The digital projector market has enjoyed tremendous growth across all segments in the past twelve months. Prices have been slashed aggressively and what was once an exotic and expensive piece of display equipment is now easily affordable, and high quality devices are available at entry level prices. A spiral of increased demand and lower manufacturing costs has produced a booming market which shows no sign of slowing down in the immediate future.
Erica Carver, projector product manager at Sony UK said “At the moment we are still seeing quite significant growth in the market but I think there are certain areas where that is more pronounced than other areas, certainly we are seeing a lot of growth in the education sector. Also in the small business area, I know as time goes on that growth is expected to slow down but for the moment we’re still seeing quite significant growth because obviously the prices have started to reach points that make them accessible to a wider range of people.”
All the manufacturers we spoke to cited growth in the education sector as being a key factor in lighting up the market over the past year. The main driver behind this has been the government’s ICT Active initiative which aims to put a projector in every UK classroom in order to improve education facilities. In addition to this, the entry of numerous new players from the IT sector has fuelled competition and helped to drive prices down, particularly in the ultra-portable and entry level devices. Carver said “We have seen a lot of people who are traditionally IT brands coming into what was historically an audio-visual space with the convergence of AV and IT, which actually happened a few years ago, even though some people say it is still coming. People who are making the decisions on AV purchases and the people who are making the IT decisions tend to be one in the same now whereas historically they would have been separate.”
This convergence has affected the market in different ways, as well as creating an opportunity for IT vendors to move into the projector space it has also changed the way projectors are procured and managed by organisations. The evolution of the projector from an AV device to a piece of IT equipment has shifted responsibility to IT departments, and this has effected buying decisions and user expectations. Glen Batchelor, UK marketing manager for InFocus said “A lot of companies have bought projectors individually from different companies, as the number of projectors begins to rise the responsibility for managing and maintaining those devices tends to shift over to the IT department. And as that happens they want to reduce their costs by standardising on a solution that gives them a consistent user interface, interchangeable spare parts and so forth.”
With the availability of affordable, good quality portable projectors an interesting new trend has emerged which has had a knock on effect in terms of feature sets. Projectors which were initially bought for business use are frequently being taken home by staff and used as temporary home cinema devices since they lend themselves just as well to being used with a DVD player or video games console. This has led to no small measure of crossover between business and consumer devices. Generally speaking, business projectors do not need the same high image quality and features such as lens-shift and widescreen capability, but nevertheless such features are creeping into business devices as manufacturers catch on to this dual use trend.
One of the key areas of technical development, perhaps driven by increased consumer interest, has been in the usability of the devices. Projectors have a long standing reputation for being fiddly to set up and configure, but the manufacturers are doing all they can to change this. Dave Barton, the divisional manager for projectors at Sharp UK said “If I look at the sort of features that people are looking for they are usually all related to ease of use, and why shouldn’t they be? What people are looking for is simplicity. What we and I guess a number of other manufacturers are introducing features that make projectors very easy to use.”
Most of the manufacturers seem to agree that the market will continue to benefit from an upward trend. Batchelor said “It is kind of surprising because every time we speak to the analysts the forecasts keep going up, and as you can appreciate as a sales company that’s always a challenge. There are certain segments that are growing faster than others, but overall the UK is quite a buoyant economy and the market is growing at 50 per cent a year as a whole.”
However, whether prices will continue to fall or not is a matter of some debate. “I think that it will continue but it will be at a less accelerated rate.” said Carver. Others believe that prices have already begun to stabilise and have reached a sweet spot which will remain level for the foreseeable future, Batchelor said “Initially the manufacturers were trying to take as much cost out of the box as possible and pass that saving onto the consumer, we’re now getting to a stage where those costs have been taken out and it is going to be a next big technology development that will reduce costs in the long run. We are now at a level where it is quite stable.”