Laser picoprojectors shine at CES

LAS VEGAS, NV--Although I wasn't fortunate enough to be in Las Vegas from January 7–10 to attend the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the world's largest consumer technology tradeshow, pre-show press releases made it clear that in addition to featuring 3-D technology, much of the buzz at the show centered around laser-based picoprojection products.

Jan 15th, 2010

LAS VEGAS, NV--Although I wasn't fortunate enough to be in Las Vegas from January 7–10 to attend the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the world's largest consumer technology tradeshow, pre-show press releases made it clear that in addition to featuring 3-D technology, much of the buzz at the show centered around laser-based picoprojection products: Microvision (Redmond, WA) exhibited its SHOWWX commercially available picoprojector; Syndiant (Dallas, TX) showed a prototype 1024 x 600 pixel accessory picoprojector; and Light Blue Optics (LBO; Cambridge, England) demonstrated its touch-enabled Light Touch mini projector.

Commercially available

Microvision proudly calls SHOWWX its "commercially available" laser picoprojector, which was on display at CES at booth #3617 in the iLounge Pavilion. That's because SHOWWX, cited as a 2010 CES Innovations Honoree by an independent panel of judges, is a Made for iPod laser picoprojector, powered by Microvision's PicoP display engine, and said to deliver a colorful, vivid "big screen" viewing experience from a device about the size of a mobile phone. It also connects to other portable media players, mobile phones, and notebooks to share movies, photos, and presentations. Initial shipments to distributors in Asia-Pacific and Europe began in late September 2009.

SHOWWX uses lasers as the light source and a proprietary microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) single-scanning mirror within the PicoP display engine. Capabilities include infinite focus, wide field of view, and bright, vivid colors. Consumers can project a widescreen, WVGA (848 x 480 pixels), DVD-quality image onto nearly any surface, and images can range in size up to 200 inches (5.0 m) depending on the surrounding ambient light.

In addition to the public exhibition of SHOWWX, Microvision hosted private meetings with key prospects regarding the integration of the PicoP display engine into their next-generation devices such as gaming platforms and other multimedia devices that would benefit from an integrated laser-based projector. Several twitter feeds on SHOWWX say that it will be available in the use around March 2010 with a $500 price tag.

Brightness and high resolution

Syndiant, a manufacturer of high-resolution microdisplays for picoprojectors, and Chinese electronics devices company Foryou Multimedia Electronics Co. showed its prototype picoprojector at Foryou's booth #731 in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center at CES. Syndiant says the shirt-pocket-sized prototype was jointly developed with Hong Kong's ASTRI R&D labs (www.astri.org).

The CES press release quoted Jefeng, marketing manager at Foryou, who said, "Foryou is very excited about the pico projector market. Syndiant's 1024 x 600 SYL2061 panel enables a resolution that is ideal for accessory pico projector applications such as laptops and netbooks, which benefit from higher resolution."

Syndiant CEO Mark Harward added that the SYL2061 uses patented VueG8 all-digital smart panel technology, the next step in Syndiant's path to providing high-definition (HD) resolution in picoprojectors. "In display technologies like this, seeing is believing. There is extremely high interest in attaining an image quality that will enable pico projectors to meet consumer expectations, so we are seeing big smiles in dozens of customer meetings. They have been frustrated with the low resolution and poor image quality provided by competing solutions," says Harward. "The message that Syndiant is providing a clear path to HD pico projectors has met with an enthusiastic response."

An added touch

Light Touch (which was named a CES Innovations Honoree in two categories: Media Players and Personal Electronics) is the first product from Light Blue Optics. Light Touch is an interactive projector (LBO is not calling it a picoprojector, but instead a miniature projector) that turns any flat surface into a ten-inch touch screen. The product was introduced through an invite-only product launch on January 6th at CES.

According to the CES press release, Light Touch uses LBO's proprietary holographic laser projection technology (HLP) for bright, high-quality WVGA resolution video images that are always in focus, with extremely wide throw angles, for large images created in close proximity to the projector's aperture. It uses a Class 1 eye-safe laser and its infrared touch-sensing system transforms the projected image into a virtual ten-inch touch screen, with the user controlling the projector and interacting with multimedia content and applications simply by touching the projected image. And WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity enable device-to-device communication and applications that connect directly to the Internet for social networking and multimedia sharing. Wall powered or battery operated, Light Touch has a run-time of 2 hours before recharging is required.

A CES review at www.engadget.com from Thomas Ricker (found by twitter-searching "Light Touch") says, "Despite our skepticism, we came away suitably surprised--impressed even. Granted, our hands-on was performed in a lowly-lit room on par with the lighting you might find in a fine restaurant. Still, the 15 lumens were effective at lighting videos and the touch sensitivity was far more accurate than we expected--so good that we were quickly typing out phrases on the QWERTY with few mistakes (admittedly taking a reasonable amount of care to strike the right 'key'). The projector only supports single-touch at the moment though multi-touch is just a software tweak away."

--Gail Overton

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