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A Peek at Pico Projectors

Is a projector in the hand worth one in the ceiling? That's one question facing pico projectors, a new breed of projectors designed for a variety of handheld applications, including cell phones aimed at the enterprise market.

REPEATING HISTORY?

Although pico projectors have potential in both consumer and enterprise markets, the initial products probably will be aimed at business users. One reason is because as a new technology, pico projectors will carry a price premium that most consumer users likely won't be able to justify. Embedded pico projection products initially would be in business-class smartphones simply because those typically cost $300 and up, a price tag that makes it easier to bury the cost of a pico projector.

The market is also partly in a chicken-and-egg situation: To tap a wide market, the pico projectors need to be relatively inexpensive. But to get down to that price point, there needs to be volume, which is a byproduct of a lot of sales and customers.

At this early point, it's anyone's guess how quickly pico projectors can ride down the cost curve. It's also easy to dismiss them as a niche play, partly because their resolution — at least initially —is lower than what's available from incumbent products.

That's a reasonable assumption, but it also ignores one bit of recent history: The number of camera phones grew from about 3 million worldwide in 2001 to an estimated 1 billion in 2007, according to Strategy Analytics, an independent research firm that tracks the cell phone market.

One reason is convenience: Even though many camera phone buyers already own digital cameras, it's easier to carry one device rather than two. In the case of pico projectors, some users, particularly business travelers, might jump at a device that plugs into a cell phone or laptop rather than carting around a portable projector or hoping that the client has a projector.

Another reason why camera phones took off is performance. Although first-gen models mustered only fuzzy, VGA-quality images, 2-megapixel units are widely available today, along with a few 10-megapixel phones. So one wild card is whether pico projectors can evolve just as quickly, to the point that potential customers don't see performance as the price paid for size and convenience.

All of those questions, along with the need to refine the technology further before it's ready for commercialization, don't faze pico projection proponents.

“It's just a matter of time,” Moizio says. “There's nothing there that's rocket science or a hurdle that can't be overcome.”

Tim Kridel is a freelance telecom and technology writer and analyst based in Columbia, Mo. He can be reached at tim@timkridel.com.


DIGITAL EXTRAS

Point and Click

Get more information about the companies building pico projectors.
Microvision
www.microvision.com
Texas Instruments
www.ti.com and www.dlp.com
Cell Phone Projection
cellphoneprojection.com
Foxconn
www.foxconn.com



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