The Leica Cine 1 is spectacular. The images are bright, the colour rendition is excellent, and it’s as smart as any smart TV out there, claiming to be the bee’s knees when it comes to connectivity.
It’s also spectacularly expensive. One hundred inches will set you back $12,790 — that’s the recommended retail price — but why bother with something so puny when you can get 120 inches for less than $1,000 more? And don’t worry about making a spectacle. The Cine 1 is an ultra-short throw projector, which means it sits comfortably almost adjacent to its screen, which is both neat, and neat.
It’s all in the name
How can a “TV” cost so much? “Because it’s a Leica” holds some water as a partial explanation and informs the debate on value for money and the premium paid for the brand. Leica cameras are world famous, in high demand, and expensive, but there are professional photographers across the globe who would use nothing else, alongside aspiring amateurs with a slavish devotion to the iconic bit of kit.
Sunil Kaul, managing director at Leica Camera Asia Pacific, speaks of the brand having a “cult following” and hopes this extends to the other products in the Leica portfolio that now include elegant wristwatches and the Cine 1.
Leica has been making projectors for decades — since 1926, in fact — but it’s been a niche market with limited appeal. The Cine 1 is a different beast — an attempt, perhaps, to go mainstream in a different field of vision and convince consumers that all Leica products are worth their salt and more.
As Kaul trots out a potted history of the brand: It all started in 1869 making microscopes before moving on to binoculars and then cameras — he beams like the projectors he’s hoping to sell. An engaging and voluble man, Kaul has his PR patter down pat and displays boundless enthusiasm for his company and its products. He’s keen to explain that Leica is “not like a fashion brand” and cannot charge too great a premium on its products.
“There is a factor from a manufacturing cost to a retail cost,” he says, “as with any product.” He insists that, “when Leica makes a lens or a camera — for which we are renowned — we always say that it is a tool, an instrument to create beautiful pictures and memories. You can charge only so much of a premium for a tool or an instrument.”
Kaul likens Leica products to a Steinway piano, including the Cine 1. “A Steinway piano needs certain materials to be able to create that magical sound,” he says, not to mention craftsmanship — another aspect of the Leica experience of which the company is justifiably proud. Leica customers, as with Steinway’s, “appreciate the difference when it comes to high-quality things,” which is why, presumably, both brands have attendant price points.
In all of the company’s products that create visual images, the lens (or “glass” if you prefer) has been all-important since 1869. Images are very much a part of the Leica identity, and that’s carried through with gusto to the Cine 1. But in creating this high-tech TV, is Leica going “off-brand”?
The commercial world is fraught with stories of companies that started producing items for which they were not best known and made a pig’s ear out of the process. Leica maintains that it gets the fundamentals right in everything it produces and that manufacturing wristwatches and televisions reflects an organic progression in high-end consumer goods.
It’s clearly a risk that the company is prepared to take, but there may be pushback from the camera aficionados who value their instruments as much as members of their own family — possibly spending more time with the former — and suggest that the brand sticks to what it knows.
Leica would demur, confident in the belief that if they applied the same principles that made/make their cameras so popular and highly valued, they could make almost anything. And that principle is ensuring that the lens — be it in a microscope, binocular, camera, or TV — is nothing but the handcrafted, precision-engineered best.
Across the board, Leica has extraordinary brand loyalty, but the jury will remain out until the market ascertains whether the faithful will be prepared to embrace a Leica product that isn’t a camera.
The Cine 1, however, already has a pedigree, having been lauded for its look at the 2023 iF Design Awards — an annual, worldwide event with thousands of potential winners. It’s not hard to see why. It fits into a living room seamlessly and almost unnoticed, which is also an aspect of the brand’s identity. There’s a subtlety that reeks of self-belief.
“This is a cult company,” insists Kaul once again. “This is where people love to hang out in communities… where our users are our ambassadors.” He adds that Leica does no “above the line” marketing and that everything is by referral and recommendation. Leica will be hoping that those who get their hands on a Cine 1 will enjoy the experience enough to spread the word.
As for the price? Kaul doubles down. “What we’re charging is for the quality we’re delivering,” he says with conviction. Leica will always maintain that with the iconic brand, whatever the product, you get what you pay for, and you pay for what you get.