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Microvision (MVIS) Replaces CEO – A Soothsayer’s Retrospective

Ding-Dong

Microvision’s board finally got around to replacing their CEO today (officially, he is going to be “spending more time with his family“). Mind you, they appeared to have been plenty happy with Alexander Tokman after a decade of routinely losing  over $12 million/year (some years over $40M) for over the last decade. Microvision’s board was still giving him $792,892/year in compensation in 2016, which was a step down for him after receiving $950,561 in 2015 with a total of $3,754,437 in the 5 years from 2012 to 2016, (and then there will be 2017 and whatever golden parachute they give him). That is pretty good pay for someone that drove the stock from about $48/share when he took over July 7th 2005 to about $1.50 today. What’s more, executive compensation roughly doubled from 2012 to 2016 in spite of continuing losses.

As I have written before, Microvision for over 24 years appears to have been a company in the business of selling stock rather than product. I guess it does take a certain kind of talent to keep selling stock while the company continually loses money. Laser Beam Scanning has been the ultimate con-technology for the semi-technical literate. On the surface it may look like a good idea until you really understand it. Do the words attributed to P.T. Barnum come to mind?

Soothsayer

This blog, primarily discussing display technology, started talking about Microvision back in 2011 and Microvision quickly responded with a an SEC 8-K filing by calling me a “False Soothsayer.”   This led to my writing my 7 part Soothsayer Series about Microvision. Microvision painted a very misleading (to be generous) picture of the state of the green laser market. I called them out on it and they had the audacity to call me a “False Soothsayer.” It was then proven I was telling the truth.

The difference in this blog and tech sites that just repeat company marketing spiels, is that I try and analyze technology as an engineer, and were possible, measure things objectively. In the case of Microvision, the more I measured and understood the technology, the worse it looked. Microvision “fibbed” (to put it mildly) about power, resolution, cost, size, eye-safety, and just about everything that could be measured.

I  have explained on this blog how fundamentally flawed laser beam scanning is as a display technology. You can search this bog to find out the details (or hire me to help explain it). I tried to point out that even when the green laser cost came down, Laser Beam Scanning (LBS) was still fundamentally flawed in how it works and it will NEVER be a good display technology for a large market (there may be a few very small niche uses).

Though the years, I tested and publish images and data proving that Microvision was making false claims about resolution and power consumption. But no matter, there is no “marketing police” and Microvision was able to keep selling stock, to people that wanted to believe.

Pivoting More That A Ballerina

In addition to misleading people about the (false) virtues of Laser Beam Scanning, they kept “pivoting” both in terms of market and business model. When Mr. Tokman took over, he pivoted Microvision from Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) to Pico Projectors.

Every time Microvision failed with a product concept, business model, or market, they would announce a new “pivot.” Thus keeping Microvision a 24-year-old “start-up” with a “new” future.

When any rational business person could figure out that building a laser scanning pico projector would lose money, so Microvision funded development and paid companies to make lasers and engines for them. When still nobody would build a projector with a Microvision subsidized engine, Microvision built and sold the final product, the ShowWX and ShowWX+. This resulted in Microvision losing over $45M in 2011 and $27M in 2012.  It was a colossally bad business move, but making money was apparently never the point, Microvision was able to sell more stock based on making a product, and when the losses were found out, the stockholders got an 8 to 1 reverse split.

Microvision pivoted from making ShowWx projectors and selling the engines at a loss to then saying they would be just an I.P. company with Sony making engines. But when the Sony deal was not working out they got back in the engine making business. All the while through all these different “business models” they steadily kept losing about $1M/month and sometimes more. But most importantly with each pivot in business model and market thrust they could sell more stock.

Microvision continues to pivot in in the area of markets. First (pre-Tokman) they were focused on head mounted displays, then pico projectors, then when Google Glass was announced, the were back pushgin head mounted displays. They claimed to be good for gesture recognition when Microsoft Kinects was a hot product. More recently LIDAR for self driving cars (funny, there are a lot of LIDAR companies already around that didn’t need Microvision).  All the while, they keep the pie plates spinning in pico projectors, HUDs, and HMDs. They have a 24 year record of failing in one market and business strategy after another.

So What Is Microvision Up To Now?

If things were going as well as Microvision wanted you to believe, they wouldn’t allow Mr. Tokman to be “spending more time with his family.” The new CEO, Perry Mulligan has a background as a VP of  Operations for telecom companies and no background in displays other than sitting on Microvision’s Board for 10 years.

My best guess is that they are trying to pretty up the company for some type of acquisition or perhaps a new “pivot” with a big money raise. Most likely they will be pushing more into LIDAR as it is newer, less well understood, and a hot topic today.

I could also see them splitting off and selling their patent portfolio to a Non-Practicing Entity (NPE, or more commonly known as a “Patent Troll”).

Crass Commercial Message

Among other things I do these days is perform Technical Due Diligence in evaluating companies. Before your company spends $10M, $50M, $100, or (in the case of Magic Leap)  $500M you might you might want to have my experienced eye evaluate the technology.

I also help companies working on new display technologies. I have a very broad perspective, particularly in the areas of microdisplays,  HMDs, automotive HUD, and novel/new displays technologies.

You can connect with me on LinkedIn.

 

Soothsayer 7: Microvision’s Obfuscations Causing a Buzzing Sound

Microvision continues to make thinly veiled accusations against this blog in their May 9th, 2012 Company Displayground Blog (quoting directly with my bold emphasis added):

Our shareholders are following the topic of direct green lasers with avid interest and we get a lot of questions from them on price and availability. They have ridden the green laser wave with MicroVision and are understandably anxious for their investment and patience to pay off. There is another group of MicroVision watchers that take an active interest in direct green lasers and for that matter, all things MicroVision and have quite a bit to say. We welcome such interest as we are really proud of what our patented solution can do and the advancements we have made with the PicoP Gen2 display technology. But it does get tiring to have an open mic of misinformation from parties who only seem to have an interest in not seeing Microvision succeed. We try and ignore this contingent just like the best thing to do when a fly is buzzing around your head is to ignore it. Eventually the fly finds something or someone else to buzz around and the problem resolves itself.

Like most things Microvision writes they raise more questions than they answer.  For example, who is this “group” of watchers that “ have quite a bit to say” about green lasers?  As far as I know, this is the only blog regularly writing about green lasers for small projectors.   I guess they feel like I have them surrounded :-).   I would suggest that the real reason they cannot ignore the “buzzing sound” is that is goes contrary to Microvision’s attempts at obfuscation and eventually their investors and analysts ask questions.

I take the most interest went key specs are missing or when states what is at best a half-truth.  From what I read, Microvision obfuscates, uses straw-men, half-truths,  give meaningless ratios of improvements, and state goals/expectations as if they have been met.  They could put this all to rest if they could be specific about what they consider “misinformation” and give direct clear answers.  

$200 Green Laser Clarification:

Microvision’s blog when on to clarify(?) what Microvision’s Lance Even’s was saying green lasers costing nearly $200 that I address in my April 30th blog.  Quoting directly from the Microvision Blog:

The price of direct green lasers is understandably a topic of speculation since the manufacturers of the diodes have not publicly discussed pricing or even the exact timing of commercial availability. We cannot reveal specifics around these issues, but we can and have stated that we expect the prices of direct green lasers to be significantly less than synthetic green lasers which have cost nearly $200.

Microvision, apparently in response to my blog on the “nearly $200” price of DGL clarified that Mr. Evan’s $200 remark was in reference to the synthetic green lasers.   But note it is only an “expectation” (as in some time in the future) that the prices will be lower.

It is also interesting that Microvision is admitting publicly that the lasers were costing them nearly $200 (or maybe more at some point).  You have to wonder why they went to market with the ShowWX using a $200 laser for projector with only 10 to 15 lumens.  Can you imagine what investor reaction would have been back in 2009, 2010, or 2011 if they knew that Microvision was selling a supposedly high volume consumer product with a $200 laser in it?   My speculation is that unless they agreed to pay $200 for the lasers and buy a lot of them, that they would have had no way to build any product and if they couldn’t show (some pun intended) and that would make it impossible to raise money.   To keep investors on the hook, so to speak, they had to use obfuscation about the cost of lasers (some things never seem to change).  The losses on the ShowWx were essentially marketing expenses to raise money from the “shareholders” that were following the company back then.

They seem to have made the calculation that they needed to loose many millions of dollars on the ShowWx product line in order to keep the investor money flowing in.  Now that they consider those losses in the rear view mirror, they are admitting to them.   I wonder when they will come clean on the cost and specs of today’s direct green lasers.

More Half-Truths from Microvision

One more interesting set of half truths from Microvision’s blog:

We are confident that the manufacturers of the direct green lasers will be able to meet the volume requirements as the market demand for direct green lasers grows, and we expect price to fall accordingly.”

The first half-truth is that “manufacturers of the direct green lasers will be able to meet the volume requirements.”  Yes, this is true today, but only because the volumes will be very low.   Among the reasons is that the price of the lasers will be very high and that they are not currently designed into any high volume products.   Secondly, by laws of supply and demand, if the lasers are expensive few will be bought and thus they will meet the volume requirements.  Thirdly, the growth in the market could be very slow so it would be easy to meet what Microvision “expects.”    In short, Microvision like a politician, used a lot of words to give no real information.

What Microvision won’t admit, I suspect because that would be bad for raising money, is that the direct green laser has so far proven difficult to make due to the physics involved.    Certainly very smart and capable people are working on DGL, but they are not ready in the near future for the high volume consumer products.

Soothsayer 6: Microvision’s Lance Evans “Green lasers alone are $200 each now”

First, sorry for being away so long.  Some family and other matters took me a way and I fell out of the habit of posting.  I am going to try to have at least couple of posts up a week.

My “Soothsayer” series started back in December 2011 when Microvision released an 8-K a very trasparent response to this blog.  In Microvision’s Dec. 19th 2011 8-K they stated ““In the coming weeks we intend to provide a series of posts that discuss direct green lasers in more detail, as well as other business updates. Stay tuned!”

Well, it has been 19 weeks since Microvision’s 8K and there has been pretty much silence from them on “more details.”  Microvision has had plenty of opportunities to add “more details” in the last 5 months but has chosen not to.  They say a “slip in Washington is when you accidentally tell the truth” well maybe Microvision did that today.

In a way, Microvision finally broke the silence with an article today in an April 30th Technology Review article with Lance Evans (a director of business development at Microvision) stating, “Green lasers alone are $200 each now.” Remember this is probably for a green laser that supports on the order of a 15 lumen projector and has a wavelength that is too short (too blue) to be used in a typical projector and it not very efficient in terms of lumens per Watt. These are lasers that are a best useable in a car HUD display and not a batter powered cell phone or hand held projector.

Back in December 2011 Microvision’s 8K stated, “DGLs will be much cheaper than synthetic green lasers at introduction.”  How does this fit with DGL’s costing $200 today? 

The article does day that “Evans expects that costs should fall to a tenth of current levels by the end of this year,” but note the word “expects” is corporate speak for “believe, wish, hope, or dream” because you generally can’t hold them legally accountable for an “expectation.”  What other than a wish causes the direct green laser cost road map to drop from $200 now to one-tenth that cost or $20 in less than 7 months?  Are there people lined up to buy lasers first at $200, then $100, then $50 say to support a 15 lumen projector?  None of this makes any business sense.

Even if Mr. Evans “expectations” come true, and DGL drop by 10x in less than 7 months to $20 by the end of the year (really for 2013 production), is this really a viable business?   By comparison, there are 200 lumen LED base projectors on the market today and the cost of the red, green, and blue LEDs combined cost less than $20 today.   For a 15 lumen LED projector today, the LEDs are more like $3 for the RGB set.  For a pico projector to make it into a cell phone, the cost to the cell phone maker of the whole projector including electronics has to be on the order of $25 or less (just ask any cell phone maker, I have asked many).  You can even come close with even a $10 DGL, no less 20, when you factor in the cost of everything it takes to make a projector including optics and electronics.

I’m a long term believer that eventually all projectors and in fact a vast number of other products will be using lasers.   It is just going to take more than 2 year for the brilliant people at the laser manufactures to figure out how to make the direct green lasers at a cost point that will lead to mass adoption.

Soothsayer 5: Thanks for the “Shout Out” on the Microvision Conference Call!

It’s nice to know that a CEO of a public traded company is following my blog.   On today’s Microvision Conference Call (available for a few days) at 34:16 in the call, Microvision CEO, Alexander Tokman, in his closing remarks gave a “shout out” of sorts with,  “The direct green laser is becoming a reality this year and not 2014 as some led you to believe.

As anyone that has followed Microvision or my blog and my comments on direct green lasers the last few months should know, by “some” he means “me.”   First, he has mischaracterized what what has been written.    What I have written is that direct green lasers will not be practical for high volume applications until 2014 or beyond.

As I wrote Microvision’s “Soothsayer(?)” for their “Number One Question” in  response to me in Microvision 8K’s “false soothsayer” comments:

The real question is whether these lasers will be available at a price point, with a wavelength, and an efficiency that is practical.   I don’t doubt that most if not all the companies will be in production with a green laser in 2012, but what constitutes “mass production” is a different matter.   Nichia already has a 510nm green laser in production, for example, and it might be possible to build a heads up display for an automobile with it (albeit a bit expensive for the purpose), but that is clearly impractical in terms of wavelength, efficiency, and cost for building a high volume battery powered projector.   I also question whether they will be bright enough for a volume product other than a HUD.

Instead of addressing the real issues, Microvision has seen fit to play silly word games with the definition of word “commercial.”   “Commercial” simply means that companies will sell a product with a given spec.  It does not mean the that product, in this case a Direct Green Laser will meet the cost and performance requirements for a high volume application.  The reality is that the “commercial” direct green lasers are going to be available in 2012 (and 2013) are going to be way too expensive and with key performance limitations  for any kind of significant volume consumer products.

Now lets look at the math in Microvision’s timeline.  At 15:50 into the conference call Alexander Tokman talks about their commercialization timeline for a consumer product.    He said they hope to have a company committed by “mid year 2012” and that companies will generally take “6 to 18 months” to develop a product.   If you follow Microvision at all, you will note that Mr. Tokman timelines are usually wildly optimistic, but just taken him at his word with a “start” in mid 2012 and more realistically 12 to 18 months to get a product designed and ready for production adds up to products STARTING to be manufactured (not even high volume) in late 2013 to mid 2014 if (and this is a big if) everything goes according to Mr. Tokman’s hopes.

But given Mr. Tokman’s history of over optimism, this would seem to say that he is really talking 2014 or later; oh but wait, he said in the conference call that it was “not 2014 as some led you to believe.”     So which does his mean?

Soothsayer 4: Questions for Microvision’s Conference Call

I have been traveling for most of the last 2 weeks with a number of business meetings.   I thought I would get a quick blog out today ahead of Microvision’s  investor conference call on Monday Feb 27th (tomorrow as I write this).  I’ve listen to a few Microvision conference calls in the past and they usually say they have made great progress to some vague “goals” and then get a few softball/easy questions from the “financial analysts” that are allowed to ask questions and then quickly end the call.   You can listen to if “live” at 8:30AM Easter (5:30AM Pacific) or for a few days recorded at http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?p=irol-eventDetails&c=114723&eventID=4727742.

It does not take some deep dark secret (i.e. confidential) information to figure out that laser beam steering ala Microvision has serious problems.   It just takes some engineering and business knowledge.  Below are a few questions I would like to see asked along with some information.

Microvision “720p” Optics and Driver Board

1) Isn’t the combination of the optics and drive electronics for Microvision’s 720p (see picture)  too large to be embedded into any major brand cell phone?    Right now you have 2 large ASICs and an FPGA to control the lasers and the mirror where the competition has only 1 much smaller ASIC.    According to the technical specifications this optics and electronics module is 35mm × 65mm × 6 .1 mm; how small do you have to get the module to meet the requirements of the major cell phone companies and when will you meet this requirement?

2) According to your technical specifications for the new 720p module, at “27% video” the power dissipation is “approximately 2 Watts.”   If this is 27% of 15 lumens (or even 25 lumens), it would suggest that at full brightness the power dissipation is on the order of 4 to 5 Watts.   You have stated in the past that the goal to meet the cell phone requirements about 1 Watt.   This would seem to be much worst power dissipation than the competing technologies.  How is any cell phone company going to embedded something like this that consumes so much power?     How long do you expect to take to get the power dissipation for the projector module down to your stated goal of about 1 Watt?

3)  According to your technical specifications for the new 720p module, at 25 lumens the module is a class 3R laser product and at 15 lumens it is class 2.   A) at what lumens between 15 and 25 does the product cross over into class 3R?  B) Isn’t even laser safety class 2 a serious problem for consumer product including cell phone companies?   C) What are the issues with trying to sell a class 3R product in the market, particularly when the competing technologies such as DLP and LCOS don’t have this issue?

4)  In your December 19th 2011 8K you stated“So what do I mean by “commercial version” direct green laser? It’s a laser that has passed through intense qualification by the component manufacturer to insure that it meets all of its intended performance specifications, with confirmed reliability and manufacturability necessary for mass production.”  But commercialization only means that they will be available for sale at some price, and it says nothing about them being viable for making profitable product.  Doesn’t all this talk about the definition of “commercial” just avoid the real issue of whether the lasers you need for laser beam steering will be PRACTICAL in terms of cost, power efficiency, lifetime, and wavelength (color) in 2012 and 2013 for embedded products like cell phones?

5)  The blog KGOnTech has posted several articles stating the laser beam scanning process will result in lower than your claimed 720p resolution.  Can you actually demonstrate that you can actually fully resolve a 1280 by 720 pixel test pattern?

6)  Lately you seem to have put a lot on emphasis on automotive heads up displays (HUD).    The power and size requirements are much more relaxed for this market.    Is this in some ways an admission that the lasers are not going to be ready for any embedded products in the near future.    

7)  Realistically, how large is the market going to be for an after market automotive HUD?   Are the laser cost, availability, brightness, and other specification acceptable today for the automotive market?

Please feel free to add questions or ask me to clarify my questions in the comments.

Karl

“Soothsayer” Part 3 – Where Does the LBS Power Go?

In my last blog I wrote about the power measurements on the ShowWX and a number of people asking “where did the all the ShowWX’s power go?”

Microvision wants you to think that they just point the lasers directly at their mirror and with next to no power loss the laser light is steered onto the screen, but the truth is anything but this.  It turns out that there is considerable electronics consuming power to control the mirror and lasers and are significant light loosing optics required to make it work.    In this blog, I we will take a peek behind the Microvision curtain.

First, Microvision has not published specifications on the power consumption of their mirror or other chips in their system.   Second, I did opened a ShowWX to take a peek inside (see above), but I didn’t rip it apart to measure the current for each of the components.   It was clear with 5W of power consumption and the very poor image (more on that in the next installment) that it wasn’t going to be a serious competitor to Syndiant, so there was no point in our spending the time and effort to do a detailed power evaluation.   Even with these caveats, it is possible to get a reasonable understanding of the power consumption issues associated with laser beam scanning with the available information.

So per the above my number are not going to be “perfect” but I do believe them to be reasonable estimates.   Microvision could clear this all up by publishing their actual numbers instead of their usual hand waving like “making a 40% improvement” without saying what part of the total power was improved by 40% and what was the starting point.   I would welcome Microvision’s corrections with their actual numbers.    Personally, I think it is the case that Microvision feels “it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Above is figure 28 from patent application 20110234919  by Microvision.   This block diagram outlines the major electronic components that would be required in a ShowWX (or ShowWX plus).  As seen from the picture of the opened projector and in Fig. 28 below, there are a lot of components each of which is consuming power.   Fig. 28 also gives some idea as to the complexity in driving a LBS.    And the picture of the inside of the ShowWX demonstrates that all this takes up a lot of space (note there is a two PC board “sandwich” with all the circuitry inside the ShowWX).

Some people have made the point that the ShowWX is a standalone projector and that the power would go down a lot if it was embedded.    In reality, there is not much from Fig. 28 that would go away.   The “media module” in the ShowWX is only an analog RGB to digital converter and for WVGA resolution this should consume about 0.2 Watts.  The battery and some of the power management might be reduced which might save another 0.2W to 0.5W.  There might be a few other things but most of the rest of Fig. 28 would have to be there for an embedded LBS projector.  So maybe out of the 5.5 Watts the ShowWX consumes, at the very most 1W might not be needed with embedding.  That still leaves around 4.5W if this was to be embedded which is way too high for any realistic volume cell phone application.

Let’s start with the beam scanning mirror in the lower right of Fig. 28.   To make the mirror scan the laser beam even roughly correctly requires actively driving mirror.   The shorter the throw angle or the higher the resolution, the more the power goes up.  Based off a published paper by Microvision from a few years back and datasheets from other makers of 1-D beam scanning mirrors, the power consumption of the Microvision mirror is about 0.3W to 0.5W (not exactly nothing).  There are “free oscillating” mirrors that consume much less power but these don’t produce a good scan for making a projector.

Next in Fig. 28 there is the DSP and MEMs ASIC.  The problem is that the mirror naturally wants to oscillate in a squiggly sinusoidal Lissajous pattern (see for example Microvision patent application 20090213040 ) which isn’t very good for generating video image.  To somewhat straighten out the Lissajous pattern (it still is not nice straight lines — more on that next time) takes power going to the mirror and power to constantly be calculating and correcting the scanning process.   The correction of the scanning process with the DSP and/or ASIC plus losses in the drive circuitry is probably taking about 0.5W.    So with the mirror itself and the drive circuitry and control of the mirror alone there is about 0.75W 1W being used.

The next big block in Fig. 28 is the “Video Control Module” (VCM) which is where most of the power is going.  Note that the HSYNC, VSYNC, and STATUS signals go from the MEMs Control Module to the VCM.   The reason is that the incoming image has to be stored and processed and distorted to match the scan process of the MEMs mirror.   Even with the active drive, the MEMs mirror does not move the laser beam in nice straight lines at a uniform speed.   In fact it moves in curves at a non-uniform speed and the VCM’s job is to re-shape/transform the image so that after it goes through the MEMs scanning it looks similar to the original image.

The VCM takes the digitized RGB data and stores it in the SDRAM.  I then processes/scales/transforms the image base on the distortion of the MEMs scanning process.  It then feeds the reprocessed image to the laser drivers.  All the read and writing to the DRAM and the processing by the ASIC/FPGA takes power, probably on the order of another 0.5W.

Next comes the power taken in driving the lasers.  To make a LBS system work, the laser beam has to be modulated (intensity changed) at high speeds which consumes significant power.   The lasers drivers are either analog (which consumes power) or have to be very high speed switching digital (which also consumes power) to give the various intensity levels for an image.  Even when displaying “black” this circuitry has to be “idling” to be ready to turn on in a few nanoseconds and is consuming power.   Likely 30% to 50% of the power going to the laser is being consumed in the laser drivers.

[Update 2011-12-22: The optics below show a polarization based combiner from the Microvision application.  My understanding is that Microvision currently is using dichroic mirrors instead of beam splitters for parts 610 and 612 and a total internal reflectance prism in place of beam splitter 614 to first reflect the light into the mirror and then let it pass out of the projector.  The light throughput for the dichroic mirror based combiner optics including the MEMs mirror is suppose to be about 60% which is the same number I used in the laser power calculations]

Now let’s get to the optics.  I have show below Figures 20 which is a simplified diagram and Figure 6 showing an optical module from the patent application.  To hear Microvision talk about it, you would think that only DLP and LCOS require optics and have losses from the optics.

The lasers 204, 206, and 208 have to have their beam shaped by lenses.  602, 604 and 606 each of which is probably losing about 1% of the light.   Then note that in order to combine them in a single beam, they have to go through mirror 608 and beam splitters 610, and 612.  There is roughly a 5% light loss in the mirror 5% to 10% in going through each beam splitter (note some lasers go through more than one beam splitter in the combiner).   Then you have the beam splitter 614 with another 5% to 10% loss, the quarter wave plate 2002 and another 2 to 4% loss that directs the laser light the MEMs mirror 616 which has about a 15% reflectivity loss, then back through the beam splitter with another 5% to 10% loss.   Taking all the optical losses together and only about 50% to 65% of the light from the lasers is going to make it out.

Finally, we have the losses from converting electrical energy to light energy in the lasers.   The frequency doubled lasers were reportedly getting about 6% WPE.    There is a lot of complicated math involving the wavelengths of the light the efficiency of the lasers for which I will use a spreadsheet to calculate the result assuming the lasers used by Microvision and about a 60% optical throughput from the optics.   The lasers themselves are taking on the order of 0.7 Watts.   remember that this number has to multiplied by about 1.3 to 1.5 to include the drivers for the lasers.  So the lasers and drivers alone are consuming about 0.9W to 1W.

Add it all up, subtract off the little bit from the batter circuit and the video-in chip and there is about 4 to 5 Watts being used by the LBS including its electronics.  Microvision can hand wave about saving 40% here and 20% there, but the problem is they have to save about 80% everywhere to get their power down to their “goal” of 1W.

Appendix:

Below is a figure taken from “Scanned Laser Pico projectors: Seeing the Big Picture (with a Small Device)” that shows a more simplified diagram than the one in Fig. 28 above.

Below is a top view of the inside of the ShowWX.

A typical Analog Devices analog RGB to Digital RGB converter AD9883A and it will take about 0.2W for WVGA resolution.

http://www.analog.com/static/imported-files/data_sheets/AD9883A.pdf

For anyone interested, I have added a picture showing the hottest point on the case.  It was roughly just above the large ASIC/FPGA in the picture above:

“False Soothsayer?” Part 2

ShowWX consumed 5.6 Watts

Microvision in their blog and their recent 8-K statement wrote Lest you be led astray by false soothsayers.”    I would agree not to be led by “false soothsaying”   but I think that it is Microvision that is trying to lead people astray.    I very much believe in the future of direct green lasers but the problem is that the reality does not fit with what Microvision appears to want people to believe.

In my previous post, Microvision’s “Soothsayer(?)” for their “Number One Question”, I outlined where Microvision’s blog response (to me I have every reason to believe) missed the mark on answering the key questions related to direct green lasers.   In my opinion, they gave non-answers and half-truths.

This certainly is not the first time Microvision has engaged in “false soothsaying.”  For this blog entry, I want to deal with Microvision’s comments and predictions on power consumption through the years.  Something for which there is a track record of Microvision predictions and then the measured results.

Since at least as far back as 2007, Microvision’s Alex Tokman has been saying that their “goal” is 1.5 Watts dropping to 1 Watts for their total power.   I have copied below a number of references quoting Mr. Tokman in 2007 and 2008 prior to the introduction of the ShowWX.

I have also personally measured (pictured above) the ShowWX that Microvision actually delivered in March of 2010.  It consumed not 1, not 2, not 3 or even 4, but rather it consumed a wopping 5.6 Watts and I measured only about 10.5 lumens of light output for about 2 lumens per Watt.  This was by far the worst efficiency than any of the “LED” pico projectors I had measure using DLP or LCOS that I have measured.  So much for Microvision’s claim that laser beam scanning is the most efficient.

I measured both the power consumption for white (top picture) and it came out to 5V times 1.12A or 5.6 Watts for 10.5 lumens.   Microvision claimed a big advantage for laser beam steering is how they save power when displaying black so I measure a full black image (lower picture) and it came to 5V times 0.7A or 3.5 Watts so that even when putting out a black image it consumed more power than the LED projectors did putting out well over 10 lumens.

Below are some of the Microvision quotes (and my comments) on power consumption I found in a quick web search.  They show I think a consistent attempt to create an impression that their power consumption was much better than it actually was and was going to be:

As good a reference as any on to Microvision’s “sooth saying” on power was an article in the “The Economist”  from Mar 6th 2008:

http://www.economist.com/node/10789401

Mr Tokman says the big mobile-phone manufacturers have set an upper limit on the power consumption of a projector of 1.5 watts. Given a typical phone battery, this would allow a projector to operate for about 2.5 hours, long enough to watch a film. Microvision’s prototype consumes about three [3] watts at the moment, but Mr Tokman expects this figure to fall as the internal circuitry is concentrated within a smaller number of dedicated chips.”

So Mr. Tokman said in March 2008 that they were already at about 3 Watts in March 2008 and yet about 2 years later when the ShowWX started actually selling, they appear to have gone backwards because the ShowWX that they sold consumed over 5 Watts.   Was this a severe rounding error?    Or maybe he didn’t count everything that consumed power in the projector.   It looks to me that they couldn’t predict the present, no less the future.

I also find that Microvision particularly in their conference calls often talks in what seem to be almost riddles.  On direct green lasers they talk about them being less than SGL throwing around almost random “X’s” and “Y’s” and percentages but never give any real idea as to whether they will be cost effective, and  just as importantly, when they will be lower in cost (in semiconductors, you have to know the price, volume, and date to have anything meaningful).

Let’s look at some of the similar riddles they gave on power in their “Microvision, Inc. Q2 2008 Earnings Call” on August 5, 2008:

http://seekingalpha.com/article/93563-microvision-inc-q2-2008-earnings-call-transcript

Alexander Tokman, “First, let me talk about power consumption. The power consumption of the latest version of the MEMS scanner has been reduced by approximately 75% over the previous version initially shown about a year ago. What is the significance of this reduction? Let me give you the big picture. The cell phone manufacturers told us that the target spec for the overall power consumption for the embedded Pico Projector which includes MEMS scanner, light sources, ASIC optics and other components should not exceed 1 ½ watt.

And more numbers riddles in their Q1 2008 Microvision, Inc. Earnings Conference Call – 24-APR-08

http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-7829068/Q1-2008-Microvision-Inc-Earnings.html

“ALEXANDER TOKMAN: Again, excellent question. Let’s start with the application requirement. What the application requirement calls for, based on the direct user feedback and the OEM feedback we have solicited to date is that accessory device must function on its own for 2.5 hours without recharging. And 2.5 hours obviously comes from watching a long movie. That’s what our target is. The SHOW prototype that we demonstrated could function without recharging for 1.5 hours. So we are reducing the ultimate power of this device by 40%. I think we were talking about five more during CES so if you subtract 40% it will get you somewhere around sub three watts. On the accessory. Obviously, embedded targets are much more aggressive than this.”

I guess all those percentages made it sound real and important.  And in the second quote again that they had 3 Watts in 2008 and yet the product they actually sold nearly two years later consumed over 5 Watts.

From Q3 2007 Microvision, Inc. Earnings Conference Call –  01-NOV-07:

http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-9753613/Q3-2007-Microvision-Inc-Earnings.html

Alexander Tokman – “Recall that we said we want to target [access] rate for 2.5 hour continuous operation without recharging, and we targeted the embedded module for the first generation to be 1.5 watts, which is what cell phone manufacturers have expressed to us for all of us to be successful.”

Finally the earliest reference to their LBS consuming 1 to 1.5 Watts I found was back in 2007 in Microvision’s Blogspot 2007-05:

http://microvision.blogspot.com/2007/05/cc-notes-tokman-comments-on-embedded.html 

Alex Tokman: “we are targeting an engine that will draw 1.5 watts of power, going down to 1 watt. So we feel we’re on the threshold of getting inside the cell phone. Although other people are claiming that they’re capable of doing this, we feel good about our position for this specific application.”

So 3 and a half years later, how is Microvision’s sooth saying?

 

Microvision’s “Soothsayer(?)” for their “Number One Question”

My, the power of the blogosphere!  I just started this blog two weeks ago and Microvision has all the appearances of making a veiled response to my blog and having to issue an 8-K statement to the SEC.  Personally, I found Microvision blog/8-K full of half truths and obfuscations.  It also appears that since they couldn’t deal factually with what I wrote, they resorted to name calling with the pejorative “false soothsayer.”

Since my blog has led to a lot of questions and a firestorm of activity on the Yahoo Financial Message Boards (and the deletion of many of these posts) and the Investor’s Village Board on Microvision last week, and as far as I am aware I am the only person writing about the availability of green lasers in 2012 recently, I think it is pretty clear that the “soothsayer” they are referring to Microvision’s blog is me (if not me then who else?).

For those who haven’t seen the Form 8-K it can be found at:

http://biz.yahoo.com/e/111219/mvis8-k.html

Anything quoted below I will take directly from the 8-K statement.   For brevity, I did take snippets out but I will try snip enough to keep it in context.

First to the “soothsayers”:

“Lest you be led astray by false soothsayers, based on our periodic discussions and latest updates from three direct green laser developers we anticipate that Nichia, Osram and Soraa will release commercial versions of their lasers in 2012 and two of the three should have commercial direct green laser released by mid-2012.”

So who, other than me, are they accusing of being a “false soothsayer?”  How about being specific about what they think I (or someone else if there really is someone else they are speaking about) wrote that is false?    I would be happy to answer their accusations.

Their “number one question” is “.  .  . the topic we overwhelmingly receive the most questions about – direct green lasers (DGLs). Everyone wants us to tell them when they will be available!”   

This certainly is a key question for them, but really hides behind it a bunch of other issues.     I would suggest that they should also be asked about the price, efficiency, and wavelength of these lasers and whether they are expected to be suitable for making a practical embedded cell phone pico projector engine in 2012.

“ . . . So what do I mean by “commercial version” direct green laser?  It’s a laser that has passed through intense qualification by the component manufacturer to insure that it meets all of its intended performance specifications, with confirmed reliability and manufacturability necessary for mass production.”

The real question is whether these lasers will be available at a price point, with a wavelength, and an efficiency that is practical.   I don’t doubt that most if not all the companies will be in production with a green laser in 2012, but what constitutes “mass production” is a different matter.   Nichia already has a 510nm green laser in production, for example, and it might be possible to build a heads up display for an automobile with it (albeit a bit expensive for the purpose), but that is clearly impractical in terms of wavelength, efficiency, and cost for building a high volume battery powered projector.   I also question whether they will be bright enough for a volume product other than a HUD.

Also give a ball park as to what they mean by “mass production.”

“� DGLs will be much cheaper than synthetic green lasers at introduction.”

I would consider this to be obfuscating.   While they will be cheaper, the real question is whether they will be cheap enough and for what products?  Also are the lasers efficient enough, have the right green wavelength, and bright enough to make a practical projector?

“� Ultimately, pricing depends on volume and yield hence we will not know the final pricing next year. However, the two important points to focus on are: DGL are much easier to manufacture than their “synthetic” predecessors and the budgetary quotes we see today reflect cost that is substantially less than the cost of the synthetic green lasers we purchased from 2010-2011.”

More obfuscating about whether they will be cost effective, at least in 2012.   But it sound like a roundabout way of saying that the price could be about anything next year as at least some of the variables like yield are out of their control.    Note, the cost could be a lot less than what they paid for SGL and still way too expensive for a practical product.

“� DGLs will be available in higher quantities than SGLs.

� Based on our discussions with suppliers, we expect volumes to reach monthly run rates that far exceed historical production of SGL volumes. Direct green laser diodes will be manufactured similar to established manufacturing processes used for red and blue diodes today by some of the largest laser suppliers in the world. It’s an easy equation: Simpler = easier to manufacture = higher volumes and yields.

As my father said, “that is damning with faint praise.”  Since the SGL that they could use in laser beam scanning were only available in very limited quantities at high costs, this essentially says nothing.

“In the coming weeks we intend to provide a series of posts that discuss direct green lasers in more detail, as well as other business updates. Stay tuned!”

I hope they will because nothing they wrote in their blog/8-K told you anything but restating a few truisms that they have stated multiple times before.  They gave a answers to softball questions while telling you next to nothing about whether it would allow them to build a practical product.

I believe that even all the focus on green laser availability itself is a misdirection of sorts.  Beyond the cost, availability, efficiency, wavelength and other technical factors associated with direct green lasers, I believe the whole laser beam scanning concept has major other problems that are hiding behind the many years of scapegoating green lasers.

So what did one learn from their response that contradicts anything I  (or some other person) have written?   I couldn’t find anything.   Their statements are much like a politician that restates the problem and tries to pretend like this is the same as giving an answer.    I didn’t find anything Microvision wrote above to be factually wrong, it just doesn’t provide any real information other than restating the obvious and not telling the whole story.   Also nothing they wrote disagrees with anything, “the soothsayer” has written (mostly because it doesn’t really say much).

CES 2012 Pico Projector Overview

As part of my marathon training, I ran 18 miles the Sunday before CES and it turned out to also be good practice for attending CES.   I’d estimate I averaged over 4 miles walking the floor and between venues (it was faster to walk the mile to the Venetian than take a bus at busy times of day) plus my morning 3 mile jog.   For this post, I’m going to give some quick highlights of what I saw about pico projectors at CES.   I plan on writing in more detail about some of these items in in the near future.

Over half of the show hours I was in private meetings that I can’t talk about, but I did get a chance to see and hear about a number of pico projector related activities that are public.   I can’t hope to compete with the many people that give you the quick and glossy news of CES that mostly just repeat the company talking points, but as you should come to expect from me, I will be doings some more in-depth analysis with an engineer’s eye of the products.

QP Optoelectronics introduced their “Lightpad” product at CES.   It interfaces to smartphones with an HDMI output and combines a keyboard, DLP WVGA (848×480 pixel) pico projector, rear projection screen, and battery that easily folds up into a thin and light form factor.

While it is not perfect yet, there is a lot to like about the basic concept and they said they got a lot of interest at CES.   It at least starts to address some of the issues with “use model” that I have written about earlier.  I am working on an article that talks about the good and bad points of this concept and where I see this type of product  going in the future.

Syndiant’s biggest news was their formal announcement of the SYL2271 720P 0.31” diagonal LCOS microdisplay and its accompanying SYA1231 ASIC.   Shown at left is an actual picture of the SYL2271 that has been pasted into some cute artwork.  The Syndiant had three SYL2271 720P projectors running in their private suite all showing 720p HD movie content.  All of the optical engines were very much “prototypes” with some optical quality issues and not near production ready.

Syndiant also jointly announced Viewlink’s new Vizcom™ Wi-Fi Cloud-Connected Near-Eye Visual Communication System.  The VizCom system includes a wearable heads-up display with integrated 720p video camera and an AndroidTM smart controller.  VizCom allows content to be streamed directly to the cloud via built-in Wi-Fi or by 3G/4G wireless smartphones, tablets or cellular hotspots. The Syndiant SYL2010 SVGA (800×600 pixel) panel acts as a camera viewfinder and as a display.  There was a working prototype of the display but not the overall product in Syndiant’s suite.   The optical quality of the prototype optics left something to be desired but the mechanical workings of the headset seemed to be very workable compared to other near eye products I have used.

Syndiant had a demo of a 160 lumen 3-D passive glasses pico projector that used two SYL2061’s with a single projection lens in a light engine designed by ASTRI.   The projector would either present 80 lumens to each eye in 3-D mode or 160 lumens to both eyes in 2-D mode.

A number of Syndiant pico projector products were filling about half of 3M’s booth at CES.   There were several more conventional pico projectors like the older MP160 and MP180 plus a new SYL2061 WSVGA (1024×600) based MP220 with 50 lumens.

Additionally 3M was showing a new “Camcorder Projector,” the CP40, which combines a handheld video camcorder with an SVGA pico projector.

Syndiant based products could also be found at AAXA’s and WSOT’s booths at CES and I expect some other places that I may have missed.  AAXA was demonstrating a new projector based on Syndiant SYL2061 panel.   WSOT has a dual panel WSVGA 3-D passive glasses projector similar to the one at Syndiant’s suite.   They also had a demonstration of prototype projector with a 4cc light engine based on Syndiant SYL2030 WVGA (854×480) device.

TI’s DLP certainly had by far the biggest presence of any of the pico projector display makers; although most of the newer products probably should be called “mini” rather than “pico” projectors.   There were a number products based around their WXGA (1280×800) 0.44” panel with products that were from 1.3-inches to over 2 inches thick.  These products were clearly aimed more at business professionals to put in their briefcases and had marketing spec’s of 200, 300, and some with 500 lumens (note these are often their “marketing lumens” which often are inflated by 1.2X to nearly 2X depending on the brand).

All of these WXGA projectors were really designed for wall plug rather than battery operation and have no internal batteries.  But Vivitek did find a way to make their battery powered by adding large external battery packs.   Essentially these battery packs have DC power cord to plug into the DC jack normally used by the AC wall plug power pack.

There could also be found a number of very similar looking WVGA (848×480) DLP pico projectors at the various booths around the show with light outputs ranging from about 30 lumens to as much as 80 lumens.  Most of these projectors include internal batteries.

DLP Diamond Pixel Arrangement

Both the WVGA and WXGA projectors use what is known as “Diamond Pixels” in which the DLP mirrors are rotated 45 degrees in a tile like arrangement show at the left.  This is done to reduce the thickness of the optics (a complex discussion for another day).

The re-sampling/scaling of the image from a normal square pixel grid to the diamond grid  does have a negative impact with high-resolution computer content.  Click on the thumbnail on the right to see the effects of the diamond pixel scaling on a high-resolution test pattern.

A notable exception to the bigger and brighter DLP projectors and much more of a “true” pico projector was used in Sony’s lineup of 4 camcorder models with pico projectors build into backs of the flip-out LCDs monitors.  These projectors used DLP’s 0.22” diagonal nHD (one-ninth 1080p or 640×360 pixels).   It seems to me to be a mismatch to combine a 1080i camcorder with a pico projector that has 1/9th the pixels.

I was told my multiple companies at CES that TI has a major campaign to get all the makers of LCOS pico projectors to carry at least one DLP based projector.  TI provided all kinds of support to get the projector companies to have at least one DLP product and to a large degree they succeeded with companies including 3M and AAXA showing DLP products along with their LCOS projectors.

Microvision "720P" (click on image)

Microvision was showing a new “so called 720p” multimedia projector at CES.  I say “so called 720p” because they would only demonstrate low resolution cartoon like video games on it.  I did ask them to put up a test pattern to show that they really could do 720p (1280×720) resolution but they politely refused.   My engineering instinct is that if someone is claiming HD resolution, they would be showing off HD content.   I also noticed that the 720p projector seems to be off whenever they were not demonstrating it to someone which suggests that there may be some laser lifetime and/or heating issues with the device.

The prototype media player projector was to me surprising large considering they have been claiming the whole PicoP® concept to be aimed at embedded products.  While the light engine optics itself is about 4cc, by the time you add all the electronics and a very large heat sink/heat spreader underneath the projection engine, about 25cc (56mm x 38mm x 12mm) within the media player are consumed (click on the picture above that shows some of the dimension).  Imagine how much bigger still it would be if had to add the cell phone engine and its LCD/OLED display to the package.  Compared to DLP and LCOS projection engines, there seems to be a large amount of electronics associated with LBS.

The same week as CES, Microvision put out flyer with set of partial spec’s on the PicoP engine itself (less any of the media player features).    To a degree, the spec sheet confirms some serious issues with the whole laser beam scanning (LBS) concept that Microvision uses.  The flyer says that at 15 lumens it will be a Class 2 laser product, but in a footnote it admits that the 25 lumen version would be “Class 3R” confirming what I (and others) have said for years about the issues with laser safety standards with LBS.  Note, the cell phone makers have told me that they wouldn’t put anything beyond Class 1 (considered totally eye safe) into a consumer cell phone and LBS type displays would support less than 1 lumen at Class 1; so even the Class 2 rating at 15 lumens I would consider to be a serious problem.

Another interesting indirect admission in the “spec” is that they consume “Approximately 2.0 Watts” at “27% video.”    It seems like a bad job of trying to hide a power problem.  It begs several questions, most obviously, what is the power consumption at some rated (measured) lumens.  If we assume it is for their 15 lumen projector and simply scale up we get over 7 Watts!   To get a realistic power consumption we have to know how “approximately” the power consumption number is and what it covers in the system.   As I wrote previously about the ShowWX power consumption, they seem to be a long way from their power “goals” to fit in an embedded product.

Another little tidbit from the “spec” is that it only has 16-bits per pixel (64K colors which means they have only 6 bits two primary colors and 5 bits of the third primary).  Most products today have at least 24-bits per pixel (8 bits each of red, green, and blue) = 16 Million colors.   This suggests some limitation in the ability to control the colors with their system.

I will have some more comments on the Microvision 720p as well as their 3-D and hand tracking demonstrations in an upcoming article.

Vuzix Holographic Optics

Vuzix was demonstrating an interesting technology for near eye heads up displays.  They have holograms embedded in a thin piece of plastic that can bend the output of a projector 90 degrees, translate and expand it, bend it back 90 degrees, and have it focused at infinity (so your eyes can stay on the real world).

I didn’t get the best picture of it on the above (it is kind of tricky and I didn’t have much time) but it is impressive how they can manipulate the light using hologram light guides.   While the image is in focus and would seem to be acceptable the intended purpose of a near eye HUD/augmented reality display, the image quality is not what you would want for say watching a movie.  Everything seems to have a “glow” to it which I suspect come from the contortions that are done to the light by the holograms.

That’s it for the “overview.”  Certainly my coverage of CES was spotty and if anything I didn’t give a lot of coverage to DLP relative to the number of products that were at the show.  If you have questions or want more details on some subject, please ask.

Looking Ahead To CES and Future Articles

Thanks to the readership of this blog, I now have my “press credentials” for CES. If there is something in the Pico Projector field in particular or displays in general you hear of at CES you would like to see me try and cover, drop a line to info@kguttag.com.

I also want to let you know what I am working on and give you, the readers, a chance to help guide what I write about.

On the week before CES, I plan on putting out my “Cynics Guide to CES Demos.”   I plan it to be a bit tong-in-cheek as the tile would suggest, but hope it will also be informative.   For example, “The worse the image quality of the display, the less cloths they put on the female model in the picture they show.”

LCOS+Laser Focus Free Demo

I’m working on a technical piece explaining why laser illuminated panel (LCOS and DLP) projectors are focus free with lasers.   It seems to go against what even highly technical people believe from dealing with non-laser light with cameras and projectors that need focusing.

DLP Diamond Pixel Effects

Have you noticed that the newer WVGA (848×480) and SXGA (1280×800) DLP® projector’s pixels look funny?  All the pixels are turned at 45 degrees in what TI call’s “Diamond Pixels.”   This was done to try and make the DLP light engines thinner (it will take a while and some pictures to explain why) but it hurts the resolution and causes some strange artifacts (I will show what happens in some pictures).

Laser Beam Scanning Image Issues

 I know there has been a lot on Laser Beam Scanning (LBS) on the blog as of late.  It was a “hot topic” with Microvision’s “false soothsayer” comment coming out.   I do have a lot more information the many problems with LBS that they don’t want you to know.  The next subject about be on the resolution and flicker problems associated with LBS.

I plan and have an article on why lasers are the key to high volume embedded pico projectors and to continue the “use model” series.

I’m also planning on a series of article discussing the efficiency and size issues with the various pico projector technologies including LCOS, DLP and Lasers but this is going to take some time to write.

If you want to give feedback, ask for one of the above to come out sooner, and/or ask for particular topics, please either comment below or email info@kguttag.com.