Happy Birthday to MultiSync

I was intrigued this week to spot the announcement that it is 25 years since NEC started shipping MultiSync monitors. (For the young among you, in the 1980s and the early days of PCs, there were a range of different graphics outputs from computers. The main colour ones were the IBM CGA, EGA and VGA but there were also others such as TV-based standards on the Apple ][ and Acorn machines and special resolutions from Olivetti/AT& T and NEC. Each ran at a different frequency and had different input types – CGA and EGA were digital, but VGA was analogue. Monitors only supported one of the standards, so you had to match the right monitor to the right system with the right cable).

NEC introduced the MultiSync which initially plugged into any of these standards, but was later modified to extend support up to ‘super VGA’ and ‘XGA’ resolutions and this was one of the main reasons that the company was able to take such a strong position in the corporate market for monitors. Corporates liked the idea of buying a single monitor that could be used on any machine without modification*.

In those days, I was working for Eizo and its distributors. I often thought that one of the reasons that the Eizo brand has been successful in the market in Germany in the mainstream market, but not in most of Europe, is that when NEC launched MultiSync in the US, Eizo’s then distributor in Germany promoted Eizo’s Flexscan system, which was basically the same. At the time, the other Eizo distributors didn’t see the benefit, preferring to sell lower cost single standard CGA/VGA monitors. That gave the NEC brand a ‘first mover advantage’ in that market. In the same way, whatever happens in the tablet market, Apple will always be associated with it because of the first mover advantage of the iPad.

Of course, it takes more than ‘first mover advantage’ to be successful. There have been thousands of failed start-ups that built business plans based on that concept, but didn’t survive. It also takes good products, great execution and the right timing.

The right timing is surely sometimes great understanding of the right moment to ‘catch the wave’, sometimes a coming together of separate developments in technology or in the market. Sometimes, I suspect it’s the luck of being ‘in the right place at the right time’. Sometimes, it’s the imagination to see things a different way and have the confidence to bet on it.

I wasn’t close to NEC in the 1980s (except in sales battles!) so I don’t know which it was for them that meant that MultiSync was such a key moment for its display business (and corporate histories are unlikely to get to the truth), but the company, nevertheless, used its marketing skills to keep pushing this brand, which showed 1.08 million hits when I just googled it!


(*Graphics card vendors also worked on supporting multiple standards and ATI came to prominence with the ATI All-in-Wonder card which was very good at emulating different graphics cards, allowing software that expected a particular graphics card/monitor combination to operate regardless of the actual hardware. Supercalc, a spreadsheet package that tried to fight Lotus 123 in the PC market, also was happy to work with any graphics card. I have strong memories of the confusion caused the first time we connected an Eizo Flexscan monitor to a Paradise ‘Autoswitch’ EGA graphics card and tried to run SuperCalc. All three items were happy to be any of the standards, but none of them seemed to be able to decide what they wanted to be, so nothing worked!)