TI's DLP projection technology turns 10

Digital projectors that use Texas Instruments' Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology may seem to be commonplace nowadays, but it wasn't so long ago that the technology first came out, note executives speaking at this year's InfoComm show.

Recalls Peter van Kessel, general manager of DLP Products in Japan, back in 1996, "The first product we introduced was about 26 pounds, and the spec was for 300 lumens--and that was a feat to get that level of brightness at the time." The color wheel only had red, green, and blue segments (no white segment, like most of today's models), and spun at a rate of 1X.

Still, that was an improvement over the presentation technology at the time. Says Kessel: "Most digital presentations were being done by transmissive LCD overlays you'd use with an overhead projector." The first partners to offer models: InFocus, nView, and Proxima--only InFocus survives today.

A mere year later, TI partnered with InFocus to introduce the LP420, a model that was about half the weight of its nearest competitor at the time, according to Kessel. "It launched the ultraportable projector: It was more compact, with a smaller form factor than found in LCD models." Indeed, DLP has spearheaded the miniaturization of projectors: The first sub-2-pound projector came out in 2001, and last year saw the release of the first sub-1-pound "Pocket Projectors."

Since then, DLP technology--which relies on an array of microscopic mirrors and a color wheel to produce an image--has taken off, both in front-projection and rear-projection TV devices. "It took us five years to sell our millionth Digital Micromirror Device chipset. In the last five years, the growth has been exponential: We've already shipped our 10 millionth DMD chipset," says Kessel. The final 5 million came in just the past year and a half.

The technology has evolved over time: "We began spinning the color wheel faster; in our DLP TVs, the color wheel now spins at 6X. And white segments were introduced in 1998. That was revolutionary, because it allowed us to get a much brighter projector for conference room space."

At last year's InfoComm show, TI introduced its Brilliant Color technology, which the company is showcasing at this year's show. Brilliant Color provides a way to process up to six channels of color, which allows vendors to create multiprimary color systems that go beyond the standard red, green, and blue to include other colors, such as cyan, magenta, and yellow. Explains Kessel, "This allows you to increase the color gamut without paying as much of a penalty in brightness. With conventional color wheels, we can also achieve substantial increases in brightness. Brilliant Color also allows tremendous flexibility in the color space. So you can impact the reds, without impacting flesh tones. We have a 3D color table, which permits high customization."

Kessel expects more projectors to switch to using the Brilliant Color technology. "You'll see it in a lot of systems this year. And over the next several years, you'll see most DLP products migrate to using Brilliant Color," Kessel predicts.

The other technology TI is talking up is 1080p resolution. Kessel says he expects to see front projectors introducing products based on the TI's new 1080p technology.

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