From early pico models right through to the high-end of e-cinema, the potential of laser illumination has excited the projector market. In the period following ISE 2015, this potential has started to crystallise, with pure laser and laser-phosphor projectors populating the mainstream in every major category.
The short history of lasers in projection has been sufficient to create generate a number variants of the technology. The most familiar is the well-documented LED-laser hybrid popular in offices and schools and other applications where TCO is the customer’s main consideration.
Sony completed its laser-illuminated suite with the ultra short-throw VPL-GTZ1.
But the consensus is that laser has the potential to do much more than this. Some even talk about it “combating the flat panel advantage”. In applications like digital signage, pure laser projectors and laser phosphor offer the reliability, consistency and flexibility of installation to enable novel signage formats and environments.
In recent months, we have seen progress at both ends of the laser lightsource spectrum. The entry level continues to be dominated by the laser-LED hybrids from Casio, Optoma and others active in education. Here, the brightness limitations inherent with LED are not so important in the 2500 – 3500 lumen class.
Laser-only projectors don’t suffer from these limitations but they are more expensive. To date the constraints on laser projectors have been twofold – component costs and an unwillingness of end-users to pay a price premium. Growth in demand from other sectors has driven down market prices for 1.6-watt blue lasers, which can be used with phosphors to create a cost –effective alternative to Laser-LED hybrids.
As long ago as 2012, BenQ’s launch of the Laser-phosphor BenQ LX60ST (in which the BlueCore engine creates all three primary colours using a laser with a phosphor wheel) showed that it was entirely possible to produce a laser light engine without resource to LEDs. But it is to pure laser technology that the industry tuned for super-bright solutions.
At the high-end, pure laser projectors can go beyond the current 12K-lumen limit of laser-phosphor models. 60K lumen products are already on the market and even higher brightness levels are in development.
These powerful, ultra-bright projectors have found an initial niche in D-cinema, but adoption of this technology is already moving into other sectors. Just last month, Barco announced that the company would make its D-cinema range of laser projectors available to rental and staging customers. At the NewBay Media Rental Staging Roadshow, Bill Beck (known as ‘The Laser Guy’) discussed the role of laser-illuminated projection for large entertainment venues,, for live events, projection mapping, fixed installations, large venue presentations, simulation, corporate AV and other applications.
“Based on our success with ultra-bright laser projectors for big screen cinema, we are adapting our laser technology to create new solutions that better fit the rental and staging model,” explained Patrick Lee, Vice President Entertainment and Corporate for Barco. “Our latest laser phosphor projector is just the first of many laser-illuminated ProAV projectors on the horizon, and part of an expanding product line soon to offer a laser projection solution for every application.”
Bill Beck added: “While lamps are still the preferred light source for rental and staging applications from a cost / performance standpoint, Barco’s laser technology platforms are being adapted for high performance, large venue applications. As laser technology develops over the next few years, we will see significant reductions made in projector weight, size and cost, which will make laser the optimal illumination solution for all applications.”
The Barco pure-laser models join Christie’s high-end laser models based on the Christie Freedom laser illumination system. The Christie CP42LH (Cinema), Christie D4K60LH (ProVenue) and Christie Mirage 4KLH (Immersive Environments) models have been available for widespread adoption since April.
“By providing from 5,000 to 60,000 lumen brightness, 4K resolution, and on up to the Rec. 2020 colourspace for the best colour reproduction in the industry, Christie’s RGB laser systems are setting new standards for incredible brightness, wider colour gamut and astounding contrast,” said Don Shaw, senior director, Product Management, Christie – team leader of Christie’s AV News Award-winning 6P laser project.
The Christie laser projection system used in all models is based on a scalable laser light source with a choice of projection heads and a fibre cable that connects the laser light source with the projection head. The Christie Freedom laser illumination system’s modularity allows for 5000 lumen increments (‘steps of light’) output per module in a rack-mounted array. The Laser Module consists of multiple RGB lasers, a cooling system and a fibre connection, which allows each module to be self-contained; therefore providing modular redundancy to the Christie Freedom laser illumination system.
At this year’ ISE, Epson showed its initial foray in Laser-phosphor.
The recently introduced 6P technology has the most profound effect in 3D applications: “Recent declines in domestic 3D movie attendance are a sign that the novelty is wearing off, with audiences less willing to pay a premium for what is all too often a mediocre experience. The lacklustre quality of this experience results from a number of technical limitations with current 3D system architectures, the most serious one being restricted light levels that amount to only 10-30 percent of those levels achieved for 2D presentations,” said Shaw.
“Christie’s latest laser projection technology, using 6 specific primary colours rather than filtered or polarised broad-spectrum white light, brings dramatically improved 3D efficiency to projection systems, regardless of the size of screen in premium movie theatres.”
At least twice as efficient as today’s best 3D systems, Christie’s 6P laser projectors generate a proprietary mix of photoptically-optimised light wavelengths for each eye directly from the source, in effect eliminating the need for a highly inefficient stage of filtering or polarising the light as it leaves the projector.”
Consistent with efforts so far in developing 3-Primary (3P) laser projectors, which Christie sees filling important needs in several, non-cinema industries, Christie laser projectors will provide industry-leading brightness (up to 72,000 lumens per projector head), wider colour gamut capabilities, higher contrast, and dramatically reduced maintenance requirements, resulting in a better experience for all applications. As part of its largest research and development programme ever, Christie will continue to develop superior 6P and 3P laser projection solutions for all of its global customers.
For the business customer, it’s not just the potential for extreme brightness that appeals – its is also the consistency of colour and output. A laser lightsource can maintain this consistency over as many as 50,000 hours. The universal appeal for consistent colour and low maintenance has driven some pioneers to adopt laser as a differentiator in markets where lower downtime and operating costs justify the small premium charge over lamp-based models.
At ISE 2013, Sony launched its first WUXGA installation projector with Laser Light Source Technology. It was the world’s first 3LCD laser, 4,000 lumens WUXGA (1920 x 1200) projector – VPL-FHZ55. At the time, Robert Meakin, Business and Education Product Manager, Sony Professional Solutions Europe said:
“This announcement marks an exciting shift in the market. Sony’s pioneering technology delivers on the promises made to our key partners to produce innovative products that perform and exceed market demands. Installation projectors not only have to reproduce the highest quality images but also be relatively maintenance free and eco-friendly. The Laser Light Source Projector delivers on all accounts being mercury free, offering an incredible brightness of 4,000 lumens.”
The following year, Sony upped-the-ante with the 7,000 lumen FHZ700L Designed for large venue commercial spaces in education, corporate, theme park and museum applications, the FHZ700L also offered installers flexibility with seven optional lenses. Sony described its laser light source projectors as offering capabilities that other technologies can’t, such as tilt angle free installation. Installer could roll the projector 360° in portrait or landscape orientation, and still get a stable, clear projected image.
Sony completed its laser-illuminated suite with the ultra short-throw VPL-GTZ1, using the company’s 4K SXRDTM laser phosphor light source. The 2,000 lumen projector can throw high-resolution images up to approximately 147 inches diagonal and zoom down to 66 inches*, achieved by respective 7inch and zero inch distances from the screen. The obvious application for this model is education, but others include museums, design simulation, fashion, oil and gas, simulation and training. Users can blend multiple projectors with third party software.
At this year’ ISE, Epson showed its initial foray in Laser-phosphor. Both the LS10000 and 9600e use two blue lasers to create light. To create red and green the other blue laser plays on a yellow phosphor. With an anticipated projector lifetime of 30,000 hours, Epson also says that the laser lightsource reduces the cooling overhead, with a corresponding reduction in noise levels.
The stated light output – 1,500 lumens (1,300 for the 9600e) is surprisingly low in the context of other manufacturers’ announcements. The consensus of the home cinema reviewer is that the Epsons’ brightness is more than adequate for the application.
Smaller and brighter
Of the other projection category leaders, Panasonic chose the NAB Show as the venues for the launch of its PT-RZ12KU laser projector.
At less than 95 pounds (43 kg), the PT-RZ12KU is said to be the world’s lightest 3-Chip DLP laser projector and is designed for rental and staging, sports production and digital signage applications. The 12,000 lumen WUXGA resolution (1920 x 1200) projector boasts 120 Hz frame-replacement technologies and is compatible with high frame rate content, reducing blur from motion to deliver a clearer image.
The PT-RZ12KU offer a higher than average contrast ratio of 20,000:1. The high-resolution is said to make it ideal for simulation, monitoring, and specialist education roles demanding high levels of detail. This projector is specified to suit large exhibition venues, virtual reality theatres and corporate applications.
The new PT-RZ12KU projector also allows for vertical, horizontal and tilting 360-degree projection. With multi-screen projection and geometric adjustment the Panasonic offering is designed for installation flexibility. The other model in the range, the PT-RS11KU, is also a 12,000 lm laser projector with SXGA+ (1400 x 1050) resolution that, along with the PT-RZ12KU, will be available for summer 2015.
NEC Display Solutions Europe is active throughout the laser projector spectrum. The company offer the NC1040L and NC1440L pure laser models and is now in its second generation of compact laser cinema projectors. The new one-box solution, NC1201L, is an addition to NEC’s range of laser projector models, said to be the widest in the industry. Its capabilities include ‘boothless’ cinema scenarios with up to 12m screen width.
Panasonic chose the NAB Show as the venues for the launch of its PT-RZ12KU laser projector.
The NC1201L features NEC’s unique sealing technology: a sealed optical engine and laser engine with circulating air cooling, which reduces maintenance requirements by minimising the opportunity for dust and smoke to enter the optical block, the heart of the projector, and ensures consistent image quality and brightness. The solution is enhanced with a new generation of Integrated Media Server (IMS) included as standard.
At the high-end of the commercial market NEC has announced two high-end, professional, flagship 3-chip DLP laser projector models for use in the rental and staging, transportation, leisure and higher education sectors. The NEC PH1201QL is claimed to be the world’s most compact 4K laser projector with native 4K resolution. There is also a 1080p equivalent – the NEC PH1202HL. Both models in the range offer 12,000 lumens.
In the large meeting room / auditorium installation class NEC offers the 6000-lumen PX602UL and PX602WL. These offer 4K high bandwidth processing, HDMI out for easy daisy chaining and HDBaseT for easy connection and cost saving installation. They also offer full OPS support even and a very compact design.
With the potential for super-high brightness, colour consistency, long product lifecycles and lower TCO, there is widespread belief that laser projection is the future. With numerous prototypes and preview models on show at trade shows in the first half of 2015, pure laser and laser-phosphor is here to stay.
Of course there is some descent: there are reports of ‘speckle’ on the screen; energy consumption induced by projector cooling; and, of course, the involvement of regulatory bodies in the safety aspects are all minor concerns. There have been difficulties in sourcing some classes of lasers and some supplies of these components have been criticised for a lack of brightness.
Futuresource reports that solid-state market as a whole is still a single digit percentage of the projector light source market (excluding handheld and embedded pico) but laser-phosphor is taking market share in volume markets because it can demonstrate favourable TCO figures when compared to lamp technology. For quite different reasons, the high-end will see much greater adoption rates.
Laser re-ignites the IWB
A new solution offered by Anders and Kern marries a laser projector with an Interactive Whiteboard to create package that deals with a number of the customer objections to traditional IWB technology. The i3 PROJECTOR from i3 Learning uses a dual wheel laser light source, with a 20.000 hour lifetime an no lamp to change – by far the most expensive part of the total cost of ownership.
The i3PROJECTOR is available in a wide (W) model and an ultra-wide (UW) model. The largest size – 135” inch wide – projection surface allows users to open different windows next to each other. It has 10-touch, multi-user collaboration. The i3 Duo surface is described as the ideal projection surface with minimal glare that eliminates hotspots and so reduces visual fatigue. There is no need to darken the room constantly, you can leave the blinds open, because the surface minimizes reflection. The i3 Duo surface is completely dry-erasable and is said to leave no marks from erasing (ghosting). In case of a power interruption (or when user prefers to use a regular whiteboard marker.
The i3PROJECTOR lampless requires less power and has an instant on/off function, enabling users to save on power costs. i3 LEARNHUB was developed using the input and considering the needs of both teachers and learners. With its simple interface stripped of all clutter and offering just the essentials, it mimics the simplicity of traditional teaching tools.