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Through a Lens, Brightly

A tour through Epson's LCD fab fascinates, but underscores some significant projector challenges in the home theater market.

All of these stats sound great until you take a dose of reality and realize front projection currently makes up a paltry 2 percent of the total home theater display market.

What's in first? You guessed it—flat-panel LCD HDTVs, which command 69.1 percent of all sales. The number two slot is occupied by plasma technology, far behind with 20 percent of all sales, while microdisplay rear-projection HDTVs account for 8.8 percent of the home theater business.

Given current market trends, flat-panel LCDs' share of the business isn't going to erode, and will likely increase as the rear-projection segment continues to shrink while plasma continues to hold its own for a while. So the challenge for Epson (and every other home theater projector manufacturer) is to figure out a way to grow that 2 percent.

During one of the question-and-answer sessions, I ventured that the market share for home theater projectors would always be small compared to direct view display technologies. There are a few reasons why, one of which is the widespread availability of larger flat-panel screens with lower prices. (You can now buy 50-inch plasma HDTVs for $1,500 and 52-inch LCD sets for $2,300 at wholesale clubs.) Another reason is the need for a two-piece system in a darkened room when projecting, as opposed to an all-in-one display that works just like a regular television under any ambient lighting conditions.

Epson's $6,999 Ensemble home theater system was evidently designed to overcome some of those obstacles. Ensemble combines Atlantic Technology speakers into a 100-inch, matte-finish motorized projection screen for the front three channels in a Dolby Digital 5.1 system, with the rear surrounds built into the 1080p projector housing. A switcher/scaler/control box with DVD player completes the package. (The Ensemble Web site says that there is lower cost system available with a 720p projector for $4,999.)

Will Ensemble be successful in expanding projector sales? It's too early to tell, but my guess is that (Ensemble or not) it will be a difficult task for Epson to grow the market for home theater projectors much past 4 percent—double what it is now, but still small compared to sales of flat-panel products.

Even so, the Epson roadmap for the high-temperature polysilicon (HTPS) LCDs that we saw calls for 4K and ultimately 8K LCD panels by 2025, which would make for one heckuva home theater system.

If PRO AV and I are both still around 13 years from now, I'll check it out for you.

Contributing editor Pete Putman is president of ROAM Consulting in Doylestown, Pa. He can be reached at pete@hdtvexpert.com.



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