LED Display Analyst Ted Romanowitz Of Futuresource On What To Expect And See At ISE 2023

January 30, 2023 by Dave Haynes

Ted Romanowitz has been around the commercial display and tech sectors for a whole bunch of years, and for the last two or so, has been an industry analyst for the research firm Futuresource Consulting.

Futuresource is in the UK, but Ted works out of the Portland, Oregon area – spending his time looking at professional display technologies, ranging from projectors to mini and microLED video wall products.

He was at CES and he’ll be at ISE this week, meeting with manufacturers and walking the halls, seeing what’s new and interesting.

We had a good chat about where the different display technologies are at, and how miniLED is seeing a lot of traction for fine pitch LED displays. We talk projection and we spend quite a bit of time discussing the state and vast potential for microLED.

One thing I particularly liked was his qualifier about “true” microLED, as all kinds of manufacturers market their premium products as microLED, when they’re really miniLED.

Ted, thank you for joining me. Can you explain what you do for Futuresource and what Futuresource is all about? 

Ted Romanowitz: Oh, I’d love to do that. I’m a principal analyst at FutureSource Consulting in our business-to-business (b2b) practice. I lead the entire professional display Segment. So we cover everything Projection, LCD panels, tiled LCD, and interactive displays, as well as my forte, as you may know, is LED. I have more than 10 years of industry experience in LED with Planar, Leyard and Christie Digital. It’s wonderful. There’s a lot going on in pro displays right now. 

So what would you be doing primarily? Are you producing research reports? Are you talking to companies? You know, what’s your day-to-day?

Ted Romanowitz: We do three really big things. One, we do quarterly trackers for all these technologies. So you can look at the data by company, by specification, by country, and comparatively by brand. We also do annual reports. We’ve just published a video wall report as well as a strategic market outlook. We’ve got a big digital signage report coming in the springtime. We’re looking forward to publishing that, as well as a refresh of our true micro-LED report coming in the first half of the year.

So we do a lot of annual reports, and then the third bit is custom research. So if there are any companies out there that have a specific business need for the information, they can reach out to me and we’d love to talk to them about a one-off type of project to get the analytics that they need to make an informed business. 

How hard is it to get the data from all the different display manufacturers and to talk about their sales and their market size? 

Ted Romanowitz: It is definitely a challenge and I think, especially during the Covid timeframe, to keep relationships established has been challenging. We just came back from a major trip to the Asia Pacific in November, so we were literally the first company meeting these large pro AV vendors in Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. We spent two weeks over there face-to-face and you just can’t say enough about building face-to-face relationships and having those conversations and that’s why we’re so much looking forward to ISE this year, getting everybody back together. 

So when you say you are the first company, what do you mean by that? 

Ted Romanowitz: A lot of these vendors haven’t had research companies or other people come and visit them face-to-face. So they were really glad, almost ecstatic to have us show up at their doorstep for a meeting. It was wonderful to rebuild a lot of relationships. It’s so much different to do it face-to-face. It’s more meaningful.

As opposed to at a table in a trade show booth?

Ted Romanowitz: That’s also face-to-face, so I think those are good as well. 

It’s hard to get good data, setting yourself aside, there are one or two other companies that are focused on this, but there’s this avalanche or a steady torrent of crap coming out of research factories from India. Do you have to fight against that? 

Ted Romanowitz: I think what Futuresource is really good at is having these long-term relationships. We’ve been doing this for two decades. We have relationships with the brands. We’re getting data, hard data. We’re having not only quantitative discussions, but we’re having qualitative trends impacting the industry, what’s coming next, and those sorts of things, so it’s much more robust practice that we do, and that’s why people are coming to us wanting our research. 

And part of your routine as well is going to the big trade shows, I believe you’re just at CES and you’re planning to go to ISE as well?

Ted Romanowitz: Absolutely. It was my 14th trip to CES in my career, and it’s like a little bit of a family reunion for me actually. But it was amazing to see the energy and people actually queuing up to be able to get into some of the booths there, the larger booths because they were controlling the traffic for Covid and everything. But the energy was there, a lot of great new technologies. It was quite exciting, and as a little preview, I know we’re gonna talk about micro LEDs at some point, but I was able to see the industry’s first true micro-LED displays, so that was worth the trip, just that one thing. 

Yeah, I get asked every year, am I going to CES? And I say, I’ve done it, don’t want to do it again, too many people line up for everything. But the biggest thing is it’s consumer electronics and it’s pushing away to some degree it seems at least from displays into gadgets and cars and everything else, so I’m curious if you said that one thing alone was worth the trip, but for somebody who is maybe not as well versed as you, is it worth going to CES if you’re in the digital signage industry? 

Ted Romanowitz: There were digital sign signs everywhere, even in some of the smaller halls like North and West, there were LED signs in almost every single booth promoting different technologies and companies, brands. It was amazing. But yeah, I was also amazed at how some of the big consumer brands were starting to bring in LED technology in particular, and showing the consumer applications of that and it’s still not gonna be sold through a CEDIA channel, it’s going to be sold through pro AV consultants. So it’s our heart and soul still for some years before it becomes priced for the mass markets if you will.

Do you get cues from CES about, a product that comes out for TVs whether it be OLED or QLED whatever the case may be, are those cues to what’s gonna happen on the pro side or does it not necessarily track that way?

Ted Romanowitz: There’s not one way or the other, but I definitely think, specifically to LED technology, that is primarily a pro-AV thing and it is starting to creep into CES and that’s exactly why I was at the show. 

Venetian had three floors of smaller companies, and it’s amazing how much of our ecosystem is starting to show up there. Different companies looking for ODM and OEM arrangements were in the Venetian, showing prototypes and whatnot of not only LED but also see-through LED and transparent OLED. 

I was curious about one of the announcements at CES where LG unveiled an OLED TV that was wirelessly powered. Now there was a box that you still had to plug in, but between the box and the display panel itself, there was no wire. It was being transmitted by IR or something or other, I forgot. Is that something that you see as coming or is it just an outlier that nobody would actually use?

Ted Romanowitz: LG had a wireless OLED display. But my understanding is that it was wireless connectivity on the data side and not necessarily on the power side. But that’s certainly something I think it’ll be interesting to see if that shows up at ISE, and definitely, a trend that we should all watch, especially in historic buildings across the east coast of America plus Europe, where you have a historical building and you wanna hang a display in this space, but you don’t have power to it, and you don’t want a god awful power cord, video signal cord running down the beautiful brickwork or whatnot. There could be some real applications for it. 

Yeah. I know a company in Israel. I did a podcast with them and they now have wireless power technology and they insisted it’s safe and everything else, and you don’t get fried if you walk in front of it, or anything.

Ted Romanowitz: Interesting. I’m not aware of that. I’ll have to get the information from you so we can have a good look. 

So what display segments are growing right now? 

Ted Romanowitz: Overall, the pro display is growing over the next five years at about an 8% compound annual growth rate, which is healthy. That’s really being driven primarily by direct view LED, which is, over 20% year-over-year growth. So that’s really where the growth is. LCD is still showing basically flat growth over the next five years. It’s very slow growth, but yet by 2026, it’s still 50% of the pro displays marketplace, and we won’t see that shift between LED and LCD until we have some of these advanced technologies like mini LED, as defined by flip chip COB, which I think we’re gonna see some really interesting demos at ISE on this technology finally.

There have been technical and manufacturing issues that have held it back from mass production. So I think 2023 will be the year, we’re predicting that 2023 will be the year when companies will come into mass production and resolve these manufacturing and technical issues. So that’s where you get pixel pitches under 0.7, 0.6, perhaps even 0.5 with flip chip COB that will start to challenge LCD panels, which are really that close-up viewing experience really predominant. 

Yeah, I remember Leyard’s CTO or he some kind of title like that, he was saying once you get to about 0.7, you’re very close to the pixel pitch that you would have on an LCD. 

Ted Romanowitz: That is correct. It’s around 0.5-millimeter pixel pitch on an LCD screen. So yeah, LED is getting there, and then the really last bit is, once you have that close-up viewing experience, you can put it into, let’s say small to medium room sized meeting rooms as well as digital signage, eye level, close up wayfinding, informational displays, those kinds of things. It gets really interesting for LED, but the price differential right now is still fairly substantial.

What is it now? I understand there are a whole bunch of variables.

Ted Romanowitz: That’s a loaded question. I wish I could just say, oh, it’s X percent but it depends. I hate that answer, but it’s the truth. We’re seeing these advanced technologies in LED come in the mass volume where you get economies of scale, you’re gonna see that differential shrink. So that’s first with this flip chip CEOB, mini LED and that gets you to around, 0.5-0.6 millimeter, certainly 0.7 so you’re on the verge of competing with LCD panels and then with what we’re calling true micro LED technology, that is sub-100-micron chiplets mass transferred onto a TFT backplane with an active driver technology.

So that is what one of the brands was showing at CES Samsung. They had from 55-inch to about 140-inch displays. They weren’t able to give me pricing on that officially, but we know they estimated it last year at about $150,000 for a 4K display over 100 inches. And that’s probably not gonna go into your house or mine, although we aspire to that. But over the years as they come into mass production in the next five to seven years, it’s going to drop from $150,000 down to around $4,000 is what we’re estimating and volume production, once you get under, let’s say 40,000 or 30,000, it’ll start showing up in the CEDIA channels. So it’ll start shifting from pro AV consultants to the CEDIA channel but they’ll need lots of help to figure out how to do it, and then once it gets into the $4,000 to $5,000 range, it’s definitely more of a broad consumer electronic, still very expensive for you and I, a lot of people will really want to jump on this technology. It looks really beautiful.

The stuff that Samsung was showing at CES was that when you frame it as true micro LED, as the Samsung stuff part of the wall series and they’re now doing genuine micro LED with that? 

Ted Romanowitz: That’s a great question, but they had the wall separately. These were consumer television sets that are true micro0LED, but they weren’t ready yet to do an announcement in the pro AV space but one could reasonably assume that might be coming, that they’ll offer this true micro-LED display, and whether they brand it ‘The wall’ or whatever else they’re gonna call it, that’s up in the air. 

But it looks fantastic. It’ll start to impede LCD panels in a significant way, and then shift the industry towards that where right now, LED is already in video walls the predominant technology that has the highest value. Within five years, it’ll be three times the value of a tiled LCD. So LED  is taking over the video wall. We see in the broader pro AV space, not in the next five years, but certainly, within the next 10 years, LED will be the number one display technology. 

Yeah, I think there’s always going to be a demand for LCD for some kind of meat and potatoes digital signage, like menu boards and ticketing information, all that sort of stuff, but you get into any kind of specialty application or something where shape needs to be flexible, they’re gonna go to mini or micro-LED once the price is there.  

Ted Romanowitz: Yes, true micro-LED eventually will also challenge LCD panels in that more, I guess what you would call hang and bang, on the commodity side.

I believe that it’ll bring LCD prices down. There’ll always be a place for LCD technology but LED will start to take over where image quality, where impact is really important and there’s just a smaller uplift in pricing for that better experience where people and customers want that big impact, it’s going to be LED. 

I was at Touch Taiwan about four years ago, pre-Covid, and I left that trade show with a distinct impression from manufacturers that they saw mini-LED as kind of an interim technology, and it was mostly gonna be used for LCD backlighting like addressable zones, local dimming that, all that stuff. But it seems like mini-LED is getting a lot of take-up as a direct-view LED product as well. 

Ted Romanowitz: Absolutely, and LG has a version of their consumer LED product showcased at CES. It was about a 150-inch display and had some really good features. I think it was 1.2 millimeters with beautiful image quality but it’s $300,000. It’s still the consumer market that is very expensive for them to get into. But, then again, personally, as a product manager for LED, I’ve worked in multiple companies where we have done high-end homes with LEDand, putting up a $750,000 wall in a Bel Air home wasn’t a problem They have the budget. That’s again, not my house as much as I would like that. 

Yeah, as much as I’d like to be a midfielder for Manchester United, I’m too small and way too old, I don’t think I’m gonna have that kind of salary.  

Ted Romanowitz: I think you and me both, but we can still hope, can’t we? It’s not too late. 

Oh, I think it is for me at least.

Ted Romanowitz: I think another important thing is with projection, you were talking about where the pro AV industry is going and all of that, projection both front and rear are in relatively steep decline, and some people would say, oh my gosh, that’s super scary, there are so many projection companies out there, and we see so many demos at ISE and at CES, there are a lot of consumer protection companies displaying products. Even though projection is in decline, double-digit decline over the next five years, in the end, it’s still a $4 to $5 billion market, it’s massive, and so it’s not like projection is gonna go away, it’s just getting a little bit smaller. 

So I think there’s some hope there and we’re seeing high brightness being a big thing over the last year. Already we’ve heard whispers from several of the projection brands that they’re gonna be unveiling new high-brightness projectors. A lot of demos on projection mapping, blending, warping, and those sorts of things to support immersive, really engaging interactive displays. 

Yeah, in the right physical environment and lighting conditions and everything else, projection is awesome because it’s got that ability to surprise you. It just shows up and forms around things in a way you can’t do with more conventional displays.

Ted Romanowitz: Exactly, and if you need to have a large display of information or whatnot, there’s no more cost-effective way to do that, to show a big image, let’s say in a theater or something other than projection, right? LED is just far too expensive to do that, although some brands are in customer-facing theaters. Some very large technology brands are putting in LED displays to impact their ecosystem, and their end customers in a very impactful way, but still, projection is wonderful. It has legs to continue for decades but LED is the up-and-coming thing. 

Why is projection getting better, like they’re able to do brighter, is it because of laser, or are there other factors?

Ted Romanowitz:  Yeah, it’s the laser technology that they’re implementing. I think smaller form factors, are quieter, as well as the prices are coming down as well. Those are all factors that are gonna give it legs for quite some time. One other thing too, I think there are so many immersive exhibits that are happening now, right?

In Portland, Oregon, we get one every month or two where they’re using projection and or a blend of projection in LED to provide a really amazing sensory exhibit. And when our team was in Japan, we went and saw the Team Labs exhibit there and it was wonderful that you actually took your shoes off, and put them in a locker. You roll up your pant legs and you’re about knee-deep in warm water and, it was really cool, the projection map Koi onto the water that you’re walking through, and the fish react to you. So you can reach out or, as you approach one of the fish, it’ll look over at you and then scurry off as if it was a real fish. It was just an amazing experience to go do that. 

I’m curious as well about OLED and light field displays and I recognize that light field displays are still probably a few years off, but are you seeing advances in that? 

Ted Romanowitz: That’s one of the things that we’re going to be doing some further research on at ISE and it’ll be interesting to see how that trend emerges, and OLED is really interesting. On the transparent side, a lot of companies have been working on that to help with merchandising or promoting products, putting them in an OLED box and putting marketing messages around the product even while you’re able to reach in and touch the product. 

Those are some super creative things, but at the LG booth at CES and a couple of others, they’re showing transparent OLED and transparent LED applications where you can get a 10-foot high glass wall and cover it with an image. It’s just cool. It’s beautiful. It’ll be interesting to see how corporations and other organizations invest in that, and what the adoption rate will be, and that’s definitely an area where we’re going to be researching further. 

Yeah, the LED on film and LED embedded in glass particularly when micro-LED matures, that seems exciting as hell in terms of the amount of brightness you can get and the fact that you can just make it part of the building material.

Ted Romanowitz: Exactly, yes, and you look at all these big cities. I don’t know when you were in China last, but you go to Hong Kong and you’re sitting on the Calhoun side at night and the choreographer does some choreography with music and a light show of all the major tall office buildings on Central. It’s just amazing. And Shenzhen, Shanghai, a lot of cities in China are doing these light shows and lighting up all the buildings and in America, we’re starting to see that as well. Obviously, Las Vegas is a great example, but I think it’ll be interesting to see how that evolves, not only in America but also in Europe with all of the historical buildings, what the regulations will be and you know how they’ll allow technology to be used architecturally and artistically on some of these historic buildings, or if we’ll just keep doing projection onto them.

Which you can do without affecting the building, which I’m sure makes the people who protect buildings happy. 

Ted Romanowitz: Absolutely. 

You’re going to ISE, I assume. For somebody who’s going and they’re particularly interested in seeing what’s new and what’s emerging and what’s important to know on the display side of things, what would you recommend? What should they be looking for?

Ted Romanowitz: I definitely think the big trends will be the flip chip COB, and mini-LED. I don’t know if a true micro-LED display will be shown, but they’re certainly, if not from one of the big brands, I would expect some of the manufacturers like BOE or Seoul Semi might be showing some things in their booth, so that’s one thing to look for. I think projection is gonna be sexy. People are gonna be doing projection mapping and blending and warping and all of that. 8K displays, I think you’ll see more and more of those out there. Yeah, those are some of the big things. There’s the digital signage section as well. We’re gonna be spending a lot of time out there. 

As I mentioned, we are doing a digital signage report in the next few months. So we will be looking at that as well. 

Would that be a display report or software? 

Ted Romanowitz: It’ll be both. It’ll be the whole ecosystem. 

This is great because it’s so hard to get any credible research on the software side of this business. 

Ted Romanowitz: Exactly, and It’ll be hardware and not only just the displays itself but the media servers, players, the content in the cloud. All of the above. It’s gonna be a really exciting report. We’re very much looking forward to that one. 

Good. All right. Ted, thank you so much for spending some time with me. 

Ted Romanowitz: Thank you so much and I look forward to seeing you in Barcelona. 

Absolutely. Tapas!

Ted Romanowitz: Exactly. See you there!

  1. Craig keefner says:

    Not much data.

    1. Dave Haynes says:

      They sell data 🙂

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