A newcomer introduces a disruptive technology that turns a market on its head, only to see better funded competitors step in.
But sometimes the first mover has the last laugh. Apple was first with the personal computer, the MP3 player, and the smart phone. Competitors moved in aggressively, but they’ve always retained a significant market share, with customer loyalty second to none.
Is Casio doing the same in the laser projection market? They were the first to introduce a high-brightness, laser & LED LampFree projector, back in 2010, and they’ve sold over a million worldwide. Despite the introduction of similar technologies by at least seven major competitors, Casio continues to dominate, with the number one market share in solid state projection for eight years running.
They’ve earned their customers’ loyalty as well, by consistently exceeding their expectations with a failure rate of less than 1% during the five-year warranty program, and longevity often far past the promised 20,000 hours.
Like Apple, a big part of Casio’s success was an initial focus on the K-12 education market. Their strategy was to build the best-ever XGA and WXGA classroom projectors. But while that was great for K-12, it was not so great for higher education, where WUXGA became the norm. Yet there comes a point where technology companies move past a successful niche strategy.
In January, Casio introduced its Superior projector line, with 1920 x 1200 resolution and additional features aimed squarely at higher ed. Given the new product’s remarkable performance, extraordinary reliability and low cost, it is poised for a major disruption of the university market.
Joe Gillio, Senior Director of Casio’s Business Products Division, explains that Casio’s exclusive laser/LED hybrid is the key to its success in K-12 and to its entry into higher education.
“Our projectors, using a hybrid light source that combines laser and LED technology, are the most efficient by far. They produce more lumens per watt and more lumens per dollar than either all-laser or all-LED projectors,” he explains.
Manufacturers trying to use an all-LED light source must deal with the fact LEDs produce different lumen outputs depending on the color. While red LEDs are at the high end of the efficiency scale, green are relatively low. The manufacturer can compensate by loading their projectors with many more green LEDs than red, but doing so is expensive and requires more power.
Lasers, on the other hand, are costly and power-hungry when compared to red LEDs.
Casio engineers took an end-run around both problems by producing a projector that uses a red LED and a blue laser, splitting the laser light and combining part of it with a green phosphor to produce both blue and green light. In this way, they were able to hit a sweet spot that no one else has been able to duplicate.
As a result, Casio hybrids cost about 30% to 50% less than most comparable solid-state projectors. Compared to bulb-based projectors, their purchase price is somewhat higher, but the lifetime cost far lower. “When you look at the price of bulbs, filters, and associated labor, you’re far better off with solid state,” Gillio explains.
Efficiency is not the only advantage. The reliability of the Casio hybrid was a surprise to early adopters, and surprising still to those not familiar with the technology. “When we say we see less than 1% of our projectors come back for service during the warranty period, that’s a conservative figure,” says Gillio. “What our customers tell us, is that our LampFree projectors just don’t break, year after year after year. And some of them keep our projectors way past their 20,000 hour estimated lifespan. I have two in my office that a client used for 50,000 hours, and in all that time they never needed a repair.”
Gillio does not advise clients to keep their projectors that long. They are rated for 20,000 hours because that’s the point where their lumen output drops to one half of the original.
On the other hand, a key advantage of the laser/LED hybrid has been that it dims very gradually. At 10,000 hours, they still keep about 75% of their original brightness. In a typical college classroom, that’s six to 10 years.
The fact is that the vast majority of Casio LampFree projectors put in operation in 2010 are still operating, have never been serviced, and have not seen a loss of brightness that their users would consider significant. That said, the company has continued to improve them.
The Superior line, introduced in January, 2019, represents the eighth generation of Casio hybrids, producing twice the brightness of generation one, almost five times the pixel count, and a richer, deeper red channel, resulting in more vibrant, accurate colors.
Two Superior models are especially interesting to university educators. The XJS400U offers 4,000 lumens of brightness at 1920 x 1200 resolution, with a 1.7X zoom lens, a wide range of connectors including two HDMI ports, auto off, keystone correction, a built-in speaker, and a five-year/10,000 hour warranty. The XJ-S400UN adds networking, with Wi-Fi-based video and audio connectivity, an RJ-45 wired LAN connector for communication with Crestron, Extron and AMX room monitoring systems, two USB 2.0 ports, and Casio’s Educational Solutions technology.
Educational Solutions adds simple wireless projection from Apple and Android phones and tablets, Chromebooks, and Windows and Macintosh laptops. These nocost collaboration tools include wireless remote control for the projector and for the instructor’s device as well, to allow them to turn pages from anywhere in the room. Critically, the app includes a moderator function that allows the instructor to control which student devices are connected to the projector. Additionally the instructor can choose and project the screens of up to four devices on-screen at once.
“Educational Solutions is perfect for any kind of collaborative situations,” Gillio notes. “It works well in active learning classrooms as well as simple BYOD environments.” By connecting laptops and other devices directly to the projector, it can eliminate the need for expensive matrix switching setups. “It allows universities to extend collaborative teaching into almost any classroom by removing the number one barrier, the cost of specialized equipment.”
Can Casio be successful in higher education?
Like Apple, they have been a producer of highly innovative products and a pioneer in an important new category. And like Apple, they will need to break out of an initial K-12 strategy to succeed in other markets.
All the pieces are in place, Gillio believes. Reliability, image quality, wireless connectivity, and price are all major advantages for Casio LampFree.
The first mover in high-brightness, laser-based projection is ready to disrupt the university market.