I’ve spent the last few days in Osaka, visiting Sanyo’s projector factory in Daito as a guest of the company. Although this trip was planned several weeks ago, the timing couldn’t have been better, considering Panasonic’s formal announcement last Friday that it is in talks to acquire a 70% stake in Sanyo; primarily to pick up the latter’s battery and solar power business units.
To pull off the deal, Panasonic will have to buy out shareholders Daiwa Securities SMBC, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Co and Goldman Sachs. These three banks hold nearly 430 million preferred Sanyo shares, each of which can be exchanged for 10 common shares next March.
Beyond the announcement, there has been no comment from Sanyo locally. My hosts, including executives and general managers of Sanyo’s Projector Division (under the company’s Digital Systems business unit), know about as much as I do right now, and during dinner this past Friday, pondered what a consolidation with Panasonic would mean to their division.
Sanyo is no lightweight in projector manufacturing, having introduced their first LCD model in 1989, and the industry’s first SVGA (1996) and XGA (1997) LCD projectors. Sanyo’s branded and OEM projector sales (including to Christie, Canon, and Eiki) currently make up 7.5% of the worldwide projector market, and they hold a 29.7% branded/OEM market share in the "5000 lumens and up" category.
The 2008 product line is expansive, with two short-throw models, three home theater projectors, eleven light-weight office/education models, and fifteen conference room and large venue designs. Just about all of these use 3LCD imaging technology, and surprisingly, many of them are still manufactured in Daito. Smaller business and education projectors are assembled on Sanyo’s Dongguan and Shenzen production lines in China.
My tour of the Daito factory included visits to the SMT insertion and PCB inspection lines, the optical alignment area, and final assembly and QC. The day I visited, one group was busy putting the finishing touches on PLC-XF47 large venue projectors. This "big Bertha" has 1024×768 resolution and develops a blinding 15,000 lumens with a four-lamp design.
Next, I got a sneak peek of Sanyo’s next-generation 1080p home theater projector, the PLV-Z3000 (shipments begin on November 21). This model has an all-new iris design that’s fast enough to keep up with the projector’s 120 Hz refresh mode, or 5:5 pull-down, as Sanyo calls it.
For improved motion rendering, five frames of interpolated video are refreshed for every 3 fields of 60-frame (480i or 1080i) source video, while 1080p/24 and 720p/60 progressive content is converted with 4:4 pull-down to a 96 Hz refresh rate. The black levels, contrast, and color reproduction of this projector are impressive, to say the least. (So is the SRP, which should be around $2,995!) I’ll have a full review of it at www.hdtvexpert.com in late November.
During my visit, Sanyo also demonstrated their PLC-XTC50L; a 5,000 lumen XGA (1024×768) conference room projector with a unique lamp selection system, using a motorized mirror, that can cycle every 10 hours between one of two 330W lamps to ensure even lamp aging. Or, it will automatically cycle over from one lamp to the other after 3,000 hours, thus providing 6,000 hours between lamp replacements.
From my visit, it was clear that Sanyo isn’t resting on their laurels. Rather, the company continues to innovate with improvements to projector energy efficiency, networking capability, and image quality, with the 4LCD QuaDrive PLC-XP 200L projector a good example of the latter. (Look for an expanded 4LCD line in 2009 - I can’t say any more than that right now.)
It’s clear that Sanyo is a heavyweight in projector manufacturing. From a marketing and sales standpoint, Sanyo has much larger dealer and distributor networks than Panasonic, and of course its OEM business stands alone, as Panasonic doesn’t currently OEM to other manufacturers.
From my perspective, both brands can co-exist nicely going forward and add plenty to Panasonic’s bottom line. The most likely consolidation would be for Sanyo’s Chinese factories to take over the manufacturing of Panasonic’s compact office/education LCD models in the future, while each company’s DLP and 3LCD high-brightness designs find their own niches.
We’ll know a lot more by the time InfoComm 2009 rolls around. Until then, it’s time to play the old "hurry up and wait" game!