The last occasion on which we looked at solid state projectors, as a category, only Casio was really making waves with its hybrid laser / LED lightsource in a mass of mainstream UHP models.
While almost every vendor had its pico or personal models, LED still labours within the limitations of the technology. While the personal projector continues to attract users, applications for LED-based projectors are still currently restricted by the sub-100 lumens brightness available from the technology.
While there was a lot of talk about the ‘road warrior’ market, and perhaps even some genuine examples of business use, it is the social applications that have proved an unexpected success. By utilising consumer branding, something that rarely happens in the projector market, and clearly identifying the product with tablet and smartphone users, the original Qumi was a highly portable means of sharing user generated and downloaded content.
Bigger and better?
Vivitek’s latest Qumi, the 720p Q7, has gained some weight, weighing in at 3.1 pounds, but offers 800 lumens of brightness and 30,000 hours of operation time. Bearing in mind that the original Qumi had just 300 lumens, this is a substantial increase and opens up a much wider set of applications.
Not only is 3D possible through Texas Instruments’ DLP Link, but the Q7 also offers 2D-to-3D content conversion technology for standard and Blu-Ray 3D playback. While the Q7 is much bigger than the original, the sense of style is retained in the touch sensitive button controls and sleek lines common to the Qumi family. Vivitek continues to associate Qumi a variety of devices, including digital cameras, laptops, smart phone and tablets.
Connectivity options include: HDMI (x2), VGA-In, composite video, audio-in RCA and USB and Vivitek continues to support crossover use with built-in Microsoft Office and Adobe PDF document reader. With 4GB of on-board memory and a 2W surround sound speaker complete the package, creating a social and business display platform for less that $1,000. We should get it here in the summer.
Vivitek is not unique is pursuing the market for LED personal projectors, but Casio’s success has driven vendors of mainstream projectors to follow them in developing technologies that offer brightness levels equivalent to their UHP lamp peers. Achieving the necessary brightness has led to the development of multiple solid state, or perhaps non-UHP is a more accurate description, lightsources.
BenQ has been ploughing a slightly lonely furrow with its BlueCore laser-only solution, but ISE saw Sony join them with its new WUXGA lumens (1920 x 1200) laser lightsource installation projector. This is the world’s first 3LCD laser projector and, with its 4,000 lumens of brightness, it is claimed to be the brightest of its type.
Unlike the BlueCore models from BenQ, with their unique retro styling, the new Sony offering is designed to look like a standard meeting room projector – playing down the technological difference. This approach has been adopted by several vendors and whether it is part of a deliberate strategy or simply a decision taken in the interests of economy in, what is still a small sub-category of the projector market, only time will tell.
So, for the time being, Sony’s laser projector looks a number of the company’s UHP installation models – the VPL-FH31 or the VPL-FH36 models. Inside the case, the Laser Light Source Projector has the newly developed BrightEra 3LCD technology. The white light is generated by the lasers and is directed into the 3LCD engine. The life of the lightsource is state as being “up to 20,000 hours maintenance free” and, again, the target market is education and other users with heavy usage patterns. Sony hopes to make the Laser Light Source Projector available in the summer of 2013.
Where BenQ and Sony have opted for laser only, a number of other vendors have developed a variety of hybrid laser and LED solutions, following in the Casio tradition. Mitsubishi is the latest vendor to throw its hat into the ring. Announcing its first Solid State Illuminated (SSI) projector at ISE 2013, Mitsubishi revealed a LED / laser light source capable of generating 2.500 lumens. Mitsi’s iteration of solid state technology uses a complete green phosphor colour wheel for an enhanced colour gamut with no ‘rainbow effect’.
The Mitsubishi has an ultra-short throw lens and wide manual offset adjustment for easy installation and is clearly targeted at the replacement market in education and other applications where projector use is intensive. The built-in 10W speaker, audio standby and pass-through functions allow the new projector to operate standalone where necessary. Other features of the WXGA (1280×800 pixels) NW31U-EST include dual VGA inputs, Android / iOS tablet and smartphone compatibility and a thin client capability for network control.
The key to this new entrant is that it is no more difficult to use or install than s traditional UHO projector, but for some users the solid state technology provides an eco-friendly, reliable and easily-installed alternative. Total cost of ownership calculations are always a vexed subject when it comes to solid state projectors, depending on patterns of usage, the number of replacement lamps the customer would have bought and so on.
In many instances, other advances in projection technology would render the solid state projector end-of-life well before the 20.000 hour life expectancy of the lightsource. In this respect, Mitsubishi has protected the user’s investment by making the NW31U-EST 3D-ready and by offering an optional interactive camera and pen to convert the unit into a fully interactive projector. The camera is mounted on the bottom of the projector and connected via an USB cable to the PC. Users just launch the interactive software and off they go.
The NW31U-EST is scheduled to ship at the end of next month. Mitsubishi’s solid state road map extends to two other models in the near future. The NW30U is a WXGA (1280×800 pixels) standard throw model with 3000 ANSI Lumens. The NF32U is a Full HD (1920×1080 pixels) version with 3000 ANSI lumens of brightness. Both of these forthcoming models are equipped with vertical manual lens shift to help the installer.
For many visitors to ISE it is Panasonic’s programme of solid state development that held much of their interest. With shipping said to be imminent for the PT-RZ470 and PT-RZ370 series of hybrid laser / LED diode projectors, the pro AV market will find a ready market for the range with its professional features and Digital Link connectivity.
Each series will be offered in two different resolutions, 1080p (1920 x 1080) and WXGA (1,280 x 800). All of the 1-chip DLP models (PT-RZ470 and PT-RW430 in the PT-RZ470 series and PT-RZ370 and PT-RW330 in the RZ-RZ370 series) achieve a brightness level of more than 3,000 lumens. The models are all equipped with Panasonic’s proprietary Daylight View technology, where a built in ambient light sensor matches the image quality according to the surrounding condition. A DICOM simulation mode is also available for uses in medical training applications.
Again targeting the replacement market, the PT-RZ470/430 series offer 2x zoom and exceptionally wide lens shift range. This provides flexibility for replacement installations where you do not have to reposition the existing universal ceiling mounts. The PT-RZ470 Series support 360 degrees installation and portrait mode projection, opening up the potential of digital signage and museum applications.
Digital Link connectivity is based on the HDBaseT standard, allowing HDMI and other fully uncompressed HD video signals, audio, and control commands to be sent via a single Cat5e/6 LAN cable. This needs the optional ET-YFB100 or other switchers with HDBaseT chipset. All signals can be transferred up to 100 metres.
Panasonic has partnered with Crestron, Extron, and AMX to ensure interoperability with Crestron’s DigitalMedia 8G+ compatible switchers, Extron’S XTP Systems and AMX’s Enova DVX and DGX Digital Media Switchers. The PT-RZ470 series also offers built in edge-blending, colour matching and multi-unit brightness control function, enabling multiple unit projection without any need for external processors.
The conclusion from ISE is that the proliferation of lightsources, both existing and in development, is very much of interest after a long period of stability around the traditional lamp. How long this interest continues is another matter. As the brightness available from solid state continues to grow, these new lightsources will capture an increasing percentage of the total marketplace. At this point the precise nature of the technology producing the light will be of little significance to the user. There was a time when the DLP versus LCD was the big issue. Now it’s a minority sport.