Large-venue projectors are a technological force to be reckoned with. They allow places to turn a plain old space into an interactive, visual engagement for visitors. With the industry focus on user experience, there is no doubt this space has plenty of room for growth. But where will that growth come from?

Several areas appear ripe for growth, according to industry sources, especially in the digital signage, education, and house of worship (HoW) markets.

The InFocus IN5148 fits around 90 percent of preexisting large venue install applications thanks to its 1.49-3.02 throw ratio and 2:1 zoom ratio.

Brian Soto, head of product management at Optoma Technology, believes growth will be shown in the digital signage arena because of the ambiance created by projection. “It’s very expensive and requires a heavy engineering lift to obtain a large image with a flat panel,” he said. “It can be tough from an engineering standpoint to manage the cable run, install mounts for each panel, and align all panels to look even. In addition, not all panels offer solutions free of bezels, and projection provides seamless images.”

Education is also on an upward trajectory in terms of large-venue projection. Because of their price sensitivity, projection, in the higher-ed market, is often viewed as an affordable alternative to other audiovisual options. “As manufacturers begin to deliver brighter projectors at attractive price points, the use in auditorium-style classrooms and in large venues on campuses will increase,” said Dave Duncan, product line manager for projectors at InFocus.

Last, but certainly not least, we’ll see an increase in houses of worship implementing projection. “The HoW market is unique in that it requires large screen projection, a semi-controlled lighting environment, and great image quality,” said Felix Pimental, field application engineer for BenQ. “Projection makes sense here as it can create a very large and impressive image that can be seen all the way at the back of the sanctuary. Churches have really embraced projection technology, and as it becomes more affordable, the segment has explored new applications including scenic projection and larger projectors around the sanctuary.”

Hey Hey, 4K

Digital Projection’s INSIGHT Dual LASER 4K projector can be oriented in any position without degrading the image and requires practically no maintenance due to its lampless design.

With the insane amount of marketing for 4K resolution to consumers, it’s no surprise end users think of it as the “best.” The influence of that consumer marketing has led customers to actively request and specify 4K. According Pinemtal, this shift is driving manufacturers to innovate and introduce 4K projector models at more affordable price points.

While driving price down is key for growth, manufacturers want end users to know paying a higher price for native 4K resolution will significantly enhance the experience. “4K resolution, especially at close viewing distances where the increased resolution is most apparent, will allow projectors to be used in more applications and provide a more engaging experience for the viewer,” said Ramzi Shakra, Epson’s product manager.

However, with these engaging experiences comes the challenge of content creation. “As with the initial onset of HD years ago, we are still waiting for content to catch up to really drive the adoption rate,” Duncan said.

Once the industry gets ahead of the challenge of 4K content creation, the market will boom and face endless possibilities. Imagine a seamless video wall, NEC’s Ryan Pitterle, product manager for projects, said: this will “present an extraordinary opportunity to reinvent projection.

Projection vs. the Rise of Direct-View LED

Even with all of the great innovations in large-venue projectors, a challenge looms on the horizon: the continuing evolution (and increasing affordability) of direct-view LED displays.

NEC’s PX803UL laser projector provides the consistent brightness and color fidelity needed in large venues, such as this 2016 NYC event.

Manufacturers agree that large venue projectors have their time and place, as do direct-view LEDs. There’s no denying LED has affected the market. “Because of direct-view LEDs’ ability to deliver giant screens with fantastic brightness, they are the direct replacement for the large projection screens of the past,” Duncan said. “And, as performance improves and costs come down, direct-view LEDs will be used in more and more applications.”

However, a lot of this takeover seems poised to occur in the rental and staging market. “Concerts and outdoor events no longer use outdoor projection as the LEDs combat ambient light more effectively than the projection solutions,” Pimentel said.

Soto agreed: “While LED backlighting may be preferable in high ambience-lighting venues, it is not as cost-effective as projectors, and we find that some customers prefer and are working with venues more suited for the natural and pure image that projection technology delivers.”

While most manufacturers believe in the continued growth of large venue projectors, industry research shows otherwise. According to the Global 2017 AV Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis (IOTA) report, sales of video projection products (including screens, projectors, and accessories) into the venues and events market are predicted to decline about 13 percent per year from now until 2022.

Duncan, for one, is concerned. “Because of direct view LEDs’ ability to deliver giant screens with fantastic brightness, they are the direct replacement for the large projection screens of the past. And, as performance improves and costs come down, direct view LEDs will be used in more and more applications.

The combined cost-effectiveness of projection and the ability to create stunning images makes this technology hot, hot, hot… but its lasting place in the market remains to be seen. If the cost of large venue projectors continues to drop and the technological advancements continue to grow, the products will definitely find a home in segments like houses of worship and education.

Megan A. Dutta is editor of SCN. Follow her on Twitter@MeganADutta.