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Picture This: InfoComm 2007

Jul 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

Projector innovation goes beyond just lighter and brighter.


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Christie Digital Roadie HD+30K

In the erstwhile days of the great Projection Shoot-Out, InfoComm was always a show about projection — the latest models, increasing brightness, and decreasing weight. That's changed a bit in recent years as miniaturization has slowed and lamplight has been pushed to extremes, but it didn't stop InfoComm 07 from offering several interesting projection announcements that set the stage for continued growth.

One of the biggest stories from this year's InfoComm wasn't about products, per se, but rather technology that will beget future products. Both JVC and Texas Instruments introduced new small-form-factor chipsets that will enable much smaller projectors in their respective classes.

First, JVC showed a prototype of the new 4K2K D-ILA (LCoS-based) chip that boasts a native resolution of 4096×2400. Yet at 1.27in. (diagonal), JVC's 4K2K is roughly 20-percent smaller than Sony's 1.55in. 4K SRXD chip (also an LCoS technology), and therefore less expensive to produce. The smaller size and lower cost should enable JVC, and potentially OEM customers, to make high-resolution “4K” projection available to a much wider variety of vertical markets, such as simulation, medical, virtual reality, oil exploration, product design, and more. Increased competition from multiple 4K projectors in the marketplace could also dramatically boost digital cinema installations.

Texas Instruments (TI) on the other hand, argues that digital cinema is doing just fine with 1080p resolution and 3-chip DLP imaging, and TI's newest solution, the new DLP 0.7in. XGA 3 chip, should expand the reach of 3-chip DLP into new markets. Thanks to the color accuracy on a 3-imager solution and the high lumens and high contrast typical of DLP, 3-chip DLP projectors now dominate much of the larger venue and digital-cinema markets. The new smaller, more affordable chip form factor will enable manufacturers to build smaller, medium-sized install projectors using 3-chip technology.

Sharp Electronics showed the first implementation of that 0.7in. XGA 3 chip at InfoComm. It was only a prototype, but the XG-P610X is expected to produce 6000 lumens and a contrast ratio of 2000:1 in a medium install-sized chassis. The expected MSRP is $13,995, but it won't be available until 2008. Sharp also announced several new single-chip DLP projectors, including the native 720p, 3000-lumen PG-F320W video projector using BrilliantColor technology and two conference room/classroom models of 2600 (PG-F261X) and 2300 lumens (PG-F211X). Naturally, Sharp introduced several new LCD panels, as well, including new pro AV reversions of the 65in. panel in both portrait and landscape configurations, new 52in. panels with the same portrait and landscape orientations, and a 42in. Aquos model with professional AV connectivity.

LCD projector manufacturers were touting new longevity and low-maintenance enhancements to otherwise mature 3LCD technology. Both Panasonic and Christie Digital highlighted self-cleaning 3LCD models designed to increase projector life while at the same time reducing user maintenance. Typically, LCD projectors use air filters to protect the LCD panels from dust carried into the light engine by the cooling system, and those filters require regular cleaning or replacement. Panasonic's three F-series models (PT-F100U, PT-F100NTU, and native wide PT-FW100NTU) all use a robotic cleaning brush that sweeps over the filter to remove dust. Christie's LX650, a high 6500-lumen 25-pounder, features a cartridge of 10 filters that automatically detects dust and replaces the clogged filters with a new one. Christie also introduced the “world's brightest projector”: the DLP-based 30,000-lumen Roadie HD+30K for the rental and staging market.

There have been a few companies over the last few years to experiment with extremely short-throw projection — including NEC, 3M, and Sanyo — and this year, Sanyo introduced its shortest-throw system yet: the LP-XL50. Sanyo's boast is that the projector can be positioned just 3in. from the screen and still achieve a remarkable 80in.-diagonal image that's true. What's more, the image looks good, sharp, and in focus throughout, and with just a hint of the pincushioning that typically haunts extremely short-throw models. Of course, while true, “3in.” is really a bit misleading. The edge of the projector can be 3in. from the screen, but the projector itself is more than 14in. long and the lens is more than a foot from that “3in.-from-the-wall” edge. Still, the advantages of extremely short-throw projection in education, small conference rooms, entertainment and public spaces, and even modest home theater use are too great to quibble about a few inches. Awkwardly, an expected MSRP of $4,999 continues to put a very heavy premium on short-throw technology, and that's proved to be a major barrier in the past. Hopefully, Sanyo can quickly find some economy of scale to get that price down.

Indeed, there were some rather significant projector pricing announcements this year. Mitsubishi and Optoma both offered native 1080p projectors for less than $3,000. The HC4900 is Mitsubishi's LCD-based successor to the HC5000, while Optoma's HD80 is a single-piece version of the HD81 (both have an anamorphic lens option for “native” 2.35:1 viewing). Optoma was also showing its sub-$1,000, 720p native HD70 video projector. Yet the lowest projector pricing came from Epson with the introduction of the $649 PowerLite S5, a sub-6lb., 2000-lumen SVGA model aimed at classrooms and small conference rooms.

And Casio introduced two new Super Slim projectors that squarely target the road warrior presenter. The Super Slim XJ-S41 and XJ-S46 (with USB for computer-free presentations) are both bright at 2500 lumens, and light at less than 4lbs., but it's the slim design of just more than 1.5in. tall that allows the Super Slims to fit conveniently into a notebook computer case or briefcase.

BEYOND PROJECTION

Extron Electronics introduced more than 100 new products at InfoComm in its hometown of Anaheim, Calif., and none was more intriguing than the new Fiber Matrix 6400, a fiber-optic matrix switcher that dramatically expands Extron's position in the fiber-optic world. It's fully compatible with last year's FOX 500 series transmitter/receiver pairs, but can also be configured with other Extron I/O cards to support video resolutions up to 1080p and data resolutions up to 1600×1200 via SDI/HD-SDI and DVI. By straight math, the 4.25Gbps doesn't match the full fiber specification of 5.1Gbps required for 1600×1200, but cleverly, Extron seems to be stripping the blanking bits from the signal on the transmit side and then re-synchronizing frames on the receiving side. Fully customizable, the Fiber Matrix 6400 can be expanded from an 8×8 configuration all the way up to 64×64.

While perhaps not as glamorous as fiber optics, Extron's new MTPX Plus series of twisted-pair matrix switchers leverages existing technologies and infrastructures to give AV professionals long-range distribution options (up to 1,000ft. or more) over Cat-5, Cat-5e, or Cat-6 UTP cabling in configurations of 8×16 up to 32×32.

TV One's Corioflex takes a similar customization angle to the extreme by pairing the versatile Corio technology with virtually any input and any output in video and data resolutions up to 2048×2048. Corioflex also supports a number of image enhancements and effects, including picture-in-picture, chroma key, luma key, edge blending, genlock, numerous seamless cuts and wipes, and audio switching.

Editor's Note: See the August issue for Jack Kontney's take on audio at InfoComm 07.



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