The End of SMAU As We Know It

Is this "ciao" for SMAU, or will it be reborn as an Italo–Disney consumer show, with the business IT component sent off on its own?

by Bryan Norris and Michelle Barnes

FOR A LONG TIME, the SMAU information technology (IT) show held in Italy – most recently October 21–25, 2004, at the enormous Fiera Milan site – has billed itself as the second-largest IT show in the world. But only 900 companies were exhibiting, occupying only 8 of the 26 halls. This represented a drop in exhibiting companies of 25% from 2003, so the show needs revitalization to retain its "second-largest" billing.

Significant changes should be expected for a 2005 event. Perhaps it will be held at the new exhibition complex being built en route to Milan's new Malpense Airport if this venue is ready on time. SMAU's new President (and majority shareholder) is Alfredo Cazzola, the Managing Director of Promotor International S.p.A., a trade-show company that is particularly known for the motor show it organizes. Under Cazzola's direction, any exhibition next year may take on a more consumer-based format and the "business area should become an independent show."

The show has already been moving in that direction for some years. The "SMAU Shop," led this time by the Saturn/Mediamarkt chain, took up a larger area and offered visitors the chance to purchase the latest IT and gaming products. This shopping area registered a turnover of 3 million euros! And this year saw the opening up of a dedicated "gateway" into the "largest European videogame event" in Hall 14, where both amateur and inter-national professional players were invited to compete. Olidata, the largest Italian PC assembler, again provided over 1000 PC game stations.


Fig_1_tif Bryan Norris

Fig. 1: Maxdata previewed its new Belinea LCD multimedia monitors, such as this 19-in. model in silver and black. Belinea monitor sales grew rapidly in Italy during 2004.

Consumer-Friendly Monitors

Naturally enough, the small number of display companies present at SMAU 2004 chose to concentrate their promotions on multimedia products that would interest consumer buyers, and these monitors were often shown alongside LCD TVs. So Hyundai's 26- and 32-in. LCD TVs and its 42-in. plasma TV were companions to the company's TV-compatible LCD monitors, such as the established L17T 17-in. and L19T 19-in. models with built-in tuners. These models were exhibited on the stand of H.I.I. (Hyundai ImageQuest Italy), the new company that evolved from Hyundai's old exclusive distributor, DHI. In the Hyundai show literature, there were details of five new multimedia monitors. The VT151A and L70B feature resistive touch screens. The Q17+ (with DVI-D input) and the L70S+ both boast 12-msec response time, headphone jack, and optional USB, and the Q19 features headphone jack, USB, and DVI-D.

Maxdata previewed its new Belinea LCD multimedia monitors, the 101905 19-in. model in gray, the 101906 in silver and black (Fig. 1), and the silver and black 102005 UXGA 20-in. model. Sales of Belinea monitors have been growing rapidly in Italy during 2004 – from a standing start to more than 5000 units per month – following the establishment of the company's branch office in 2003. To make sure the brand was suitably high profile at the show, the Italian office had loaned out 150 17-in. LCD monitors to other exhibitors.

Leading distributor Brevi made a late decision to exhibit again at SMAU, taking advantage of the excellent floor price rates on offer in September. The company sells an extensive range of monitor brands, including Samsung/Samtron, Philips, and LG, but no longer offers Acer or NFREN.

Brevi remains the exclusive Italian distributor for ProView monitors, so it took the opportunity to show off ProView's latest consumer-friendly multimedia LCD monitors. On view were the smart new 76 series with 15-, 15- (wide), 17-, and 19-in. models. Also shown were OEM examples of the new entry-level 17-in. model. In Italy, as in certain other countries, the company continues to brand some models with the ProView name and some with the MAG brand.

Hewlett-Packard's multi-product stand included examples of the recently introduced multimedia Pavilion f1723 17-in. and the f1904 19-in. LCD models. The 19-in. unit has the advantage of a DVI input.


Fig_2_tif Bryan Norris

Fig. 2: On neovo's eye-catching stand were new versions of the X-Series with aluminum-alloy housings and the SX-Series of Security Surveillance monitors featuring input and output BNC connectors so that the monitors can be daisy-chained.


Fig_3_tif Bryan Norris

Fig. 3: Most of MITAS's monitors are fitted with a well-designed adjustable stand that folds flat so that the units are easy to transport and convenient for wall-mounting.


The DVI 14% Tax Issue

DVI is proliferating, but will it be seen as a benefit if the buyer is paying a much higher price than for a similar product without it? It seems that an EC ruling has recently been issued that stipulates monitors with a DVI input fall into the 8548 video-monitor category, which incurs an extra 14% import duty.

Rather confusingly, customs authorities in each country have been reading the ruling differently. The Italian customs interpretation of the EC ruling, like the German and Spanish, is that monitors with a DVI input do not automatically fall into the video-monitor category. But the opposite stance has been taken by U.K. customs (as of October 1, 2004).

Companies already have to judge whether TV functionality in a monitor is important to the end user, since this already incurs the 14% duty. Now they may also have to make the same decision about a DVI input – unless they are able to manufacture inside the EU. Samsung, for example, aims to assemble as many DVI and TV-compatible monitors as possible at its Galanta plant in Slovakia so that there is no issue about whether these products incur the extra import tax.

Samsung had one of the largest multi-product stands at SMAU 2004, which provided an area for LCD and plasma TVs and a section devoted to consumer-friendly LCD monitors, such as the SyncMaster SM 710MP 17-in. model with built-in tuner. The new 19-in. SM 930MP with S-video and SCART inputs for external tuners boasts a 178° viewing angle and was launched with the 730MP in Italy during September. Although many of the models had already been previewed at CeBIT 2004, most were nevertheless new or forthcoming to the Italian marketplace. Among these was the 17-in. wide SM 730MW, which was due for release in Italy in early December.

For the business market, Samsung Italy also exhibited models featuring the foldable MagicStand with Pivot. The attractive red-bezel versions of the SM 173P and SM 193P were receiving a lot of admiration from booth visitors; and the SM 720T and SM 920T (the 19-in. model with a 178° viewing angle) are due in Italy in January.

Back to Business

AG neovo and LaCie were also brave enough to bring along monitors intended for the business market. neovo had an eye-catching stand for its latest high-end LCD models (Fig. 2).

These included the new STD versions of the aluminum-alloy-housing X-Series (the X-15STD, X-17STD, X-19STD, and X-20STD) which come without video or DVI functions. neovo also showed its SX-Series Security Surveillance monitors (the 17-in. SX-17A and the 19-in. SX-19A) which feature input and output BNC connectors so that the monitors can be daisy-chained together for multiple-display applications and be used conveniently with video equipment.

The forthcoming multimedia models in neovo's M-Series are the M-17 and M-19, scheduled for release at the end of 2004. These have DVI function, a USB port available for power-charging external products such as mobile devices and PDAs, and an imbedded processing chip allowing on-screen-display (OSD) set-up for media functions. Non-DVI versions (the M-17STD and M-19STD) will also be offered.

The Italian arm of LaCie probably boasts the best sales of all the company's European operations, so the Milan fair was the ideal place to showcase the worldwide launch of its new 21.3-in. 321 LCD featuring pivot-to-portrait function and a 176° viewing angle. LaCie also presented its 20-in. LCD Proton 20vision retailing at €899 (US$1129) and the 19-in. Proton 19vision retailing at €599 (US$749). LaCie's products are primarily intended for the Apple graphics market, so the company's CRT electronblue 19- and 22-in. models continue to sell well in Europe.

Domestic Suppliers

As usual, SMAU provided a showcase for some brands unique to this region of Europe. The Italian PC assembler MITAS had a most impressive array of its own products, including laptops, desktops, and its "Leon" LCD monitors with built-in PCs (with and without touch screens). Its own-branded MITAS LCD monitors were also prominent.

During a typical year, MITAS builds about 25,000 desktop PCs and apparently sells some 20,000 of its own-branded monitors. Most of these monitors are fitted with a well-designed adjustable stand that folds flat so that the units are easy to transport and are also convenientfor wall-mounting (Fig. 3). MITAS was intro-ducing a new 19-in. LCD monitor at SMAU, as well as showing its existing 15- and 17-in. models, which come in either silver or in black with black glass. MITAS was advertising its silver 15-in. model at a "Show Special Offer" price of €269 (US$339) and its silver 17-in. model for €309 (US$389)! The company alsooffered a 30-in. LCD TV for €1599 (US$1999) and a 42-in. plasma TV for €1990 (US$2499).


Fig__4_tif Bryan Norris

Fig. 4: On the ECC stand was the Shuttle 17-in. LCD monitor, which has a handle integrated into the top of its bezel.


Long-established Italian PC assembler ASEM had a new 17-in. LCD monitor on its stand, although this was a touch-screen version intended for use with its point-of-sale (POS) terminals, a product area that is now an increasing focus for the company. POS systems were also key products for nearby Olivetti Tecnost, where a neat 15-in. LCD monitor was displayed with the "TECNOST Playoff" brand name.

ECC Elettronica, one-time outlet for Hitachi, Philips, and Vibrant (Tatung) monitors, was promoting the specialized industrial LCD monitors and panels of new business partner Trident. The ECC stand had some other unusual products on display, such as the Shuttle 17-in. LCD monitor, which has a handle integrated into the top of its bezel (Fig. 4), and Planar monitors with unusually shaped cabinets (Fig. 5). There were also a couple of large-screen models from NEC (the 30-in. LCD 3000) and Sharp (the 37-in. LC-M3700). Rather surprisingly, the Sharp stand itself, filled with gorgeous LCD TVs in all sizes and colors, contained no monitors! Although at one time Italy was Sharp's largest European market for monitors, there is apparently little interest in these products at the moment.

The SMAU 2004 show was the 41st to be held. Since no announcement has been made about when or where the event will take place in 2005, we wait to hear whether we can look forward to a 42nd edition or whether it will finally be "ciao" to SMAU. •


Fig__5_tif Bryan Norris

Fig. 5: Also on the ECC stand were Planar monitors with unusually shaped cabinets.


Bryan Norris and Michelle Barnes are partners and co-founders of Bryan Norris Associates, Consultants to the Displays Industry, 7 Biddenham Turn, Bedford MK40 4AT, U.K.; telephone +44-(0)-1234-26-7988, fax +44-(0)-1234-26-2345, e-mail: info@bna-europe. com. Mr. Norris is a contributing editor to Information Display magazine.