Posts Tagged ‘laser projection’

Projector Manufacturers Are Going Lamp-Free. But Is It Too Late?

Last Tuesday, I traveled to QVC Studios in West Chester, PA to check out some of Sony’s newest 2K and 4K projectors. In addition to a pair of high-brightness 4K models, Sony also had its new and yet-unnamed laser-powered 3LCD projector up and running, side-by-side with Panasonic’s PT-RZ470 laser/LED single-chip DLP projector.

The purpose of this demo was to compare color quality between both projectors, and with the express caveat that I have no idea what (if any) adjustments were made to the Sony projector; it certainly appeared to have an edge in color saturation over the Panasonic unit. (The latter projector still created some good-looking images.)

This 4,000-lumen laser 3LCD chassis is the same as Sony’s FH31-series projectors and has the same level of functionality – interchangeable lenses, edge blending, Ethernet control, etc. The only difference is that a laser provides the illumination, and Sony claims it will last to 20,000 hours, presumably hitting half-brightness at that point.

Sony's laser-powered 3LCD projector will have its coming-out party in two weeks.

Sony’s laser-powered 3LCD projector will have its coming-out party in two weeks.

I expect to see plenty of lamp-free projector demos in Orlando. Mitsubishi, BenQ, Optoma, Vivitek, Panasonic, Digital Projection, projectiondesign, LG, and NEC are all selling or getting ready to launch laser-powered and laser/LED hybrid projectors this year. And if Sony’s ready to christen a laser-powered 3LCD product, you can be sure that Epson and Hitachi will be close on their heels.

With the European Union turning up the screws on hazardous substances, the days of short-arc projection lamps are numbered. But the bigger problem is the “big LCD” runaway train – one that will eventually wipe out the “hang and bang” projector market.

From time to time, I run LinkedIn discussions about selected AV topics, and just started a new one on lamp-free projectors. And the early responses indicate that sentiment has swung in favor of replacing projectors with large LCD screens across a broad range of markets.

One respondent commented, “We currently have one building with about 30 classrooms that only use LED (LCD) monitors, and the faculty enjoys them immensely. They no longer have a bright light staring them in the face, and the students can see all the images displayed extremely well with much better clarity than with ‘standard’ classroom projectors. “

Here’s another comment. “I have been moving to LED (LCD) displays whenever I have input in a design — aside from spaces that require displays in excess of 120″ because of size. They’re always brighter, they’re more compact, and the maintenance on them is soooo much easier. Plus, let’s be truthful here, users view a 150″ (projected image) as ho-hum, but a 90″ monitor seems to IMPRESS.”

Not surprisingly, the issue of lamp replacements (cost, time involved, and inconvenience) came up more than once as a reason to switch to flat screens. “I would say that lamps took up close to 50% of our supply budget. Plus; maintenance, calls for immediate response, and filling out service ticket documentation, (replacing) a single lamp could take 45 minutes of a technician’s time (+/- 9% of the technician’s day for one response).”

From another responder: “Both financially and logistically, lamp changes are a BIG nuisance. Even with multi-lamp redundancy, critical spare stock is always advisable due to the uncertain stock and delivery issues. Even if one puts this cost aside, lamps can blow out at the worst times and any change that requires any combination of ladders, climbing, dismounting, disassembly, reassembly, and counter resetting is never a desirable situation. Flat panels are less of a hassle.”

Now the million-dollar question: Does lamp-free projection level the playing field with large LCDs at all? “As nice as laser/hybrid projectors are, I think they’re not quite ready for widespread use, especially in a classroom setting. And since we are in the process of moving away from projection as a whole, where they have been installed the 70″/80″ LED monitors, and even the 90″ monitors now, are getting rave reviews from faculty and staff alike on image quality, brightness, and ease of use.”

How about image quality? “I have looked at the Casio and Panasonic lampless projectors. I have purchased some Casio(s) for the portability, but until the image quality improves I will not be installing them for general-use classrooms. The colors are very drab when compared to LCD.”

And one last comment: “The emergence of more practical, brighter, and more affordable lamp-free projectors will definitely take some market-share away from traditional projectors, but I don’t think that it will have as much impact on the large direct-view display market. We’ve specified these large displays instead of projectors when there are ambient lighting issues, in situations where the colors and contrast of a projector just aren’t sufficient, and in spaces where projection isn’t physically practical…”

From my perspective, it’s a good thing that interest and activity in the lamp-free projection space are both picking up this year. The projector industry needs to show it can still innovate and remain relevant; lamp-free projection is a great way to do that and provide facility managers much-needed relief from the “burnt-out lamp shuffle.”

Even so, the once-safe market of small to mid-sized classroom and conference room projection continues to cede ground to large LCD displays with each passing month. With lamp-free technology, projector manufacturers have shown they’ve finally seen the light. But is it too late?

This article was originally posted on the Display Daily Web site.

Lamp? What Lamp?

Lamp-free projection isn’t a new idea. After all, that term precisely describes cathode-ray tube (CRT) projectors, which were the only way to project electronic color images for almost two decades. (A CRT-engined light valve projector was demonstrated in England prior to World War II!)

With the advent of LCD and then DLP projectors in the early to mid-1990s, the writing was on the wall for CRTs. The microdisplay projector category grew explosively in just fifteen years from a handful of video-resolution boxes at InfoComm 1993 to total domination of the category at all resolutions and brightness levels by 2008.

Indeed; it seemed like the good times would just roll on forever. But we all know that’s not usually the case (composite video and VGA notwithstanding). And in 2011, the specter of super-sized, inexpensive LCD TVs and monitors suddenly loomed over what once was the most energetic, anarchaic, and exhilarating AV thrill ride ever.

Two years later, projector manufacturers are watching with increasing concern as the traditional “hang and bang” conference room and classroom market yields to the siren song of Big LCDs. “No need to change lamps!” they cry out. “No need to dim lights! No need for a screen! Instant on and off! Set it and forget it!” The message is seductive, and for the most part, true.

A change is coming. Some manufacturers, refusing to become paralyzed with inaction, are speeding up development of lamp-free projectors, turning to light-emitting diodes, lasers, and a combination of the two in an attempt to slow the tides of change. You’ve no doubt seen some of these projectors at earlier InfoComm, CES, and SID get-togethers. Well, you’re about to see a lot more.

At the January Integrated Systems Europe show, BenQ, Sony, Mitsubishi, NEC, and Casio all exhibited lamp-free projectors with brightness levels ranging from a few hundred lumens to 2,000 lumens. Sony’s demo attracted great interest, as it was the first 3LCD-based imaging system and uses lasers. BenQ’s offerings are also 100% laser-engined, with the rest of the crowd using various combinations of LEDs and lasers.

Going lamp-free is seen as a successful parry against Big LCDs. First off, the lamp replacement issue goes away, once and for all. Lamp-free projectors are also essentially maintenance-free, just like today’s LCD TVs: Simply turn them on and use them for 15,000 to 20,000 hours. And they also offer instant on/off operation, something that’s been a challenge for designers of conventional short-arc lamp designs.

At present, lamp-free projectors can span three levels of brightness. The 100%-LED designs are usually good for a maximum of 1100 lumens, with 500 lumens being the norm. Above 1100 lumens and up to 4,000 lumens, the laser/LED hybrids take over. A gap then follows from 4,000 to 10,000 lumens, at which point the high-power laser light engines rule the roost, soaring as high as 70,000 lumens for digital cinema and large venue projection.

Christie Digital (owners of NECSEL), Laser Light Engines, Kodak, and NEC are all active in the large venue laser space. LLE’s innovative remote laser light heads with armored fiber optic bundles may be the key to wider adoption of the technology. Christie, who recently sponsored a two-week showcase run of GI JOE:RETALIATION in Burbank CA, using their 60,000+ lumens laser DLP Cinema projector, is now pondering the technical and financial logistics of offering more laser cinema screenings to kick up interest.

Make no mistake about it; this is a crucial time for projector manufacturers, of which there are still too many in my opinion. Super-sized 4K LCD panels are coming, 2K LCD glass cuts are going to get bigger and cheaper (Sharp’s 90-inch behemoth can be purchased by dealers for nearly $2,000 below the stated SRP from InfoComm 2013), and the only realistic way for projectors to hold any ground is to drop the lamp, once and for all.

At InfoComm, we’ll see just how many manufacturers have gotten the message – and how many are still waiting to hop on the bandwagon…

Notes From The Desert: The 2012 HPA Tech Retreat – Pete Putman

As I write this, the second day of the annual Hollywood Post Alliance Technology Retreat (or simply, the “Tech Retreat”) is drawing to a close. And once again, the Retreat has delivered a cornucopia of content to the 450+ attendees.

 

Consider that since yesterday morning, we’ve learned about 4K video cameras and workflows, heard the NAB’s view of ‘connected TVs,’ seen an actual demo of laser/LED hybrid projectors and gotten a first look at the details of Barco’s laser-power cinema projector, watched a live coast-to-coast videoconference on digital commercial workflows, and learned that, although NBC plans to cover the 2012 London Summer Olympics in 3D, they aren’t quite sure yet how they’ll get that 3D signal to the home. (Hmmmm…)

 

We’ve also gotten an update on the latest Washington, DC legislation, court actions, and legal opinions pertaining to the media industries; gained insight into file-based workflows at Fox, heard panel discussions of cloud-based content delivery systems and digital image preservation, been provided with an explanation of the differences between stereo vs. surround-sound loudness levels, and discovered a multi-lensed ‘ball’ camera that can be thrown into the air to capture a unique perspective.

There was a full house for Wednesday's Day 1 general sessions.

 

The technology demos have also been impressive and feature a 4K LCD display (Panasonic) and 3D and 4K home theater projectors (JVC and Sony), a 2K reference-grade LCD monitor (Dolby), reference OLED monitors (Sony again), critical display calibration (Spectracal), and numerous exhibits of image processing, file management, color correction, format conversion, and cloud-based workflows (do you know what ‘snowflakes’ are? If not, you should…)

 

As usual, I presented my annual CES review and roundup, ripping through 80+ slides and numerous video clips in 30 minutes (Tech Retreat chair Mark Schubin is a stickler for starting and ending on time), and also co-moderated the Next-Generation (lampless) Projection panel with HPA vice-president and multi-panel moderator Jerry Pierce.

 

During my CES Review, I used a wireless HDMI connection from my Toshiba Satellite notebook to the house projection system (stacked Panasonic 10,000 lumens 1080p DLP projectors on 16-foot screens). That’s a distance of 75 feet from lectern to receiver, and the signal never dropped through any of my slides or video clips. (A tip of the hat to Les Chard of the WHDI Consortium, who graciously overnighted me a replacement WHDI receiver – mine was left at home!)

 

Peter Lude (standing) talks about the new Laser-Illuminated Projector Association (LIPA) while Jerry Pierce moderates.

Another feature of the Retreat is the informal breakfast roundtables. You propose a topic and if it is accepted, you get to “chair” a group of fellow attendees and are free to hold court on your topic. So far, I’ve hosted two roundtables on digital display interfaces and wireless display interfaces, and both tables were ‘sold out!’ In fact, I got to my first roundtable on Wednesday a bit late and there were no seats left – that is, until I subsequently informed the seated attendees that they wouldn’t have a moderator, after which a space was hastily freed up for my chair.

 

The Tech Retreat has been around for a little more than a decade, and during that time has almost doubled in size. This year’s edition moved to the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells, CA because the old venue was just too small. The pictures show why – Wednesday’s crowd was standing room only!

 

Several companies have chosen the Retreat to do pre-NAB product introductions. Sony’s 2011 launch of its new TriMaster OLED reference monitors is a good example. The Tech Retreat is also where I saw my first 3D NFL footage and my first multi-random-projector image tiling system, heard detailed explanations of human visual response and how it affects 3D viewing, experienced the visual quality of high dynamic range cameras, and witness how MPEG program splicing actually works.

Long-time Disney tech guru Bob Lambert recounts the history of projection "light engines" (including candles) with his slides shown on a Casio XJ-H1650 hybrid laser/LED projector.

 

It all makes for a stimulating and worthwhile program. Many technical innovations are first shown at the Retreat, as are fascinating programs on film restoration and archiving. And it’s all very informal – come as you are, no need for speaker bios or power suits. To paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘the information’s the thing,’ and you’ll be challenged and baffled by Mark’s multiple technology history quizzes. (Example: What significant invention that we use every day was first unveiled at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia? Come on, you know!)

 

Here’s the best part about the Retreat: Anyone can attend, and the program draws from a wide range of industries and disciplines. You’re just as likely to find yourself sitting at a general session table or sharing dinner with a studio executive, TV network engineer, or colorist for a post-production facility as you would with a creative services manager from a major insurance company, a media services supervisor at a large university, or a director of one or more state or federal government agencies.

 

TIP: If you plan to attend in 2013, better register early as the event usually sells out a month in advance. (So do the hotel rooms!)

 

See you next year!