By David Keene
At the InfoComm show last week, I was struck by the rapid evolution of display technology. Even as some commentators talked about a lack of many new display platforms– or even the “death of projection”– I saw a sea change in the making, for both projection and flat panels. If we look at InfoComm as not just a venue for new, shipping products but also as a roadmap for what’s coming soon down the road, this InfoComm had more technology trends in evidence than I’ve seen in years.
Looking only at products shipping this year, there was a bunch of news at InfoComm. We’ll be covering all the developments in Digital Signage magazine, and on digitalsignageweekly.com. Here are just a few highlights from last week:
On the opening day of InfoComm last Wednesday, Prysm, Inc. announced its display solution, powered by its proprietary technology, Laser Phosphor Display (LPD), to the InfoComm market. As the show progressed last week, the product launch took on legs. After 3 days on InfoComm floor, Prysm told me privately that they have orders from some top AV integrators (including the U.S.’ largest AV integrator). In the Prysm booth for a half hour last week, just watching the attendees, I saw a lot of eyes on the Watt usage meter for the big screen in the booth, mounted on the wall right beneath the screen. You could run a Prysm display from your car's cigarette lighter? Just about. BTW, I asked the engineers at Prysm what the life span was for one 25” diagonal (4:3) tile. 60,000 hours. Very impressive. (Much of this efficiency is from “Pixel by Pixel Modulation”: the Laser Engine is off when addressing dark content areas… i.e. no bright areas in the image on the screen/no power needed. It’s the opposite of the all or nothing power requirement of most displays.)
How many times has projectiondesign, of Norway, been at the forefront of projection? They shipped the first single-chip 1080P DLP projector some six or seven years ago, and ever since they’ve been at the vanguard of the high end projection market. At this year’s InfoComm, they won a SCN Installed AV award for the “Most Innovative Install Grade Projector”, for their FR12 RLS DLP projector– a unit that uses a lamp external to the unit, and feeds the light via fiber optic cable to the projector. Remote light source– if that’s not innovation I’m not sure what is. Also, just when you thought 1080P was the resolution plateau we’d be stuck at forever in video projection (outside the cinema market), projectiondesign showed at InfoComm their F35. Resolution? WQXGA. Say again? Yes, that is 2560 x 1600 pixels. Isn’t it curious how 1080P seems to be stuck in so many people’s minds as wow? Yet, a cheap digital camera that costs $99, takes images with 5 or 6 megapixels: many more pixels than a 1080P projector or flat panel can natively display.
Now lets go to the other end of the spectrum: Have you been to the CES show in Vegas? Have you seen all those tiny video projectors. If you come from commercial AV roots, do you laugh at them? Did you laugh at MP3 back when you were a HiFi nut waxing eloquent about the merits of Super Audio CD? I’d rethink Pico projectors if I were you. On the Pico projector front, these tiny projectors will be used in digital signage, particularly in the 300 lumen space, as well as in many other applications. There were a half dozen or so manufacturers in this space at InfoComm. HP, Samsung, BenQ, Optoma, and LG are doing interesting things. HP is working on its Gen2 products. Samsung showed a unit with built-in speakers and a media player– a unit like this can be used for digital signage: inexpensive small projector with media player, for projecting a small image on a wall or display (and the trend toward smaller screen sizes for digital signage is strong).
Interestingly, Texas Instruments built a “Pico Tower” in their booth at InfoComm, showing how these tiny projectors can be easily mounted in a retail setting for example.
On the other end of the digital signage spectrum, Christie Digital’s MicroTiles, video cubes that use an LED-light engine DLP projector as the light source, were a big hit at InfoComm. (And the in-booth game at Christie that allowed attendees to throw, carnival-like, foam balls at the screens to knock down targets and win prizes, helped.) As we noted here before, MicroTiles are important because they represented, when they were introduced last fall, the first real introduction of a product for the commercial AV market that featured a “lampless” projector. The Christie MicroTiles have made a big impact in the digital signage market.
At InfoComm, Barco showed a similar product, but it was quite a bit larger than the Christie unit, and Barco has been marketing it for the Broadcast market.
There is probably no bigger news this past year on the projector front than the move to “Solid State” projection– using LED phosphors as the light source, in place of a conventional lamp. At InfoComm 2010 we saw a variety of LED-light engine DLP projectors. (And note that there is one laser and LED hybrid light source projector being marketed now, the Casio GREEN SLIM Projector. The Casio Green slim projector uses a red LED and blue lasers as sources. The red is passed through directly as is the blue (through a clear segment in the phosphor wheel). The blue laser also excites the phosphor to emit green (about 2/3rd of the area of the rotating color wheel).
The solid state trend is coming on strong, and there were solid state projectors all over InfoComm. As of now, the Casio “hybrid”–their top of the line model rated at 2500 ANSI lumens– is as bright as Solid State gets, but it’s getting better and brighter all the time.
For LED-only light engine DLP projection beyond the Pico size, or the small, briefcase footprint of the Casio LED/Laser hybrid, there were a crop of them shown at InfoComm, including from Digital Projection International (DPI). DPI showed at InfoComm three new LED-based “Lifetime Illumination” DLP projectors, all LED-based, and all featuring 100,000 hours of LED illumination life, and all featuring 700 ANSI lumens. Projectiondesign also showed its FL32 features ReaLED technology which combines long life LED illumination technology for up to and estimated 100,000 hours, available in a choice of either 1080p or WUXGA resolution
Is all Solid State projection DLP? Samsung had a LED-based LCD projector on show at InfoComm. That unit is the only LED-based LCD projector I know of. Predictions are hard (especially about the future), but my bet is that most the 3LCD projection manufacturers see a more clear path to Solid State by using Laser light source, not LED phosphors. And at the Projection Summit, held last week in Vegas right before InfoComm, most commentators seemed to think Lasers as a projector light sources are coming in 2 years or so. And that if engineers can address the “speckle” problem with laser light, Lasers will offer an even more efficient source of light than LED’s (LED’s produce to much heat when powered up to achieve high lumen output.) And note, it’s interesting that Prysm’s new display technology, is Laser-based. And BTW, Amit Jain, president, CEO and founder of Prysm, told me at InfoComm that he sees the “speckle” problem as easily surmountable. According to conventional wisdom, speckle is particularly noticeable on diffuse surfaces where the surface roughness causes the path length to vary on the order of a wavelength. This adds a significant spatial variation in brightness. Then, time variations in the source or the path causes a twinkling effect, or speckle. But according at Amit Jain, they have solved this problem, and we’ll soon see a new-gen light engine from a variety of manufacturers (including one from Prysm for front projection?... stay tuned).
No wrap up of any AV related tradeshow anywhere on the planet this year, would be complete without looking at 3D. Like it or hate it, it’s a force to be reckoned with. Last year’s InfoComm saw the introduction of inexpensive 120Hz time-sequential 3D compatible projectors that use just one projector. (Because DMD/DLP micromirrors move fast enough to sequence two separate “screens” i.e. left and right eye images at 120Hz with one light engine, only DLP can do 3D projection with just one projector). What’s new this year? A little over a year ago, there were five 3D-ready DLP projectors for the education market (i.e. relatively inexpensive projectors). At InfoComm 2010 there were more than 100 models in this category. To date, over three hundred thousand 3D-ready projectors have been sold, worldwide. And at the Projection Summit last week, Bill Coggshall of Pacific Media Associates said, publicly, that he sees 5 million 3D projectors shipping by 2013.