Posts Tagged ‘projectors’

Life (and Death) Go On In The Projector World

Three news items in the past few days are all focused on front projectors (pardon the pun). And each of these news items has a decided air of uncertainty around it, which of course reflects the sluggish economy and a looming paradigm shift away from projected images to self-contained, larger-than-life display technologies.

 

The first item is courtesy of Engadget, who reports that Sony is getting ready to bring a $28,000 4K-resolution projector to the home cinema market. They won’t be the first (Meridian previously offered the JVC 4K D-ILA platform for about $200K), but they will be the cheapest.

 

This announcement, which will no doubt be one of Sony’s big PR blasts at CES 2012, raises a few questions. First, who needs 4K resolution? That represents four times the detail on a full 1920×1080 image, and there isn’t any content available to consumers (yet) that is authored at that resolution.

 

Sure, HDMI v1.4 supports 4K. And you could certainly master a 4K Blu-ray disc, although at current disc capacities, you’d be limited to about 30 – 45 minutes of content with aggressive MPEG4 compression. But for now, 2K (or, more accurately, 2,073,600) pixels represents the upper limit for home viewing.

 

That gives rise to the second question: How will Sony scale 2K content to fit the 4K imaging devices, which are almost certain to be SXRD LCoS chips? It’s not just a line-doubling job. No, scaling 2K to 4K is akin to scaling standard definition video to the 720p HDTV format. And what will 720p broadcasts look like on this projector?

 

Third, how big a screen would you need to actually see the difference between 4K and 2K source material? I’m thinking that the typical 92-inch 16:9 screen at 12 feet isn’t going to cut it.

 

The second news item comes from Quixel Research, who reports that USA sales of 3D projectors for home use increased by 121% between Q2 and Q3 of 2011. That number represents 16% of all home theater projector sales, which sounds pretty impressive.

 

Ahh, but the devil is in the details, as usual. Sales revenue for 3D home projectors grew by only 14% in the same time period, a trend Quixel attributes to a “recent onslaught of low-cost 3D models” in the channel. Not so impressive, and even less so when you learn that the overall home theater projector market saw a 7% decrease in volume from Q2 to Q3 2011, even though the category saw a 2% increase year-to-year.

 

The culprit? Look no further than plummeting prices on bigger and bigger TV screens. For less than $3,000, you can buy a Sharp Aquos 70-inch LED LCD TV with all the trimmings. And their newest model measures 80 inches diagonally, and will retail for less than $5,000. Who needs a projector when you’ve got a self-contained TV screen that large? (Betcha Sharp shows a 90-inch+ LCD TV at CES!)

 

My belief is that 3D front projection make a whole lot more sense at home than small 3D TVs (less than 55 inches). Most people sit too far away from 3D TVs to get the full effect, and they rarely pay attention to controlling ambient light spilling on the screen.

 

But 3D front projection turns that equation around. It’s easy to get a big 3D image and not spend a ton of money to do it, and screens tend to be placed in rooms where lights can be lowered or shut off altogether, just like in a movie theater.

 

The problem is that projector manufacturers have slashed prices too low, too quickly. Got $2,000 in your pocket? You have quite a selection of stereoscopic DLP and 3LCD front projectors to choose from; of which a few models are tagged around $1,500. That’s a lot less than a 70-inch LED LCD TV costs – for now. But margins are very thin on such products.

 

The last item comes by way of AV Interactive, the top pro AV publication in the United Kingdom. According to their Web site, Sanyo will cease to exist as a brand name by the end of the 1st quarter of 2012 (also the end of the fiscal year for Japanese companies).

 

How the AVI staff found this out is interesting: They got hold of a letter circulated by Panasonic to ‘business partners’ informing them of the decision. (I assume ‘business partners’ means dealers and distributors.)

 

Readers from the pro AV industry will of course recognize Sanyo as one of the top projector brands, fronting an amazingly-large lineup that ranges from ultraportables to 10,000-lumens behemoths for auditoriums and theaters. They’ve also done pioneering work with short-throw projection as well as LED-powered light engines.

 

For those readers who missed the headlines, Panasonic acquired Sanyo in December of 2008 for about $4.6 billon, primarily to scoop up the latter’s industry-leading battery and renewable energy technologies. Solar cell technologies were also in the mix. I found out about the acquisition while having dinner with several Sanyo executives in Osaka that night, which of course made for some very interesting conversations.

 

At the time, I assumed that the Sanyo and Panasonic projector business units could co-exist nicely. Panasonic does very well in high-brightness DLP projectors, while Sanyo projectors are ubiquitous in hotels, classrooms, conference rooms, and even home theaters. But it appears that’s not going to be the case, as Panasonic will instead pull a ‘borg’ move and completely assimilate its prized acquisition.

 

Ironically, the two companies have family ties that go all the way back to the period just after World War II. Sanyo was born when Toshio Iue, a former Matsushita employee and the brother-in-law of Konosuke Matsushita (the founder of Panasonic), began manufacturing bicycle generator lamps in an unused Matsushita plant in 1947.

 

What will happen to all of the Sanyo and Panasonic projector business unit employees is uncertain at this writing; although it’s likely there will be substantial staff reductions. No word yet on whether Panasonic will continue to offer Sanyo-designed appliances (possibly), LCD TVs (unlikely), and cameras and camcorders (also unlikely).

 

What we will see from Panasonic is a wider portfolio of rechargeable batteries and energy-efficient devices. That may be the only legacy of Sanyo to survive after April 1 of next year. Too bad, because I love my Sanyo Xacti 1080p pistol camera and my brother loves his Sanyo 32-inch LCD TV. And I’m sure many readers love their PLV-series Sanyo home theater projectors, too.

 

Tempus fugit…

Pico Projectors: Cute, But Does Anyone Use Them?

You see them at trade shows and technical conferences. They’re available (by mail) from Staples and other retailers. Nikon has a digital camera (CoolPix S1000PJ, about $399) with a built-in projector, and Sony just announced three new models of camcorders equipped with projectors (HDR-PJ50V, $1000; HDR-PJ30V, $950, and HDR-PJ10, $750) at CES.

But who’s using them? Have you seen any in use for an office or classroom presentation? Do any of your friends and neighbors own a picoprojector? None of mine do, and I know a lot of ‘cutting edge’ techno freaks.

In my most recent Wake-Up Call e-blast for Pro AV magazine, I asked the same questions. Aside from trade show like CES and InfoComm and technology conferences such as SID, I have yet to see one of these little buggers in actual use.

Last night, on my way out of the local Giant grocery store, I passed by Larmon Photo, a regional camera retailer based in Abington, PA.  I’ve known the folks at Larmon for many years and have purchased quite a few digital cameras there.

Nikon's S1000PJ digital camera with built-in projector.

Larmon is an authorized Nikon dealer and sells a ton of Nikon digital SLRs and CoolPix point-and-shoot cameras. So that means they’d also carry the CoolPix S1000PJ in their line.

I asked my friend at the store if they carried the camera, and indeed they have since it was launched in the fall of 2009. But have they sold any of them since then? Not a one.

In fact, he said they had never gotten a single inquiry about the S1000PJ, but they have moved bucket loads of other, less-expensive CoolPix cameras in the past year and a half.

Last week, I had lunch with a client who works for a second-tier projector manufacturer. (His company doesn’t sell picos, by the way.)  His comment was that he regarded picoprojectors as ‘rebound’ products – that is, they are frequently returned to AV dealers after purchase. The most common reason was ‘it’s not bright enough.’ (In fact, one of his dealers reported he had customers trying to return more picoprojectors than he had originally sold!)

Picoprojectors have two things working against them. First, most of them are simply too dim. How big an image can you reasonably project with 10, 20, or 30 lumens? Even 50 lumens isn’t much to start with when you are making a small group presentation. You’d be better off using a larger notebook computer screen, as you wouldn’t have to dim the room lights.

Secondly, picoprojectors are EXPENSIVE. Really! Staples sells a few models of picoprojectors – all of which must be ordered by mail with a 5 – 8 day delivery cycle, no stores carry them – and they start at $300 (Optoma PK201, 20 lumens, 852×480 resolution). Staples also carries the Optoma PK301 (50 lumens, 854×480 resolution, $400) and the 3M MPro 150 (15 lumens, 640×480 resolution, $400).

3M' MPro 150 pocket projector.

Hmmm…For $360, you can buy an NEC NP115 (800×600 resolution, 2500 lumens) that weighs all of 5 pounds, and will project big images on just about any surface under full room lighting. It doesn’t fit in your pocket, but has three video inputs and varifocal lens.

See the problem here? $400 is a lot of money to spend on something that can barely light up a sheet of paper three feet away. And yet, numerous companies are spending lots of money to develop and bring these products to market, including Texas Instruments, 3M, Optoma, Vivitek, Syndiant, Microdisplay, and ViewSonic.

In my Wake-Up Call newsletter, I mentioned that I saw tablet computers as a direct threat to picoprojectors. And apparently a good part of the picoprojector industry agrees, according to a January 3 press release from Pacific Media Associates, which surveyed pico manufacturers and suppliers about the present and future market for picos. (Apparently, 70,00 of them were sold in 2010 – who knew?)

I noticed several negative user comments about picos, mostly focused on low light output and how impractical the projectors turned out to be.  Here’s one comment from the Staples Web site: “Performance leaves a LOT to be desired. Product says it has adjustable brightness, but was too dim to use in a room with any light what so ever, and brightness would not adjust. Might be a good item for a very small room with no light and limited attendees.” Here’s another. “No practical use for this product. Great for use in a closet!”

To be fair, there were also a couple of positive reviews of this particular pocket projector. But there are no user reviews of the two other picoprojectors on the Staples Web site so far, even though they’ve been available for over a year.

At CES, TI had a demo room full of picos – built-in to cameras and tablets, as well as stand-alone models with brightness ranges approaching a more practical 500 lumens. But 500 lumens isn’t a real pico; it’s just an underpowered ultraportable projector. Most of the demos were just too dim to be of any practical use.

So I repeat my question. Does anybody use picoprojectors? Does anybody even want a picoprojector?

How about you?