Projecting a new image

While digital projectors have been popular in consumer and business channels for over a decade, new technology developments mean the market still represents a healthy opportunity for the channel to make sales.

The consensus among vendors and analysts is that there are new ways in which resellers can push the hardware, whether based on XGA resolution or the new WXGA technology, in 2007 and beyond. For starters, explains IDC Australia associate analyst, Felipe Rego, the projector market is still growing, albeit at a slower pace than 24-36 months ago, and there is a clear and present demand for the devices. He said the overall market grew by 8.3 per cent between 2005 and 2006, or from 88,000 units in 2005 to 95,000 units in 2006.

While projector take-up has reached a mature and stable state, Toshiba product marketing manager, Justin White, said the technology was continuing to adapt to meet the market's requirements, leaving the door open to new sales.

"In the last 12-18 months we've gone from SVGA to XGA projectors," he said. "And now we're on the cusp of a switch from 4:3 resolution to 16:9 widescreen. Pretty much all notebooks are 16:9 resolution and projectors are about to go that way, too."

A wider focus
As White said, XGA projectors have made it easy for presenters to use a laptop with projectors thanks to the increased resolution (800 x 600 versus 1024 x 768). However, as both business and consumer notebook displays shift from the square-ish 4:3 aspect ratio to the widescreen 16:9, projectors have failed to keep up: only a handful of projector models sold today are what is known as WXGA.

InFocus A/NZ regional sales manager, Sean Tobin, noted the lag in widescreen projectors models reaching the marketplace. Despite this, he claimed WXGA would be the next big selling point for the channel. InFocus was likely to bring out WXGA models in the third quarter - about the same time as many of its competition. This comes as good news for the channel because customers will be clamouring for WXGA projectors for a variety of reasons. One of them is that if the notebook resolution and projector native resolution differ, the image will be interpolated. This is a process that can introduce unsightly artifacts and distortion, especially in text documents. Not a good look for today's professional presenter.

Generally speaking, a laptop will have a way to toggle among resolutions - sometimes via a single button - but to avoid this issue altogether and make the technology as plug-and-play as possible, vendors expect to see customers lining up for WXGA projectors as soon as they are available.

"Widescreen projection is still in the very early days at the moment and I find this type of thing is sometimes driven by operating systems as well," Mitsubishi Electric product manager, Matt Hanna, said. "Windows Vista, for example, is something that will stimulate the whole widescreen market, too. We won't see square projectors replaced right away, but widescreen will slowly take more market share as time goes by." Meanwhile, one of the biggest misconceptions a reseller could have about the projector market this year was that home theatre represented a large piece of the projector market pie, Epson marketing communications director, Mike Pleasants, said.

"Compared to business, people think home theatre's the bigger of the two markets, but really it's not," he said. "For us, it's only about 20 per cent of our sales. The vast majority of this business is in corporate and education."

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Pleasants explained that while the business and education markets didn't have many alternatives for viewing material in a large format, the home theatre market saw projectors battling with large plasma screen and LCD televisions.

"There will always be home theatre enthusiasts who want to use a projector, but also a lot of people who will just go for a plasma screen instead," he said. "So it's always a bit of a battle in that home area as there's just so much choice compared to in business."

That's refreshing
With the projector market growing incrementally, on top of a large installed base of projectors already residing with customers, the largest opportunity for resellers unsurprisingly lies in the area of refreshing existing customer hardware.

"Resellers might fi nd that, in the past, their customers didn't have a reason to upgrade. They had an SVGA 1000 ANSI lumens projector and they were happy with it because it worked," Toshiba's White said. "But now that a reseller can go in with an XGA 2000 or 3000 ANSI lumens projector, there's a reason to refresh and they'll be able to get in the door."

Epson's Pleasants said a strong area of opportunity was schools and educational institutions, where an emphasis on digital whiteboards was creating more interest in projectors.

"Resellers need to capitalise on the education area and the whole digital whiteboard phenomenon, which works hand-in-hand with projectors," he said. "For those without a foot in the education door, resellers should focus on total cost of ownership."

The old view of projectors - particularly the expense of replacement bulbs - also needed to be addressed with customers as the market had moved on, Pleasants said.

"Lamp life has been pushed up and the cost of lamps has been pushed down," he said. "The whole cost of ownership is different to 12 months ago and that needs to be understood by resellers when they are selling to their customers."

White agreed price would play a strong role in businesses refreshing their projectors or perhaps taking them into the business for the first time.

"A 2000 ANSI lumens XGA projector is no longer a $5000 or $6000 unit for a reseller to be trying to sell," he said. "They can now offer a unit like that to their customers for under $2000 and still make a pretty good margin on it."

Vendors also pointed out resellers might be able to upsell customers to projectors as part of a laptop sale. With the price of projectors coming down, and portability on the rise, businesses could conceivably be pitched on buying a portable projector for every laptop purchased.

"As prices come down, projectors are becoming more accessible, even to small businesses," Pleasants said. "And as they get smaller and more portable, they are becoming an increasingly important business device for portable presentations and the like."

Mitsubishi's Hanna suggested resellers also look towards the hospitality industry for potential sales. He claimed this was an area where projector take-up might yet see some real growth and give plasma screens a run for their money.

"I think pubs and clubs are a huge growth area for the channel," he said. "With big events coming up, like the Rugby World Cup, there are definitely opportunities out there where clubs will want to upgrade their facilities. Resellers can take advantage of that."

Hanna said widescreen and Digital Light Processing (DLP) projectors represented clear refresh paths from what might have been installed previously.

"Projectors are getting brighter with better contrasts and the price point of the XGA models is almost the same as what SVGA models were a short time ago," agreed IDC's Rego. "Businesses are buying them and, although LCD and plasma screen televisions are getting cheaper in the consumer market, there are always home theatre enthusiasts."