Roll Out the…Smaller Guns?

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Projectors have begun to shrink in the staging market

Staging projectors are big. Everybody knows that, don’t they? I mean, from the time I first got involved in this industry, staging projectors got larger. Anybody

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remember the Eidophor or GE Talaria? Or Barco’s first big-CRT projectors, like the BarcoData 1001? Anybody remember that Mitsubishi once made a projector with 13-inch CRTs the size of a grand piano? Or, size king of them all, does anybody remember the Hughes/JVC behemoths? We have always taken some kind of perverse pride in the size of our projection equipment. Freud would have a field day with this.

So, what I’m seeing this year is somewhat surprising to me, because I see the size of staging projectors coming down.

It’s happening for lots of reasons — not the least of which is that, in the current economy, meetings are being staged with smaller audiences. One of the trends I have noticed for this spring has been that, although most of our annual events are being held, the guest list is pared down from previous years to control costs. Smaller audiences often mean smaller venues, lower ceilings, and less use of live IMAG — but with quality requirements unchanged from when the meeting was larger due to the type of attendee who is still coming — namely, senior execs — the ones too important to be left off the smaller attendee list.

On top of that, as designs refine, manufacturers are able to get more performance out of much smaller boxes. So, as I look around the industry, what I’m seeing is phenomenal growth in staging in mid-size projectors, with output from 8-12k lumens, in smaller boxes than ever before. This is where lots of the capital expenditures will take place this year, because this is one of the main areas where significant new products with some combination of price break and new features are being introduced.

In the fixed install market, the new kid on the block is WUXGA. WUXGA has been in the wings for several years, and the demand has been growing because this is, of course, the format of most new PCs. So look to most major projector manufacturers to bring out new WUXGA units this year.

What does this mean to us? Well, a couple of things, I think. One is that there will be a lot of new, cost-effective choices in the mid-range projector market for staging, with a lot of capability for the size.

Besides size and price/performance, the maturity of this new generation of machines has given us something that is a wishlist item for rental and staging companies, but a requirement for the fixed installation market — friendliness to control and networking. Increasingly, this new breed of projector has not only network control capability, but niceties like internal web servers for easy laptop control. This also makes them friendly and adaptable to control by thirdparty control systems, media servers, and lighting control consoles. And, because this class of machine is increasingly manufactured through partnerships between projector manufacturers, control is converging somewhat, making control and substitution easier between manufacturers. This means that, as shows “scale,” sometimes on short notice, reprogramming can be minimized if your inventory planning has been good.

A “buyer’s market” in this economy, with a drastic downward turn coming suddenly after a period of relative prosperity, has put us all in a great position for rental inventory acquisition this year, if we’re smart about it. Because the manufacturers had all these models in development while things were “hot,” they’re now coming to market in an intensely competitive time. This year’s InfoComm show will have a lot of interesting new products and models, probably coming to market at lower prices than manufacturers may have originally intended for them. But they won’t be as easy to find as in previous years. They’re smaller.

Joel R. Rollins, CTS (joel@rpsystems.net) is a trainer, designer, and author whose career spans all facets of the audio-visual and multimedia industry. Currently a partner in Rollins Performance Systems, Inc., Joel brings the benefit of his experience with a range of noted North American companies, including Riverview Systems Group, Extron, and the ADCOM Presentation Group, to each project.

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