Welsh researchers pursue laser displays for cinema

SWANSEA, WALES-Scientists at Swansea University are developing new laser display technologies that they say will enhance the quality of cinema projections and may lead to revenues in excess of one billion pounds ($2 billion) a year.

SWANSEA, WALES-Scientists at Swansea University are developing new laser display technologies that they say will enhance the quality of cinema projections and may lead to revenues in excess of one billion pounds ($2 billion) a year. The project is led by Northamptonshire-based Bookham Technology (Northamptonshire, Wales); other partners include the Institute of Advanced Telecommunications (IAT) at Swansea University, Digital Projection (Manchester) and Stratophase (Southampton). The research is being undertaken as part of a 1.9 million pounds (US$3.7 million) project, funded by the U.K. Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) Technology Programme, to develop innovative laser solutions.

“This project has immense commercial potential and its success depends on the research being carried out in Swansea,” said Nick Doran, who heads IAT’s research activities. “IAT’s work focuses on telecommunications, but we are able to leverage our knowledge of optical technologies to provide disruptive laser sources with exceptional projection brightness, efficiency, color gamut and reliability. Ultimately, we aim to produce solutions that will undoubtedly impact on a wide range of display market sectors. If we get this right, we could be looking at a market worth in excess of a billion pounds a year just from the cinema projection market. There are very few optical products that can access a market of this scale.”

The global market for high brightness light sources for the lighting and display sectors is currently dominated by inefficient and short lived xenon or mercury ultra high pressure bulbs, which have a limited lifespan. The brightness of images produced by xenon-based sources degrades significantly after around 1000 hours of use, meaning that the sources need replacing roughly every six months, which is a costly exercise that requires technicians to wear protective clothing. Disposal of the light sources on such a regular basis also presents environmental issues.

The new light sources being developed at Swansea University will be at least five times more efficient and have a much longer lifespan, as well as provide exceptional viewer color gamut, according to Nigel Copner, Senior Research Fellow working on the project with Doran.

“Only around 5% of the light produced by xenon sources reaches the screen because it is hard to control the emitted light,” Copner said. “The laser technology we are developing is more than 10 times as efficient and provides exceptionally high quality images, with a much wider range of colors. We believe that the lasers will last for at least 10,000 hours and possibly for up to 20,000 hours. That’s potentially 10 years’ usage, and when coupled with the exceptional efficiency, reduces the cost of ownership significantly alongside a greatly reduced environmental impact.”

According to Doran, the next few years will see the cinema industry moving away from celluloid to digital projection, with the Hollywood standard being D-Cinema. In doing so, he added, cinemas will also upgrade their projectors, allowing this new technology to be easily adopted. It is anticipated that the technology will eventually have application in other sectors as well, such as rear view projection televisions and office projectors.

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