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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 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 several 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 doing some more in-depth analysis with an engineer’s eye of the products.
QP Optoelectronics introduced its “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 into a thin, light form factor.
While it is not perfect yet, there is something to like about the basic concept, and they said they got a lot of interest at CES. It addresses some of the issues with the “use model” I wrote about earlier. I am working on an article discussing this concept’s good and bad points 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 the 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. The optical engines were very much “prototypes” with some optical quality issues and were 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 an 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 3G/4G wireless smartphones, tablets, or cellular hotspots. The Syndiant SYL2010 SVGA (800×600 pixel) panel is a camera viewfinder and 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. Still, 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. 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 showed a new “Camcorder Projector,” the CP40 (right), 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 I may have missed. AAXA was demonstrating a new projector based on the Syndiant SYL2061 panel. WSOT has a dual-panel WSVGA 3-D passive glasses projector similar to the one at Syndiant’s suite. They also demonstrated a 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. However, most newer products probably should be called “mini” rather than “pico” projectors. Several products were based around their WXGA (1280×800) 0.44” panel, with products from 1.3 inches to over 2 inches thick. These products were clearly aimed more at business professionals to put in their briefcases. They had marketing specs 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).
These WXGA projectors were designed for wall plug rather than battery operated 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 a DC power cord to plug into the DC jack normally used by the AC wall plug power pack.
Several very similar-looking WVGA (848×480) DLP pico projectors could also be found 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 shown 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 negatively impacts 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 video games on it. I asked them to put up a test pattern to show that they could make 720p (1280×720) resolution, but they politely refused.
My engineering instinct is that if someone claims HD resolution, they will show off HD content. I also noticed that the 720p projector seemed 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, surprisingly 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 it would still be if it had to add the cell phone engine and LCD/OLED display to the package. Compared to DLP and LCOS projection engines, much more support circuitry is required with LBS.
The same week as CES, Microvision put out a flyer with a set of partial specs 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: What is the power consumption at some rated (measured) lumens? Assuming it is for their 15-lumen projector and simply scale up, we get over 7 Watts! To get a realistic power consumption, we must know how “approximately” the power consumption number is and what it covers in the system. As I wrote about the ShowWX power consumption, they seem to be far from their power “goals” to fit in an embedded product.
Another tidbit from the “spec” is that it only has 16 bits per pixel (64K colors which means they have only 6 bits of 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 limitations in controlling the colors with their system.
In an upcoming article, I will comment more on the Microvision 720p and its 3-D and hand-tracking demonstrations.
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 in the real world).
I didn’t get the best picture of it on 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 acceptable for 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 comes 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 at the show. Please ask if you have questions or want more details on some subjects.