Commercial Brands vs. High-End Brands

Evan Powell, January 21, 2002

Last week a reader in Canada wrote with the following question...

"Most of the projectors that you review and recommend on your site are from manufacturers that are generally better known in the computer industry, more so than the audio/video industry. However, when I go to audio/video stores here in Montreal that have experience in home theaters, they carry brands like DreamVision, Runco, etc., which are not brands you seem to talk about a lot on your site. Do projectors from NEC or InFocus for instance provide a better home theater experience than projectors from DreamVision or Runco? Or is it that the latter are better, but also more expensive and not worth the extra money?"

That's a great question. And it's true that there is a peculiar dichotomy in the market, as well as the press. If you pick up the recent Home Theater Buyer's Guide 2002, published by the folks at Home Theater Magazine, and you turn to the section on projectors, you find that they list only 12 projector vendors: DWIN, Fujitsu, Integra, Knoll, Madrigal, Nakamichi, Runco, SIM2, TAW, Vidikron, Yamaha, and Zenith. There is no mention of companies like Sanyo, NEC, Mitsubishi, or any of the other 50 or so projector manufacturers in the market today. Oddly enough, there is not even a mention of Sony or Sharp, which together probably sold more home theater projectors than all other vendors combined in the last few years.

Meanwhile, while we have reviewed products from Yamaha, DWIN, and Runco in the past year, in general the high-end brands that Home Theater Magazine includes in their Buyer's Guide get less editorial attention on our site than some of the commercial brands. "What gives?" you ask.

Well. Here's the answer. First, ProjectorCentral focuses exclusively on digital projectors--those based upon LCD, DLP, and LCOS light engine technologies. We don't discuss CRT projectors for several reasons--they are losing market share rapidly, they are difficult to install, and they require a lot of ongoing calibration and maintenance to keep them looking good. Furthermore, for the most part they now represent competitive solutions for those with projector budgets of at least $20,000, which is far more than most of our readers want to spend. So names like Runco and Vidikron, which are well-respected vendors in the expensive CRT business, don't often appear on our site in part because we don't address CRTs.

But there is a second reason also. Faced with the decline of their CRT business, the home theater brands have been under competitive pressure to come out with digital products of their own, based on the very same LCD, DLP, and LCOS technologies that are used in commercial projector products. The products they have come out with to date carry super-premium prices in keeping with their high-end image. However, the value proposition has been lacking since some of the commercial brand products offer video performance equal, close to, or on occasion better than the quality of the high-end brands, but at a fraction of the price.

The big question for you, the buyer, is--what are the high-end brands doing with digital technology that the commercial brands aren't, and does it make a real difference?

Contents: Brand Question Quality Matters Performance Features Product Distribution