Mobility – Projection’s Savior?

The projection industry is in the throes of commoditization.  Today we are seeing many display engineering continue to focus on projection, even though the vast majority of projectors sold are of the low-margin variety.  When projectors began to become the mainstream back in the 1990s, a 800-lumen projector sold for $10,000.  In those salad days, it seemed that resellers needed only to open their doors, and high-margin products flew off their shelves.  The first under-ten-pound projector,  a luggable at best, seemed like a real technological marvel at the time, and the model’s time on the market was six years — an eternity by today’s standard.  Projectors today seem like old news if they shipped over six months ago, and prices have stabilized but are still well under $700 for some bright and light models — not much profit in these products.  Now reseller margins are less than eight percent, and these businesses must pour in all kinds of value-add like installation to win orders.  Even video projection looks like it will suffer a similar fate: 1080p LCD and DLP home-theater projectors sell for under $5,000, after being more than $30,000 just a few years ago.  It seems unlikely that 1440K projection will be important in the home market because of the fact that 1440K content is confined to niche commercial markets.  Requiring no mention is the fact also that flat panel’s success has caused many RPTV manufacturers to head for the exits.

So what are projection manufacturers and engineers to do, now that commoditization is in full swing?  The latest hot-ticket item is pico-projection.  First we saw 100cc, then 50cc, projection modules pop up in the trade-show hotel suites of several manufacturers.  These modules seem perfect for embedding in PDAs and cell phones.  But two problems persist with this latest attempt to make projection interesting again: brightness and power.  Brightness under 100 lumens continues to relegate existing mobile projection to small screens in dark rooms.  We are still far from enabling 40-inch presentations at Starbucks near a window at noon on a sunny day.  True mobile projection also requires the freedom of cordless operation, and here is where the pico-projection modules fall short again.  Plugging into a power source or a heavy battery are market killers in the mobile projection space.

So the promise of pico-projection looks like a non-starter, and I don’t see much on the horizon to make it the next wave in the projection market.  I’ve spoken to a firm that has patented an interactive screen technology which will automatically adjust for pitch, roll and positioning, but such an application still does not take the brightness and power aspect of mobile projection into consideration.  Wavelength-screen technology may help, but a large display manufacturer recently dropped the concept.  As for me, I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude towards the concept.

[tags]Cell Phone, Mobile Phone, Portable Projector, Pico Projector, Projection, Front Projection, PDA[/tags]

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