A lot of the buzz this year has been about the rapid evolution from the bottom of the market: “lampless” projectors, i.e. ones that used a LED light source in place of a mercury lamp. It’s being called “solid state”, as in solid state light engines, with no traditional mercury vapor lamps, and as David Keene wrote in his column last issue, those are, ostensibly, small, low-lumen projectors for the home market and small-room projection in business meetings (but as David points out, every projector manufacturer, and Texas Instruments, and 3LCD, say that solid state will come into the market more quickly than everyone thought).
But what’s the buzz on the high end, as we go into NAB and Info- Comm? Does it seem to you that the excitement over 15K, 20K, and even higher lumen projectors has waned of late? Or has it? Certainly recessionary conditions in the past couple of years kept some of the demand down on the high end. But what’s been happening with the big guns while a lot of companies have been just working their existing inventory?
First of all, development of the “high end” staging projection systems didn’t even slow down as the recession hit, although we heard less about them because of the manufacturer’s shift in advertising dollars to lower-cost models. And these new boxes, from almost all the major manufacturers, combine a list of features that stagers have been asking for forever. Virtually all the “big name” manufacturers now feature projectors in the 20,000 - 30,000+ lumen range. This is significant: five years ago, only the top three or so projector manufacturers were in that market– and it means there is more competition, and that means more features. All of the big guns feature direct digital inputs, especially HDSDI, as well as a plethora of stagingappeal features like redundant power supplies, redundant lamp assemblies, and remote control via every conceivable protocol, including DMX. Ruggedized chassis, integrated rigging hardware, remote input assemblies, and even sealed “environmentally protected” projectors have become available options. So stagers, at the high end, have more to choose from than ever before, even though we may hear less about it than we used to.
Additional capabilities for the “big guns” have also come along, especially several systems for 3D input and eyewear synchronization. I wrote in a couple of earlier columns about how good these capabilities have become - and how astonished I’ve been at how low the additional cost has become to equip projectors with these options. While the widespread use of 3D in staging is still something that–although we’ve talked about the capability for nearly 20 years– has yet to become mainstream. But the capability is there, now, and it is easier and cheaper to stage 3D than ever before.
So now, with more choices than evter before, where are we going to go with them? Well, we’ll begin by separating the “must have” from the “would really love”, as that’s what the economic times demand. Rental companies have always been based mostly on the practical, and only then on the “wow” factor. So we begin by separating the features we have to have in order to stage shows, from the ones we have to invest in advance. “If you build it, they will come” (an attitude I’ve been widely accused of in the past by my employees and managers) is an attitude that diminished in economic hard times.
So we’ll first look for brightness, size, weight, ruggedness and resolution capabilities that accommodate the shows we’re doing. For a lot of us, that has meant riding our existing inventory horses while we wait.
But other factors are combining to make that choice less do-able. First, projection inventory in rentals both takes a lot of wear, and becomes obsolete quickly as our competitors push the latest and greatest in their inventories. So there’s competitive peer pressure. Second, we’re about to see an onslaught of client requests for “green” equipment, and these new high end machines, besides being brighter, sharper, and more capable, are built with “green” in mind, and have become lumen-for-lumen more efficient than the units we’re already carrying.
At InfoComm, we’ll see the most capable and affordable selection of high-end machines that we have ever seen, and I’m looking forward to it. Because we’ve been stunned into doing what staging companies never should have done, let an uneducated public tell us what we need to be renting. Good for the short term, but fatal in the long run. So, I don’t know about you, but I’ll be shopping.