Continued growth in the LED sector

A recent Inavate survey looked at all aspects of the LED market. Paul Milligan sat down with Samsung’s head of display UK, Damon Crowhurst, to go through the findings.

LED has long been one of the major talking points within the AV industry.  It has created a buzz that other products just can’t get close to. Talk and  umours about LED are rife, what there isn’t a lot of (outside of Futuresource and a couple of others), is any actual data or analysis on the LED market. Earlier this year Inavate, working with Samsung, decided to reach out to the industry to ask a variety of LED-related questions to system integrators and AV consultants. The response to the survey shows how important LED has become, more than 700 people responded giving us a wealth of data to work through.

To put the answers into context, we spoke with Samsung’s head of display UK, Damon Crowhurst. The impact of Covid-19 has been unescapable to all aspects of the AV industry and this was reflected in one of the most telling responses to the survey. Leaving 2020 aside (as a 100% Covid-related anomaly to all reasonable data), we asked how 2021 AV budgets would compare to those in 2019? There was no clear winner, but there was an obvious consensus, there would be drop a in 2021 of somewhere between 20% and 40%. Does this tally with Crowhurst’s experience in speaking to customers in the last six months? “It’s certainly what we've seen in corporate and retail. That level of decline in spend has been the case, but mostly on large format displays and not LED, the LED market itself is massively up still, both in retail and corporate. The decline is very much aligned with the classic meeting room display. I anticipate that LED will continue to grow in value; it’s the 55-in display in a meeting room we’re probably going to see less of. Overall it is my expectation that LED will continue its accelerated growth, and LFD will settle back to 2019 levels.”

If AV budgets are to be smaller in 2021 and 2022 (which it looks like they will be), what ways are there to demonstrate value to buyers? “One of the risks to a brand like Samsung is that people will go for a cheaper option, because they still want as much as they want, but they don't have the budget for it, so they might be tempted to invest in lesser technologies. They may be less concerned about warranties. Our counter to that would be our products are all designed with a minimum three to five year warranty,” says Crowhurst, “and making short term decisions never proves career enhancing!”

Another trend he’s seen in the last six months has been the growth of financing. Due to the company’s scale and size Samsung has its own company (Samsung Capital) to provide buyers with purchasing options over five years. “We've had an absolutely enormous upswing, in the 1,000% range, on financing deals.” As the business is there to assist projects, rather than a flat-out commercial enterprise like other finance houses, it is able to offer financing at between 3-5% lower than the
usual market rates. “It’s becoming a key part of many major deals,” adds Crowhurst.

As a way of tracking spend (which is always a tricky proposition), the survey asked what the typical value of LED projects had been in the last two years. The answer (again probably skewed slightly by Covid hitting budgets) was that nearly half (44%) of projects were under the €100k mark. The good news moving forward is that 25% of LED budgets are worth either €500k or €1m plus. Falling unit costs is driving LED adoption explains Crowhurst and is helping nudge project values up; “Instead of just putting LED in one boardroom, they can now afford to put it in three, so the overall value of the project has increased even though the price of the individual LED display may have gone down.” Something similar is happening in retail too he adds, even though sites are being closed down due to Covid, those that remain are investing heavily in display technology, “because the experience level has to go up, shopping malls are working really closely with tenants to make the mall as a destination venue even more exciting, but not only is the mall owner investing heavily, they are working with their tenants to invest in more engaging presence,  which is driving increased investment into LED displays. I think Covid is really going to drive innovation in retail, and I don’t mean queue counting Covid door entry solutions!”

Perhaps the least surprising result of the survey was that reliability came top of the purchasing criteria. If you are making a sizable investment in any pro-AV technology you want it to last, and LED is no different. So how can you make sure it works as well in years two, three, four and five as it did in year one? It’s a combination of the technology constantly improving and high service levels says Crowhurst.

“One of the challenges with LED previously was the diodes were very sensitive to being bumped. With microLED technology we’ve been able to introduce Black Seal, which has put a much more robust layer on top of the tile without impacting colour or brightness.”

Getting the right kind of service is crucial to long-lasting LED displays adds Crowhurst, “We offer a ‘blue glove’ service, and our distributors offer the equivalent of a ‘blue glove’ service, which means not only will we sign off on the installation to acknowledge it’s the right quality level, but you’ll also have preventative maintenance visits built into the plan.”

The top three buying criteria in terms of rank in the survey were reliability, then features/functionality and then brand reputation. With many new players entering the LED world it can be hard to differentiate them from each other, so reputation becomes a valuable yardstick. “Historically if you look at LFD there were brands that were notorious for not being reliable, everybody upped their game and the levels of service, quality and reliability closed, which was a good thing for the customer. With LED right now I think that gap is wide. There are a lot of lower end products that aren't as reliable as they should be, that deteriorate far too quickly in terms of the quality of the imagery because of the components they're using to build the units.
I expect over the next five years the customer will demand that everyone ups their game and the gap will close like it did on LFD. Today, Samsung is focused on setting that aspirational standard.”

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The final question of the survey looked at microLED versus SMD LED technology. 88% of respondents said microLED offered higher contrast ratios, and 73% said it offered deeper blacks. Despite this does Crowhurst feel there is still work to do in educating the wider AV audience about microLED’s benefits? “The challenge for us is that we launched it 18 months ago with 0.84mm, and for the last 12 months we haven’t been able to educate the wider market in the normal way – at trade shows like ISE, Retail Expo and so on.

MicroLED has to be seen in the flesh to understand why it is so different.” Despite these challenges he believes the future for microLED is bright, “If it’s a command and control room, or a premium retailer they want the most natural colour,
reproduction and intensity. Initially it's been the highend clients that have gone for microLED, but I would say we’re less than nine months away from selling no other type of LED.” One aspect that will help this push is the broadening of the Samsung
Wall for Business portfolio from the initial 0.84mm product (launched at ISE 2019) with the addition of 1.2mm and 1.6mm (launched at ISE 2020) options, “for the corporate market 1.6mm is the sweet spot right now and driving our sales,” concludes

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