Personal Viewers: Sony and Apple Eye Accelerating Growth


Personal Viewers Sales Growth is Accelerating

Base Case vs. Upside Sales of Personal ViewersNow that personal viewers (head-mounted displays) have become competitive, sales of consumer personal viewers are accelerating each year, up from 50% in 2006 toward 100% growth in 2008.  Consumer markets are forecast to grow to $1.1B in the base case and $2.8B in the upside scenario.  Faster growth is being driven by:

  • Decline in cost of microdisplays and components
  • Consumer acceptance of QVGA resolution and availability of VGA
  • Increased volume for all headsets and headset components
  • Anticipated entry of major players (Sony, Apple) into the market

The “Anywhere Anytime Infotainment” revolution is under way, fueled by rocketing flash memory price/performance, and it is spurring use of Personal Viewers:

  • Popularity of “pocket video platforms” such as iPod, mobile phones, and personal video players
  • Dramatic increase in content availability and portability
  • Video viewing and exchange popularity with consumers
    • Increasing use of camera phones to take video
    • Internet video-sharing websites (YouTube and similar)
    • Increasing availability of video for purchase on the Internet

Personal Viewers offer the only comfortable way to view an acceptable-sized image on a pocket video platform while maintaining pocket portability.

Next Generation Designs

Today’s personal viewers provide video only with limited visibility of the environment.

Sony and Apple are developing the next generation personal viewer, the navigation/video sunglasses.  These products will offer navigation features in full see-through mode as well as video viewing with a clip-on to block the background.  MCG expects that clip-ons will be available to provide both see-periphery views of the environment, as well as full blocking of the environment to enable video immersion when desired.

This new versatile product generation will further accelerate acceptance and sales of personal viewers.

The large and profitable market for personal viewers for military use, already surpassing $1B in sales in 2008, will continue to grow to nearly $3B in 2012.  Higher military sales are being driven by deployment of enhanced night vision viewers offering thermal imaging as well as night vision, increased used of thermal weapons sights and helmet-mounted displays, and the trend toward higher definition, color displays in military weapons systems.

The report focuses on likely market entry strategies, timing and products for Sony and Apple, key success factors for consumer adoption, and how other market players can benefit from Sony and Apple’s entry.


The report is a comprehensive tool for consumer and vertical market electronics industry professionals to understand the timing and scope of emerging opportunities, and to develop their company’s response to those opportunities:

  • Mobile phone headset and handset makers – Understand how and when displays will be incorporated into cell phone headsets, pricing and cost impact.
  • Portable DVD makers – Understand opportunities for upscale portable DVDs incorporating Personal (big-screen) TVs, pricing and cost impact.
  • Cell phone network service providers – Higher-definition displays in headsets allows delivery of more sophisticated value-added wireless services.
  • PDA/Smartphone makers – Viewer Headset boosts attractiveness and usefulness of PDAs, design implications.
  • Personal Viewer (PV) makers – Understand how and when high-volume Personal Viewer sales will emerge, learn success factors for the emerging PV solutions
  • Microdisplay makers – Understand price and performance requirements and timing for the microdisplays to be incorporated in the new PV products


The study incorporates a number of improvements in scope and coverage compared to the 2006 report, including:

  • Forecast by military, commercial and consumer markets
  • Discussion of Sony and Apple development of navigation/video sunglasses, product description for this new product
  • Detailed forecast of military sales by application/product
  • Detailed forecast of consumer sales by application/product
  • Formation and activities of the Personal Viewer Industry Association
  • Updated forecast of the adoption sequence for Personal Viewers by application
  • Two scenarios
    • Base Case with Sony market entry in 2010 with modest results
    • Upside scenario with Sony market entry in 2010 with good results and 2012 market entry by Apple
  • Forecast of microdisplay demand by technology, including demand for HTPS and DMD microdisplays for the first time

The study continues to incorporate the following features:

  • Market trends on video content and Anywhere Anytime Infotainment
  • Streamlined graphical company profiles
  • Analysis of potential hurdles or obstacles to success
  • Detailed analysis of comfort parameters and specific comfort vulnerabilities and requirements for personal displays
  • Analysis of the consumer use model for Personal Viewers
  • In-depth review of the five key personal viewer success factors
  • Competitive positioning of companies by market
  • Forecast by type of personal viewer (binocular immersive, monocular, etc.)
  • Pricing trends on microdisplays
  • Consumer preference for microdisplay definition
  • New technology advances such as binocular designs
  • Forecast of microdisplay demand by definition
  • Forecast of microdisplay demand by color
  • Forecast of microdisplay demand by technology
  • Appendix on comparative pricing and value for personal displays versus other types of displays
  • Appendix on basics of near-eye systems

Technology Scope. The following display technologies are included:

  • SCS:  Single crystal silicon
  • LCOS: Liquid crystal on silicon (including F-LCOS)
  • HTPS: High temperature polysilicon (AMLCD), which category includes other transmissive LCD microdisplays
  • LTPS: Low temperature polysilicon (AMLCD)
  • Beam-scan: Laser or optical beam-scan
  • OLED: Organic light-emitting diode, both small molecule and polymer OLED
  • DMD: Digital micro-mirror device
  • CRT:  micro-cathode ray tubes

Market Scope. Personal viewers designed for the following market segments are included:

  • Military
  • Commercial
  • Consumer

Product Scope. The following types of personal displays are included:

  • Binocular immersive
  • Binocular see-periphery
  • Binocular see-through (navigation/video sunglasses)
  • Monocular see-around
  • Monocular see-through


The study is 231 pages and includes:

  • Forecasts through 2012 with detail by market and product type including units and sales value for personal displays and for the derived market for microdisplays
  • Forecasts for two scenarios – Base Case (Sony enters 2010) and Upside (Apple joins Sony in 2012)
  • Pricing for personal displays and microdisplays through 2012
  • Detailed analysis of the Five C’s — key success factors for personal displays
    • Cost/Performance
    • Control Interface/Cabling
    • Comfort
    • Content
    • Channels of Distribution
  • Detailed quantitative evaluation of key comfort parameters with review and summary of personal display comfort studies done over the past several years
  • Analysis of each consumer application including Personal Video Viewers, Navigation/Video Sunglasses, Toy Viewers, PC Gaming Viewers, Gaming Console Viewers and other applications
  • Company profiles for 31 personal display companies
  • Five appendices provide detailed analysis of personal display system basics, Personal Video Viewer price point, and study methodology
  • View the Table of Contents


The MCG study is based on a recent, wide-ranging industry phone survey.  Marketing and technology leaders of major players throughout the value chain were surveyed by telephone during the summer of 2008. Secondary published sources were also consulted in preparing this study.  The report also draws heavily on MCG’s extensive research of applications for microdisplays accumulated over the past decade, including prior reports on personal viewers and in-lab testing of human factors of personal viewers.  


Free phone consultation available from the study’s principal researcher for 30 days after report purchase. Purchasers of the study will receive free phone consultation about the report contents upon request. Addenda to the study for topics of interest to individual clients can also be discussed.


Steve Marsland was the principal researcher and analyst. Charles McLaughlin acted as senior author and final editor.

For more information contact: Carl Cobb 650 366 5999.

Purchase Information

  • Multi-user, Single-Site License, 1 pdf file: $5,000
  • Color Hard Copy (additional cost), Bound, Double-sided includes shipping: $250
  • On-site presentation, consulting services, Ask for quote