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DLP and LCD: Split Decision

If you think comparing DLP and LCD technology is hard, you won't find much help in the wisdom of the market, which reflects the individual choices of hundreds of thousands (in some cases millions) of buyers.

If you think comparing DLP and LCD technology is hard, you won't find much help in the wisdom of the market, which reflects the individual choices of hundreds of thousands (in some cases millions) of buyers. Research firms the world over track projector shipments to reveal which technology, among other things, is enjoying the most success. Overall, the two are neck-and-neck, but depending on whether you're in digital cinema, or pro AV, or some other market segment, one technology may be more popular than the other.

It can be instructive to monitor the pulse of the projector market. Often the numbers reveal important trends; other times they merely reflect what remains a competitive landscape with no one-size-fits-all solution.

"There's not really a clear technological preference," says Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald of Austin, Texas-based research firm TFCinfo. "Looking at how the market perceives the two technologies, I'm not sure the user sees the difference. They're really buying on performance and price." And major features such as brightness and weight. "If there were really a major difference, I would expect to see customers paying a premium for one or the other." In the overall U.S. projector market, Macdonald explains, LCD projectors have been adding market share recently, though the market "is still fairly evenly divided." TFCinfo reported LCD's share at 53.9 percent in Q1 2008, compared to 45.9 percent for DLP (see chart). But in the previous quarter, DLP held a slight lead, 50.8 percent to 49.1 percents. (A competing technology, liquid crystal on silicon, or LCoS, barely cracks one percent.)


But these are all overall numbers. When analysts drill down into market segments, buying preferences can start to reveal themselves. For instance, Macdonald and TFCinfo put LCD's share of the pro AV market at around 60 percent. In the overall market, LCD projectors are slightly less expensive than equivalent DLP models, though Macdonald suspects such prices reflect more a marketing strategy than a technological advantage. Drill down further and you could find even more variety in buying patterns. Futuresource Consulting finds that worldwide, institutional clients lean toward LCD-based projectors, while corporate buyers are more evenly split, even leaning slightly toward DLP as recently as 2006. (The worldwide home theater market, according to Futuresource, vacillates between the two platforms, though "price-point developments in 1080p have aided home-market growth for LCD," says Futuresource's David Luu.)

But even vertical markets aren't always the only (or most helpful) predicators of buying patterns, depending on application needs. For instance, LCD has slightly overtaken DLP in the 2,100-2500-lumen segment, and is gaining ground in so-called distribution channels (information technology resellers and direct marketers), though Macdonald notes that the technologies are still roughly even and their shares fluctuate quarterly, partly because of variable consumer sales. "LCD has been gaining market share in the shrinking, value price 1,600-2,000-lumen sector and in the small, growing higher-end 2,600-3,000-lumen sector," he says. "It seems like the people doing LCD have worked the value model, whereas the DLP people have moved up in price." Macdonald speculates that as prices of 800-by-600-pixel SVGA models drop further, LCD could gain additional market share. (Futuresource has DLP as the worldwide leader in SVGA projectors, with LCD the leader in XGA - confused yet?)

In the large-venue segment (5,000-plus lumens), DLP held 58.5 percent worldwide share in 2007, according to Futuresource. "Three-chip DLP projection continues to be very popular in this category," says Futuresource's Luu. And DLP leads in the market for commercial digital cinema.

Moreover, Macdonald says DLP also leads, 68 to 32 percent, among Wide XGA (WXGA) projectors, which are increasingly popular with customers who want its 720-pixel width for high-definition video. For now these top-of-the line, HD resolutions remain a niche play, says Macdonald; WXGA overall is only 7 percent of the market according to TFCinfo. "WXGA models are just beginning to reach the price points that will drive higher volumes," he says. The sweet spot remains SVGA and regular XGA.


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