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It is well known that Microsoft’s Hololens uses two Himax manufactured Field Sequential Color (FSC) LCOS microdisplays. Additionally there are reports, particularly from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo as reported in Business Insider that Magic Leap (ML) is also using Himax’s LCOS. Further supporting this is that of all ML patent applications, ML patent application US 2016/0327789 which uses LCOS best fits the available evidence.
I have now from some additional evidence that ML is likely using LCOS. After discussing this new ML evidence, I will relay some Microsoft Hololens 2nd generation (or lack thereof) rumors.
I came across a bit of a strange patent that seems to confirm that ML is using field sequential color (FSC) LCOS. The patent application US 2016/0241827 was filed in January 2015 just 3 months before the lead inventor, Michael Kass then a ML Fellow, left ML. From what I can tell from their public LinkedIn profiles, Mr. Kass and his fellow inventor both worked on software at ML and not hardware and neither one has any background in hardware.
The patent application is directed towards reducing “Color-Breakup” for color sequential displays and shows an LCOS implementation. The concept they are proposing is at least 15 years old that I know of and it is well known to people in the projection industry that DLP’s projectors had “white segment” color wheels and later with LED illumination. Additionally the way they arranged the LEDs in their diagram above with 3 separate LEDs going to a dichroic mirror is how it is done for front projectors and not for a near eye display. The question I had on finding this application was:
Why are two ML people working on software with only a rudimentary knowledge display design and located in California filing for a patent on an “improvement” for field sequential color?
The only logical answer I could come up with is that they had look through ML prototypes that used an LCOS system and were bothered by seeing color breakup. I’m guessing they were told it was LCOS but did not know how it was designed so they grabbed a LCOS design off the internet (only one for a front projector and not for near eye). They didn’t know the history of FSC projectors using white segments, so they re-invented the 15+ year old concept of adding a “white” period where all the RGB colors are on in order to help reduce color breakup.
For bonus speculation, why did the lead inventor Mr. Kass who had only a month before filing this patent been promoted “Distinguished Fellow” then leave only 3 months after filing the provisional patent? Perhaps, just perhaps, he did not like the color breakup he was seeing (just a guess)?
It should be noted that it has been nearly two years since the provisional application was filed which would give ML time to change. But I doubt they could totally change directions as they would be too far down the road with the rest of the design. At least if, as they claim, they will have a product out “soon.” They might change the type of LCOS device either in resolution or manufacturer but it would seem unlikely that they could totally change the technology.
There was a lot of talk that Hololens, after announcing that Hololens would be focusing first on business applications, would be coming out with a 2nd generation Hololens next year. This sometimes gets conflated with the 2nd generation being a “consumer version.” But apparently the costs to make Hololens are high particularly with the custom waveguides having very low yield.
The recent scuttlebutt is that expected 2nd generation is on hold while Microsoft management figures out what they want to do with Hololens. For those that were hoping for a Consumer edition, the idea of focusing on “enterprise/business” sounds scarily similar to what Google did with Google Glass when if realized it did not have a high volume market. While Microsoft is continuing to expand sales of Hololens for businesses worldwide, one gets the feeling that Microsoft is trying to figure out if Hololens will have the size market anytime soon that is worthy of a company Microsoft’s size.
Update Dec 20, 2016 – I posed a question on the Reddit Hololens subgroup about finding a public source for issues with Himax and Hololens and they pointed to “A component maker suffers as Microsoft develops next-gen HoloLens” by Kevin Parrish on Dec. 14, 2016 in Digital Trends. In the article they cited Himax CEO Jordan Wu stating, “near-term headwinds” due to a “major AR customer’s shift in focus to the development of future-generation devices.” This would seem to imply that the “AR Customer,” of which Hololens is the most notable/likely, is switching from using a 720p to their new 1080p device on a Gen. 2 Hololens.
So there is mounting evidence that ML is using LCOS and the most likely manufacturer is Himax. I have had some people write me that ML switched from Himax but I don’t know how credible their sources may be, so this I would categorize as rumor right now.
Either way, Himax can’t be shipping a lot of LCOS to ML right now. The lack of volume coming out of Hololens also means that there are not big new orders from Microsoft for Himax panels.