How What We Saw at CES and Elsewhere Affects Pro AV

It’s late February, and I have a little time to catch my breath after one of the world’s two largest consumer electronics shows (CES 2012) and what I think is the best future technology conference running (Hollywood Post Alliance Technology Retreat).

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the consumer electronics world –  the “tail” – is now vigorously wagging the “dog,” otherwise known as the world of professional/commercial electronics. Twenty years ago, technology innovations sprang forth in the professional and commercial worlds, cost an arm and a leg, were eventually widely implemented, and only then trickled down to the lowly consumer.

That’s all changed. Now, the true innovations debut at CES and CEDIA Expo, and then show up on our doorstep. Examples? Blu-ray (XDCAM HD in the broadcast world), HDMI, Skype, 1080p, edge-lit LED backlights, LED projectors, iPhones, iPads, wireless HDMI, DisplayPort, OLED TVs, the cloud – I could go on and on.

The fact is, consumer purchase decisions are what make or break a new technology. The revolution in flat-screen imaging that started in 2004 was driven entirely by consumers upgrading from older CRT TVs to LCD and plasma models. The future of Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray players is bound up in the three most popular Web video services – Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.

How many integrators are now installing large consumer LCD TVs instead of pro monitors? (‘Fess up!) Hey, they’re cheap, and they also come with four HDMI inputs. And if they last only a year, just go buy another one – you can routinely find 55-inch 1080p LCD TVs for less than $1,000. Amortized over a year, that’s about $2.70 per day to operate. You can’t even buy lunch for $2.70.

These bigger, cheaper TVs also threaten the front projector market. At CES, Sharp showed an 80-inch commercial AV monitor with touchscreen overlay for $13,500. You can be sure that price is VERY dynamic in the downward direction, since you can buy the 80-inch consumer version for less than $5,000 (and the 70-inch version was available for $1,999 right before the Super Bowl).

Getting bored with your 55-inch 1080p TV you bought a year ago? Five different companies showed 4K TVs at CES, and one even showcased an 8K TV. Where will the content come from? Doesn’t matter, people gotta have it.

A couple of days ago, Samsung announced it would likely spin off and sell its money-losing LCD panel manufacturing business, opting instead to forge ahead with OLED technology (pictured) and buy the LCD panels it needs for its TVs from Chinese manufacturers, who have much lower costs for finished goods. The significance of this announcement? Samsung sells more TVs than anybody (over 40 million in 2011), and even they don’t want to manufacture LCD panels anymore!

Speaking of Chinese, did you make it to Las Vegas this year? If so, did you notice how the Japanese CE manufacturers’ booths are getting smaller and smaller while the Chinese booths are getting larger and larger? Electronics are inexpensive these days!

At the HPA Tech Retreat last week, I demonstrated Casio’s hybrid LED/laser projection system (3,500 lumens and climbing) as part of a panel discussion on next-generation projection systems. We also heard about laser cinema projectors from Barco and Laser Light Engines, and home theater LED projectors from Digital Projection.

These are real products. Sitting next to me as I write this is a 300-lumens Optoma WXGA projector that uses LEDs, weighs barely one pound, and retails for under $500. Remember Hitachi’s first “portable” LCD projector from 1994? 640×480 resolution, 500 lumens (with a wicked hot spot) and it weighed 32 pounds and cost about $10K. (It had a handle, so it was “portable.”) We’ve come a long way.

During the HPA Retreat, I took photos of various speakers, with the room lights dimmed , using a new Nikon CoolPix 8200 point-and-shoot digital camera. This beauty has a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor, 10x optical zoom, image stabilization, captures 1080p movies, offers multi-zone autofocus, and can work up to ASA 3200. The price? $219 at Amazon. Heck, that feature set was only found in a $3,000 DSLR five years ago!

My point? Simple. Innovations in electronics are coming at us with blazing speed. Product life cycles are shorter than ever. Some products are so cheap that buying an extended warranty for them makes no sense anymore – we just amortize them in a year.

And more of this stuff is winding up in our installations. And more of the “standards” we have to support each year are coming out of the consumer world. (Wait until you try the new Thunderbolt display-audio-Ethernet-USB-Firewire-data interface!)

I’ll close with this tidbit: LG Electronics says it will start manufacturing 55-inch OLED TVs at the rate of 48,000 per month later this year. Whether they can sustain that rate remains to be seen, given the historically low yields on OLED panels.  But it doesn’t matter. The jaws of the consumer world are yawning wide, growling for the next big thing, so LG is compelled to feed it. And by extension feed the pro AV channel, for if LG is successful in taming the OLED beast, our customers are going to demand OLED TVs in their next installation. Count on it!

Oh, and I should warn you: They’re gonna want wireless HDMI connections to their new OLED TV…

About Pete Putman

Pete Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting LLC, which provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products. He edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com and is a columnist for Sound & Communications. Pete is a Senior Academy Instructor for InfoComm International and was named Educator of the Year for 2008.

3 Responses to “How What We Saw at CES and Elsewhere Affects Pro AV”

  1. Not shooting you as the messenger, Pete. But if you are going to be an educating voice of the representative body (Infocomm) then how about taking an active stand rather than a passive stand? I’ve already seen three A/V companies in my area belly-up by making quick sales of equipment that haunted them later. If we really need more HDMI inputs on monitors (for example) because “it’s selling” then, as a leader, Infocomm should be persuading professional equipment manufacturers to add those inputs to their offerings. Customers who make long-term business plans do not except an excuse that “it’s easier for me to implement your system design” when they find that the monitor could likely die in only a year or so. They expect longer life than that and hold me responsible. When we discover a troubling trend we need to point out its ramifications and then push for corrections.

  2. “How many integrators are now installing large consumer LCD TVs instead of pro monitors? (‘Fess up!) Hey, they’re cheap, and they also come with four HDMI inputs. And if they last only a year, just go buy another one…” is NOT a professional attitude. I hope you’re not advocating a busines plan of selling and installing cheap stuff for the purpose of generating sales, plus hoping to replace the cheap stuff with more cheap stuff again later. That might fool some consumers in the short term, but they will tire of replacing equipment every year and will blame your company for selecting short-lived equipment.

    • It may not be a ‘professional attitude,’ but there are integrators already doing this as evidenced by my LinkedIn surveys. And what’s driving them is (a) multiple built-in HDMI inputs, instead of the one or two that most pro monitors come with, and (b) the buy-in / replacement cost is so low that long-term maintenance isn’t going to be an issue. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, just asking who’s doing it.