304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Update Feb. 20, 2024 – Correction; the Arovia Splay projector outputs 260 Lumens according to Arovia. Added that in rear projection mode the Splay outputs 80 nits.
The last blog article, CES 2023 SadlyItsBradley Videos Part 1-4 and Meta Leak Controversy, pointed to videos on SadlyItsBradley’s YouTube channel discussing the AR, VR, and MR (XR) content. When editing the video, Brad cut out our discussion of Arovia, a startup with a portable convertible front and rear screen projector, as it was not XR related. Brad sent me the Arovia discussion so I could make it available (link to the 4-minute clip).
As Arovia’s market differs from AR/VR/MR companies I met with at the 2023 CES and AR/VR/MR conferences, I’m presenting them separately in this article. Between CES and the AR/VR/MR conferences, I had over 40 meetings with more than 30 companies (some I saw at both conferences). As I wrote last time, I plan on putting out a series of articles grouping the companies by subject to summarize their developments. The sheer volume of companies is causing it to take some time.
Arovia‘s CES Alex Wesley (Alex), over a late lunch, demonstrated the Splay, their second generation of convertible pop-up-rear-screen and front projector. The projector uses a custom 260 Lumen 1080p DLP projector. In rear projector mode, it outputs 80 nits to the 24.5 inch diagonal screen. I was particularly impressed by the quality of the projection screen and, in particular, the uniformity of the image with a lack of a hotspot in the center.
The Splay’s 24.5″ diagonal screen gives more than 4 times the screen area of a large tablet computer and 2.5 times that of a large laptop. The projector’s internal battery supports up to 4 hours of playback. The concept is to give a big enough screen for small business meetings or small groups. The projector also works with the pop-up screen removed to show on, for example, a white wall.
The pop-up rear screen addresses several critical problems with front pico projection, including:
When I worked on displays for Pico Projectors from 2007 to 2011, this would have been a killer product that could have sold in large numbers (and why in the video with Brad, I said it might be anachronistic). But with the variety of tablets and laptops in the market today, the Splay is more of a niche product where a bigger yet portable display is needed. While I know of a few pop-up (stand-alone) rear screens, I don’t know of other complete products like Arovia’s.
Below is a video from Arovia’s 2021 Kickstarter campaign for the Splay. All the images/videos captured in the video are screenshots from working prototypes. As I discussed with Brad in our video above, I was impressed by the overall image quality of the fold-up rear screen projector.
About 5 years ago, Gene Frantz, a former Texas Instruments (TI) Fellow and now Professor in Practice at Rice University, connected me with Alexander Wesley (Alex). Gene was advising Alex in a Rice start-up program. I was also a TI Fellow, and we sat on various technical committees at TI together in the 1990s (more on this later). Gene knew about my working with pico projector technology and wondered if I could help the startup.
Alex explained to me his concept for a portable pop-up rear screen projector. To be honest, I tried to explain to Alex some of the difficulties he would face in making a hardware product and with the competition from low-cost tablet computers. A few years before, I worked on LCOS devices for pico projectors (and later AR), a market that the rise of larger smartphones and tablet PCs had constrained.
Undaunted by my warnings, Alex felt his concept for a much larger display than possible with a tablet would have a market. As Alex was determined to try it, I tried to help him with my information about the display industry.
Arovia’s inclusion of a pop-up rear projector would address the problems with ambient brightness and having to hold the projector, a subject I have covered several times, including these blog articles from about 10 years ago based on my then recent scars from working with pico projectors:
During the lockdowns, Alex spent about 2 years in China to get the product manufactured. Like most Kickstarter-backed startups, he has to deal with the “usual” underestimation of the difficulties in building a hardware product, the added burden caused by the lockdowns, and the subsequent complaints from backers.
As I mentioned in the video with Brad, Alex’s latest struggle is with the significant TI DLP price increases, a complaint I have heard from multiple companies. In AR, most companies with long-established DLP designs are switching to LCOS. Due to needing much higher lumens, the trade-offs are different with front and rear projectors than with AR headsets. Alex understands they must meet cost and price points to enable a business and a more consumer product.
Gene Frantz and I were TI Fellows in the same group in Houston for about 10 years and were on the TI technical ladder and patent committees together for most of those 10 years.
When ranking people for the TI technical ladder, Gene made a critical distinction for someone others said “was the only person to do that job.” Gene used to say (paraphrasing 25+ years later), “Is that person the only one that can do the job because they are exceptionally good, or are they the roadblock to others being able to do it.” Gene and I prized people who focused on doing the best for the team and the product. We also recognized that some people developed fiefdoms over certain aspects and would hoard information and not help others become proficient and thus were not growing the team’s ability.
Gene and I were a bit Yin and Yang on the patent committee. Gene was the nurturer that saw the glass as half full and would want to patent many more things than me. I wanted to prune the list of patents we would file to concentrate our limited resources on the most potentially valuable concepts. Overall, I think we balanced each other out while seeing that each other’s perspective had its points. It felt a bit like the “good old days” when Alex came to me with his concept that had been “nurtured” by Gene😁.
As they say in the world of startups, “Hardware is Hard.” I must say that I am impressed with Alex’s tenacity to follow through on his concept and make finished products. The product’s image quality is much better than I expected with a pop-up rear screen.
As tablet and laptop technology has evolved, Arovial has what I consider a niche product. It is hard to judge the size of a niche market as there is nothing for comparison. Arovia does not have to sell in the millions to be successful. They have customers who like the product, their challenge seems to be to make a price that can expand the market.