Our front page this week includes the data from IHS on the weak growth in the value of the LCD market. With sluggish or negative revenue growth in the big display-using businesses of TVs, monitors and notebooks, the overall industry is challenged, especially as investment in the supply side continues. However, that is not to say that there are not pockets of display growth in this big picture.
In small displays, automotive applications are a potentially substantial and growing market, although the development and qualification cycles can be very long – you need to get a design win now for sales to start in 2019 or 2020. Automotive can also look like an attractive place to do business as there are real barriers to competitive entry.
A major car maker said to me, when I was in the sales and marketing side of the industry, many years ago, “Are you a big company? If not, consider whether you want to try to do business with us! We will test your patience and resolve over a long period to see if you are really the kind of supplier we want”. And big profits are not guaranteed at the end of this – car makers are good at managing their suppliers. However, it is a big growth target.
We have a report of a talk on this topic by Samsung Display from the Electronic Displays Conference in Nuremburg in this week’s issue.
Still in the mobile area, flexible displays are a really interesting and exciting concept, but it’s not clear how you make them robust enough to survive typical usage. And of course, the most flexible displays are delivered by OLEDs, not LCDs.
In bigger displays, there are several opportunities. As anyone at ISE or Infocomm over the last couple of years will have spotted, there is a lot of interest and activity in small pitch LED displays which can increasingly compete with LCDs, projection cubes and projectors in video wall and control room applications. The challenges in that business, which is nowhere near “commoditised”, are in the huge number of competitors, especially from China, and the complexity of the channels and solutions. For companies used to the “box moving” TV, monitor and notebook businesses, this is a different world. Again, the margins and revenues can look attractive, but the sales and support costs can be considerable.
One of the growth markets we keep a close eye on, because of the market research work we do at Meko, the company that publishes our newsletters, is touch displays for meeting rooms. This is growing very strongly, but from a low base. There is a big opportunity to replace projectors in meeting rooms and board rooms and to replace interactive whiteboards and projectors or introduce interactive displays to education. This application can exploit LCD technology.
Having said that, projector makers have been rapidly adopting solid state (LED, Laser Phosphor & Laser) light sources that eliminate the lamps that have been one of the long term disadvantages of projection. Could that trigger some growth? That’s not clear, although at the Digital Retail Signage Expo this week in London, Optoma was taking an innovative approach to using projection in retail digital signage (although they seemed to be the only projector maker at the event), getting projection to do things that FPDs can’t do. We’ll have a full report on that next week.