INTERVIEW: Epson's Hans Dummer on 3D, the future of home cinema and the "Wife Acceptance" factor

3D TV, Interview, Interviews, Projectors

It’s going to be a big year for Epson. They’re pushing their first line of 3D projectors, with the top-end EH-TW9000W wireless model impressing at IFA 2011 in Berlin, while also navigating the murkier waters of budget-friendly projectors with their iPad dock-packing MG-850 HD beamer. Pushing for mass-market appeal as well as pleasing the cinephiles, we caught up with Regional Sales Manager Hans Dummer in Berlin recently to talk about the future of home cinema.

Why now for 3D projectors from Epson?

That’s an easy one for us. It’s all to do with regard to the 3D content. It’s improved dramatically over the last year. There was big hype surrounding 3D at the beginning of last year but the content was very limited. This year alone there will be 45 new 3D movies and dozens of new 3D TV stations broadcasting so I think the timing is better in terms of consumer adoption and acceptance. We’ve also focused a lot on the simplicity of installation, making 3D projection adoption less of an undertaking.

So Epson’s 3D tech has been ready for while, and it’s been a matter of the content catching up then?

We’ve been working on refining the technology; we’ve spent a lot of time optimising brightness levels, somewhere you often have to compromise due to 3D glasses. But the last year has let us come to market with the brightest 3D projectors you can buy. Our 3LCD technology allows us to do that.

One of the big 3D stumbling blocks so far has been 3D glasses, their price, and how they aren’t universal across brands. Explain for our readers Epson’s stance on 3D specs.

We’re part of a group that allows consumers to choose a variety of different active shutter glasses, not just the Epson ones. We’ve opted for active technology first, but we’re looking into passive glasses at the moment aswell. Education markets have obvious application for cheaper passive glasses. But it’s really up to the consumer and their requirements. I’m already requesting that our design teams start looking into glasses for juniors, the little ones in the family. As the technology becomes more adopted we’re certain to get requests for these kinds of things coming through. If costumers are calling for red, blue, green framed glasses of all different sizes, we’ll try to match that need.

Is passive not the more natural avenue for 3D projectors? Surely the bigger screen sizes that projectors allow naturally serve larger audiences, where inexpensive passive glasses are more attractive? What was the deciding factor in favour of active?

With passive projectors, you have to use stacking, which ultimately results in putting two projectors on top of another, buying two projectors as it currently stands. We’re looking at developing that technology and where it’s going, and you’re quite correct; there are certain markets where it’s definitely the way to go, in education for example where many inexpensive glasses are needed. But will schools buy two projectors for one classroom? It’s a cost balance you’d have to juggle, but I’m sure our teams will have some solution in the future.

Projector prices are dropping all the time. Are we approaching mass-market price points yet, or will home projectors always be a niche market?

We’d like to see the market go all-in for 3D projection adoption, but the interconnectivity of devices is also guiding the market, and therefore prices. Take our MG-850 HD iPad projector; it’s about simplicity. Simplifying the technology and making it more flexible will lead to a rise in adoption. Features like Wi-Fi connectivity in our top projectors will make projectors just as attractive to consumers as LCD panels. We’re expecting big things from this year’s line-up.

You mention wireless connectivity and the interconnectivity of devices.Why no Airplay in this year’s range then?

We’re looking at Airplay and the integration of a variety of streaming technologies. We’re also looking at Android and the development of the Windows Phone7 environment. You’ll see developments from Epson in all those areas in the future. As a neutral projector manufacturer we have to look at our customer requirements, which are key, and as we get requests for Airplay or the docking of a multiple devices we’ll listen and look in that direction. I know our colleagues are looking at all these areas currently. We’ve always had a strategy to bring out products that differentiate from the rest, and products that are technologically ahead of the rest. Just because a year ago everyone was talking about 3D doesn’t mean we were going to bring out a “me too” 3D projector. We want to show consumers real benefits when we add functionality.

Have Epson any plans for new pocket projectors? Epson haven’t had any big news on that front at this year’s IFA. Why?

Pocket, Pico, Nano; all these types of projectors have brightness issues. For us it’s a matter of looking at 300 lumens, 500 lumens 1,000 lumens limitations; does the customer actually want that? Yes there is a market there, but it’s a very, very small market. Primarily it’s because although people want small products, they want strong brightness levels even more. Clarity, quality, it just isn’t there. We’re looking at that space, but right now it’s not a big commitment for us. If you can bring out a projector at 2,000 lumens then things get interesting. It’s also about serving gamers too as they are often the early adopters, and they want high resolutions and brightness more than anything else. Do you know what the “WA” factor is?

The “WA” factor???

The “WA” factor, the “Wife Acceptance” factor! Everybody laughs about it, but it’s a significant decision making criteria. If you have a reasonably sized device with as few cables as possible, you’re not cluttering up the lounge, it’s much more acceptable. The future lies in talking to engineers, architects, making sure that when houses are being built provision is made for projector space. Wall inserts, under-sofa plug sockets, that sort of thing. We see it in the business industry already, and if we can bring that into the home you’ll see projectors really take off.

Gerald Lynch
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