The audiovisual display market is a lot like selling razorblades. Just when you thought no one could top a five-blade razor, up pops Gillette with a six-blade monster that vibrates and gives you a foot massage.
Since the advent of digital broadcasting, plasma and LCD, the display market has been about constant evolution, always enticing consumers with the next big thing – flat screens, high-definition, 3D and now 4K Ultra HD.
It’s not always smooth sailing though. Sometimes consumers don’t want to dine on what the vendors and the entertainment industries want to serve up. Take the hype around 3D TVs, for example. For a while there you couldn’t switch on the TV without seeing people watching movies or playing games on their sofa wearing massive glasses.
In hindsight, it was always going to be a tough sell. It seems people don’t mind wearing dodgy headwear in a darkened cinema for a couple of hours, but persuading them to do the same in the living room as a matter of course appears to be an insurmountable hurdle.
In fact, most display vendors (whether TV or computer monitors) aren’t majoring on 3D at all now in their product marketing. Plus, the broadcasters appear to have given up too – Sky closed its 3D channel last month and the BBC stopped producing 3D content as long ago as 2013.
So, given that we’re all quite familiar with the attraction of 4K Ultra HD by now (four times the resolution of standard HD) what else is going to be driving people into stores to upgrade their displays over the next year or so?
Okay, so this is nothing new. But it’s arguable that despite touchscreens being the norm when it comes to phones and tablets, the technology hasn’t translated that well to the desktop environment.
That’s primarily because Windows 8, while designed so that touch was core to many of its functions, let users down when it came to using mouse and keyboard to move around those UIs.
The good news is that Microsoft has undoubtedly taken big steps to address touchscreen usability with Windows 10, which comes with a feature called Continuum. Put simply, it means that the UI adjusts itself depending on what peripherals are attached to the devices – particularly important for the Surface range, for example.
Expect a resurgence of interest.
The jury is currently out on curved screens in the TV space. Reviewers appear united in the opinion that curves offer little in terms of improved viewing experience and that the ‘technology’ is nothing more than a cosmetic affectation that appeals to the style-conscious with high disposable income.
Nevertheless, vendors like Acer, Samsung and LG are pushing the curvy aesthetic into their desktop monitor ranges. And what’s more, curved monitors are selling at much higher price points than regular monitors with better resolution from the same manufacturer.
Acer recently unveiled three curved displays targeted at gamers in the form of the XR341CK, XZ350CU and Predator X34, all of which are available from £638.
This one has been a bit of a slow burn. Smart TVs have been around for a while now and, in theory, a smart monitor – a smaller screen that can be wirelessly connected to various devices and content services – should be a very useful tool to have around the home.
However, the first generation of devices fell into a bit of a no mans land between monitor and tablet. If you’ve got both of those, why bother with something in the middle? Plus, quirky software execution and proprietary vendor app stores made for a clunky user experience.
But the second generation of smart monitors, led by devices from the likes of Viewsonic and BenQ, appear to have learned those lessons. Explaining the USP is key: smart monitors are supposed to act as an endpoint for content stored on multiple devices – smartphones, PCs, etc. Vendors have realised there’s a significant opportunity for bundling them with other products, rather than marketing them as a standalone device. One to watch for sure.
When does a desktop monitor become a TV? Well, it seems demand within both professional and consumer markets means monitors of up to 34 inches are becoming more and more popular. Applications like gaming and photography are the key drivers, while using a PC to watch streamed TV shows and movies is also a factor. Right now, monitors at 32 inches are priced at a premium. The Samsung UD970, for example, comes in at £1,500.
Monitors for audiophiles
A lot of desktop monitors don’t come with speakers. And many that do may as well not; such is the poor quality on offer. All of which means anyone wanting to enjoy high-quality audio through their PC will usually invest in a separate sound system.
But just as sound bars are fulfilling a desire for better audio in the TV space, vendors are increasingly coming to market with audio-centric displays. HP hooked up with Beats Audio a while back to offer improved sonics on its devices – it was essentially an integrated sound bar branded with Dr Dre’s premium audio badge and others are following suit, such as LG with its MaxxAudio software/hardware combo.
How Apple’s ownership of the Beats brand will impact the ability of HP to use it going forwards is uncertain, however.
What’s clear is that the industry will not rest on its 4K and curved screen laurels. LG Display CEO and president Sang-Beom Han will deliver the opening keynote at IFA 2015 on September 4th in Berlin, titled "How display technologies will change our lives” – he will essentially basking ‘what comes next’ in terms of display technology.
There is certainly more coal needed for the fire – IDC says the total worldwide PC monitor market shipped 29 million units during Q1 2015 – a decline of 12 per cent on the previous year.
What’s more, the firm predicts a year-on-year decline of 3.4 per cent in worldwide shipments to 28.8 million units in Q2 2015.
For 2015 as a whole, IDC is expecting around 120 million PC monitor unit shipments globally – by 2019 shipments are to be less than 104 million units.
Check out PCR's latest guide to monitors in the upcoming August issse.