Laser display industry hopes for new light

An industry that uses laser light to entertain audiences is looking to brighter days ahead.

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An industry that uses laser light to entertain audiences is looking to brighter days ahead. After suffering through an economic recession that saw a leading U.S. laser show company go out of business and several others cut staffing, attendees at the recent annual conference of the International Laser Display Association (ILDA) seemed to agree that prospects will improve.

Although companies won't disclose sales figures, most confided that customers were again placing orders for laser equipment and laser shows. Although no one was popping champagne corks, vendors were out in full force with new equipment and producers were talking about a small stream of fresh shows in the pipeline.

This year's meeting in Orlando was in contrast to 2001, when the association canceled its scheduled November meeting in the wake of the September 11th attacks. Only about half of ILDA's 120 members attended the meeting Nov. 24–26, 2002, but those present talked with optimism about renewing their marketing efforts and taking advantage of the many products on display.

Most of the new products were solid-state 532-nm lasers in the 2- to 5-W range. Attendees saw new lasers by Melles Griot (Irvine, CA), HB Laser Komponenten(Schwäbisch-Gmünd-Strassdorf, Germany), Laser Entertainment/Laser System Europe (Milan, Italy and Brussels, Belgium), LaserAnimation Sollinger (Berlin, Germany), and Omicron Laserage Laserprodukte (Rodgau, Germany). The new lasers were more rugged and less expensive than past units while offering features better geared to the needs of entertainment professionals.

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The annual conference of the International Laser Display Association featured many advances in laser entertainment technology. "Seline," by Lighting Systems Design (Orlando, FL), is a raster-scanned virtual laser host created to guide visitors through a trade show exhibit (left). Scooby-Doo Spooky Coaster, by Laservision Macro-Media (Sydney, Australia), features laser effects in an indoor roller coaster at Australia's Warner Bros. Movie World theme park (right).
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Although laser-show companies are undoubtedly benefiting from a surge of new lasers developed for medical applications, manufacturers at the trade show said they were courting the laser-display industry with more-robust products and better service. Melles Griot, for example, showed how its new PureMode laser could resist contamination from dust, dirt and fog (major concerns of traveling laserists) by operating the laser inside a 10-gallon aquarium tank filled with water.

Laser Entertainment and Laser System Europe teamed up to distribute and service a new solid-state green laser that was cost-engineered to be available for as low as €10,145 (US$10,228) when purchased in relatively small quantities. The companies also promised rapid repairs and loaner units.

Although Laser Quantum (Cheshire, England) and Melles Griot were both showing solid-state blue lasers, the verdict was still out on whether either unit would have the right combination of power and price to make it a leading contender for inclusion in an all solid-state red-green-blue laser projector. High-powered full-color displays must still rely on argon/krypton gas lasers, which are burdened by high power consumption and the need for water cooling.

In a step away from ion-based projectors, a new American company, Lumalaser (Simi Valley, CA) introduced a hybrid projector that combined two red diode lasers and an argon tube. The unit's optical engineering produced a high-brightness display that users said rivaled that of far more powerful argon/krypton gas lasers, but without the need for water cooling or three-phase electrical power.

In association business, ILDA members elected a new president, Steve Heminover of Aura Technologies (Chicago, IL), and established a new marketing committee to promote the industry more aggressively. Although the dates of the 2003 conference have not been set, ILDA is looking to a European location and perhaps holding its meeting in conjunction with another entertainment organization.

David Lytle is editor of The Laserist magazine (; e-mail: [email protected]

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