World’s Thinnest Video Projector Could be in Android Smartphones

January 30, 2011
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Pico projectors are showing up everywhere. Cell phone concepts. Cameras. Even alarm clocks!

But, we have some good news! Researchers in Germany have developed the world’s thinnest “pico” video projector. The prototype device contains an array of carefully shaped microlenses, each with its own miniature liquid-crystal display (LCD). The device is just six millimeters thick, but it produces images that are 10 times brighter than would normally be possible with such a small device.

Handheld pico projectors can be used to display movies, maps, or presentations on nearby surfaces. But the projections can be difficult to view in direct sunlight because the light source isn’t very powerful. This new lens system is small enough to be incorporated into a slim smart phone.

Increasing the brightness of a projection normally means increasing the area of the light source used, says Marcel Sieler, a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering in Germany. Sieler was involved with developing the prototype. But to increase the area in this way requires a thicker lens to focus the larger image. “As the area of the light source increases, so does the volume of the lens,” says Sieler. The result is a much bigger projector.

Sieler and colleagues created a novel type of lens that focuses light from a relatively large light source while remaining thin. The prototype video projector consists of 45 microlenses colored red, green, or blue. Each lens has an LCD with 200 by 200 pixels behind it. The light passing through each LCD is focused through a lens, and together each image is superimposed on top of each other to produce the final image. The design was inspired by a type of microlens array known as a “fly’s eye condenser,” which is normally used to mix light from different sources.

Current State of Pico Projectors
The projectors integrated into many gadgets and gadget concepts on the market today are low-lumen and low-resolution. They’re fine if you want to beam a picture from your digital camera on the wall. But if you want to really see the details in your photographic masterpiece, you’ll need a better, brighter projector.

The portable projectors coming out in the next few months have about 30 times the brightness of the ones built into cameras and cell phone concepts. They also display content in HD and are capable of projecting bigger images.

The projectors integrated into cameras are gimmicks, which isn’t an insult. Heck, if we have to choose between two similar-priced cameras, we’ll pick the one with the built-in projector. Why not, right?

Digitimes.com reports that smartphone-size pico projector modules are unlikely to start mass shipping for a while now. They’re too dim, too low-res and draw too much power.

There will be about one million devices with pico projectors shipped worldwide in 2011, but prices will still remain unfriendly to consumers. Therefore, vendors are launching these devices to enhance their brand names through displaying the latest technologies and innovation; they do not really expect to ship large volumes…it would still take several years before the module’s price can drop to a friendlier level. – Digitimes.

And by the time these modules hit “friendlier” price levels, the portable projectors on the market will be beyond awesome. In the past year alone, we’ve seen an increase in lumens, resolutions and extra features. No doubt, the future of pocket projectors is brighter than ever before.

Via Technology Review, Projector People

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