Is the monitor industry worth saving?

By Bob Raikes
subscribe

On the one hand, brands have spent the last few weeks trying to be positive and innovative to drive their markets, whether in the consumer electronics, digital signage or the broadcast market. On the other hand, we’ve been looking at the poor economic conditions around us and that has dampened things down a bit. What is clear, is that the demand for higher visual quality is a real one.

Consumers don’t want something better – most viewers in Europe still watch SD most of the time – but once you see good 4K content, let alone 8K content and the best of the OLEDs and HDR displays that were at IBC, you want it. Once you start to get used to it, you can’t go back. (I found myself complaining this week that the soap opera that is a favourite of my wife was only in SD, not HD). So, they will want it.

This is particularly relevant in the monitor market, which has really been very negative over the last couple of years. Volumes and values have been falling and there is a feeling that this is the ‘new normal’. We are having to make forecasts for the industry. Our forecasts are assuming that there will be an end to this fall, at least for a couple of years. The main reasons are because of renewals of older monitors and changes in the software environment. However, looking as far ahead as three years, we have also made assumptions that some players in the industry will take some of the actions needed to turn things around.

It’s possible that they won’t do these things, but I have some confidence that there are enough good people in enough good companies to do what is needed to at least ‘stop the rot’.

The current electronics market is dominated by the growth of tablets and that is taking away demand from almost all other categories, but that will slow and monitor makers need to be very positive in re-educating the market as to why a good monitor matters and can improve the experience of using a computing device (whether mobile or fixed). There are good ergonomic reasons why the European Union included the Display Screen Regulations in work safety law and monitor makers need to remind customers of those reasons. Notebooks with fixed screens are far from optimal in ergonomics and we recently reported data from Microsoft that said that only 10% of users of notebooks have a second display.

Monitor makers also need to make sure that their products work well with mobile devices and the first stage of this will be supporting the MHL wired interface, but eventually, the monitors have to be wireless.

Panels have improved in many ways, and monitor makers also need to set the bar higher. TN panels should simply not be acceptable for professional applications and makers need, again, to educate and persuade their customers. The high resolutions of the ‘retina display’ marketing concept of Apple’s need to be promoted. It will be hard to persuade a notebook user that they need an add-on display if the viewing angles and resolution are worse!

With enough of the right actions, the halt of the decline in the monitor market is possible. That is, of course, no guarantee that the actions will be taken and the market fall trend reversed. However, I prefer to believe that it is possible!

I am reminded of a meeting that I had seven or eight years ago with the association that represented CRT makers in Europe. After I gave them some ideas of things that they could do to slow down the penetration of LCDs, one of the committee members said, “But is our industry worth saving?”. My answer was, “Not unless you think so”. As it turned out, the group relegated to a sub-committee the question of whether to make a project, and nothing ever happened.

The monitor market faces the same question. If nothing is done, the market will continue to decline. I’m fond of saying ‘there is always an option to do nothing – I prefer to try to do something’. That remains my point of view and we plan to be around to try to help the industry to turn things around.