With Orlando-based InfoComms traditionally attracting a smaller European contingent, AV News’ reporter Steve Sechrist gives you his analyst’s view of the key product launches and the implications of the technology changes on view. (Prices quoted are US dollar equivalents and may differ from final UK pricing.)
At InfoComm in the USA last month, NEC Display System’s took the title for ‘Best Projector’ in the 10K lumens or less class, for its NP4100W – a 24/7 work-horse that boasts a 0.7-inch DLP light engine with six segment color wheel, and a dual-lamp system producing 5500 lumens of power all for $6500 (£4000.)
But it all may have been for naught as the real “game changer” of the show, was considered by some, the sub-$4K ($3700 or £2300) Sharp 70-inch class LCD flat panel that by some accounts is poised to replace projection technology in key AV markets like business and education. This new breed of Sharp panel is fresh off its Gen 10 line, and boasts the new Quattron technology (a 4-primary pixel structure), full array LED backlit (not edge lit), 120 Hz refresh and fast 4ms response time.
Sharp’s panel is a self-described “70-inch class” but the actual display size is 65.9-inches diagonal. While 65-inch is at best boarder line “giant class” the display size can still be a logistics set-up and delivery nightmare, and the cost of getting the unit through the door, and mounted, is bound to cost well beyond the dealer asking price of the unit.
Flat panel giants
Planar also introduced a new giant display, the d82L with AccessChoice that houses the electronics above the screen or mounted some distance away, to create a thin profile display to fit tight mounting environments. It’s a new version of its 24/7 slim-profile line, at 3.9-inches (10cm) deep, the company said is designed for corporate environments, small-scale control rooms and public venues for digital signage.
But flat panel giants in general have seemed to wane over the past year. Case in point, back at the 2010 InfoComm event, Panasonic made a lot of noise over its giant class plasma PDP displays announcing plans to sell its big three panels in 85-, 103-, and 152-inch diagonal sizes with a starting price of a cool $45K (£28,000) for the junior giant 85-inch in the crowd. But by CES just six months later, not many of these Behemoth’s were around the display floor—replaced perhaps by very narrow bezel video walls.
The Sharp panel is rumored to go on sale to US resellers for $2500 (£1100) and many in the AV space believe Sharp is leaving big dollars on the table. For example, at this year’s show, Panasonic announced its new 65-inch PF30 series PDP (TH-65PF30U) that will sell for $5,580 (£3500.) It’s a new 3D capable Panny with 1080p that includes dealer options, like slot architecture allowing for different terminal boards, needed in custom installs (for extra dollars of course.) Remarkably, the new Panasonic PDP is in the same size “class” as the Sharp 65.9-inch panel and (at £2400) will retail for £1300 more.
But too cheap or not, some analysts believe this “large enough” size, single panel display at this (£1100 dealer) price point could be the death knell for front projection, and give a boost to the giant class panel sales. With their sleek, sexy flat profile, bright emissive multi primary color display, and no lamp to burn out (or clock ticking on time to half brightness) flat screens have already been eating into the projection space. As ASP’s (Average Selling Prices) have continued to plummet flat panel displays provide attractive alternatives to front projection in education, board- and conference rooms that can keep lights full-on and still see the display.
This price busting Sharp single panel solution is one more reason AV dealers will look to the flat panel as a mainstream AV solution – while front projector makers continue to make improvements in LED illumination systems that mitigate the Achilles heel of beamer technology. No word yet on EU availability or selling price for the Sharp big screen across the pond, so stay tuned.
But a new low cost “giant class” LCD isn’t the only thing front projection technology vendors have to worry about. The projector has been under competitive threats for years particularly since Samsung perfected its ultra narrow bezel technology. Sharp too has a narrow bezel solution. Samsung (55-inch 5.7mm) and Sharp (60-inch, 6.5mm) are the two fabs that supply the technology to a host of OEM’s including NEC, and Planar/Runco.
Now the Taiwanese want in on the act, as Chi Lin Solutions simultaneously introduced a 55-inch narrow bezel (model ST-HB55LBX-UNB) in Orlando, FL (at InfoComm) and at Display Taiwan in Taipei. The units support portrait or landscape mode, offer full-HD resolution at 60 Hz with 700 cd/m2 and 170-degree H and V viewing angle – with panels supplied by (you guessed it) Samsung.
For its part, there was no doubt Samsung was focusing on its video wall solutions in a big way at InfoComm. Two giant video walls in their booth, and even the booth signage consisted of four video towers of five single stacked panels in portrait mode, arching up to the rafters displaying a fully saturated Samsung Blue logo for all the show to see.
Samsung introduced a new entry-level video wall series (UE Series) that offers a relatively thin bezel-to-bezel image specs ranging from 10.0mm (in the 55-inch) and 10.3mm (in the 46-inch.) While not ground breaking, their stack-ability and price, make them an excellent value offer for video wall components – that is until the Sharp “game changer” hit the show floor.
Entry-level pricing for the units are $3507 (£2200) and $2455 (£1500) respectively (see the box for specifications). While the company can charge some price premium for its stackable video wall components, we think Samsung will be forced into re-evaluating their pricing strategy on their video wall models, based on availability and delivery of the Sharp 65.9-inch.
Samsung’s UD series video wall panel is consider “mission critical” and can run 24/7. These are of the 5.5mm ultra narrow bezel pedigree and are offered only in the 55-inch size panel class. New pricing is to be confirmed (see the box for specifications).
One interesting technology that has empowered the front projection solution of late is the addition of interactivity, in both education and the conference room. That is the ability to respond and change the displayed content based on direct user input.
Virtually every major projector vendor had some kind of interactive solution at InfoComm, and DLP chip supplier Texas Instruments was responsible for a good bit of the product offerings. The company was showing off its interactive technology sold to many of its OEM customers. The DLP Interactive Pen solution is found in most DLP projectors today, including Viewsonic, BenQ, Dell, and InFocus.
Point Blank (usually given a different brand name by each vendor) allows any flat surface to be turned into an interactive whiteboard using a special wireless pen that communicates directly with the projected image. TI said it also supports direct-touch or remote interaction up to 25 feet (7.6 meters.)
Beyond the TI integrated technology, Hitachi’s short-throw projector was shown with a Luidia, EBeam solution integrated into the projector, and mounted above a standard whiteboard to create a simple, low impact, direct display pen solution. Software from EBeam included mark-up, drawing and software navigation.
Other similar solutions included Epson’s wall mount technology called Bright Link, a complete projection/interaction solution in a sexy new form factor, mounted above a standard whiteboard with an image that scales up to 100-inch and uses a special pen system to interact directly on the image.
Interestingly, the Epson BrightLink technology also allows for inverted mounting, that is rather than projected from a wall mounted position, the projector / pen interactive system can project from a free standing position on a table-top making the image appear on the flat table surface for direct drawing/interacting. The infrared pen allows any surface to be used for display interaction.
But interaction is not limited to the projector. Christie gave a “tech preview” of its interactive product called the Christie EyeKit that is an interactive kit in modular pieces. Technology was derived from a Toronto-based partner Baanto, and their ShadowSense technology. Essentially the group built a frame around a micro-tiles wall up to 16 wide and 6 high creating a multi-touch touch frame.
Christie micro-tiles are design flexible and can be configured into many different display sizes to match any area. Christie claims design goals around simple, responsive and accurate multi-touch input. The metaphor created by Christie was based on painting graffiti on a brick wall. The micro-tiles had the image of a brick surface with a tool kit that included a paint pallet and active pen to create images on this surface – fun!
Finally, Lumia, was showing its camera based touch technology mounted on an NEC LCD panel using a protective cover glass and “patented active illumination barrier.” The glass surface creates a plane of infrared light on the surface of the LCD screen. When you break the plane of light with a finger or pen, it creates a “touch” interpreted by the system. The demo was on a 50-inch class display, but can be scaled upward as needed.
These are a few of the display highlights at InfoComm. Key trends, like the move to a single large panel display, may have found a sweet spot with the Sharp 70-inch class, low cost LCD panel. Other manufacturers like Samsung, continue to bank on a more modular, video wall solutions to get to large images.
These offer some compelling advantages over large single display panels. Bezels are now narrow enough and the panels so super thin that a stackable LCD creates a video wall that make for an almost window quality display. In general, logistic and set-up costs are much lower on video walls, as they can be transported and assembled easily, using a stackable array structure option provided by the manufacturer. Service is also better on the modular video wall option. If one panel goes out it can be replaced for far fewer dollars than a single large display.
But front projection has proven a resilient technology – particularly now with a plethora of interactivity options, new wall-mounted (or above the whiteboard) designs and the movement toward high brightness LED illumination. InfoComm 2011 demonstrated that the AV market is robust and thriving here in the US, with new technologies being applied to create more useful, economical solutions going forward.