Growth Opportunities Lie Ahead for Pro Displays After an Unprecedented Year

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By Matthew Rubin
Futuresource Consulting

The past year has been one of the most volatile on record for the professional displays industry. As COVID-19 spread across the globe, supply chains were interrupted and end-user demand plummeted in some of the biggest markets. Add into the mix the increasing appeal of LED, which makes it a three-horse race along with LCD and projection, and you have a recipe for disruption.

Futuresource’s tracking services show that in terms of volume, projection was the hardest hit across 2020, down by almost a third in total. LCD flat panel displays recovered considerably quicker after a poor first half, resulting in volumes down just 7% for the year.

Meanwhile, LED had a mixed performance. Stability was attained in China thanks to a combination of government spending and relatively insignificant COVID-19 fallout, whereas poor results were achieved internationally, as many major installations were either canceled or delayed.

However, it was not all bad news. Key display segments were — and continue to be — adept at enabling the now commonplace need for remote and hybrid working and learning. Interactive displays are at the heart of this, particularly in relation to education, with volume up in double-digit percentages in 2020, especially driven by Q3/Q4 — a major positive shift from early expectations at the start of the pandemic.

Even within the projection category there were some bright spots. The ultra mobile product segment reported year-on-year growth for 2020, mostly as a direct result of social distancing and lockdown measures. Consumers were spending more time at home and streaming entertainment, seeking ways to enhance their viewing experience, while some workplaces valued the portability of displays at a time when meeting room use cases were quickly evolving.

Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, it is easy to paint a brighter picture of positive volume growth across all three core display technologies, mostly due to a bounce back in demand after an unprecedented fall. Nonetheless the outlook remains relatively unstable, as the drawn-out impact from the pandemic continues to affect core demand. However, equally important is the movement toward price parity across LED, LCD and projection, resulting in uneven performances as the primary technology used for different applications is adjusted.

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The cost of LED in particular is falling rapidly, which, when combined with its flexibility in terms of use cases, puts it in a strong position this year for new installs and replacements. This is expected to propel growth in 2021, with value set to increase by almost half compared to the year before.

Some of the biggest past hinderances to LED, after considering price, have been durability and a general lack of knowledge on how to best use the technology from both an end user and installer perspective. These issues are quickly being resolved thanks to improved production methods, but also through a combination of product training and product packaging. The latter is being seized upon by the likes of Samsung and LG as they launch all-in-one, simplified solutions, packaged neatly in an effort to make the process as simple as buying and installing an LCD display.

The growth opportunities are there for the other display technologies too. For projection, this is expected to come from higher brightness categories, working as solutions for applications across higher education, rental, staging, museums and macro-mapping. For LCD, the demand for Interactive displays is expected to remain strong as schools across the world continue to upgrade. Further LCD solutions will also emerge in the corporate space: decreasing bezel sizes and demand for integrated collaboration technology is set to accelerate the relatively mature, but still appealing, flat panel display technology.

While opportunities in 2021 should be relatively abundant, a key theme for this year that offers growth potential for all three display technologies will be merged display applications. Whereby for certain situations, it makes sense to use a combination of multiple display technologies to get the best out of each. Retail signage is where most of this activity is expected, as retailers look for ways to create experiential shopping trips to draw consumers back to the high street. Such blending of displays is also expected to appear across the corporate, education and notably the live events space as they look to recover from the impact of COVID-19.