Category: Trade Shows

Display Surprises at CES 2014

Some of my fellow analysts have been bemoaning a lack of TV, tablet, and cell-phone innovations at CES 2014. Well, either I have lower standards than my colleagues or a keener eye because I saw quite a few things that surprised, delighted, and horrified me. Here are some of them.

3M’s Quantum Dot Enhancement Film (QDEF) using quantum dots from partner Nanosys is now in a high-volume shipping product. 3M was coy about identifying the customer, but partner Nanosys (which supplies the quantum dots used by 3M) didn’t hesitate. QDEF is being used in Kindle Fire HDX 7.0 and 8.9 inch tablets. The 8.9-inch has a 2560×1600-pixel display withg 339 pixels per inch (ppi), and uses QDEF to increase the color gamut from 60% to 72% NTSC. This is a noticeable although not extreme improvement, but Amazon asked 3M and Nanosys to optimize the system to significantly improve battery life, even if that meant only a modest improvement in gamut. They did. Battery life is substantially improved.

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Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 with QDEF (right) is tuned to give moderately better color gamut and much better power consumption. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Plasma is not dead yet, despite Panasonic pulling the plug.  ChangHong will sell plasma TVs in the U.S. this year in 43-, 51-, and 60-inch sizes. LG says it will continue to sell plasma in 2014. If Samsung said anything, I missed it.

HiSense introduced a 4K quantum-dot “Wide Gamut TV,” which uses QDEF film rather than the QD Vision rail. It will enter the Chinese market in March; U.S. in the summer. Maximum size is 85 inches, and there is an H.265 decoder built in.

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Professional high-dynamic-range technology at consumer prices? Sharp is working on it. We could see an HDR TV in 2015, a Sharp booth rep said. (Photo: Ken Werner)

In addition to the impressive AQUOS Quattron+, which I described at some length in a previous post (http://www.hdtvexpert.com/?p=3517), Sharp showed a a high-dynamic range TV prototype using Dolby technology. What’s surprising is that the highly effective Dolby technology has only been used until now for very expensive professional monitors. It would be impressive if Sharp can bring the technology’s cost down to high-end consumer levels. A Sharp rep said products could appear in 2015.

Samsung showed an OLED display that could be bent from flat to gently curved by small motors whirring away inside the case. Lots of oohs and aahs from the assembled. Is this good for anything? Beats me, but I did say this was going to be a list things that were surprising. That doesn’t mean useful.

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Horizontal tiling of curved displays provides the immersive feeling that single curved displays of modest size do not. This has real applications for digital signage. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Samsung and others did find ways to do something (potentially) useful with curved displays. The radius of curvature for curved TVs is so large (roughly 15 feet) that it really makes little sense for 55- and 65-inch screens. But Samsung extended the curve by tiling a bunch of these curved screens side to side. Definite applications for digital signage. LG showed a 105-inch curved display. At that size, the claim for curvature offering a more immersive viewing experience has credibility.

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LG Display’s curved 105-inch OLED-TV is big enough to provide the immersive experience that smaller curved displays do not. (Photo: Ken Werner)

WebOS may finally have found a reason for living as the OS for LG smart TVs. Of the 25 new TV models LG will introduce this year, 56% will have WebOS. Research shows most people think smart TV is too complicated, which inspired LG to position WebOS as the “intuitive OS optimized for the Web.”

Pixelworks has taken its motion-estimation and motion-compensation (MEMC) chip, which burns 5 watts in TV sets, and produced a very-low-power version for mobile devices. The TV version of the chip is in some LG sets now, and Skyworth has announced another design win for the chip. The video processing chip takes 24 frame-per-second (fps) content and and converts it to 120, thus producing a major improvement in judder. As we spend more time watching video on our small personal screens, we are likely to get impatient with the motion artifacts that have already been dealt with on our living-room TVs. A side-by-side demo in Pixelworks’ suite was impressive.

It may not be a surprise in principle, but actually seeing the combination of OLED and 4K is VERY impressive.

Not all 4K TVs are beautiful. The 55-inch S1 model from New Century Optronics was truly terrible, with serious comb artifacts (when was the last time you saw a comb artifact?), bad judder, and resolution that looked more like 2K than 4K. At least the U13 model looked like 4K, but it too exhibited serious judder.

Chinese OLED TVs in 2014. Chinese TV giant TCL showed 30.5-inch and 55-inch FHD OLED-TVs. The sets will be launched in China next month, and in the U.S. in Q2 or Q3. The 55-inch has a color gamut of 100% NTSC. A TCL rep said the OLED panel in the 30.5-inch is manufactured by TCL and the panel in the 55-inch is manufactured by a partner. That probably means that the 30.5-inch is produced by China Star Optoelectronics Technology (CSOT), which is a business unit of TCL.

LG Display’s OLED manufacturing yield to rise sharply. It is no secret that the manufacturing yields of LGD’s OLED TV panels were so low last year — estimates were between 10% and 30% — that they severely impacted the number of panels that could be produced and kept their cost high. Now, LGD executives tell me the internal yield target for the new OLED plant opening in Q3 is 75%.

Panasonic Lumix “hybrid photography.” Now that digital “still” cameras also capture motion video, manufacturers are trying to figure out what what they can do with this combination of abilities. Nikon 1 cameras can bracket a still photo with a short video clip. Panasonic’s “hybrid photography” may turn out to be more useful. It produces a largely still image with moving elements: among the demos was a woman’s still face with softly moving hair. The file should be only slightly larger than a traditional still shot, but still provide motion. We’ll see how consumers respond.

Perhaps I’m easily amused, but I left CES 2014 not only exhausted, but also convinced that there were lots of entertaining surprises to be sniffed out by display bloodhounds.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, manufacturing, technology, and applications. You can reach him at kwerner@nutmegconsultants.com.

 

InfoComm 2013 in the Rear View Mirror

Last week marked my 20th consecutive trip to InfoComm and it was a hectic time in Orlando. I got in Sunday night and spent most of Monday setting up equipment for my four classes and presentations at InfoComm, including two Super Tuesday sessions (Future Trends, Things You Never Thought About) while I was also co-teaching an all-day Super Tuesday session on RF and Wireless Trends.

Wednesday morning brought a 2-hour class on digital video, while my Thursday morning class covered and demonstrated a variety of wireless display and video connectivity systems (none of which used WiFi, by the way). That’s about ten hours’ worth of teaching, and it does take its toll on your voice!

As a result, I didn’t spend a lot of time on the show floor. Even so, I spotted a few trends that are impacting the pro AV industry and will dramatically re-shape it by the end of this decade.

First off, attendance at classes this year was strong, with more than a few sessions selling out. The transition from analog to digital AV is in full swing, and there’s plenty to be learned. More than half the attendees in my classes came from the higher education channel and were either in the process of upgrading to digital signal switching and distribution, or about to embark on that arduous task within the next six months.

Here's the wireless Nook HD+ in action. Even in a high-level RF environment (lots of WiFi activity), it worked flawlessly.

Here’s the wireless Nook HD+ in action. Even in a high-level RF environment (lots of WiFi activity), it worked flawlessly.

 

And here's what the Nook HD+ screen looked like. It's mirroring the PowerPoints showing on the main projection screens.

And here’s what the Nook HD+ screen looked like. It’s mirroring the PowerPoints showing on the main projection screens.

There was intense interest in my wireless AV class, which for the first time featured actual products that you can buy now. Clint Hoffman and his crew at Kramer Electronics worked hard to get me a production model of the company’s new KW-11 WHDI transceiver kit, which I promptly installed in my home-made wireless Nook HD+ tablet. This 6 GHz system was used to deliver PowerPoints and 1080p/60 clips from Skyfall as I walked around the 150+ attendees. It worked like a champ!

Peerless AV also provided me with their two-channel WHDI linking system, which we used to transmit 1080p signals to a Sharp 80-inch LCD TV in the corner of the classroom. That same TV was simultaneously receiving low-power ATSC signals on channel 23 from MELD Technologies’ Pico Broadcaster white space system.

On the other side of the room, DVDO’s 60 GHz WiHD Air product was sending clips from Men in Black III from a Panasonic Blu-ray player to the house projection system. And Jim Venable and Alan Ruberg from the Wireless Speaker and Audio Association were demonstrating 5.1-channel wireless surround audio playback of House of Flying Daggers. If anyone in the crowd had doubts about wireless high-bandwidth AV connectivity being real, they were quickly dispelled.

In my Future Trends talk on Tuesday, I identified inexpensive, large LCD displays as growing market disruptors. That was obvious when I walked the show floor, where booths were stuffed with big LCD screens, including some 4K models. Sharp had their big glass on display and also spotlighted their new 32-inch 4K LCD monitors, powered by IGZO backplanes. Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Planar, NEC, and others made “big LCD” the focal point of their booths.

Not surprisingly, most of the projector manufacturer booths were smaller this year than last. But those that had ‘em to show made sure their lamp-free projectors were located front and center. Lamp-free projection is a big deal now and takes on even more importance with the threat from large LCDs. Panasonic, Optoma, Casio, Sony, projectiondesign, Vivitek, and Mitsubishi all had impressive demos of LED, laser, and hybrid projectors. (Oddly, I walked through the BenQ booth a few times but couldn’t locate their laser DLP models.) Keep an eye on this battle – it’s only going to intensify as more end-users consider the move to “big LCD.”

As for 4K, there were lots of discussions about the pros and cons at the show. It has been pointed out on more than one occasion that we’ve yet to see a single 4K display interface; HDMI or DisplayPort. The trick now is to use several HDMI connections to get data to the screen, but that’s not practical in the long term.

With the pending release of HDMI 2.0 standards and perhaps some more aggressive promotion by VESA of Display Stream (up to 25 Gb/s data rates), I expect all of that to change by next year’s InfoComm. There is considerable demand in the commercial AV space for higher display resolution, both in single screens and tiled displays. Think of process control, command and control, virtual reality, geophysical mapping, and military surveillance as logical candidates.

One of the more intriguing discussions came during Scott Sharer’s closing Super Tuesday session. Fellow panelist Bill Nattress, a principal at Shen Milsom Wilke in Chicago, talked about the pending demise of the conventional conference room and meeting room in favor of ad hoc, no-wall meeting spaces. How will people present there? Projectors aren’t a likely candidate. Perhaps tablets, which will certainly get bigger? Large LCD screens on roll-around stands?

And how will we control AV playback in these spaces? Most likely with advanced gesture control and voice recognition. The two go hand-in-hand, in my opinion, and we are going to see plenty of finished products by 2020; perhaps even sooner. Look for the era of the “touchless” touch screen to start soon.

So, there you have it: 4K, large cheap LCDs, lamp-free projection, wireless high-bandwidth connectivity, faster multifunction interfaces, and gesture/voice control. Keep your eyes on those trends for the rest of the year and I’ll look forward to seeing you in one of my classes next June in Las Vegas!

LCD Always Wins

LCD always wins — well, almost always.

With its incredible depth of technical development, sophisticated and frighteningly efficient manufacturing, octopussian supply chain, multiple applications, huge volume, and effective distribution, LCD has held off all serious competitors for computer and television displays. Indeed, LCDs for consumer applications such as TV are so inexpensive than panel-makers make little or no money manufacturing them. That’s another story, but it makes LCDs even harder to compete with.

And LCD remains a moving target. The industry is mature but it is not stagnant. Many a would-be competitor has seen its chosen technology (FED, for example) as having a competitive opportunity against the LCDs of the time, but under-estimated the time it would take to bring the technology to market. By the time they were ready for market, LCD had evolved and closed the competitive gap the new technologies were designed to fill. (Note: Everybody, including the very sophisticated Samsung, underestimates the time it takes to bring a new display technology to market.)

LCDs power of survival can be frustrating. Today’s plasma is a better display for television than today’s LCD, as a recent shoot-out has once again confirmed, but plasma’s market share is in the single digits and even its greatest fans realize its future is limited.

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Sony Triluminous TV with Color IQ quantum-dot element (left) shows richer and more varied colors than a conventional LCD-TV (right). (Photo: Ken Werner)

And that brings us to OLED and SID Display Week 2013, which was held last week in Vancouver, British Columbia (which is a beautiful and entertaining city). One of the few cases in which an alternative technology has eaten away a significant piece of LCD market share has been OLED displays for smart phones. These displays took much, much longer to get to market than Samsung anticipated, but Samsung stuck with it and, this time, the window of opportunity did not close. OLEDs are successful and profitable in this application.

But television is a different story. Despite its best efforts, LG Display has failed to produce large OLED screens with anything approaching acceptable manufacturing yields, and Samsung always felt it would take longer for OLED-TV to become technically and commercially viable. So both companies are trying to find their ways forward. Meanwhile, Panasonic and Sony have shown technology demonstrators with printed front planes, which is the technology that could make OLED front planes economically viable. But it is still in a developmental stage.

So what would happen if a new LCD-TV technology arose that would substantially narrow the difference in image quality between LCD and OLED, and do so at a cost that is much, much less than the cost of an OLED-TV? History could repeat itself, and OLED-TV’s window of opportunity could close.

Such a technology exists, is currently available at consumer electronics retailers, and was shown by two separate vendors at SID. The technology is quantum-dot-enhanced backlights, which I, and many others, have described extensively. (If you would like a refresher, see http://www.hdtvexpert.com/?p=2741)

QD Vision was showing a commercially available Sony Triluminous TV set, which is Sony’s designation for its extended-gamut sets that use QD Vision’s quantum-dot optical element, which QD Vision calls Color IQ. There are two 4Kx2K Triluminous models, with no comparable models that are not Triluminous. However, there is an FHD Triluminous model that has a roughly comparable non-Triluminous counterpart. From this, we can estimate that Sony is charging roughly $300 for the quantum-dot enhancement. This is a good deal for Sony because adding the quantum-dot enhancement is close to cost neutral. It’s also a very good deal for consumers, who get OLED-like color for a very affordable price premium.

Also at SID 2013, 3M announced it would soon be going into volume production with its Quantum Dot Enhancement Film (QDEF). Without going into detail (see the article referenced above for that), there is reason to believe that the QD Vision approach is more appropriate for large screens and the 3M QDEF approach is more appropriate for small to medium-size screens, at least for now. In any case, 3M is saying its initial applications will be small and medum-size screens, while QD Vision is only talking television and promising additional customers in the reasonably near future.

This still leaves 3M with a lot of opportunities. Remember, the only place where OLED is successful, thus far, is in cell phones. Picture a 5-inch, 1920×1080, LCD smart phone display with QDEF. That would give Samsung Display something to think about.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at ken@hdtvexpert.com.

 

Digital Signage Expo Grows in Size and Energy

Digital Signage Expo (DSE), running from February 26 to 28 this year in Las Vegas, had 22% more exhibitors this year than last, but the growth felt larger than that and the high energy level was palpable. Exhibitors I questioned were pleased with their booth traffic, with some “complaining” of being too busy. One exhibitor said he didn’t have enough staff to handle the flow. He had six people.

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Corning was promoting its Gorilla Glass in large sizes to protect signs located in demanding environments. The displays are Christie 55-inch LCDs with Gorilla Glass directly bonded to the display. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Peter Bocko of Corning Glass was promoting the benefits of Gorilla Glass in large sizes for digital signs. Bocko said that the signage community has the imagination, energy and resources to try new applications and new approaches, while makers of displays for monitors and TVs are too strapped for cash to boldly go where no display has gone before. (Note: I am freely paraphrasing Bocko’s remarks.)

Conventional display people have trouble getting used to the idea that successful digital signage installations are not primarily about the displays. Media creation and delivery, and distribution networks receive more attention. Network software must allow managers to schedule and conveniently reschedule what ads and other media appear on which sign at what time, and must verify that the ads actually appear on the screens they are scheduled to appear on.

Interactive signage, which senses that a person is actually viewing the sign when an ad appears, is already technically well developed, although not yet widely deployed. More advanced versions sense the age and gender of the viewer, opening the possibility of the network operator only getting paid for an exposure when the viewer fits the advertiser’s target demographic. Intel is a major technology developer in this area. There are also digital signs that are interactive in the more conventional sense of touch and gesture interaction.

Still, there is no digital signage without the sign, and the signage divisions of most of the major panel makers had major presences on the show floor. These included Samsung, LG, Sharp, and Panasonic. Significant players who do not make their own panels include NEC, Sony, Viewsonic, DynaScan, Planar, Mitsubishi, BrightSign, StrataCache, 3M, Philips, and Christie. Yes, that Christie. The projection Christie.

Although Christie was not at all bashful about promoting its DLP/LED rear-projection MicroTiles, the bulk of the booth was devoted to flat-panel solutions. Christie is espousing the approach that they are here to serve their customers with whatever technology is most appropriate, and they are stressing a vertical approach that includes sign manufacturing, installation, and network operation, as is appropriate for each  customer. Somebody at Christie has been listening to Corning’s Peter Bocko. A 55-inch Christie LCD sign was prominently identified as being protected with directly bonded Gorilla Glass, and Gorilla-ized Christie LCDs were prominently displayed in Corning’s booth.

Nanolumen's right-angle LED sign was an attention-getter.  (Photo:  Ken Werner)

Nanolumen’s right-angle LED sign was an attention-getter. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Although LCD signs dominated, there was a significant scattering of LED signs on the floor. Nanolumens had a large booth to show off various signs using the company’s flexible LED technology, but the most striking of their signs consisted of two vertical surfaces intersecting at 90 degrees, like the corner of a square post. The images of models wrapping around the corner were strange, and therefore attention-getting.

At Sharp, I spoke with Gary Bailer, the director of product planning and marketing for Pro AV products, which includes both flat-panel signage and projection. He said there is no doubt that larger flat panels are making serious inroads on the projector business in the broad mid-range of image sizes. Inexpensive projectors for elementary education are holding their own, as are powerful projectors for very large images, but the value proposition posed by ever-less-expensive large flat panels is proving impossible for competing projectors to resist.

Panasonic showed an impressive 85-inch plasma touch screen with sophisticated communication capabilities for distance collaboration. A line or signature drawn on the screen tracked the stylus precisely and without lag.

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Panasonic’s 85-inch plasma “white” board with sophisticated communications capabilities and SLOT2.0 for convenient embedding of PC functions. (Photo: Ken Werner)

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E Ink was energetically promoting passive electrophoretic displays for sunlight-readable, very-low-power signage applications. And the company really was serving coffee to DSE attendees. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Also among the exhibitors showing non-LCD signs was E Ink, with a variety of tiled, very-low-power, monochrome examples. E Ink customer Toppan was presented with a Product of the Year Award from Signage Solutions Magazine for an updated version of its Machikomi (“city communication”) E Ink signs in the Sendai subway system that survived the March 2011 tsunami, and provided one of the few ways that emergency information could be communicated to the population following the disaster.

Several companies were applying 4K panels to the demanding signage environment. LG showed a 4K 84-inch touch sign, which it labeled the world’s first. ViewSonic also showed a 4K 84-inch interactive sign based on AUO, not LG, glass. ViewSonic’s Gene Ornstead said the company is receiving interest from the DoD for interactive mapping apps in command and control centers.

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Sharp’s Gen 10 fab, once an albatross around the company’s neck, now gives the company a big advantage in big LCDs for signage and television. This is the 90-inch, and Sharp wasn’t being modest about its size. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Sharp showed the impressive 4K 32-inch with IGZO backplane it has been showing at least since last year’s SID show. Sharp also featured its very large LCD panels — up to 90 inches — engineered into displays for the signage market.

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BSI’s 21.5-inch resized and curved LCD. The LCD starts out as a standard panel from LG Display, and is then cut down to a custom size, heated, and curved by Tovis of Incheon, Korea. BSI makes the curved panel into a complete sign. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Resized or bar-type displays – displays that are cut down to a custom size from standard-size panels –  were scattered over the show floor, including at the booths of Viewsonic, NEC, and G-Vision, among others.

The most interesting, though,  was from Bi-Search International (BSI), which showed a 26-inch LCD that was not only resized to 1366×384 pixels, but was also curved!  Lots of interest from beverage companies, said BSI Account Sales Manager Jason Lee.  The LCD panel came from LG Display, and was then resized by Tovis (Korea) under the Tannas patent.  (Tannas Electronic Displays, which was also exhibiting, distributed a press release announcing that Tannas’s lawyers had filed a new complaint against Luxell Technologies for breach of a previous agreement that had settled a patent infringement suit.)  After resizing the LGD display, Tovis heated the LCD prior to bending it and placing it in its curved bezel, said Tovis’s In Ho Cho.  BSI also showed a 47-inch half-cut and curved display with 1920×480 pixels.  (Disclosure:  Tannas Electronic Displays is one of the author’s clients.)

Finally (at least as far as this column is concerned), transparent displays are very much alive. Planar showed the very intelligently designed refrigerator door it introduced last year, but it is not yet on the market. MRI was promoting its large transparent refrigerator doors with resized displays that fill the entire door, but — unlike last year — did not have a unit on display. Stratacache did have its transparent-display refrigerator door on display. Smaller retail-window and showcase solutions could also be seen over the show floor.  

Perhaps most interesting in this segment was a Best Buy kiosk/vending machine for electronic gadgets. The kiosk uses a large, transparent LG panel that showed subjectively good color gamut. Bill Beaton, Senior Director of Product Marketing for ZoomSystems, which manages Best Buy’s 200-kiosk network, said the first of the Kiosks with transparent displays would be deployed in the next couple of months. If the new kiosk shows sufficiently increased sell-through compared to the conventional kiosk it replaces, Beaton is hopeful that more of the transparent-display units will follow.

Although digital signs seem ubiquitous, penetration is still quite low and the current double-digit annual growth can be sustained for years to come. That energy and optimism was reflected in this year’s DSE.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at ken@hdtvexpert.com.

 

 

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Best Buy will field-test this kiosk/vending machine with transparent LCD in the door to see if it produces better sell-through than its 200 conventional kiosks. (Photo: Ken Werner)

ISE 2013: Oh, It’s ON!

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ISE is a joint venture between InfoComm and CEDIA – and drew a sizable crowd, even with cold, wet weather.

Much has been made of the rapid price drops in the LCD TV market; specifically, LCD TVs that measure 65 inches and up. Ever since Sharp rolled out its 70-inch and 80-inch 1080p LCD TV products in 2011, consultants and systems integrators have been switching over to these projection screen-sized displays instead of traditional front projectors and separate screens.

There are many reasons for this trend, not the least of which is the low prices on the 70-inch, 80-inch, and 90-inch Sharp products – about $2,000, $3700, and $8000, respectively. When compared to a ceiling-mounted projector and motorized screen, it’s just not a fair fight. Add in the additional labor and wiring of power and class 2 control and video signals, and the big LCDs come out clearly ahead.

There are other reasons why investment banks and universities are making the switch away from projection. One in particular is the need to replace lamps every few thousand hours (if they last that long). Another is the need with certain projectors to clean dust out and replace air filters. Neither of these maintenance issues are factors with large LCD TVs, which also come with extended warranties if installed by an authorized dealer/integrator.

And of course, there’s the ambient lighting issue. Clients can legitimately ask, “What is the point of a nice conference room with plenty of windows if you have to keep closing them every time you make a presentation?” With LCD displays, you don’t need to, unless you have a glare problem.

From my perspective, the market for 2000- to 3000-lumens projectors that are ceiling-mounted in classrooms and meeting rooms has turned irreversibly towards self-contained flat screen displays. This trend will only accelerate as these screens continue to drop in price and more competitors jostle for a share of the pie.

But projector manufacturers aren’t ready to fold up shop and cry, “uncle!” At ISE 2013, more than a few “lampless” projectors made their debut, and they’re aimed at stemming the tide of mongo LCDs.

sony laser

I can’t tell what’s more amazing: That Sony harnessed a laser light engine to a 3LCD projector, or that they started with 4000 lumens and 1920×1200 resolution.

Perhaps the most intriguing product was found in the Sony booth, where an installation-sized 3LCD chassis was up and running. This product, which doesn’t have a model number or price yet, uses a 100% laser light illumination engine to project Wide UXGA (1920×1200) images.

It wasn’t a static demo, either. The projector was sequencing through a series of full-color graphics and photos (no video, though) and the color was impressive. What was even more impressive was the use of WUXGA 3LCD panels (not LCoS or DLP). This is the first publicly-shown 3LCD projector to use lasers – even Epson, who is the dominant player in HTPS LCD fabrication and one of the top brands of LCD projectors – hasn’t shown one yet.

Sony’s prototype, which will be officially launched at InfoComm this coming June, is rated at 4000 lumens of brightness, both in white and color light output. It has interchangeable lenses and supports image warping and soft-edge blending.

When it came to discuss the workings of the laser light engine, “mum” was the word. I suspect the laser light engine is being used to stimulate phosphors to get red, green, and blue light. The only thing that has me wondering is the light output, which is on the high side for a laser/phosphor system. Well, all will be revealed in about five months…

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Mitsubishi’s also mixing it up with three models of LaserVue projectors.

Not far away, Mitsubishi took the wraps off a new line of LaserVue DLP projectors. These “hybrid” models build on the same projection technology that Mits developed for its erstwhile LaserVUE rear projection TV sets; employing a red LED, numerous blue laser diodes, and a single-segment green phosphor color wheel.

Unlike Sony, Mits opted to go with three different models for its coming-out party. The NW31U-EST WXGA (1280 x 800 resolution, 2500 lumens) extreme short throw model will arrive in April, followed shortly by two standard throw models: the NW30U WXGA (1280 x 800, 3000 lumens) and the NF32U (1920×1080, 3000 lumens).

The Mits projectors are also notable in that they are part of the new “cloud” lineup – these projectors can connect quickly and easily to the Internet to download and stream files. (We’ve come a long way from those slow, tedious and unreliable “wireless projector” demos of the late 1990s!) And they can mirror any Android or iOS tablet that would be used to control that remote computer or server.

So – how long are the lasers supposed to last in these new projectors? The stock response is 20,000 to 30,000 hours. In reality, it’s the power supply that often craps out before the lasers, a problem that popped up more than a few times with the LaserVUE TVs. I’d assume that both Sony and Mitsubishi have since gathered much useful data on power supply lifetimes and de-rating to ensure reliable service.

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BenQ expanded their line of laser DLP projectors…

panasonic hybird

…while Panasonic made their hybrids the centerpiece of a nice energy conservation demo.

BenQ also showed laser-engined DLP projectors at the show, while nearby, Casio had a full line of LED/laser hybrids. The color on most models I saw was considerably better than the first crop that came out in 2010 and 2011 – obviously, engineers are taming the excessively-saturated shades of red and blue that LEDs and lasers create. (BenQ uses lasers exclusively; Casio uses both lasers and LEDs.)

Although Epson didn’t show a laser 3LCD product, I’m quite sure one is in the works at the Matsumoto labs. And you can be sure that other projector manufacturers will have lampless models of their own to show in Orlando later this year.

laser led

Samsung’s got a 95-inch LCD (and a 75-inch version, too) to make the projector guys uncomfortable.

Is the use of a laser, LED, or hybrid light engine enough to stem the tide to big LCDs? Only a handful of projector marketing guys I spoke to at the show were optimistic that the onrush of LCDs could be stopped or delayed.

While lasers and LEDs make replacement lamps go away, the issues with ambient light and the costs of installing a separate screen and projector mount remain. And the soon-to-be-available crop of 4K LCD displays in sizes from 50 to 100 inches will just raise the stakes even higher.

Still; it’s good to see that projector manufacturers are fighting back and innovating some cool designs along the way. (And if they still need motivation, all they had to do was check out the 75-inch and 95-inch edge-lit LCD displays in the Samsung booth…)