The Visualist Blog

CES Wrap-Up: Sharks with Lasers!

Well, really the sharks are projected with lasers but I couldn’t resist the super villainy visual of “sharks with lasers.”

At the end of my OLED post I promised to cover other illumination advances at CES this year. Laser-based illumination was used in a variety of applications.

The basics of this technology are: a directionally controlled laser either strikes a display surface to scan an image quickly or the laser stimulates another material (typically a phosphor) that then emits a particular color. For example, Prysm combines a violet light laser with a phosphor panel to create a fairly low-energy video cube platform for large format display applications (something I understandably track closely given Mersive’s ability to create any-size display).

Using the same approach, I’ve seen companies use a laser that is directed and then focused at particular points in space to illuminate a 3D volume of plasma bodies that then generate light. The effect is a true 3D display without the need for glasses.

Laser illumination has some great advantages over other light source technologies, including OLED.

– A laser typically has 50,000+ hours of life
– It can be powered with very small currents
– The laser is a point light source that is steered, so it is basically able to focus anywhere it hits.

As I’ve pointed out in a previous post, these factors make laser an ideal technology for pico projectors.

Of course all things also have some disadvantage. The biggest downside of a laser source is known as “speckle”. Speckle is a physical phenomenon that occurs when the exact same wavelength is emitted by a light source but the light waves are phase-shifted or have different amplitudes. As a result, those waves together create random energy output. This results in a visual “speckle” image on the screen.

I am not aware of a good way to currently solve this problem that is commercially viable, but it is being looked at by a large number of very-smart people so I am sure it will be addressed over time.

There were a few other less main stream displays at CES related to lasers worthy of mention: 

– A low-cost laser display that generates raster-scan images on a glass surface. Presumably this approach is focused on filling digital signage applications.

– Low-cost projected interfaces.  Lasers can also be used as part of very low-cost user interface displays.  I used to carry a tiny foldout Bluetooth keyboard to support ad hoc meetings when I’m on the road.  I may switch to a laser-projected keyboard for the Tablet I carry.  This one looks particularly nice.

– And of course, the laser-projected sharks!

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