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As part of my marathon training, I ran 18 miles the Sunday before CES and it turned out to also be good practice for attending CES. I’d estimate I averaged over 4 miles walking the floor and between venues (it was faster to walk the mile to the Venetian than take a bus at busy times of day) plus my morning 3 mile jog. For this post, I’m going to give some quick highlights of what I saw about pico projectors at CES. I plan on writing in more detail about some of these items in in the near future.
Over half of the show hours I was in private meetings that I can’t talk about, but I did get a chance to see and hear about a number of pico projector related activities that are public. I can’t hope to compete with the many people that give you the quick and glossy news of CES that mostly just repeat the company talking points, but as you should come to expect from me, I will be doings some more in-depth analysis with an engineer’s eye of the products.
QP Optoelectronics introduced their “Lightpad” product at CES. It interfaces to smartphones with an HDMI output and combines a keyboard, DLP WVGA (848×480 pixel) pico projector, rear projection screen, and battery that easily folds up into a thin and light form factor.
While it is not perfect yet, there is a lot to like about the basic concept and they said they got a lot of interest at CES. It at least starts to address some of the issues with “use model” that I have written about earlier. I am working on an article that talks about the good and bad points of this concept and where I see this type of product going in the future.
Syndiant’s biggest news was their formal announcement of the SYL2271 720P 0.31” diagonal LCOS microdisplay and its accompanying SYA1231 ASIC. Shown at left is an actual picture of the SYL2271 that has been pasted into some cute artwork. The Syndiant had three SYL2271 720P projectors running in their private suite all showing 720p HD movie content. All of the optical engines were very much “prototypes” with some optical quality issues and not near production ready.
Syndiant also jointly announced Viewlink’s new Vizcom™ Wi-Fi Cloud-Connected Near-Eye Visual Communication System. The VizCom system includes a wearable heads-up display with integrated 720p video camera and an AndroidTM smart controller. VizCom allows content to be streamed directly to the cloud via built-in Wi-Fi or by 3G/4G wireless smartphones, tablets or cellular hotspots. The Syndiant SYL2010 SVGA (800×600 pixel) panel acts as a camera viewfinder and as a display. There was a working prototype of the display but not the overall product in Syndiant’s suite. The optical quality of the prototype optics left something to be desired but the mechanical workings of the headset seemed to be very workable compared to other near eye products I have used.
Syndiant had a demo of a 160 lumen 3-D passive glasses pico projector that used two SYL2061’s with a single projection lens in a light engine designed by ASTRI. The projector would either present 80 lumens to each eye in 3-D mode or 160 lumens to both eyes in 2-D mode.
A number of Syndiant pico projector products were filling about half of 3M’s booth at CES. There were several more conventional pico projectors like the older MP160 and MP180 plus a new SYL2061 WSVGA (1024×600) based MP220 with 50 lumens.
Additionally 3M was showing a new “Camcorder Projector,” the CP40, which combines a handheld video camcorder with an SVGA pico projector.
Syndiant based products could also be found at AAXA’s and WSOT’s booths at CES and I expect some other places that I may have missed. AAXA was demonstrating a new projector based on Syndiant SYL2061 panel. WSOT has a dual panel WSVGA 3-D passive glasses projector similar to the one at Syndiant’s suite. They also had a demonstration of prototype projector with a 4cc light engine based on Syndiant SYL2030 WVGA (854×480) device.
TI’s DLP certainly had by far the biggest presence of any of the pico projector display makers; although most of the newer products probably should be called “mini” rather than “pico” projectors. There were a number products based around their WXGA (1280×800) 0.44” panel with products that were from 1.3-inches to over 2 inches thick. These products were clearly aimed more at business professionals to put in their briefcases and had marketing spec’s of 200, 300, and some with 500 lumens (note these are often their “marketing lumens” which often are inflated by 1.2X to nearly 2X depending on the brand).
All of these WXGA projectors were really designed for wall plug rather than battery operation and have no internal batteries. But Vivitek did find a way to make their battery powered by adding large external battery packs. Essentially these battery packs have DC power cord to plug into the DC jack normally used by the AC wall plug power pack.
There could also be found a number of very similar looking WVGA (848×480) DLP pico projectors at the various booths around the show with light outputs ranging from about 30 lumens to as much as 80 lumens. Most of these projectors include internal batteries.
Both the WVGA and WXGA projectors use what is known as “Diamond Pixels” in which the DLP mirrors are rotated 45 degrees in a tile like arrangement show at the left. This is done to reduce the thickness of the optics (a complex discussion for another day).
The re-sampling/scaling of the image from a normal square pixel grid to the diamond grid does have a negative impact with high-resolution computer content. Click on the thumbnail on the right to see the effects of the diamond pixel scaling on a high-resolution test pattern.
A notable exception to the bigger and brighter DLP projectors and much more of a “true” pico projector was used in Sony’s lineup of 4 camcorder models with pico projectors build into backs of the flip-out LCDs monitors. These projectors used DLP’s 0.22” diagonal nHD (one-ninth 1080p or 640×360 pixels). It seems to me to be a mismatch to combine a 1080i camcorder with a pico projector that has 1/9th the pixels.
I was told my multiple companies at CES that TI has a major campaign to get all the makers of LCOS pico projectors to carry at least one DLP based projector. TI provided all kinds of support to get the projector companies to have at least one DLP product and to a large degree they succeeded with companies including 3M and AAXA showing DLP products along with their LCOS projectors.
Microvision was showing a new “so called 720p” multimedia projector at CES. I say “so called 720p” because they would only demonstrate low resolution cartoon like video games on it. I did ask them to put up a test pattern to show that they really could do 720p (1280×720) resolution but they politely refused. My engineering instinct is that if someone is claiming HD resolution, they would be showing off HD content. I also noticed that the 720p projector seems to be off whenever they were not demonstrating it to someone which suggests that there may be some laser lifetime and/or heating issues with the device.
The prototype media player projector was to me surprising large considering they have been claiming the whole PicoP® concept to be aimed at embedded products. While the light engine optics itself is about 4cc, by the time you add all the electronics and a very large heat sink/heat spreader underneath the projection engine, about 25cc (56mm x 38mm x 12mm) within the media player are consumed (click on the picture above that shows some of the dimension). Imagine how much bigger still it would be if had to add the cell phone engine and its LCD/OLED display to the package. Compared to DLP and LCOS projection engines, there seems to be a large amount of electronics associated with LBS.
The same week as CES, Microvision put out flyer with set of partial spec’s on the PicoP engine itself (less any of the media player features). To a degree, the spec sheet confirms some serious issues with the whole laser beam scanning (LBS) concept that Microvision uses. The flyer says that at 15 lumens it will be a Class 2 laser product, but in a footnote it admits that the 25 lumen version would be “Class 3R” confirming what I (and others) have said for years about the issues with laser safety standards with LBS. Note, the cell phone makers have told me that they wouldn’t put anything beyond Class 1 (considered totally eye safe) into a consumer cell phone and LBS type displays would support less than 1 lumen at Class 1; so even the Class 2 rating at 15 lumens I would consider to be a serious problem.
Another interesting indirect admission in the “spec” is that they consume “Approximately 2.0 Watts” at “27% video.” It seems like a bad job of trying to hide a power problem. It begs several questions, most obviously, what is the power consumption at some rated (measured) lumens. If we assume it is for their 15 lumen projector and simply scale up we get over 7 Watts! To get a realistic power consumption we have to know how “approximately” the power consumption number is and what it covers in the system. As I wrote previously about the ShowWX power consumption, they seem to be a long way from their power “goals” to fit in an embedded product.
Another little tidbit from the “spec” is that it only has 16-bits per pixel (64K colors which means they have only 6 bits two primary colors and 5 bits of the third primary). Most products today have at least 24-bits per pixel (8 bits each of red, green, and blue) = 16 Million colors. This suggests some limitation in the ability to control the colors with their system.
I will have some more comments on the Microvision 720p as well as their 3-D and hand tracking demonstrations in an upcoming article.
Vuzix was demonstrating an interesting technology for near eye heads up displays. They have holograms embedded in a thin piece of plastic that can bend the output of a projector 90 degrees, translate and expand it, bend it back 90 degrees, and have it focused at infinity (so your eyes can stay on the real world).
I didn’t get the best picture of it on the above (it is kind of tricky and I didn’t have much time) but it is impressive how they can manipulate the light using hologram light guides. While the image is in focus and would seem to be acceptable the intended purpose of a near eye HUD/augmented reality display, the image quality is not what you would want for say watching a movie. Everything seems to have a “glow” to it which I suspect come from the contortions that are done to the light by the holograms.
That’s it for the “overview.” Certainly my coverage of CES was spotty and if anything I didn’t give a lot of coverage to DLP relative to the number of products that were at the show. If you have questions or want more details on some subject, please ask.