Two years ago, the giant commercial-projector manufacturer Christie Digital took a plunge into the residential market, hiring industry veteran George Walter as its first director of home entertainment.
In the past few weeks, the company has gone through a major restructuring, laying off 5 percent of its work force and apparently backing off from the consumer market, at least for now. Walter was a victim of the restructuring and Jeff Klaas, the VP who hired him, has also left the company.
While Walter and others say Christie is halting any aggressive movement into the home, “Christie has made no formal statement about exiting the residential market,” a spokesperson tells CE Pro: “As with any business, we have taken the opportunity to improve our operational efficiencies by consolidating some functions and eliminating duplication of roles as a result of acquisitions made over the last several years. We continue to hire, as demand for our solutions’ portfolios continues to grow.”
George Walter: 'Timing is Everything'
“Obviously, I thought Christie was in a unique position to become a major supplier to the residential market,” a disappointed Walter told CE Pro this week. “The launch and booth at CEDIA in 2014 was proof that the market was excited about Christie's presence.”
In making its case to dealers back in 2014, Christie had said:
You have the opportunity to work with a global leader in visual display and audio technologies with 85 years’ experience. Over 48,000 commercial theaters including AMC and Carmike feature Christie projectors, as do hundreds of corporations including Boeing, Comcast, Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin, Shell, NASA, Microsoft, and numerous others. They trust the quality, reliability and service provided by Christie and its technology.
Azione founder and president Richard Glikes says Christie's stellar accomplishments in commercial cinemas ultimately did not translate to home theaters, especially at a time when new technologies are encroaching on traditional large-format projectors.
“Christie enjoyed selling in about 40 percent of the 4K projector to the cinemas when they all had to convert,” Glikes tells CE Pro. “My opinion is that Christie is concerned about the long-term prospect of the viability of projectors with new display technologies right around the corner.”
For that reason, Glikes surmises, “They opted to walk away from the residential market as they never had a comfort level with it to begin with.”
Walter, who spent a combined 25 years at Barco and Digital Projection before joining Christie in 2014, echoes many of Glikes' sentiments, saying the “boom years” of projectors are over and that consumers demand different solutions than what the commercial sector provides.
“Timing is everything, and in this case, the timing was really off,” Walter tells CE Pro.
Walter shares with CE Pro these three challenges for Christie's entry into the consumer market at this time.
- Over the past 20 years, the professional/commercial market used to lead in performance and technology. Bigger, Brighter, Higher resolution, always came to the commercial side first. Now that's not the case. So the Christie products which are so successful in the commercial market have become very different from what the high end residential customer demands.
- The overall decline in the projector market along with declining overall price points: The boom market for projectors is clearly behind us. Large-format flat panels at extremely low prices and highly evolving direct-view LED have attacked all projector sales. Declining market opportunities makes it increasingly difficult for large companies to justify the investment to engineer brand new projector platforms.
- The entire 4K challenge: Kudos to Sony for jumping on the 4K wagon way before there was any content, demand, or even a recognized standard. But the market saw 4K coming on strong in the flat panel market and demanded it for their projectors of all sizes and price points. Think of all the projector companies in the CEDIA market that had excellent 1080P projectors three years ago and are all but non-existent in today's market because they don't have a 4K solution.
As for item No. 3, Sony has had a lock on 4K projectors because it owns the SXRD chipset that drives the technology. It was only this year that Texas Instruments announced it would develop 4K chips for the other projector manufacturers. We should see the fruits of that labor late this year, with nearly-shipping products on display at CEDIA 2016.
Indeed, “Timing is everything.”
As for Walter, “The high end residential market is one that I know extremely well and love,” he says. “I've made tons of friends and I hope to find a home with some other company that appreciates the value and opportunity that market provides.”
George Walter introduces Christie Digital to the home-cinema market, CEDIA 2015