January 22, 2007 9:55 AM PST

LCD TV maker channels efforts toward big business

LCD TV maker Westinghouse Digital Electronics is stepping into the corporate world.

The company is still selling desktop LCD monitors and high-end LCD televisions to consumers, but it has also begun promoting items specially designed for corporations, like an 82-inch LCD that serves as an electronic sign.

So far, the most notable product is a 52-inch LCD monitor with a resolution of 3,840x2,160 pixels. That resolution, also known as quad full, has four times the pixels of a high-definition 1080p TV. The company has already landed at least one high-profile customer: oil and gas giant Halliburton, according to Douglas Woo, president of Westinghouse Digital.

Westinghouse Digital

"The software running on the quad full HD? " said Woo in a recent interview, pointing toward the monitor. "That is from Halliburton. That is not mine."

While Westinghouse Digital has sold LCD monitors to consumers for the past few years, selling monitors into the commercial market represents a far different challenge and in many ways a more difficult one. Commercial buyers tend to have long qualification cycles, in which IT managers put products through batteries of tests before they place an item on an "approved vendor" list. LCD monitors also often get purchased in package deals with PCs and other equipment, giving manufacturers with a broad product line an advantage.

"It takes a long, time. You've got to talk and talk, and they've got to review it," Woo said.

So why bother? "Because we have technology," Woo said. "This company has R&D. We have our own platforms."

Although Westinghouse Digital relies extensively on contract manufacturers and component suppliers like Chi Mei Optoelectronics, the Los Angeles-area company also extensively participates in the designs and underlying technology of its monitors and TVs. In many cases, he said, Westinghouse Digital has been able to come out with features before its competitors. Last spring, for instance, it unveiled 1080p monitors before many others.

By beating competitors to market and introducing original features, Woo said, the company can land contracts. Westinghouse Digital will also likely try to exploit its relationships with contract manufacturers to keep inventory down. The 82-inch LCD sign, for instance, is really more of a build-to-order system.

The move into the commercial market reflects the difficult nature of the LCD business today. Over the past several years, companies like Samsung and Chi Mei have extensively expanded factory capacity. LG Philips, the world's second largest manufacturer of LCD panels (the glass that goes into LCD TVs and monitors) lost $186 million in the quarter that ended in December, in part because of excess supplies of parts.

To survive, LCD companies must boost their market share and expand sales to insulate themselves against the inevitable price declines. To that end, Westinghouse Digital entered the LCD TV markets in Japan and China late last year.

The company also has eyes on Europe, but it won't go there for a while.

"It's just a much more complex market to penetrate. Japan is a single market, unlike Europe," Woo said. "We can't do everything at once, and we intend to be a global player. But we're picking our battles rightly."

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Douglas Woo, Westinghouse, contract manufacturer, LCD TV, LCD monitor

 

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