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Technology Showcase: Large HD Projectors

May 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney

New technologies expand market.

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NEC NP4001

NEC NP4001

Thanks to evolving technologies, we may be seeing the rise of a new category of digital-video projectors: high-brightness projectors that are capable of producing true HD-resolution images. This is a new market niche for digital projectors, and one that some may consider a contradiction. After all, the idea of a large-venue projector has traditionally been a unit designed for big audiences who are sitting too far from the screen to notice that the resolution is somewhere south of XGA.

Because this Extended Graphics Array (XGA) standard — introduced by IBM in 1990 — commonly contains 1024×768 pixels in a square 4:3 aspect ratio, it is not really capable of displaying even the least dense of today's accepted widescreen HD resolutions, 720p. Designed by AT&T Bell Laboratories in the late 1980s to rival the early Japanese analog Hi-Vision system, 720p presents the screen with 1280×720 pixels. For years, projector manufacturers have used some ingenious scaling approaches in an attempt to simulate either 720p or 1080i through their brightest XGA projectors.

Yet today, people expect to be presented with real HD images even though many can't tell the difference between true high-definition and standard-definition video as seen from a DVD (480p). Like the '80s cry of “I want my MTV,” the public has embraced the drive for HD — although few understand why. Test yourself. You can probably remember the popular TV ad where Miss Ditsy Blond coos “1080i. I totally don't know what it is, but I want it.” But can you remember either the vixen who said it or the product she was pitching? (Answer: Jessica Simpson for DirecTV.)

Ever since 2003, the large-venue display gallery at InfoComm has spotlighted projectors specializing in spectacular brightness levels. Organized by Steve Somers, vice president of engineering at Extron, the large-venue display gallery last year stipulated a brightness level of 5000 lumens to qualify. For this article, a similar threshold of brightness was originally set to qualify large HD projectors. However, to be as inclusive as possible, a few players just below that level have also been added to the team roster.

But there is the conundrum. What we used to think of as large-venue displays don't necessarily produce HD resolutions, while traditionally, real HD projectors have been found mostly in home-theater installations where more intimate audiences are happy with brightness levels of 1000 lumens or below. The evolution of this new high-brightness, large HD-projector market niche seems to have evolved from a combination of the reality-based desire to present onscreen video and data in the highest possible resolution to audiences in rooms bathed in ambient light, with the more marketing-oriented lust for “HD for HD's sake.”

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