The Visualist Blog

Technology: Pico projectors worth the hype?

I’ve had my eye on pico projection technology since 2003 when rumors of research efforts underway at many of the major hardware manufacturers began to impact some of the ongoing conversations at the early Projector-Camera workshops. Seven years later I’ve seen a growing number of pico projectors being demonstrated at the major display and A/V tradeshows.  So far, the promise has far outweighed the reality and most pico projectors are demonstration units only. In fact, one demo I saw at ISE in Amsterdam involved paper clips jammed into the venting elements of the pico projector to keep it from over heating.

Will the standalone pico projector find an interesting place in the market?  I suppose. There are always folks who need tiny, mobile presentation systems, but their numbers are limited.  What is more interesting is the potential impact of pico projection as an embedded and enabling technology.  This is where disruption will occur, and for people like me, disruption is code for exciting, interesting, and usually really cool! 

First, the pico projector as part of a mobile device will act as a leap-frog technology much in the same way that cellular phone networks leap-frogged more traditional phone network deployment.  A large and emerging market for pico projectors will be regions where televisions didn’t have time (or fertile enough economies) to follow normal growth patterns.  Instead, families may utilize a pico projector as the home media wall device that delivers everything from online movies to family photos that were captured on that same phone. The technology still has challenges related to heat dissipation, brightness, and cost in order to end up delivered in every cellular phone, but we are headed in that direction very rapidly.

Second, pico projection may become a disruptive technology when it is utilized as a building block to construct truly revolutionary display systems.  Rather than envision the technology as a standalone device, imagine what a cluster of very small, very low-cost projectors can do when blended together into a single seamless, beyond-HD display.  Of course, because I founded a company that develops software to cluster commodity display technology into high-end displays, every time I see a new display product, I like to contemplate how it can be clustered to disrupt existing higher-end displays. 

Pico, at the lowest-end of the clustering spectrum, makes for a very interesting opportunity.  For example, by tiling the output from 12 pico projectors into a 4×3 array of images on a curved back-projection display, that sits on your desktop.  This could potentially be a killer application.  Of course, pico will have to reach a point where the resulting display can displace existing single or seamed multi-LCD displays.  It’s not there yet, but imagine if pico can reach 100 lumens at 800×600 resolution, a 12 projector system could generate 1200 lumens over a 36 inch diagonal viewing area, with a total resolution of 3200 x 1800 pixels. 

Even better because its projection-based, you can illuminate a curved screen that immerses the viewer – excellent for everything from code development, product design and engineering, to the best personal game station I can imagine.  What do you think?

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