Portability Driving New Growth In Digital Projector Market

Portability could be the key to a renaissance in the digital projector market.

Despite a challenging first quarter, the digital projector market is seeing growth in emerging portable product categories. For the 2013 first quarter, PMA Research reported worldwide digital projector shipments of 1.95 million units, down slightly year-over-year compared with 2.07 million units sold.

However, PMA also reported elevated sales of pico, personal and high-end projectors. Pico and personal projectors of sub-1,000 lumens had double-digit shipment growth compared to the same period one year ago.

While pico projectors are portable, they are different than portable projectors. They are more compact and weigh about six to eight pounds.

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Jeff Volpe, ViewSonic's president of the Americas, attributed this year's positive growth to the emerging category of portable solid-state and pico projectors.

"This is an exciting and growing category because the solid-state is lampless and allows the total cost of ownership to be reduced," said Volpe. "The portability and reduction of heat based on the solid-state technology is of value to people from an energy usage perspective."

According to ViewSonic Product Manager Roger Chien, this trend is budding due to the increased need for portability for traveling professionals.

"We see that the trend is growing," said Chien. "They need something light and portable but can give a large display when they are on the road."

Dave Duncan, product marketing manager of InFocus, believes there is a necessity today for mobile projectors.

"A lot of people are buying mobile products," said Duncan. "We do a lot of business with pharmaceutical businesses. When they present wirelessly door to door, they need a mobile solution."

Due to cutbacks in budget for government and education, the sales of mainstream projectors were slow compared to 2012's first quarter, according to PMA Research. However, Wide XGA, and 1080p commercial and home entertainment projectors seem to thrive.

Along with ViewSonic's laser/LED hybrid light technology and solid-state projectors, Volpe believes there are advantages to 1080p technology for home theater and education markets.

"When you see a project in standard definition it's nice and big, but when you see it in 1080p it's almost immersive because of the clarity and contrast," said Volpe. "Clarity of fonts and text in the business environment, or quality of video in a projection environment with 1080p makes significant difference in the quality."

According to Volpe, with the price of DLP and DMV chips decreasing, ViewSonic produced a reasonably priced 1080p projector. "From its PJD7 line, the 1080p PJD7820HD projector costs $700, the price of what a lower-screen-quality XGA projector cost several years ago.".

"With the price of chips coming down, we were able to put a 1080p on the market at $700," said Volpe. "Those combined elements of screen performance and price is really attractive to those looking to acquire projection technology."

NEXT: Projectors In The Classroom

While 1080p projectors are an emerging trend, there aren't many switching to 1080p in the education market, according to West Martin, director of sales for Classroom Technology Solutions.

"While people are starting to pay attention to 1080p projectors, I don't see the switching to 1080p completely for schools from K-12," said Martin. "They are looking to have HDMI connections and are satisfied with 720p."

Instead, schools are looking more for quality projectors that can last more than a couple years, said Martin. With budget cuts in the education market, Martin believes that both education clients and companies are forced to become savvier with what they purchase and what they offer.

"It's a significant purchase in one single budget year," said Martin. "We're treating it like an infrastructure upgrade by consulting with customers to help them make sure cabling and parts will be replaced easily and lamp life will continue for years."

Although there is a shift toward solid-state projectors, including laser and LED, the majority of projectors are still lamp-based, states Keith Yanke, NEC's senior director of product market. However, turning to an alternative light source such as solid-state provides a cheaper yet efficient solution.

"Solid state is still in its infancy, but over the next 12 to 18 months moving towards solid state becomes cheaper," said Yanke. "The total cost of ownership and maintenance is the reason for this shift. Instead of replacing a lamp every 1,000 hours, solid-state provides a light source of 20,000 hours or more."

With budget cuts, the education market remains cautious when it comes to making a purchase. Volpe believes they are acquiring projection technology at a massive rate because educators have the ability to use projection and interactive technology to enhance their classroom environments.

"Education requires projection in a very significant way," said Volpe. "It gives them the opportunity to improve learning, provide effective curriculum, interactivity and collaboration in the classroom."

According to PMA Research, sales of interactive projectors topped 20 percent of mainstream volume during the quarter. Sean Gunduz, product manager of corporate and large venue projectors for Epson, attributes this increase to the education market.

"Interactivity for the education market has been the strongest in terms of adaption curve; they still own the market at 80 percent," said Gunduz. "There is a difference between why the education market is successful and why the corporate market is lagging."

Gunduz believes that teachers have more of an everyday use for an interactive display projector, whereas in a corporate environment, it isn't used regularly.

"In a classroom, there is a fixed teacher and computer. Once they get trained on the interactive display projector, they feel comfortable enough to use it on a daily basis," said Gunduz. "In a corporate setting, people don't adopt the same technology because they don't use it so frequently, or they refuse to use it because they feel intimidated."

NEXT: Building Channel Momentum

Epson, InFocus, NEC and ViewSonic all attribute their relative success to their established channel partnerships. NEC has been relying on the distribution channel to get its products to resellers and it has proven beneficial.

"When you look at the projector space, the distribution channel has grown year-after-year," said NEC's Yanke. "Since we can't reach everybody to provide the inventory, resellers and integrators especially help."

Volpe also strongly emphasizes the importance of establishing a relationship with VARs.

"We want to make sure we balance the channel and our products," said Volpe. "We want our channel partners to have the opportunity to make profits with us and build a long-term business with us."

Founded six years ago, Jacksonville, Fla.-based Classroom Technology Solutions has since been partners with ViewSonic.

"Initially the choice was easy -- we needed a partner and ViewSonic answered the call," said Martin. ViewSonic is an extremely friendly partner for us. We know how their system works; they are quick to react and have special pricings through the channel."

Currently, ViewSonic's go-to-market strategy includes leveraging distributor partners such as Ingram, Synnex, Tech Data and ASI. The company offers two partner programs: the Finch Club partner program and the ProAV Certified program. Partner programs include online training, webinars, special pricing and benefits designed to increase profitability.

"The Finch Club Partner program provides an innovative, diversified product portfolio and access to valuable tools to grow a business profitably," said Volpe. "The ProAV Certified program is specifically designed to support certified audio visual dealers to gain quarterly rebates."

Epson currently has the Brighter Futures program for education customers, which allows for additional warranty and special pricing. This program also applies to channel partners that work with education customers.

And the Deal Registration Program, according to Gunduz, rewards reseller partners who invest their time and resources into showcasing Epson projection solutions. To participate in this program, VARs must sign up, demonstrate the Epson projector, and ship the product within 120 days of the date Epson approves deal registration. Once the criteria is met, resellers are granted an exclusive discount on select projectors, including the PowerLite Pro G Series, Pro Z series and BrightLink 455Wi.

"If channel partners bring a new deal to us, we give them additional discounts on selected products," said Gunduz. "They are able to get another 10 percent margin and increase profitability."

Volpe states that over the last three years, he has been continuing to see trends grow even though market data shows the projector market as soft. According to the PMA Research report, there are sharply rising sales in China, India and Latin America.

"There are growing worldwide shipments of projectors in emerging markets of India, Latin America, Russia and Asia," said ViewSonic's Volpe. "If you dig deeper and peel the onion back, in the Americas there is growth in new technologies that are interactive and immersive, and [ViewSonic] expects to continue to grow our projection business."