So, what display technology is Magic Leap (ML) using, at least in their posted videos? I believe the videos rule out a number of the possible display devices, and by a process of elimination it leaves only one likely technology. Hint: it is NOT laser fiber scanning prominently shown number of ML patents and article about ML.
Magic Leap, could be posting deliberately misleading videos that show technology and/or deliberately bad videos to throw off people analyzing them; but I doubt it. It is certainly possible that the display technology shown in the videos is a prototype that uses different technology from what they are going to use in their products. I am hearing that ML has a number of different levels of systems. So what is being shown in the videos may or may not what they go to production with.
A “Smoking Gun Frame”
So with all the qualifiers out of the way, below is a frame capture from Magic Leaps “A New Morning” while they are panning the headset and camera. The panning actions cause temporal (time based) frame shutter artifact in the form of partial ghost images as a result of the camera and the display running asynchronously and/or different frame rates. This one frame along with other artifacts you don’t see when playing the video, tells a lot about the display technology used to generate the image.
If you look at the left red oval you will see at the green arrow a double/ghost image starting and continuing below that point. This is where the camera caught the display in its display update process. Also if you look at the right side of the image you will notice that the lower 3 circular icons (in the red oval) have double images where the top one does not (the 2nd to the top has a faint ghost as it is at the top of the field transition). By comparison, there is not a double image of the real world’s lamp arm (see center red oval) verifying that the roll bar is from the ML image generation.
Update 2016-11-14 I found a better “smoking gun” frame below at 1:23 in the video. In this frame you can see the transition from one frame to the next. In playing the video the frame transition slowly moves up from frame to frame indicating that they are asynchronous but at almost the same frame rate (or an integer multiple thereof like 1/60 or 1/30th)
In addition to the “Smoking Gun Frame” above, I have looked at the “A New Morning Video” as well the “ILMxLAB and ‘Lost Droids’ Mixed Reality Test” and the early “Magic Leap Demo” that are stated to be “Shot directly through Magic Leap technology . . . without use of special effects or compositing.”through the optics.” I was looking for any other artifacts that would be indicative of the various possible technologies
Display Technologies it Can’t Be
Based on the image above and other video evidence, I think it save to rule out the following display technologies:
- Laser Fiber Scanning Display – either a single or multiple fiber scanning display as shown in Magic Leaps patents and articles (and for which their CTO is famous for working on prior to joining ML). A fiber scan display scans in a spiral (or if they are arrayed an array of spirals) with a “retrace/blanking” time to get back to the starting point. This blanking would show up as diagonal black line(s) and/or flicker in the video (sort of like an old CRT would show up with a horizontal black retrace line). Also, if it is laser fiber scanning, I would expect to see evidence of laser speckle which is not there. Laser speckle will come through even if the image is out of focus. There is nothing to suggest in this image and its video that there is a scanning process with blanking or that lasers are being used at all. Through my study of Laser Beam Scanning (and I am old enough to have photographed CRTs) there is nothing in the still frame nor videos that is indicative of a scanning processes that has a retrace.
- Field Sequential DLP or LCOS – There is absolutely no field sequential color rolling, flashing, or flickering in the video or in any still captures I have made. Field sequential displays, display only one color at a time very rapidly. When these rapid color field changes beat against the camera’s scanning/shutter process. This will show up as color variances and/or flicker and not as a simple double image. This is particularly important because it has been reported that Himax which makes field sequential LCOS devices, is making projector engines for Magic Leap. So either they are not using Himax or they are changing technology for the actual product. I have seen many years of DLP and LCOS displays both live and through many types of video and still cameras and I see nothing that suggest field sequential color is being used.
- Laser Beam Scanning with a mirror – As with CRTs and fiber scanning, there has to be a blanking/retrace period between frames will show up in the videos as roll bar (dark and/or light) and it would roll/move over time. I’m including this just to be complete as this was never suggested anywhere with respect to ML.
UPDATE Nov 17, 2016
Based on other evidence that as recently come in, even though I have not found video evidence of Field Sequential Color artifacts in any of the Magic Leap Videos, I’m more open to thinking that it could be LCOS or (less likely) DLP and maybe the camera sensor is doing more to average out the color fields than other cameras I have used in the past.
Display Technologies That it Could Be
Below are a list of possible technologies that could generate video images consistent with what has been shown by Magic Leap to date including the still frame above:
- Mico-OLED (about 10 known companies) – Very small OLEDs on silicon or similar substrates. As list of the some of the known makers is given here at OLED-info (Epson has recently joined this list and I would bet that Samsung and others are working on them internally). Micro-OLEDs both A) are small enough toinject an image into a waveguide for a small headset and B) has the the display characteristics that behave the way the image in the video is behaving.
- Transmissive Color Filter HTPS (Epson) – While Epson was making transmissive color filter HTPS devices, their most recent headset has switch to a Micro-OLED panel suggesting they themselves are moving away. Additionally while Meta first generation used Epson’s HTPS, they moved away to a large OLED (with a very large spherical reflective combiner). This technology is challenged in going to high resolution and small size.
- Transmissive Color Filter LCOS (Kopin) – is the only company making Color Filter Transmissive LCOS but they have not been that active as of last as a component supplier and they have serious issues with a roadmap to higher resolution and size.
- Color Filter reflective LCOS– I’m putting this in here more for completeness as it is less likely. While in theory it could produce the images, it generally has lower contrast (which would translate into lack of transparency and a milkiness to the image) and color saturation. This would fit with Himax as a supplier as they have color filter LCOS devices.
- Large Panel LCD or OLED – This would suggest a large headset that is doing something similar to the Meta 2. Would tend to rule this out because it would go against everything else Magic Leap shows in their patents and what they have said publicly. It’s just that it could have generated the image in the video.
And the “Winner” is I believe . . . Micro-OLED (see update above)
By a process of elimination including getting rid of the “possible but unlikely” ones from above, it strongly points to it being Micro-OLED display device. Let me say, I have no personal reason to favor it being Micro-OLED, one could argue it might be to my advantage based on my experience for it to be LCOS if anything.
Before I started any serious analysis, I didn’t have an opinion. I started out doubtful that it was field sequential or and scanning (fiber/beam) devices due to the lack of any indicative artifacts in the video, but it was the “smoking gun frame” that convince me that that if the camera was catching temporal artifacts, it should have been catching the other artifact.
I’m basing this conclusions on the facts as I see them. Period, full stop. I would be happy to discuss this conclusion (if asked rationally) in the comments section.
Disclosure . . . I Just Bought Some Stock Based on My Conclusion and My Reasoning for Doing So
The last time I played this game of “what’s inside” I was the first to identify that a Himax LCOS panel was inside Google Glass which resulted in their market cap going up almost $100M in a couple of hours. I had zero shares of Hixmax when this happened, my technical conclusion now as it was then was based on what I saw.
Unlike my call on Himax in Google Glass I have no idea which company make the device Magic Leap appears to using nor if Magic Leap will change technologies for their production device. I have zero inside information and am basing this entirely on the information I have given above (you have been warned). Not only is the information public, but it is based on videos that are many months old.
I looked at companie on the OLED Microdisplay List by www.oled-info.com (who has followed OLED for a long time). It turned out all the companies were either part of a very large company or were private companies, except for one, namely eMagin.
I have know of eMagin since 1998 and they have been around since 1993. They essentially mirror Microvision doing Laser Beam Scanning and was also founded in 1993, a time where you could go public without revenue. eMagin has spent/loss a lot of shareholder money and is worth about 1/100th from their peak in March 2000.
I have NOT done any serious technical, due diligence, or other stock analysis of eMagin and I am not a stock expert.
I’m NOT saying that eMagine is in Magic Leap. I’m NOT saying that Micro-OLED is necessarily better than any other technology. All I am saying is that I think that someone’s Micro-OLED technology is being using the Magic Leap prototype and that Magic Leap is such hotly followed company that it might (or might not) affect the stock price of companies making Micro-OLEDs..
So, unlike the Google Glass and Himax case above, I decided to place a small “stock bet” (for me) on ability to identify the technology (but not the company) by buying some eMagin stock on the open market at $2.40 this morning, 2016-11-09 (symbol EMAN). I’m just putting my money where my mouth is so to speak (and NOT, once again, stock advice) and playing a hunch. I’m just making a full disclosure in letting you know what I have done.
My Plans for Next Time
I have some other significant conclusions I have drawn from looking at Magic Leap’s video about the waveguide/display technology that I plan to show and discuss next time.