Graphic detail

The VGA card market is standing at the foot of a mountain of change. New and improved consoles are entering the markets stealing the thunder of PC game developers while mainstream users are desperate to unlock the graphics quality of the latest software innovations for their PCs. So what does it all mean for the Middle East channel?

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By  Dawinderpal Sahota Published  October 31, 2007

The graphics market has not been a prosperous arena for VGA card manufacturers of late with consumers preferring to settle for their existing specifications instead of upgrading their PCs graphics capabilities, according to some components sources in the channel.

Najib Nesrini, regional sales manager at Foxconn Middle East, says the VGA card channel has been running against the wind for the past three years. "Chipset makers like Intel, AMD-ATI, Nvidia and SIS have offered built-in graphic GPU platforms where performance was fairly acceptable for most day-to-day PC users," he said. "The graphics card industry serves a small share of PC users who heavily use graphics-dependent applications - like gamers and designers - but not really notebook users, or even in government projects."

Try to sell a VGA card with the lowest return rate. Look for things like the quality of the brand and look for things like fanless coolers, because the fan will inevitably fail.

However, the market is reaching a turning point with the introduction of new technological innovations propelling demand. According to Gautam Srivastava, vice president for sales and marketing and managing director for the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan at CPU manufacturer AMD, technologies such as Windows Vista software and high-definition video have been prompting consumers to raise expectations in terms of the graphics quality they attain from their PCs.

"Demand for VGA cards is growing as more end-users take on Vista," he argued. "HD-DVD and Blu-Ray are now becoming commonplace in the home, so the requirement for ATI Radeon graphics to drive these technologies is a must." And as the internet transition continues in the form of ‘Web 2.0', new interactive applications, which are capable of delivering high quality graphics, are driving consumers to buy VGA cards, says Varun Dubey, product PR manager India and Middle East at chipset and GPU manufacturer Nvidia.

"In the applications today - whether it is Google World, Google Maps, iTunes, Adobe's image applications or even Windows Vista - 3D graphics are becoming more mainstream," explained Dubey. "Image management is also becoming more 3D, and users are definitely seeing a need for improved graphics capabilities," he added.

And this is a view shared by resellers, says Tim Handley, marketing manager at VGA card vendor Gigabyte United. He reveals that the vendor's partners are seeing an increase in sales due to the popularity of Windows Vista in particular, and reckons the Middle East graphics card market is beginning to mature as mainstream users begin to develop a real hunger for the latest VGA cards.

"When we go to exhibitions or roadshows, a lot of resellers are telling us they can see a difference because of Vista," he said. "So the graphics card market is maturing because there's more demand for it, not just from the gaming segment but from the upper-mainstream market as well, and I think it's really starting to show in the Middle East."

Werner Penn, Middle East sales manager at VGA vendor Palit, admits that by providing more sophisticated chipsets into box-standard PCs, the likes of ATI and Nvidia may be causing demand for independent VGA cards to slow down, but it is not closing the door for VGA card manufacturers entirely.

He reckons the market environment is evolving to represent a more graphics-friendly ecosystem, and motherboards on the market can make use of technologies from a variety of vendors. "The VGA ecosystem is moving toward integration or exploiting motherboard portfolios to provide total graphics solutions or one-stop-shopping for their downstream sub-systems," commented Penn.

A key factor in this market has traditionally been the health of the gaming market, with gaming enthusiasts demanding the cutting-edge quality cards to deliver superior graphic detail. Gigabyte's Handley doesn't consider the Middle East as one of the most avid regions when it comes to gaming, but reckons the gaming community in the region is positively on the rise and represents a huge opportunity for the retail channel.

"The perception is that there's not as many enthusiasts in the region as there is in places like Australia, Europe or the USA, but it is starting to pick up," he said. "The Middle East is a tough market when it comes to gaming because a lot of games have content that doesn't go down too well in the Middle East. A lot of games are banned in the Middle East but we're starting to see demand grow now."

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