Technology Showcase: Fixed-Installation Projectors
Aug 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney
Business is booming for digital front-projection systems, especially for those intended for permanent installation in corporate, educational, and increasingly, religious facilities. Data from Pacific Media Associates (PMA), a market research company specializing in gathering information about large displays, reveals that in 2003 there were 788,000 front projectors sold to the overall professional market in the United States. Of those sales, approximately 30 percent were intended to be mounted in a fixed installation.
“Large organizations are now hiring more personnel, and with the influx of new people, they often require more and newer projectors,” says Bill Coggshall, president of Pacific Media Associates. “Due to purchasing freezes over the past few years, many legacy projectors have outlived their technological life span, since projectors are typically replaced after a three-year operating cycle. So we predict that there may be as many as 1.16 million digital front projectors sold in 2004.”
Almost all front-projection models best suited for permanent corporate installations employ one of two kinds of light engines to generate their images: either liquid crystal display (LCD) or digital light processing (DLP). Although the applications for these two technologies are often similar, each with pros and cons, their histories and underlying technology are intriguingly different.
WHAT DRIVES THE IMAGES
Today LCDs are everywhere, from cell phones to computer screens all the way up to large-venue projectors. It was Austrian botanist Friedrich Reinitzer who first observed in 1888 that when a curious cholesterol-like substance called cholesteryl benzoate was melted, it changed into a cloudy liquid that became clearer as the temperature increased. Once it was cooled and crystallized, this substance turned blue. Eighty years later, RCA produced the first experimental LCD panel, in 1968.
The birth of DLP came about in 1987, when Dr. Larry Hornbeck of Texas Instruments invented an optical semiconductor known as the digital micromirror device (DMD) chip that is still at the heart of every DLP projector. With a Lilliputian technology almost too tiny to believe, a DMD chip is a rectangular array containing as many as 1.3 million microscopic mirrors, each about one fifth the width of a human hair, all mounted on tiny little hinges that enable them to tilt up and down. The bit-streamed digital code entering the DMD chip's semiconductor directs each mirror to switch up (on) or down (off) up to several thousand times per second, which makes the mirror either reflect or not reflect pixels of light toward the projector's lens. Therefore, it is called a reflective approach to image creation. It is the combination of the DMD chip and the sophisticated supporting electronics that Texas Instruments calls DLP technology.
Most LCD projectors contain three LCD panels, one each for the red, green, and blue components of the image fed into the projector. Shine light through the LCD panels, and each liquid crystal, one for each pixel, opens and closes like a crystalline shutter. This is referred to as transmissive technology. Each picture element is emitted or blocked based on its separated color content. The tiny wires that bring power to each crystal sometimes cause visible borders between the pixels that appear on the screen. That is known as the screen door effect.
LCD technology traditionally has had problems producing sufficient contrast ratios and rich black levels, though those are steadily improving. Today, with the advent of higher resolutions such as XGA (1024 by 768), wide-screen XGA or WXGA (1280 by 720 or 1365 by 768), SXGA (1280 by 1024), and SXGA+ (1400 by 1050) in projectors intended for permanent installations, the screen door effect has been mostly eliminated at normal viewing distances. In addition, with a microlens array over the LCD panels, the efficiency of light transmission is increased along with the ability to blur each pixel slightly. That can greatly smooth out the perceived picture display.
Single-chip LCD projectors can range from below 1000 ANSI lumens up to 6000 ANSI lumens, and the newest three-chip versions can output more than 25,000 lumens. These command the higher end of the price range for LCD projectors. Generally, anything 2000 lumens or brighter is considered suitable for a fixed corporate or educational installation — depending, of course, on the amount of ambient light in the room. DLP projectors, with their fast-flipping mirrors, dance to their own tune. Because the DLP light engine can consist of just one chip, the projectors can potentially be smaller. By beaming out directly reflected light, DLP projectors can also potentially produce video with a higher contrast ratio, especially because Texas Instruments recently increased the tilt of the mirrors on the DMD chip from 10 degrees to 12 degrees and added a black substrate under the mirror array. A single-chip DLP projection system can create at least 16.7 million colors. By combining three DMD chips — one each for red, green, and blue light split by a prism, along with light from powerful lamp sources — digital cinema projectors can produce as many as 35 trillion colors. This level of performance is what's allowing three-chip DLP projectors to rival their 35 mm counterparts in cutting-edge movie theaters, but it is overkill for most corporate or educational installations.
Single-chip DLP projectors generally range in output from 1000 to 3000 ANSI lumens. As seen at NAB 2004, the latest generation of three-chip DLP arrays can go up to 25,000 lumens.
Although the screen door phenomenon is not seen in DLP projectors, they have their own quirk called the rainbow effect, which is visible only to some viewers. Because at any given instant the image projected onto the screen from a DLP light engine is red, green, or blue, some viewers' eyes can detect the rapid changes from one hue to another. That produces a visible rainbowlike impression on the screen. In LCD projection, that is not a factor, because the liquid crystals are constantly passing through all three colors.
Early DLP projectors split their source light through a color wheel that contained three separate panels, one for each of the additive primary colors, spinning at 3,600 rpm. More recent versions have at least doubled the original color wheel spin rate to make it whirl at 7,200 rpm. These also split the wheel into six segments containing two sequences of RGB, increasing the rate at which the image is refreshed. As a result, the rainbow effect is not a factor for the vast majority of viewers of DLP projection.
According to Pacific Media Associates' statistics, of all the digital projectors manufactured last year, 37 percent employed DLP technology as their source and 63 percent incorporated LCD panels. There is also a liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) light engine technology that has become popular for home-theater use, but according to PMA, LCoS hardly registers as a light engine for professional applications.
Major trends in digital projector development include the use of multiple lamps, LAN networking for function control, and WiFi (IEEE 802.11b) capabilities to eliminate the wires when feeding the projector from laptop computers. With literally hundreds of models of digital front projectors available for fixed installations, for this survey I looked at projectors with a brightness specification of 3000 or more ANSI lumens (for more about projector technology, see the July 2004 issue or go to www.svconline.com).
The X70 digital projector is offered by 3M. With 3500 lumens, XGA resolution, and a contrast ratio of 750:1, 3M targets this LCD projector for use in medium to large applications. Coming in with 4500 lumens is the MP8795 multimedia projector, which was designed specifically for large conference and meeting rooms. It weighs 14.3 pounds and has a Whisper mode to keep fan noise to a minimum.
From Barco comes the iQ Pro series, which uses three 1.4-inch polysilicon LCD panels to produce a brightness level of 3500 ANSI lumens and a contrast ratio of 800:1. As part of the iQ series, the iQ Pro G350 offers several benefits, including advanced picture-in-picture (PiP), which enables the use of the iQ Pro G350 during videoconferencing sessions. With its wireless LAN networking capability, the iQ Pro G350 can import streaming video straight from the company network or from the Internet. The iQ Pro projectors enable you to show two data sources and one video source simultaneously, so information can be compared side by side. Thanks to the integrated server in the projector, a fleet of projectors can be fully controlled over the network from the IT help desk.
At June's InfoComm 2004, Barco introduced its iCon H600, a high-definition (1920-by-1080 pixels) projector that delivers 6000 ANSI lumens in a native 16:9 aspect ratio. (For more about projectors at InfoComm, see “Picture This” on p. 22.) The iCon features the same redundant dual-lamp system as the iQ Pro series.
Launched at Infocomm, BenQ's new PB9200 LCD projector features XGA resolution and an ANSI brightness rating of 4500 lumens. It has built-in networking functions through a RJ45 port, a USB connection, and a contrast ratio of 750:1. BenQ's PB8250 DLP projector offers an ANSI brightness rating of 3000 lumens and a contrast ratio of 2000:1.
Boxlight has a fairly extensive line of large-venue/fixed-installation projectors. Two members of that line are the LCD-based, XGA-resolution MP-45t and MP-42t. The MP-45t is rated at 4500 ANSI lumens and 1100:1 contrast. A 90-percent brightness uniformity rating ensures consistency across an image, and there's an array of bayonet-style optional lenses for different throw distances. The MP-42t offers 4100 lumens of brightness and an 800:1 contrast ratio. Digital progressive scanning means that the video information sent to the projector is doubled. There's optional network compatibility for monitoring and control from a remote location.
With 75 years experience as an optics manufacturer, Canon has chosen LCD technology for all its projectors. For large venues and conference rooms, Canon's most powerful portable projector is the LV-7555, with native XGA resolution and the power of 4600 ANSI lumens with a 900:1 contrast ratio. The LV-7555 even supports enhanced 1280-by-1024 (SXGA) resolution through advanced compression technology.
Christie's UXGA Vivid White projector uses 1.8-inch polysilicon active-matrix TFT, high-aperture LCD panels and a four-lamp illumination system that lets the user choose between a high 7700 ANSI lumens in Quad Lamp mode or a more conservative 3850 ANSI lumens in Dual Lamp mode.
At InfoComm 2004, Christie debuted the new DS+60 single-chip DLP model that's capable of shining out 6000 lumens at SXGA+ resolution using dual UHP lamps through interchangeable lenses. The company also showed off a Roadie 25K projector that will beam out 25,000 lumens from a three-chip DLP array. Christie has increased internal processing from 8-bit to 10-bit for greater color depth.
Digital Projection's iVision sx is an ultraquiet and compact single-chip DLP projector employing a 5:4 native aspect ratio with a native SXGA-resolution DMD. (It is also 16:9 compatible.) The iVision sx produces 3000 ANSI lumens at a 1000:1 contrast ratio. For greater color saturation, Digital Projection offers the iVision sx-HC that trades greater color depth for lower 1500-lumen output through a six-segment color wheel. Digital Projection has recently introduced its new dual-lamp Mercury line, led by the Mercury 5000gv. This provides three-chip DLP performance in a cost-effective chassis. The native XGA-resolution Mercury 5000gv rates 4500 ANSI lumens and supplies a 1000:1 contrast ratio.
The ImagePro 8711 from Dukane can be controlled over an optional wireless LAN monitoring system through WiFi-input connectivity. The 3000-lumen projector can interface to up to four PCs at a time. The Epson PowerLite 8300i delivers XGA resolution from three LCDs, with 5200 ANSI lumens of brightness with a 1200:1 contrast ratio.
Hitachi's CP-X1250W is a three-chip LCD projector that uses 0.99-inch panels to present XGA resolution at 4500 lumens. The CP-X1250W, intended for fixed installations, features a built-in LAN that lets you monitor and control the system's functions through an IP address. The network can even e-mail its operators in case of failure. The CP-X1250W offers four lens options (superwide fixed, wide short throw, long throw, and ultralong throw), each with a bayonet mount so users can easily exchange lenses without violating the manufacturer's warranty.
The xp8020 from Hewlett-Packard is designed to be versatile. HP's proprietary dual color wheel offers one-touch switching among three presentation modes — business graphics, theatre-video, and superbright. Maximum brightness for the xp8020 is rated at 3000 ANSI lumens, with typical contrast at 800:1. The DLP projector offers XGA resolution and an optional wireless presentation scheme using Texas Instruments' Display-Connect technology and MARGI Systems' Wireless Presenter-to-Go software. The projector features sRGB color matching and enhanced color tables.
Having merged with ASK and Proxima in June 2000, InFocus now offers two professional projection product lines: ASK Proxima for the value-added reseller market, and the InFocus family that is sold directly to customers worldwide. These dual marketing outlets let InFocus service its customers through multiple sales channels — with both LCD and DLP projectors.
All of InFocus's meeting-room projectors and projectors designed for systems integration can be controlled by ProjectorNet, a hardwired client/server-based networking solution that allows IT and facilities personnel to manage the functions of multiple projectors from a single PC. The company also provides LiteShow Manager, which lets users switch among the outputs of multiple PCs wirelessly over 802.11b. LiteShow works with all InFocus projectors that have a standard M1-DA connector.
InFocus recommends two models from its LP line of projectors, the LP-820 and LP-850, for permanent business installations, Both of these use 0.99-inch LCDs, with output ranging from 2800 to 4500 ANSI lumens at XGA resolution. All of InFocus's new products feature an interactive 12-language LCD status display that provides instant user feedback on the system's operations.
JVC has developed its own imaging technology, known as direct-drive image light amplifier (D-ILA). This involves a 1.2-inch diagonal reflective CMOS chip packed with 3.1 million pixels. With extremely high brightness ratings and high native resolutions, JVC's projectors are often used in high-end digital cinema applications. The DLA-QX1G D-ILA projector boasts a 2048-by-1536 image resolution, 10-bit digital color processing, and 12-bit gamma correction. Its brightness is rated at 7000 ANSI lumens, with contrast greater than 1000:1. The DLA-M5000SC offers true SXGA resolution and brightness of 5000:1.
German manufacturer Liesegang produces the dv 500, a multimedia projector designed to be installed in large venues. Connectivity is a plus for the dv 500: it includes separate outputs for RGB monitoring, as well as the usual DVI-D input and BNC connectors for component video. Its brightness is rated at 3500 ANSI lumens, and contrast is 800:1. The dv 500 is available fitted with a wide-angle lens for distances between 2.95 and 29.86 feet, or with a telelens for distances ranging from 3.61 to 45.60 feet. There's also an optional wireless module, which makes the dv 500 remote controllable by up to four computers over a Web browser. The module has a connection for wired Ethernet networks and a radio connection for 802.11b wireless networks.
Mitsubishi's XL30U ColorView XGA LCD projector, with an output of 3000 ANSI lumens, is the world's quietest LCD projector, according to Mitsubishi. It runs at a near silent 27dBA and offers a universal remote that controls a computer mouse and two video devices, such as DVD players or VCRs. It is designed with slide-and-hide disposable air filters to keep it running clean, making the projector last longer.
NEC is also releasing the new MT 1075, which produces 4200 lumens with XGA native resolution. The MT line of projectors from NEC has an image sensor on the front, providing an exclusive autofocus capability for different-size rooms. NEC's 3-D Reform technology lets you set up your projector virtually anywhere in the room and still get an aligned image. You can even view larger-than-life images from a digital camera with the PC Card Viewer.
Two newly announced projectors from Panasonic are raising the company's own performance standards. The PT-D5500U delivers brightness of over 5000 lumens and a contrast ratio of 1000:1 from a single DLP chip. In addition, the new PT-DW7000U is the first DLP projector with three native 16:9 chips. Those chips give it an output of 6000 lumens and a theater-quality contrast ratio of 3000:1. Both projectors feature completely sealed, fluid-cooled optical and lamp-power control systems using what Panasonic calls artificial intelligence.
The PT-DW7000's wide-screen nature lets you combine XGA graphics and video in a single presentation. New exclusive optical technologies deliver high-speed digital signal processing and provide interlaced-to-progressive signal conversion, digital noise-reduction circuits, and Digital Cinema Reality for improved viewing quality from 24 fps film-based sources. Other features include RS-232C/RS-422 input/output, mechanical shutter, 96 user memories, PiP display, and new high-brightness UHM lamps with up to 2,000 hours life per lamp in Low Power mode. Panasonic's PT-DW7000U debuted at InfoComm 2004 and will be available in December.
The PXG30 Impact from Philips features SmartSet digital image processing, which automatically adjusts all display parameters to guarantee consistent image quality upon setup. The LCD projector offers 3200 ANSI lumens of brightness, a contrast rating of 800:1, and a 250W UHP lamp. The SmartSave function conserves lamp life by automatically switching off the projector when it is not being used. The XGA projector runs at a quiet 31 dB in Eco mode.
Even with 4500 ANSI lumens, the new PLC-XP55/L from Sanyo still has a high 1100:1 contrast ratio. Its Eco mode cuts the light output 20 percent to extend the lamp life, while hushing the noise level below 30 dB. Its optional PJ-NET Organizer Plus network module lets you poll the projector's functions from anywhere on the IP network and also control anything that can be accessed over RS-232 commands or the IR remote. The projector can be programmed to turn itself on at a prespecified time and will even e-mail you in case of lamp failure.
Instead of incorporating 802.11b WiFi connectivity, Sanyo has given the PLC-XP55/L a software utility that lets you register the IP address of any user's personal computer on the projector's LAN and project files directly from its hard drive. The distant computer can even be controlled from the projector's remote. Sanyo opted for hardwired content sharing for maximum security of the user's files.
Sharp recommends its C series for fixed corporate installations. For this article, that includes the Notevision XG-C55X (3000 lumens) and the Notevision XG-C60X (3500 lumens), each using three LCD panels and benefiting from a power zoom lens. Brightness levels are attained through Sharp's new high-efficiency L-type optical system, and the company's new 0.99-inch polysilicon TFT color management system allows for individual adjustment of lightness, chrome, and hue for six colors.
All of the C-series projectors have two computer inputs, two video inputs, and RS-232 connectors for LAN networking over Sharp's AN-LS1 Ethernet converter box. Sharp Advanced Presentation software lets you group projectors together and turn them on and off at preselected times to save lamp life.
At InfoComm Sharp previewed two installation models, the 3000-lumen XG-MB70X due out in September and the XG-PH50, which is expected in December. The XG-PH50 offers four levels of brightness from 4000 lumens down to 1600 lumens.
Sony has been putting a lot of effort into wireless projectors with its AirShot 802.11b system for maximum setup flexibility.
Sony's newest VPL-CX85 three-chip LCD projector shines at 3000 lumens and, like the others, offers XGA resolution. One distinct user-requested feature is a built-in lens cap. When the projector is plugged in, the lens opens automatically and the system's One Button software sets up the projector to match each room's geometry. Sony also introduced at InfoComm two new 4K projectors, the 10,000 ANSI lumen SRX-R110 and the 5,000 ANSI lumen SRX-R105. Both use a Silicon X-tal Reflective Display imaging device for high-definition projection.
Toshiba has two models that fit this article's criteria for installation projectors: the TLP-791U features 3000 lumens and an integrated document camera — as well as multimedia functions including PiP and DVI connectivity. The TLP4500U comes in at 4500 lumens of brightness with a native XGA resolution.
ViewSonic's latest entry into the market segment is the PJ1165, introduced this year at InfoComm. Designed for wall or ceiling installations, it offers 3500 lumens and 800:1 contrast at XGA resolution. The projector includes a remote with mouse control and a laser pointer, and features PiP, progressive scan, and Whisper mode capabilities.
The digital LCD and DLP projector market for business installations is growing rapidly as new technologies offer greater capabilities at lower costs. As other options such as LCoS become popular, the list of alternative projector models will continue to grow. As businesses are learning, “Display's the thing.”
Jay Ankeney is a freelance video editor and post-production consultant in the Los Angeles area.
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