BY RICHARD MEAD, CEO
Brompton Technology continues to go from strength-to-strength, but one area that has been challenging for us throughout 2022 and into 2023 is the supply of semiconductors. The supply chain for semiconductors has been significantly disrupted with a lot of knock-on consequences for all electronics manufacturers, including Brompton. For a period of time the lead times on many essential components was over 52 weeks, making it very hard for manufacturers to respond to changes in demand. There were a variety of causes for this disruption, which were discussed in a blog in February 2022 (https://www.bromptontech.com/what-is-going-on-with-semiconductor-supply/). We have had another chat with Brompton CEO Richard Mead to ask how things are looking now.
What is the current situation with semiconductor supply and lead times?
Fortunately, the situation is now improving. The improvement is inconsistent, with some parts still having long lead times and others available in excess, but overall supply is much better than it was in 2022. For Brompton Technology this means lead times on our products have returned to more normal levels and right now we are able to provide the panel manufacturers with all the receiver cards they need. Very large processor orders should aim to allow 8-12 weeks because demand continues to be high there, but more modest quantities can be available more quickly when required. It is our aim to meet our clients’ needs on delivery times, just as on any other aspect of our service.
What has caused the change?
Semiconductor manufacturers have had a couple of years to work on increasing their capacity, and there has been plenty of headlines about the big players investing in new factories – including sites in Europe and the US with a goal of reducing dependence on Taiwan (ROC) and Mainland China for semiconductors. But I suspect the timing of the improvement may in practical terms be more due to demand for consumer electronics falling after a spike in demand during 20/21, probably associated with the pandemic and its impact on consumer spending patterns. It is likely that some of the supply issues for us were caused by the large consumer electronics manufacturers using their buying power to grab all available capacity, and as that eases it allows some production to shift back to non-consumer electronics.
What demand are we seeing in the LED video space?
Demand for LED video products remains very strong, with lots of exciting new applications emerging. Over the last few years the use of LED for virtual production (In-Camera Visual Effects) has been a major driver of demand for top-end LED product. However, more recently we have seen quite a few projects put on hold due to the ongoing Hollywood writers’ and now actors’ strikes, but this should be a temporary hiatus. We think there may be a shift in focus towards pop-ups (renting in LED screens for a specific shoot) rather than building lots more large fixed-install volumes, but fundamentally in-camera visual effects is now an established part of the filmmakers toolkit. We are also seeing a lot of exciting new opportunities in virtual reality and simulation applications, where LED can achieve a visual image far closer to reality than other technologies.
So what is coming next?
There have not been fundamental shifts in performance of LED panels over several years – which is why it is possible for virtual production volumes set up four years ago to still be delivering industry-leading performance. Brompton has been able to deliver performance improvements through software updates, with features such as ShutterSync, Frame Remapping and Extended Bit Depth that have all improved the performance of existing panels, but there has arguably not been a compelling reason to upgrade the actual LED panel hardware. That may well change in 2024, as new panels are created with higher performance levels (e.g. frame rates up to 1,000fps) unlocked by the new G1 receiver card or with extra emitters for light output with better spectral quality. We will also be seeing new video technologies for sending media over IP networks (such as SMPTE 2110) being ready for real world use in install applications, particularly for broadcast studios, and Brompton will be introducing new solutions for this as well.