An Optimistic Outlook


by Stephen Atwood

It's hard to believe we're at the end of another year already. I said in January that I was hoping this year would bring more investment and hiring within the industry, and fortunately that seems to have happened, to some degree. For example, we learned in May about the substantial manufacturing infrastructure investments being made in China over the next few years for both LCD and OLED panels. We saw global TV shipments rise 15% year over year in the fourth quarter of 2010 to a record 77.6 million units. That made for a nice holiday sales bump that everyone needed to see. However, in August we learned from our friends at DisplaySearch that by the end of Q2 '11, shipments of all large-area TFT-LCD panels had grown only 6% year over year, and the outlook had turned flat to even negative for the rest of the year. The momentum for LCD TVs, which now represent about 80% of the world-wide market, seemed to stall even worse. But, by the time we got to October, we learned that LG had shipped about 6.6 million units of flat-panel TVs in Q3 '11 which LG said in its press release was "more than the company has ever shipped in a single quarter."

In the industrial-displays marketplace, we saw numerous signs of improvement driven by expansion in retail, industrial automation, oil and gas exploration, and digital-signage activities. Planar Systems reported in May that its revenues increased 21% year over year, with the largest component being digital signage. e-Reader displays were red hot in 2011, with very strong sales of both the Nook and the Kindle. E Ink holdings reported year over year sales growth of 67% in the summer of 2011. Many major distributors also told us their total LCD panel shipments were up, with new commercial/industrial product developments coming on-line. And, of course, the demand for consumer hand-held devices such as iPhones and tablets was positively voracious.

We also saw significant investments in certain technology areas, including OLEDs, flexible backplanes, quantum dots, oxide semiconductors, electrowetting displays, and even a new type of laser-projection technology – just to name a few. It is this kind of long-range vision that builds the annuity for all of us to benefit from in later years, and as I've said before, the companies with the courage to invest during the downturns are likely to be the ones in the best positions as the markets recover. I believe we are seeing that recovery in process.

However, we also saw tragedy this year in the terrible events on March 11 in Japan. The combination of a 9.0-scale earthquake that lasted literally minutes and a subsequent tsunami that swept the low-lying region around Sendai produced a human and commercial catastrophe I doubt any of us had anticipated. The fact that the display industry was largely unaffected was a lucky break. That the aftermath did not cause a larger global tsunami on the world's manufacturing economies through disruption of supply chains was miraculous.

So, although the news this year was mixed, I think for the display business overall the recovery is firmly under way.

Our issue this month is focused on the landscape of TV technology and developed from a different point of view to appeal to the consumer in each of us. Ever get a call from a friend or neighbor with the question: "What TV should I buy?" Answering that question has probably never been harder, with all the options to choose: from 3-D vs. 2-D, plasma vs. LCD, LEDs vs. CCFL backlights, DLP vs.LCD projectors, plus Energy Star ratings and what they mean. It's a dizzying array of terminology and capabilities that make it hard for even the most informed among us to keep up. Fortunately at ID we knew the right people to call and were able to bring together an array of features that we think will clear away some of the fog, just in time for holiday shopping.

We began with a very basic question that comes up time and again across our industry "Why Should I Choose a Plasma TV?" To answer that, we went straight to the founding father of plasma TV technology, Dr. Larry Weber, and posed this question along with some others. His candid and straightforward answers became the substance of the first Enabling Technology article in this issue. Plasma TVs have a lot to offer and I think after reading this you will take a second look at plasma when you go shopping.

We continue with our "Holiday Roundup" of various TV technology topics and answers to the most common consumer questions, compiled by Jenny Donelan after speaking with Robert Zohn, the owner of Value Electronics, a specialty audio and video retailer in Scarsdale, New York. Value Electronics has not only been selling TVs for almost 20 years, it has run a performance shoot-out among the latest high-end models for the last 7 years.

If home theater is more your thing, and a new projector is your dream, author and industry analyst Chris Chinnock brings us a thorough survey of the very latest in his Enabling Technology article titled "4K Projectors Come to Home Theaters." Needless to say, if you plan on putting a big screen in your home today, you need enough resolution to take you far into the future. The newest "4K" format, embodied in various sizes such as 4096 x 2160, is the way to go to if you want to have multiple options for up-scaling of HD content as well as be ready for future content sizes and formats that are surely coming. Many of these offerings also support 3-D formats and some have frame rates as high as 480 Hz. Once you read Chris' survey, you will be even more ready to make your dream into reality.

Maybe you are not ready to buy this year, but you are looking to plan your next purchase and need to know what is coming? In our monthly Display Marketplace feature we asked analyst Paul Semenza to help us by not only discussing the current marketplace, but also by looking into the future and telling us what is coming. Paul accepted the challenge enthusiastically and gave us his perspective on "The TV of the Future." If you were wondering when the much heralded OLED TVs will arrive, Paul addresses this and many other topics, including 3-D without glasses, 4K and higher resolutions, Internet connectivity, touch screens, backlights, and much more.

In addition, we also have our regular SID and Industry News features, including a few interesting tidbits about TVs you may enjoy.

Before I close, I just want to thank everyone who works so hard to put ID magazine together throughout the year. Our team of Guest Editors for this year is listed on our masthead and I can't thank them enough for their tireless work. Our editorial staff consisting of Jenny Donelan and Jay Morreale did an outstanding job managing the production process and producing numerous in-house articles. Our sales and marketing team consisting of Christine von Steiger, Sharae Johnson, and Michele Klein brought a variety of new advertisers to the magazine as well as helped refine our overall strategy. Our cover designs this year were more creative than ever thanks to Jody Schramm and her Acapella Designs Studio. And finally, I want to extend a special thanks to editorial advisor Allan Kmetz, who month after month, tirelessly reviews all our articles and alerts us to numerous details. It's an honor to work with this outstanding team and I truly hope you enjoyed reading the results throughout the year. •