Posts Tagged ‘Sharp’

Sharp Makes a Big Play for Ultra HDTV

Last Wednesday, Sharp held a TV showcase in Lower Manhattan and showed that they’re still committed to the North American television market. Said commitment came in the form of nine models of Ultra HD (3840×2160) sets, ranging in size from 43 inches to a wall-sized 80-inch model.

Some background is useful before I proceed. Nine years ago, Sharp was the #1 retailer of LCD TVs in the world, commanding a 21% market share and leaving Korean competitors LG and Samsung eating their dust.

But time changes everything. Since then, Sharp’s WW market share has steadily declined to the point that the brand is usually classified with “other” when analysts release their quarterly and annual rankings for shipments and revenue share. Part of that is due to the guerilla marketing and sales strategies employed by both Samsung and LG: The first company remains comfortably in 1st place with a 27% market share, while LG is a distant 2nd with 15%.

Many of the once-famous Japanese brands have fallen by the wayside since then. Hitachi abandoned the U.S. TV market several years ago, and Mitsubishi had no choice but to get out as its rear-projection designs fell out of favor. Toshiba announced last year it would retreat to Japan, and Panasonic seems to have shifted its corporate focus to more profitable commercial products and solutions. (How many Panasonic TVs have you seen in stores lately?)

That leaves Sony and Sharp, and I’ve documented in great detail the former’s legendary missteps with consumer products and televisions. Indeed; Sony still has an 8 % WW revenue share in TV, but that number has been in slow decline for some time and the red ink continues to pile up in Sony’s TV (and mobile phone) business units.

So, back to Sharp. Unlike other Japanese brands, Sharp stands alone in having a completely vertically-integrated TV business: They manufacture the LCD panels at their world’s-largest Gen 10 facility in Sakai, Japan. They were the first company to master high yields on the all-important faster and energy-efficient IGZO TFT technology, which is used widely on their TVs. And they can still make larger cuts of LCD glass cheaper than anyone else – for now.

But Sharp has had a bad stretch of fiscal years, losing over a billion dollars just a few years ago and almost going bankrupt. Their lender banks are getting weary of issuing IOUs and even the assistance of both Qualcomm and Samsung were needed a couple of years ago to keep the doors open. (Both companies are now minority owners.)

The Gen 10 Sakai fab itself is nearly half-owned by Hon Hai Precision Industries, owners of Foxcon and manufacturers of Apple’s iStuff. And the chairman of Hon Hai, Terry Gou, wants to put more of his money into Sharp, but wants a seat on the board – something that is being met with less than enthusiasm in Osaka.

There are nine new Ultra HDTVs in the Sharp line now, ranging from 43 inches to 80 inches.

There are nine new Ultra HDTVs in the Sharp line now, ranging from 43 inches to 80 inches.

The company really is at a crossroads with respect to their consumer TV business. Sharp has been around for so long in the U.S. that some readers may remember owning a Sharp LCD calculator, or fax machine. And the brand has a perception of being “old school” and stodgy. (Witness their use of Baby Boomer idol George Takei, famous for his role in the 1960s TV series Star Trek, to promote the company’s Quattron technology a few years back.)

Unlike Samsung and LG, Sharp doesn’t have a presence in tablets, and is a very minor player in smartphones. Sharp also sold lots of appliances back in the day, but not that long ago a sales associate for a major brick-and-mortar chain located near me said, “No one comes in asking for Sharp products anymore.”

Nevertheless, the company continues to push forward. They made a bold but perhaps wise move in bringing back industry veteran Peter Weedfald to try and shake things up. Weedfald is now senior VP for sales, and he’s got quite an obstacle course in front of him to return the company to a competitive position.

The new Ultra HDTVs may help, if Weedfald is successful in generating “buzz” about them. There are three series: The Aquos UB30 sets are value-priced Ultra HD models, and include 43” (42.5” diagonal), 50” (49.6” diagonal), 55” (54.6” diagonal) and 65” (64.5” diagonal) Class screen sizes, with the 43” and 50” offerings priced at $799.99 and $999.99, respectively. The 55” model will retail for $1,299.99 and the 65-inch version will be ticketed at $2,399.99.

All Ultra HD sets support HEVC H.265 and VP9 decoding for streaming 4K (Netflix, anyone?).

All Ultra HD sets support HEVC H.265 and VP9 decoding for streaming 4K (Netflix, anyone?).

 

Sharp has adopted the Android OS for its new line of Ultra HDTVs.

Sharp has adopted the Android OS for its new line of Ultra HDTVs.

All four models support 4K streaming and have built-in HEVC H.265 and VP9 codecs and Sharp’s Revelation 4K upscaling engine. HDMI 2.0 inputs with HDCP 2.2 are also standard, although I couldn’t tell how many. Stepping up one level finds the UH30 series of Ultra HDTVs. The UE30 series includes models in 60” (diagonal.), 70” (69.5” diagonal) and 80” diagonal screen sizes. MSRPs are $2,099.99, $2,899.99, and $5,599.99, respectively.

These models also come with HEVC / VP9 streaming support and Revelation upscaling, and the press release states that “…Easy connectivity is at your fingertips in both the UH30 and UE30 series with four HDMI® inputs equipped with the latest 4K specs.” That would seem to indicate four HDMI 2.0 input ports, which may be more than any other manufacturer at present.

The top-line models (UH series) are the 70-inch LC-70UH30U ($3,299.99) and 80-inch LC-80UH30U ($6,299.99) and include all the bells and whistles of the UB and UE series TVs, plus something Sharp calls SPECTROS Rich Color Display. This is a color-enhanced image that also shows some signs of supporting high dynamic range (HDR) content, but it’s not using quantum dots. Nor is it firing additional adjacent sets of color pixels to improve saturation, something Sharp called “3K” at CES 2013.

There is a marked improvement in color quality from a conventional TV to one equipped with SPECTROS. And with Samsung, LG, Sony, and others showing quantum dot-equipped Ultra HDTVs, Sharp had to offer something to keep up with the Joneses.

A conventional Sharp LCD TV is on the left, and a new UH model with SPECTROS color rendering is on the right. This photo doesn't do it justice, but the increase in color saturation is quite noticeable.

A conventional Sharp LCD TV is on the left, and a new UH model with SPECTROS color rendering is on the right. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but the increase in color saturation is quite noticeable.

All of the UE and UH-series TVs also support Android TV, unlike Samsung’s Tizen and LG’s Web OS. That means you have a search engine that is similar to Google on your smartphone or tablet in operation. We tried it out to locate programs as well as the score of the Yankees afternoon game, but weren’t as successful with other searches through the voice-activated remote.

There you have it. Sharp certainly has the know-how and supply chain to build and market the latest in TV technology, and their build quality has always stood up well to any other manufacturer. Given the rapid fall in TV prices, it might even be prudent for Sharp to abandon the 1080p TV market and toss all of their eggs into Ultra HD going forward, where I think they’d have a much easier time carving out a niche.

After all, it’s not like the company doesn’t have any experience with ultra-high resolution imaging. They’ve shown an 85-inch 8K TV for several years now at CES, and the NHK 8K broadcasts in Japan make extensive use of Sharp displays – all the way down to a 13-inch 8K OLED TV, shown at the NAB expo back in April.

Now, they just need to get some “buzz” going….

Attention, TV Buyers – Your Time Has Come!

You may not have noticed it, but the U.S. economy is doing quite well right now. Unemployment continues to fall; the Dow and S&P 500 recently hit all-time highs, and the price of oil has gone into free fall lately.

For many consumers, that means more money in their wallets. And with the conclusion of the college football playoffs and the Super Bowl looming in a couple of weeks, now – and I mean NOW – is the absolute best time to buy a new television.

Not on Black Friday, or Cyber Monday. Not right before Christmas. NOW.

It’s been well-documented that TV sales spike upward right as the pro football playoffs start and hit their peak the week before the Super Bowl. That’s partly because obsessed fans want a big-screen HD experience to see the Seahawks and Patriots slug it out. But it’s also because TV retailers see slow months looming immediately after the game, and don’t want to sit on large quantities of unsold inventory.

To drive the point home, brick-and-mortar store chains like Best Buy and HH Gregg are circulating fliers in the Sunday papers that showcase these big screens with generic football scenes. Gregg’s flier for this past Sunday (1/18) calls it their “Annual Super Sale.” Best Buy trumpets your chance to “Get a Game-Changer at a Great Price.”

Sunday 1-19-2015 Fliers 1024

So, just how good are the deals? BB’s flier features deals on LG sets, offering a 55-inch Ultra HD smart TV (55UB8200) for $1200 and a 65-inch model (65UB9200) for $2000. Don’t need 4K? You can grab a 55-inch 1080p set (55LB5550) for $500 or a 65-inch version (65LB5200) for $800. Pick up an LG soundbar for $200, a $100 discount off full retail.

Across the street, Gregg has an LG 60-inch Ultra HD set (60UB8200) for $1800 and a 49-inch (yes, 49-inch!) 49UB8200 for $900. Not big enough? Sharp’s 70-inch LC70LE660U 1080p TV is tagged at $1400, and Gregg will throw in a $50 gift card with it. LG’s also got a 79-inch Ultra HD model (79UB9800) for $6000 – not exactly a bargain, but that is a HUGE TV with 4K resolution.

Aside from the LG behemoth, these are Vizio-like prices. Speaking of Vizio, they’ve got a 55-inch 1080p set (E5501-B2) at Best Buy for $600 and a 50-inch loaded “smart” model (M5021-B1) for the same price. You’ll also find a 65-inch 1080p set (D6501-C3) for $900 and a 70-inch 1080p version (E7001-B3) for $1300. Vizio’s in the Ultra HD game, too – their 65-inch P652UI model is yours for just $1500.

How about Samsung? The 55-inch UN55HU6950 Ultra HD smart TV has been discounted to $1300 at Best Buy, while Gregg has the 65-inch UN65H6203 1080p smart TV for $1200. And if you need a basic 32-inch set for a bedroom or vacation home, the Samsung UN32EH4003 will set you back just $219. (Of course, you can also buy a ProScan PLDED3273A 720p 32-inch TV at Gregg for just $160.)

Let’s turn our attention away from specific models and prices and look at the big picture. Until last year, the biggest TV you could buy for less than $500 was around 42 inches. For less than $1,000, it was 60 inches. Now the bar has been lowered – you can routinely find 55-inch sets for $500 (Haier has a 55-inch model for $400), and 65-inch 1080p sets for $800 to $900.

And Ultra HD set prices, which flirted with the $1,000 level several times last year, are getting very close to those of 1080p sets. In some cases, loaded 3D “smart” 1080p sets sell for about the same price as basic Ultra HDTVs. Case in point: Samsung’s UN55HU8550 55-inch Ultra HD model (smart 3D) sells for only $200 more ($1700) than their 60-inch UN60H7150 (smart 3D) 1080p TV ($1500).

Aside from a spike in Ultra HDTV sales last year, there’s not a lot of motivation for consumers to upgrade their televisions unless they can score a real deal on a much bigger screen. 55 inches for $500 will do it; so will 65 inches for $800. And some will take the plunge into 4K as the price of 55-inch sets drops closer to a grand.

Best Buy hopes you’ll do this sooner than later: In a news story from January 15, the company’s financial guidance stated that domestic sales would be flat to negative for the first half of the year. At the same time, Best Buy also said profitability will take a hit as it plans to spend heavily on store improvements.

Expect further discounts as we get closer to the big game. You’ll probably see at least one or more 55-inch Ultra HD models dip below $1,000 in next Sunday’s fliers, and you might also see 65-inch 2K sets pushed for $700. There might even be more crazy discounts the day of the game as brick-and-mortar retailers try to push more black ink onto their ledgers.

Happy hunting!

Consumer Television: It’s Business As Usual (Or Maybe Not)

The official numbers haven’t been released yet, but a report in The Korea Herald, dated January 22 says that the final data will show Samsung dominated the global television business in 2013.

According to the story, Samsung was estimated to have sold 49 million units of flat-panel TVs last year. DisplaySearch had the totals at 32 million from January through September (the final DisplaySearch numbers for 2013 haven’t been compiled yet) and Yoon Boo-keun, Samsung’s consumer electronics division chief, stated at CES earlier this month that the company sold around 15 million TVs in Q4.

That’s an impressive number by anyone’s standards and reflects the complete dominance Samsung has in the television business. Think back 20 years to when Samsung was an afterthought; perceived as a 3rd-tier “bargain” brand for electronics.

Now, they’re on top of the heap, and have been so for eight consecutive years. In the meantime, LG looks to maintain its grip on 2nd place, with a varying market share number in the low to mid-teens throughout 2013. Between the two companies, they control over 40% of the worldwide television business.

The Japanese, on the other hand, will no doubt be disappointed by the final numbers for ’13. In the third quarter; Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp were hovering around 8%, 6%, and 5% market share respectively – and those numbers are expected to drop when the final tally comes in.

As I noted in my last DD, Panasonic seems to be charting a course away from televisions, based on what they didn’t show at CES (a full line-up of 2014 models) and their emphasis on commercial sales of everything from cameras and storage devices to digital signs and batteries. And of course, Panasonic pulled the plug on plasma panel and TV manufacturing at the end of December.

The other remaining player in televisions – Toshiba – took a similar approach to their CES booth, choosing to show a wide variety of 4K (Ultra HD) display applications for home and office and skipping the TV line-up. Toshiba has already shut down two manufacturing plants and laid off over 3,000 employees because of continued losses in television and computer manufacturing.

That leaves Sony and Sharp. The former continues to stay the course in sales and marketing of consumer TVs, but I’d be surprised if they don’t turn in yet another year of red ink – the ninth in a row. Sharp, meanwhile, has chosen to emphasize their super-sized lineup of TVs, plus clever engineering tricks like the Quattron+ line and their ability to manufacture IGZO TFTs with decent yields.

The problem for both companies is their uninterrupted slide in television market share that has been going on for eight years. With a 5% share worldwide and 3% in the United States as of Q3 2013, Sharp can’t afford to stay in this game for much longer. Neither can Sony, if they are serious about returning a profit to shareholders.

It doesn’t help matters that television sales are expected to have declined worldwide by 2.2% from 2012 when the accountants are done. The double-digit boom in TV sales in China kept that number from being a lot worse.

Amid the flurry of post-CES news stories about curved, super-sized UHDTVs was another item that went almost unnoticed, except for the sharp eyes of analyst Paul Gagnon of NPD DisplaySearch. In his blog post of January 17, Gagnon revealed how three retailers in the United Kingdom are already discounting LG’s “first to market” 55-inch curved OLED TV (55EA980W) by £3,000 ($4,910).

This product, which launched on these shores in July of 2013 for nearly $15,000, saw its price drop in the U.S by nearly $6,000 one month later when Samsung rolled out their own curved 55-inch model for about $9,000. And now – just seven months later – the LG model is selling in the U.K. for £4,999 ($8,178), almost one-half of its original sticker price. (Perhaps they overestimated demand?)

And the cannibalizing of TV prices continues unabated. On the last day of CES, Vizio announced its prices for a line of full-array LED 4K (UHDTV) “smart” LCD models – and they aren’t much higher than conventional LED “smart” TVs from LG and Samsung.

Case in point: The 50-inch P502ui-B1 will retail for $1,000, while the 55-inch version will have a sticker price of $1,400. The P602ui-B3 is set at $1,800, and the 65-inch model will command $2,199. Finally, a 70-inch skew (P702ui-B3) will be offered at $2,600. Consider that Samsung and Sony are trying to peddle 55-inch 4K LCD smart TVs for about $2,900 right now and you can clearly see the train wreck coming.

Summing up: Samsung dominates the consumer television world – business as usual. Panasonic and Toshiba de-emphasize TVs at CES – maybe not. Sony and Sharp keep pouring money into consumer television manufacturing and marketing, even though they are incurring substantial losses – business as usual. LG and Vizio slashing prices on OLEDs and 4K TVs – definitely not!

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this article mistakenly quoted the discount applied to the LG 55EA980W as the actual selling price. The article has been updated on January 29 to reflect the correct selling price and discount of this TV.

CES 2014: First Impressions (4K, Curved Screens, OLEDs, and All That)

2013 was an interesting year for television technology. LG’s long-awaited 55-inch OLED television started shipping, albeit with a curved screen. Not long after, Samsung announced their 55-inch curved OLED TV, but at a $6,000 discount to LG. Later in the year, Sony announced a curved 4K LCD TV, and rumors started that we’d see more such products in Las Vegas.

Did we ever! Not only did LG and Samsung showcase curved LCDs and OLEDs, so did Toshiba, Sony, Konka, Changhong, Hisense, and TCL. And three companies (LG, Samsung, and Toshiba) unveiled 21:9 aspect ratio curved 4K LCD TVs (there’s a mouthful!), all in a 105-inch diagonal size. (No word on where the LCD panel or panels come from).

We also were treated to newer, bigger sizes. 84 inches used to impress; now we have 95 inches, 98 inches, 105 inches, 110 inches, and even 120 inches. Yep, Vizio (of all people) exhibited a 120-inch LCD TV in their suite at the Wynn, and it uses ASV glass from Sharp’s Gen 10 in Sakai, Japan.

Sharp’s CES press conference emphasized big 4K TVs.

Want high dynamic range? Dolby was there to promote it, and we also saw it in the Vizio and Sharp booths. How about big OLEDs? LG has a 77-inch curved cut with 4K resolution that is currently the world’s largest OLED TV. (Wait a few months; that’ll change.) Quantum dots? Sony’s had them for a year, but now several Chinese manufacturers are buying in, as I saw in the QD Vision suite.

Just like tablets a few years back, large and curved TVs went from “Wow!” to “So what?” in the matter of a few hours at the show. What really amazed me is that almost every breakthrough TV product unveiled by Samsung and LG was also found in the booths of the Chinese TV manufacturers – and they didn’t nearly make as much noise about it.

Some TV manufacturers made more of an impression by what they didn’t show. Panasonic’s emphasis this year was clearly on commercial applications of display technology. We know that Panasonic shut down plasma panel and TV production at the end of December. What we don’t know are Panasonic’s plans for consumer television in general, as they didn’t show a formal line-up of LCD TVs in Las Vegas – just applications for 4K displays.

The significance of this omission can’t be understated. Panasonic finally reversed years of losses in 2013, losses that were largely attributed to television operations. While Panasonic had decent worldwide TV market share in 2013 (about 6%), they may have finally seen the writing on the wall. That would explain their emphasis on battery and energy technologies, automotive tech, and white goods / appliances at the show.

Toshiba has struggled with substantial losses in both computers and television. As has been documented in Display Daily, the company is finally addressing profitability in a more hard-nosed fashion. And if they needed any convincing, the enormous booths of Chinese TV manufacturers that were stuffed full of 4K product probably did the trick.

Samsung had the “first 105-inch curved 4K LCD TV.” So did LG and Toshiba…

That leaves Sony and Sharp. The former had a rather pedestrian booth at the show, focusing more on applications and smaller electronics (including gaming) than televisions. There weren’t any ground-breaking tech demos in Sony land this year, aside from curved 4K LCDs. Aside from one barely profitable quarter earlier last year, Sony continues to pile up losses in consumer TV sales and veteran financial analysts ramp up their call for the company to cut its losses and get out.

Sharp, on the other hand, may have more lives than a cat. The company has set record for financial losses the past few years and required cash infusions from Qualcomm and Samsung to keep their doors open in 2013. Yet, they managed to eke out a small profit in consumer televisions midway through the year.

While not out of the woods yet, Sharp is plowing forward with an emphasis on big TVs (60 inches and up). They unveiled four new lines – Aquos 2K, Quattron, Quattron+, and Aquos Ultra HD. We’ve heard the Quattron story before, but Quattron+ is something new and intriguing: Multiple addressing of horizontal and vertical sub pixels to achieve higher resolution than 2K, even though the Quattron RGBY matrix is still a 2K array.

Sharp is also making a big deal out of mastering IGZO manufacturing. (LG also uses IGZO in its 4K OLED TVs.) While IGZO yields are still challenging, the technology does offer many advantages over amorphous silicon and low-temperature polysilicon – not the least of which is reduced power consumption.

Vizio’s 120-inch 4K LCD TV is now the world’s largest.

So I left Las Vegas after 3.5 days with the following insights. (1) If we haven’t seen the sunset of the Japanese television industry, we’re very close to S-Day. (2) There really isn’t anything new under the sun, television-wise, that the Chinese brands don’t also have. (3) Large LCDs will migrate exclusively to 4K panel resolution within 2-3 years.

Finally, (4): Televisions just don’t generate much buzz anymore, particularly when you look at all of the tablets, smartphones, and personal electronic displays that were showcased at CES.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Look for more coverage of CES shortly.

The Diverging Fortunes of Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp: Is There Life After Television?

Last week; Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp announced their financial reports for Q2 2013. And it’s clear that all three would benefit from phasing out the production and sales of televisions.

Panasonic, who is on track to shut down production of plasma display panels by the end of the current fiscal year in March of 2014, turned in a strong performance and raised its operating profit forecast to $2.75B, according to a story on the Reuters Web site.

The company posted a net profit of $627M for the period from July through September, helped by strong sales of automotive and battery products. This number just exceeded an estimate of $621M by industry analysts.

The surge of black ink was helped by downsizing plasma TV operations, along with semiconductor and smartphone manufacturing. Panasonic also concluded a sale of 80% of its healthcare business unit to KKR for about $1.7B.

Not long after saying the company would increase shipments of lithium ion batteries to carmaker Tesla Motors by nearly 2 billion cells through 2017, Panasonic also announced it will exit plasma TV manufacturing, which along with its LCD TV operations lost $261M in the second quarter.

Down the road, Sharp (who operates the world’s largest LCD fab in Sakai, Japan) managed to pull a rabbit out of its hat and announced a profit of $138M for the same quarter, largely due to increased demand for solar cells and a weaker yen against the dollar.  Just one year ago, Sharp had a $5.5B net operating loss and required transfusions of cash from Samsung (2012) and Qualcomm (2013) to stay open.

While both companies have seen a steady decline in their worldwide TV market share (Panasonic dropped 26% from a 7.8% share in 2011 to 6% in 2012, while Sharp plummeted 22% from 6.6% to 5.4%), they’ve obviously figured out that it’s time to re-focus their efforts on more profitable products and are making progress in that direction.

Not so Sony, who evidently never heard Einstein’s famous definition of insanity as “…repeating an experiment and expecting different results.” Sony’s latest financials showed a net operating loss of $197M for the 2nd quarter, largely attributable to its TV operations. The fact that Sony Pictures also had a disappointing quarter didn’t help.

The TV group lost $95M between July and September after recording a $53M profit during the previous quarter. Sales of cameras, camcorders, and Vaio computers were also weak, with only smartphones showing any strength. The company also has high hopes for its PlayStation 4 platform, which will debut later this month.

Still, analysts aren’t convinced that Sony’s strategy to maintain its traditional consumer electronics products presence will work anymore. In a related Reuters story, Makoto Kikuchi, CEO of Tokyo-based Myojo Asset Management, was quoted as saying, “I still cannot see any fundamental and believable strategy for the rebirth of Sony’s electronics business. On the other hand Panasonic, which is shifting its business away from consumer electronics, is reporting better-than-expected results. The contrast is like night and day.”

Let’s be clear: Neither Panasonic or Sharp is out of the woods yet – far from it. Panasonic’s TV operations took an even bigger hit than Sony (-$261M) in Q2 ‘13, and Sharp is still sitting on the edge of bankruptcy. But Sony’s insistence on maintaining a losing CE presence may cost it dearly: Moody’s is apparently considering dropping Sony’s credit rating to junk status.

The fact is; Japanese manufacturers can’t sell TVs and remain profitable anymore; not as long as Samsung and LG maintain aggressive pricing and newcomers like Hisense, Haier, and TCL crash the party (not to mention discount giant Vizio).

And the move to 4K won’t help. Although Sony, Sharp, and Panasonic all have 4K LCD TVs at retail for about $80/inch, the Chinese appear primed for a 4K TV price war that they will inevitably win. Consider that without China, the worldwide market for TV shipments actually declined in 2012 by 4%. Add China to the mix, and it’s an eight-point upward swing.

To sum up; Panasonic seems to have gotten religion, while Sharp is still sobering up. But Sony apparently needs an intervention. Will disgruntled shareholders and/or downgraded credit and a higher cost of borrowing force the issue? Stay tuned…