Digital Projectors have been the cornerstone video display technology of attractions, fixed installs and events for many years, and the technology has developed at pace.
Resolution has been getting higher and higher – now up to 8K – and brightness capabilities have been increasing year on year from all manufacturers.
As the market matures, all projection manufacturers have faced growing competition, commoditisation and also alternative technology solutions for installations that were previously the province of projectors. Flat panels are at a price point, and a size that they can adequately service classrooms and boardrooms where a projector may have previously been used. In larger scale applications, LED walls are now very bright and great in high ambient light environments, and produce incredible images. The pixel pitch is getting smaller and the video processing more impressive which provides strong competition to projection.
Ultimately, a lot of business applications that used the be for projection have been fulfilled by other technologies So, we needed to ask our customers and ourselves a basic, yet fundamental question. Who wants a projector, and more importantly, what do they want from it?
Ultimately, a projector is a small box that can create a big image with very little else required. However, as projectors have got brighter, these small boxes have been getting bigger, heavier and more power hungry. This makes everything from logistics to installation and servicing more difficult, time consuming and expensive. At the brightest end of the market, you can be looking at dealing with projectors that need in the region of 4kW power and that weigh in the region of 150kg. That is a lot of kit to deal with and find space for. Couple this with the fact that many installations would be a retrofit, there often isn’t space for the brightest projectors, and that is before you have factored in the noise and heat that they create.
With this in mind, at Digital Projection, we asked ourselves how we could most effectively focus our small R&D Team to look at where the future of projection lies, and how generate differentiated products for specialised customers. High-end projectors have become niche solutions: how do we efficiently and accurately target those niches and give customers what they truly want?
About 3 years ago we set ourselves a goal to see of we could separate the light source and projector to overcome these problems. We had the concept of putting laser light sources in a server room that could be tens of metres away from a projection “Head”, which would immediately address the size, weight, noise and thermal concerns.
Along with the projection “Head” concept, the other key component was illumination technology, and we decided to break with the linear thinking that was leading our competitors and us to ever larger, power hungry and noisy projectors.
Before we look at the future, it is important to look at where we are today with illumination sources. The current major illumination technology is Laser phosphor, and this moved the industry from lamps to solid-state illumination. Its major benefit is that blue lasers were relatively cheap so made solid state laser phosphor light sources an attractive proposition. Add this to the reliability, stability and lifetime it offered over lamps, it really was a huge leap forward. However, this technology is becoming mature and it is clear it has certain practical limitations. Jump forward a few years to the present day, and red and green lasers are becoming more accessible and are very reliable, and much more moderately priced.
This has allowed us to take advantage of emerging RGB Laser technology and develop this modular approach of separating the light source and coupling it with a compact “Head” via a fibre optic cable. The nature of the emitted light from these direct lasers facilitates their efficient coupling into fibre optic cables and provides the link between the projection “head” and the light modules. RGB Laser illumination gives truly amazing colour and contrast, far exceeding that of Laser Phosphor.
We can see a future where RGB will come to dominate - what was extraordinarily expensive technology 3 or 4 years ago, and the preserve of the very high end, will likely become more mainstream over the coming years.
The concept of separation, or Satellite Modular Laser Systems as we call them, allows integrators the ability to propose solutions that give the market real choice, generating added value by improving every aspect of design, production, shipment, installation, reliability and image quality.
The result is compact, quiet, projection “Heads”, a fraction of the size and, weight and power consumption of their traditional equivalents, coupled with modular light sources via a fibre optic cable. This is how we see the future of high-end projection.
The Projection Industry will surely continue to be challenging, but also presents us with exciting opportunities, particularly as we try to think more widely about our contribution to the different market segments and the growing, experience-based economy.
We have learned that we can succeed when we bring all of our collective skills and experience together, work with industry partners, listen to our customers and try something differen