From its peak in the 1990s the UK projection screen market was a victim of a number of commercial pressures, including rapid commoditisation, oversupply, a lack of differentiation and issues of arising from declining projector prices (the majority of customers reacted badly when asked to pay more the screen than they paid for the projector).
Couple this with the advance of the large format flatscreen display into a wider share of the traditional projector marketplace and the writing was pretty much on the wall for many of the brands that sprang up in the boom years. But, more recent developments have seem a right-sized supply side for standard screen models matched by a number of specialist manufactures focused on screens for high-end and novel applications.
The trend in favour of higher brightness projectors, advanced projection techniques and ultra high definition have created new niches for screen sales – niches in which it is perfectly possible for resellers and integrators to make money.
Bucking the trend
One company that has always bucked the market trend is Stewart Filmscreen. The company has built its reputation on quality and at the recent InfoComm 2014, the company showed a 4K solutions for the commercial market. This featured a 165” (diagonal) StarGlas 60 rear-projection screen paired with a Christie 4K projector featuring content shot at 120fps to stunning effect.
But the main news from Stewart Filmscreen was the announcement that it was formalising its business into three categories of products – Standard, Large, and ‘Stewart Large’. By solidifying these three size categories, Stewart is reinforcing its place in the market as “the only company that can produce seamless projection screens at extra-large sizes”, for any commercial venue, including hospitality, house of worship, education, entertainment, restaurants, corporate, government and military, among others.
Stewart’s three new size categories are Standard, which includes screens that offer images up to 12 feet wide; Large, which includes screens that have an image width of up to 24 feet; and Stewart Large, which boasts screens up to 90 feet wide and 40 feet high.
“We’ve been making extra-large screens for decades. In fact, no other manufacturer can make seamless fixed projection screens at the sizes we do. That’s why we are calling our largest screens ‘Stewart Large’. We are excited to finally formalize our size offerings so that everyone knows exactly what we are capable of, and can easily select size categories based on their needs,” explained Douglas Brashear, president of Stewart Filmscreen.
For Stewart Filmscreen, size and quality are the differentiators, while other screen vendors have developed technology for new applications. Earlier this year, for example, DA-Lite introduced a new category of solutions for video conferencing. ViewShare Technology brings teams together with the free peer to peer software they are already using. ViewShare integrates an HD video camera into the weight bar of the Tensioned Advantage Electrol projection screen, bringing the capability to turn every conference room into a room for face-to-face brainstorming and document-sharing in real time. ViewShare also includes a tabletop speaker and microphone. Once the product is installed, users can quickly and easily share their screen and make a call by plugging in a USB cable to their computer.
“Face-to-face meetings are ideal, and tend to be more productive than conference calls. But most organisations have a limited number of meeting spaces with video conferencing capabilities,” said Melissa Rone, senior marketing manager at Da-Lite. “With a growing number of employees working remotely or from satellite offices, Da-Lite ViewShare Technology fills a gap in the market between a high-end video conferencing system and a personal computer or smart device. The simple installation and plug and play USB connectivity make it the logical choice for all the other meeting spaces in an organisation.”
Recognising that the new brightness, resolution and 3D capabilities offered by the current generation of projectors extend their applications suite, screen vendors are developing new categories of solutions for new environments, with outdoor being an outstanding opportunity.
Elite Screens’ latest offering in the sector is the Yardmaster Outdoor Theatre range, now available in 180”-200” sizes. The Yardmaster consists of a black metal frame with T-legs that support Elite’s DynaBrite front projection or Wraithveil rear-projection materials. Both fabric s have all weather nylon-stitched reinforcements.
DynaBrite is a 1.1 gain fabric with black masking borders to properly enhance perceived contrast levels while framing the projected image. Its wide viewing angle and diffusion uniformity allows the brightness levels to remain consistent throughout the entire projection surface. The Wraithveil is a 2.2 gain rear projection material that maximizes image brightness in balance with contrast for outdoor presentations.
“Outdoor presentations should not be a big complicated mess; it should be fun.” said David Rodgers, marketing manager at Elite Screens. “The Yardmaster has no complicated electronic parts that can fail; no air cushions that can leak and does not require a generator to merely stand upright in an open place.”
While Elite dismisses inflatable outdoor project screens as “expensive and complicated”, there is no denying their convenience, in terms of packing and transport, for rental business. Loch has introduced a new 140″ screen, with a 16:9 aspect ratio, that can be used for front or rear projection. The screen ships with a professional blower, which means it only takes about 30 seconds to inflate, and includes stakes, tethers, to combat the problem of wind, and a storage bag.
In extending the range of operating environments where projection is an option, the challenge is obviously ambient light. DNP Denmark has made projection in ambient light an area of real specialisation. In a recent demonstration of its front-projected Supernova Infinity optical screens, the company showed that, where ambient light would cause conventional screens to simply wash out, DNP’s Supernova Infinity presented a viable solution.
Technology developments of this kind are important if projection is to be deployed in a wider range of environments – for example, digital signage. DNP’s research has found that its Supernova screens emit ‘softer’ light when compared with the harsher lighting of LED screens – good when a large, seamless digital canvas such as this is viewed at close quarters. The anti-glare surface minimise reflected ambient light – and the hot-spotting often observed with today’s high-lumens projectors is all but banished entirely.
The latest development in this area sees ‘daylight visible’ 3D projection mapping onto and around products – an impactful solution when paired with a screen that performs well in ambient light, in applications such as retail. DisplayMapper launches this month and uses bespoke cloud-based software controlled from a central network. This allows clients to develop and automatically deliver their own content to hundreds of daylight visible projections all controlled centrally.
Projection might be undergoing something of a perfect storm right now with higher light output, higher resolutions, solid-state lightsources and developments in screen formats and materials that will see the technology adopted in a wider range of applications. The role of the screen shouldn’t be underestimated in this resurgence, but the path to success lays in specialisation and differentiation.