What’s driving the large-screen display industry? Epson’s Gavin Downey explains.
“The world is not satisfied with the size of the displays being deployed today,” says Gavin Downey, Group Product Manager, Large Venue Projection for Epson. “Almost everywhere you look, images are getting larger, more immersive, and more pervasive.”
He should know. Downey is part of a massive, ongoing effort at Epson to find out what display users and specifiers are thinking.
“We attend major trade shows like InfoComm. We invite engineers from Japan to meet with customers at corporations, universities, schools, design consulting firms and our integration partners. We do quarterly planning with our dealers and distributors. We even devoted a full floor of our new headquarters as an executive briefing center, specifically to facilitate conversations with clients.
“Epson is centered on the voice of the customer.”
Based on this research, Downey says he sees three key trends that will drive the industry for the next several years, at least.
1. A trend toward larger, more immersive images
“If you asked people, five years ago, if they’d ever seen a video image more than 10 feet tall, not many would have said yes,” Downey says. “But since 2017, more than five million people viewed the various Van Gogh immersive exhibits, with images covering every wall and floor in venues up to 70,000 square feet.”
With so many people seeing these sorts of displays, expectations of what an image should be are changing.
“In corporations, we’re starting to see immersive conference rooms with three or more projectors and screens on three or even four walls, showing multiple video feeds, engineering drawings and remote employees. Theater spaces are going through a transformation, with playwrights assuming the availability of projection as an integrated part of the stage. In K-12 and university classrooms, we’re seeing more and more interactivity, together with wireless connectivity to every student device.
“That in turn is fueling a realization that you need larger images for everyone to be able to see and learn together.”
2. A trend toward more content in applications
Partly due to the pandemic, Downey says, presentations have been changing as well.
“When Microsoft introduced PowerPoint in 1989, they largely defined what a business or classroom presentation should be: a series of slides with text, charts, and photos, plus maybe a video embedded into one or more of the slides.
“But now with Teams and Zoom, you have the ability to include all of those presentation images plus streams of content that include an agenda, a running chat box, and images of all the people attending a meeting.
“There’s a related trend toward what some people are calling ‘meeting equity.’ People are getting tired of looking at their co-workers in these tiny tiles, and they want to be seen as well.”
Microsoft has recognized that need by introducing their Teams Front Row view, which puts images of meeting participants across the bottom of an ultrawide screen with a 21:9 aspect ratio.
“A 75-inch diagonal screen can work in many rooms if you’re showing traditional presentation material. But add all that content and, either the screen will need to get a lot larger or the portion devoted to the main image will be a lot smaller than 75 inches.”
3. A trend toward more seamless applications and systems
A third trend, Downey says, has its roots in the growing complexity of video applications. “Now we’re using software that tracks who is speaking and enlarges their image for everyone to see. We have AI video capture with virtual PTZ [pan-tilt-zoom] that can select a speaker out of a group and zoom in on that one person speaking. There’s AI-driven audio to enhance speech while suppressing ambient noise.
“And we have people connecting with different types of devices from all over the world, yet we expect the audio, video and the display to work together flawlessly, without the need to tinker with the equipment.”
To make all that possible, he says, we’re seeing global standardization of hardware and software, with a high degree of cooperation between Epson and other manufacturers, developers and integrators, even those located in different countries.
Building products to meet these trends
Responding to these trends is a major opportunity for the AV industry, Downey says.
“Because people’s expectations are increasing, we see it as an opportunity to invest in brining entirely new systems to market. It’s an exciting time for us.”
Epson, the number-one selling projector brand worldwide,1 introduced five major innovations at InfoComm this year that, he believes, will offer unique benefits to Epson customers.
1) New ultra-compact 13,000, 16,000 and 20,000 lumen laser projectors, including world’s smallest and lightest 20,000-lumen2 and 10,000-lumen3 projectors. The 20,000 lumen models, the EB-PU2220B and EB-PU2120W, are 60% smaller and 50% lighter than the previous generation.
“If you think about the mount required for an 18 pound projector versus 50 pounds, and then multiply that by the three or six or 16 projectors used in an immersive environment, you start to see how much that size reduction matters,” Downey explains.
But it’s more than the mount, he says. With these ultra-compact projectors, warehousing costs can drop for dealers and rental companies, as can transportation, installation, and service costs, and it can impact the cost of the structure that must be built to support the device and its mounting hardware. The visual impact improves. It’s easier to build redundancy into critical applications.
These new models also argue for an expanded role for projection, even as monitors and video wall technology continues to improve.
“If you look the physical structure required to support a large direct view LED wall versus projection on a screen or wall, the difference is enormous – but that gap is widening as our projectors get even smaller, lighter and brighter.”
2) The new Epson PixAlign™ ELPEC01 Camera allows easy and precise screen matching, color calibration, stacking assist, tiling assist, and remote support for multi-projector setups.
“Stacking and edge-blending projectors allows you to achieve better pixel density, brightness, contrast and color accuracy, often at a more affordable price than the alternatives,” Downey explains.
That said, there’s been a big downside to multi-projector setups: the labor required to converge multiple projectors and to keep them aligned over time.
“But now you can align them automatically in just minutes per projector, and you can maintain them remotely using our cameras and free EPPT software [Epson Projector Professional Tool].”
3) An expansion of Epson’s ultra short-throw lenses and their ultra short-throw fixed-lens projector lines.
“As the density of images increases in more immersive environments, we need a way to make the footprint of the projector smaller,” Downey explains. Shorter-throw models move the projectors closer to the screens and out of each others’ way, and help make them less obtrusive, preserving the aesthetics of the room.
4) An ultra-wide option built into the setup menu of Epson projectors, including support for the 21:9 aspect ratio.
“At InfoComm, we showed a Teams room created with a single, 8500 lumen4 projector and ultra short throw lens, demonstrating Microsoft’s Front Row view.”
Soon, Downey says, 21:9 will be available via a firmware update for any current Epson projector. Epson’s free EPPT setup and remote management software also supports 21:9 for multi-projector, edge-blended setups.
5) New, high-brightness, fixed-lens laser projectors offer standard and ultra short-throw models and may be easily stacked and edge-blended as well.
Epson made it clear at InfoComm that the innovations they showed for their Pro Series will extend into their lower-cost, fixed-lens projectors as well.
Those include Epson BrightLink® Interactive Laser Displays, now available in models up to 5,000 lumens4, their new PowerLite® Laser Projectors, available up to 7,000 lumens4, and the unique LightScene® Laser Projectors, which offer a sleek black or white spotlight design ideal for digital art, commercial signage and décor applications.
“Five to seven thousand lumens on a 120” screen is incredibly bright, and incredibly readable even in bright ambient light,” Downey says. “Why settle for a 65” or 75” flat panel when you can have this – especially considering the price, ease of installation, and the reliability of laser technology?”
Epson innovations fit well with the trends toward larger images, more informative content and more seamless applications and systems.
“I think it’s incumbent on everyone in the industry not only to bring out innovative products, but to educate people on how we can help them achieve their goals,” he says.
“Our laser projectors are incredible pieces of equipment. Customers have written to us, ‘I just set this up and can’t believe how easy it was.’ One customer told me, ‘I’ve had years of experience with projection systems, but these are completely different, so easy to set up and maintain.’”
All of these changes, he believes, are the best thing to happen to the AV industry in years.
“As an industry, we want our customers to be able to achieve extraordinary results in an easy way. These innovations are going a long way toward making that happen.”
1Epson is the #1 projector brand worldwide and in the U.S. according to most recent quarterly data from PMA, a leading high-tech market research and publishing firm specializing in the display market.
2Comparison based on projectors rated at 20,000 lumens. Lumens, size and weight based on the manufacturers’ online specifications and industry-available data as of December 2021.
3Comparison based on projectors rated at 10,000 lumens. Lumens, size and weight based on the manufacturers’ online specifications and industry-available data as of February 2021.
4Color brightness (color light output) and white brightness (white light output) will vary depending on usage conditions. Color light output measured in accordance with IDMS 15.4; white light output measured in accordance with ISO 21118.