into their monitors on the product line.

Yet Stockdale's vision is not universal, with Stone complaining about the overall touch market's pedestrian growth rate and its failure to live up to market expectations.

`The touchscreen area is still very slow, although it is gradually expanding. The market has moved around quite a bit over the last couple of years and predictions of a large expansion two years ago haven't come about,' said Stone.

Yet there is no denying the technology's potential. Six years ago the touchscreen market generated a miserly $US50 million with no clearly defined avenue of growth. `When we started in the market five years ago we didn't know where it was heading,' said Stockdale. `It was very niche. But now it's considered mainstream, with companies like Samsung and LG becoming heavily involved.'

Stone explained Neoproducts' inception slightly differently. `We started out in the more general market about 10 years ago as a design consultant outfit that made industrial machinery look and feel more pleasant. The focus on touch screens came about when the TAB in Victoria wanted 'something different'. This was followed up with the design and supply of about 5000 poker machines and then a move into more general markets that required self-service machines.'

Although the transition into the apparently lucrative and growth market of touch appears to be relatively easy, those already there claim that the entry barrier is high and requires more than simply box moving.

`You need in-house design skills and the ability to focus on large clients,' said Stone, who attributes NeoProducts' initial success largely to its first exceptional contract with the TAB and its ongoing focus on projects rather than general market dynamics.

Instead, manufacturers and distributors recommend that resellers take advantage of the value add touch offers them without the initial difficulties of skilling up. Specialisation is necessary according to Leading Computers I'Anson, although he suggests avoiding `getting into monitors' in preference to focusing on a particular solution.

And solutions are what the touchscreen market is all about, according to Datatrax's Buckley, who says the key to success in this market is to offer a total solution that is customised to the client and who advocates `finding a niche or wrapping the product in a larger solution'.

Stockdale sees the reseller as a valuable component of this entire equation, especially now that monitors are being fitted with touch technology on the production line and need only the finishing touches from the reseller. `Unless a touchscreen monitor has the right software and hardware behind it, it won't sell,' said Stockdale.

This technology also opens up markets that resellers would otherwise not venture into, like finance and gaming, according to Stockdale. And it drags along services that resellers might have previously ignored, such as telecommunications and kiosk development.

NeoProducts has actually established an alliance with IBM and Compaq, where its touch screens are rebadged and then sold into the vendor's channels, where additional software, hardware and installation are added.

And it is not only the services element that resellers can take advantage of. The touchscreen promises reasonable margins, despite its peripheral status. `Resellers can expect good margins,' assured Stockdale, whose company will assist resellers in moving into new markets and understanding the potential of touchscreen technology.

Yet there are pitfalls and perceptions to avoid in the touch monitor market. The most glaring hurdle is the price, especially if touch technology is added to an LCD monitor.

According to Stone, it costs about $1000 to integrate touch with a basic monitor and once you add software and the kiosk's casing to that price the package becomes expensive and only attractive to a very targeted audience.

Next on the list of ulcer creating scenarios is the touchscreen's track record of adoption. Although expected to move into the mainstream arena a couple of years ago, touch has yet to really take off. Despite predictions of eventually replacing the desktop, and being used in handheld devices in the very near future, its niche label may be hard to shake.

Yet the market abounds with optimism. In Australia alone the touch industry is vibrant, profitable and busy, proving simply by the fact that it supports so many dedicated companies in such a small arena, that there is something out there worth pur-suing. `Companies like ours will play a far bigger role in the future,' prophesied Stockdale.what's new in monitors from . . .

. . . Mitsubishi Electric

Mitsubishi Electric's new Diamond View DV180 monitor offers a large 46cm diagonal viewable area, complemented by high resolution, brightness and contrast.

The thin film transistor - liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) screen offers a resolution of 1280 x 1024 pixels, to ensure full colour graphics and detailed images appear their sharpest on-screen, according to the company.

Other features include 16.7 million display colours, brightness of 200cd/m2 and contrast ratio of 200:1.

Digital smoothing ensures a clear full-screen display of lower-resolution graphics.

For ease of connectivity to other peripheral devices, the monitor features a USB hub that allows four devices to be attached to the unit.

The monitor also comes with stereo speakers with an output power of 1.0 watts per channel and wide frequency response, built-in microphone, and a light 9.8kg weight.

The company promotes the product as the ideal monitor for graphics, design, and other computing applications that demand a sophisticated LCD monitor with exceptional display quality.

The Mitsubishi Electric DV180 sells for a recommended retail price of $6299.

(02) 9684 7777

. . . Hitachi Australia

Hitachi Australia's new 17 inch CRT monitor is pitched at home or office users doing basic desktop publishing, word processing or spreadsheet work, but is also ideal for first-time graphics users or those wanting the maximum in brightness and resolution for their Web browsing or gaming, according to the company.

The CM-610 monitor features Hitachi's new multi-scanning technology, a horizontal frequency of 70KHz and a maximum resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels at 85Hz refresh rate.

The screen comes with advanced digital controls with 15 computer-controlled image-quality settings.

Comfort and ease of use are key selling points for this product, with a basic On Screen setup and the latest advances in ergonomics and power saving technology, plus MS plug-and-play compatibility to make connection and resolution changing simple according to Hitachi.

The monitor measures 398mm wide x 418mm high x 413mm deep and weighs 15.5kg including the base.

The recommended retail price is $645, which also covers a three-year on-site warranty.

(02) 9888 4100

. . . Panasonic

Panasonic's recently released 21 inch monitor, the PanaSync Pro P110I, focuses mainly on the high-end graphic designer and CAD market and consequently has a maximum resolution of 1800 x 1440 pixels and a dot pitch of 0.25mm.

Additionally, the monitor minimises screen curvature and decreases visual distortion by calibrating the red, green and blue electron guns.

Panasonic also focuses on reducing glare and reflection by using its AGRAS (advanced, anti-glare, anti-reflection and anti-static system) and a phosphor coating.

It comes standard with USB pedestal and Windows 95 plug-and-play features.

It weighs 26.2kg and has dimensions of 505mm (width) x 487mm (height) x 519mm (depth).

The PanaSync Pro P110I has a recommended retail price of $2950.

13 2600

. . . Apple

Apple has expanded its flat panel of monitors with the recent release of its 15.1 inch Studio Display.

The 2.5 inch thick LCD screen can adjust and tilt up to 120 degrees horizontally and 90 degrees vertically. It can display up to 16 million colours, has a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels at 60Hz to 1024 x 768 pixels up to 75Hz.

Apple says it is twice as bright as `typical' CRT- based displays. It weighs 3.5kg, including the stand, and includes composite and S-video connectors so you can display full-screen video.

The Apple Studio Display LCD has a recommended retail price of $2700.

13 3622

. . . Samsung Electronics

Samsung Electronics has released SyncMaster 950 NF, a new digital monitor, which according to the company has a 20 per cent better picture quality than that found in conventional monitors.

In conventional monitors, a video card in the PC converts digital signals to analog signals, which are then sent to the monitor. However, the digital monitor does not need analog signals, therefore no loss in picture quality is incurred during the conversion process.

The SyncMaster 950 NF is a 19 inch natural flat screen monitor, with USCGA (ultra extended graphics array) resolution of 1600 x 1200 pixels at 87Hz, making it well suited for CAD/CAM and graphics applications.

It also supports current analog signals, so it can be used with PCs currently on the market.

The company will carry both analog and digital models initially, switching over exclusively to digital by 2002.

The SyncMaster 950NF is due out in March at a recommended retail price of $1604.

(02) 9763 9700

what's new in touchscreen technology from . . .

. . . MicroTouch

ClearTek 3000 touchscreens from MicroTouch now come with CleanScreen, antibacterial technology permanently bonded to the glass surface of the screen.

CleanScreen enhances the cleanliness of the touchscreen environment, such as a touch-enabled cash register in a restaurant, or information kiosks in shopping centres, airport terminals, hotels and tourist attractions.

According to MicroTouch, CleanScreen also makes the ClearTek 3000 monitors more durable and easier to clean, yet there is no effect on display optics or clarity.

The ClearTek 3000 touchscreen is 210 times more durable than its predecessor, ClearTek 2000.

The monitor also has a 50 per cent narrower pattern around the glass border than ClearTek 2000, making it easier to be integrated into LCD monitors and meaning more space on the screen is useable for software applications.

The touch accuracy has an error margin of less than 1 per cent within the active area with a touch life greater than 120 million touches in any one location.

The screen resolution is 1024 touch points per axis within the calibrated area. The recommended retail price for a 15 inch sensor integrated and bonded to a CRT monitor is $1300 and $1400 for a 17 inch sensor (excluding the cost of the monitor).

The CleanScreen technology is included at no extra charge.

(03) 9582 4799


. . . Neoproducts

Neoproducts has a number of touchscreen monitors available, including Flare, a self-contained compact LCD-based touch kiosk, K15 Net Kiosk, a traditional kiosk with user keypad for Internet applications, and P14, a table or counter-top all-in-one LCD touch computer system.

The P14 is a self-contained system, ideally suited for retail and light industrial applications. It features powerful Pentium processing capabilities, is Windows compatible and boasts impressive I/O facilities. The P14 is compatible with most modern computing peripherals and PCI/ISA expansion.

The K15 Net Kiosk now comes with optional Internet access. The user keyboard module incorporates a traditional QWERTY keyboard and touchpad, providing a familiar interface for data entry and general Web browsing, plus all the traditional K15 options and features can also be accessed through touchscreen operation.

The overall height of the unit and angle of the screen provides the ideal compromise for both seated and standing operation, according to the company.

The Flare 14-inch flat screen kiosk is a compact and elegant kiosk, ideal for foyer, retail and trade show presentation requirements, according Neoproducts. It features powerful Pentium processing capabilities and Windows compliance , plus modern TFT LCD touch monitor technology.

The Flare is network enabled and can plug into an existing corporate network for ease of information content management.

(03) 9701 1511

. . . Datatrax

Datatrax's Slick touch screen application point (TAP) offers public access markets an entire touchscreen solution, including casing, 15 inch LCD touch screen monitor, speakers, a printer and a swipe or insertion card reader, according to Datatrax.

In terms of presentation it is available in either wood veneer or aluminium and can be bolted to the floor. It has adjustable feet for uneven floors and laminate computer graphics.

(02) 6242 1935

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