Archive for Karl_Guttag

Exclusive: New Pictures of Projected Images by Syndiant’s 720p LCOS Panel

I asked my old company Syndiant if I could take some high-resolution photos of their new SYL2271 720P LCOS panel and they agreed.   Below are pictures I took with an 18 megapixel DSLR.  With some cropping due to the camera being 3:2 versus HD 16:9), there are about 13 camera pixels per for each pixel in the projected image).

To be fair, the optics Syndiant was using were clearly “prototype” and not specifically designed for Syndiant’s 720p panel.   In fact, the optics were designed for a larger 720p panel and thus using the smaller Syndiant SYL2271 was pushing the optics as evident from some of the chroma aberrations and the overall ability to sharply focus the image.   So these images should be worse that what will be seen in the final products.  Also the illumination of the panel in the prototype projector was not uniform which causes some color variation across the white test pattern.

Click on the images below to see the full images.  Note if you view it at less than 100% you may see aliasing due to scaling of the 1 pixel wide horizontal and vertical lines.  So make sure you are looking at it at 100% (you may have to click on the + magnifying cursor on your browser to do so).

If you are not used to seeing such large pictures of projected images you will see things that are not visible to the naked eye when viewing them “live.”  Effectively, it is like looking at the projected images with a magnifying glass.

Syndiant 720P Text Pattern Projected Image

Below is a picture I like because it has a lot of color, detail, and skin tones.

SYL2271 Projected Image of Elf

The picture below is one I took in York England.  If you look at the image at 100% in the left hand tower you can guy-wires holding up the flag pole and the spokes in Ferris Wheel behind the tower.  The clouds demonstrate the ability to do smooth shading

SYL2271 Projected York - Find Ferris Wheel Above Upper Left Tower

Below is the 720p resolution test pattern I used for the first image:1280x720 KGOnTech Test Chart

QP Lightpad™ And Future Observations

QP Optoelectronic’s Lightpad appears to me to be an interesting “transitional product” in the evolution the pico projector “use model”.    In this post I am going to comment on what I think they got right and what will need to be improved to make pico projectors more useful.

The Lightpad combines a rear projection screen, keyboard with touchpad, WVGA (848×480) DLP pico projector, and battery that folds up into a thin form factor.   In effect it turns a smart-phone with HDMI output into a netbook (except that is for the currently for a non-jail-broken iPhone which does allow “mirroring” of the phone’s display) .   The phone acts as the computer with all the software on it, but you now have a larger, easier to read screen and a reasonable size keyboard for typing.  The projector can also be flipped around in a front projection mode to give a larger on say a wall or screen in dark environments.

The Lightpad address one big issue I have with the typical pico projector shoot on the wall use model, namely that there is almost never a white wall, in the right place with low enough ambient lighting to be useful.  The “shoot on the wall” use model only seem to work in very contrived demos.   The Lightpad addresses this issue by having a built-in rear projection screen.

The rear projection screen, as opposed to say a sheet of white paper address a very important issue for pico projectors, namely giving sufficient contrast in typical room lighting.   As I discussed perviously about ambient light, even a dimly lit room has 1 to 2 lumens per square foot and a well-lit room has 30 to 60 lumens per square foot.  It turns out that you want at least 10 to 1 contrast for a reasonably easy to read text, so with a 10 lumen or even 30 lumen projector you can’t project a very big image with much contrast on a white screen.   A rear projection screen is designed to only accept light from a certain range of angles behind it and reject most of the random room light coming from everywhere else.  Because of this “ambient light rejection” a rear projection screen will result in higher contrast in the final image.  So the rear projection screen enables lower lumen pico projector to be very usable in brighter room light conditions.

The keyboard on the Lightpad makes typing easy and the touchpad in front seems to integrate well with the touch interface on the front of the keyboard.  Because the rear projection screen is lightweight plastic, it solves the weight and potential breakages issue of carrying around a large LCD screen.   I could definitely see this type of product being useful for the professional that doesn’t want to carry a laptop with them.  As big an advantage as any being that all the software and data on your smart-phone is available to you without needed to worry about sync’ing or buying a bunch of software.

While I like the concept and QP got many things right in terms of functionality, there are both some short, medium, and long-term improvements that will hopefully be made over time by QP Optoelectroncs and/or other companies.

Short Term (Easy) Improvements

The most obvious flaw, one in which QP says they are working on to improve, is the rear projection screen.  In particular, it has a “hotspot” where if you look at the projector straight it is very bright in the center.    The hotspot effect is show in the picture at the left (but please note a camera exaggerates the effect so it is not as bad as the picture shows but still present).

The next issue, somewhat evident in the picture at the top of this article, is the size and bulk of the cables.  Some of those in the picture are associated with power that will not be there in portable use, but still there are some long bulky cables and adapters between the smart phone and the Lightpad.   In my experience, the cables can often take up more space than the pico projector itself. I would make the cables much shorter, smaller, thinner, and they should easily store into the Lightpad.

Medium Term Improvements

With their announcement of the Lightpad, QP optoelectronics also announced that they are working on a 720p (1280×720 pixels) version.    This certainly would be welcome as many of the newer, more advanced, smart phones are supporting 720p and higher resolutions and one of the big reasons to project a bigger image is to be able to see more.   It really doesn’t make much sense to project a large image if it low in resolution.   Having higher resolution would enable more normal notebook like use for applications such as editing and viewing documents, working on presentations, internet browsing, and spreadsheets.

Long Term Improvements

While Lightpad is light and about the size of a pad of paper when closed, it still does not fit in your pocket.  So you are left to have something to carry around. The really big volume potential for pico projectors is in having something that fits in a normal pocket so it can be with you wherever you go.   Improvements in LEDs and laser light sources should significantly reduce the size of the projector and its battery, but then the issue of the rigid screen and the physical keyboard.

Today with 1 Watt, only about 7 to 10 lumens is possible with LEDs and LCOS or DLP including the light source and light modulator (currently laser beam steering is far behind needing about 3 Watts to give just 10 lumens).   Realistically with significant improvements direct diode lasers and incremental improvements in the light modulators, in a few years it should be possible to produce to about 30 lumens per Watt.    If we want an image that covers about half a square foot, about the area of a small laptop LCD, that means we could get to about 60 lumens per square foot.   If the ambient lighting is normal room lighting of 30 to 60 lumens a square foot then we would only have 2:1 or 1:1 contrast and a very washed out image.  So even with major improvements in pico projector technology we will need to look for a dark corner of the room or still want some form of light controlled screen.

To make the screen easily portable it should roll up into something about the length of a pocket pen (about 6 inches long) and less than 1-inch around (about the size of a white board marker).    Making rollable rear screens with good light control and uniform light spreading (avoiding hot spots) is not that easy as generally there needs to be things like a Fresnel lens which wants to be rigid.  3M has developed Vikuity™ rear projection plastic films  that don’t use Fresnel lenses but these are still meant for rigid installation on a glass or Plexiglas rigid surface.  Perhaps something like the Vikuity materials could be made rollable.

While rear projection screens are the obvious approach,  a perhaps better rollable screen approach would be to use a “wavelength selectable” (WS) front screen.   With a wavelength selectable screen, only specific wavelengths of light are reflected and the other absorbed.  Since normal room or sunlight is “broad spectrum” most of the ambient light is absorbed.  The WS coating could be made on thin rollable plastic.  Sony made a rigid form of WS screen called the ChromaVue™ back around 2005.   At the time Sony said that they could make a rollable version with the same technology but it never came to market.  ChromaVue screens were designed to work with fairly broad spectrum projectors using high pressure lamps with color filters.  Unfortunately, manufacturing costs and low volumes of the ChromaVue screens appears to have caused Sony to stoop making them several years ago.   The task of making a WS screen with narrow band LEDs or Lasers should be much easier so I would think that we will see the re-emergence of WS screens in the future.

Virtual Keyboards and Other Input

Inexpensive camera input should enable the elimination of the physical keyboard with the pico projector projecting the image of a keyboard.  The use of cameras for input is becoming commonplace today with devices such as the Microsoft Kinect™.  In fact, many people in the field expect that pico projectors and cameras will commonly be paired together in future application.

In the case of a rear screen projection one technique is to use infrared cameras (CMOS cameras naturally detect infrared) to sense when and where the screen is touched such as with the Microsoft Surface®.  One advantage of the rear screen infrared approach is that it is relatively easy to detect when the screen as been touched.

There are more issues with a front projecting virtual keyboard.   The first of which is that it become very desirable to project the keyboard at a shallow angle so that the project does not have to be so far away from the surface of a table.   The shallow angle also means that the keyboard will not be blocked as much by shadows cast by one’s hands.   The use of laser light in pico projectors will make short throw, shallow angle projection much easier to implement.

A bit of a technical challenge with front projection keyboards is to know when a key has been pressed versus a finger hovering over a key an there is a lot of work going on in this area.   With structured light (for Microsoft presentation on structured light click here)  and/or multiple cameras detecting finger pressing versus hovering is possible.   One can also expect some quicker input like Swype to be employed.

Conclusion

My expectation is that we will see the pico projector evolve from today’s shoot on the wall gimmick/toy to being a really useful product.    I think the QP Lightpad makes a good first step in the right direction.   It is much easier and with faster adoption rates to use already successful user interfaces and use models than to try and create new ones.     At the same time one needs to live within the physics of what is possible, such as how many lumens will be possible in the coming years for a pocket size device.   The technology for virtual keyboards and multi-touch displays is becoming very advanced and should not be a limiting factor.

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.

Cynic’s Guild to CES — Measuring Resolution

Center of ShowWX image -- Click for larger view

I don’t care how good you think your eyes are you can’t tell the resolution of display without a test pattern.  On the show floor and in their demo rooms, companies are going to pick videos and images that make their product look good and that often will mean avoiding test patterns like the plague.  In particular, those who are “fudging” on their resolution will avoid any test patterns.

More than once, a company has made a claim for “resolution” or “pixels” that won’t stand up to being measured.   For this blog entry, I’m going to demonstrate with pictures I took of test patterns on the ShowWX how Microvision’s Laser Beam Scanning falls seriously short of their claimed resolution of “WVGA” (848×480 pixels) and in addition has some pretty severe imaging artifacts caused by their non-linear, bi-directional, scanning process.

I would be particularly curious to see how Microvision’s demo of their 720P device holds up to being measured.  My guess is that they won’t let you test it, but it is worth asking (I don’t think they will let me try for some reason).  I know they have people reading this blog, so if they really think it will stand up to being measured, they could use my test patterns or similar ones.

At the end of this article I am going to give you as series of simple royalty free test patterns that you can download  (while not required, it would be nice to include attribution to this blog if you use the patterns).  You can verify my results or use them to measure the real resolution of Microvision’s WVGA, their claimed to be 720P demo projector, or any other pico projector.

Laser beam scanning (LBS) has a multitude of problems with the way a mirror scans; it is far from the simple process they want you to think.  Those familiar with the ShowWX know that it has “bowtie” distortion of the overall image, but what really hurts their effective resolution is that the scanning  process very poorly matches that of a normal computer or camera image.

Microvision's Bi-Directional and Interlaced Scanning

Fig. 4 from Microvision’s patent application 20110249020 gives some idea as to the problem as it diagrams the basics of the Microvision bi-directional scanning process.  The key thing you should notice is that it doesn’t look anything like simple raster scans through a square grid of pixels.  The Microvision scanning process follows two crisscrossing sine-wave-like patterns and the pixels of the original image have to be scaled/resample to the non regular beam scanning pattern.  The beam scanning doesn’t go everywhere the pixels need to be and in scaling the image to match the scanning process, significant resolution is lost.

The mirror does not sweep the laser beam in straight lines at a uniform speed.  It follows more of a curved path (thus curves in the patent application Fig. 4 and the bow-tie effect).   As the mirror scans the laser beam it is constantly speeding up or slows down which if left uncompensated, would change the width and brightness of a pixel.   But this is just the start of the problems with the scanning process.

A lot of people think that Microvision’s scanning process works sort of like an old raster scanned TV CRT but it doesn’t.   On a CRT, the magnetic deflection of the beam’s horizontal retrace is very fast so beam is only on in one direction and it “retraces” with the electron beam off.

But with Microvision’s MEMs mirror horizontal “retrace” is the same speed as its forward direction.  Therefore if they turned off the laser beam during retrace, the laser would have to be off over half the time and they would need 2X more powerful lasers.  So Microvision uses a “bi-directional scan” where the lasers are turned on in both directions.   In their patent application Fig. 4 above, I have colored each of the two scans, one in blue and the other in red to make it easier to follow them.  A single scan takes about 1/60th of a second and Microvision makes two sweeps each offset by a half a line.   It takes 1/30th of a second for both sweeps to complete (which also causes some very undesirable flicker on the outsides of the image where the blue and red scans don’t overlap).  The two sweeps are offset by half a line to create the crisscross effect seen in Fig. 4.

A key thing to notice is that in the middle of the two horizontal sweeps the blue and red sweeps cross, but on the outsides they don’t.   Also notice the spacing between lines of a given scan varies.  The lines are pinched together on the left and right sides (right after the retrace starts) while in the middle they are very far apart.  This makes for a tough mapping/scaling of the pixels and the net effect as the pictures will show is to make the left and right sided of the image blurry.

Below is a picture of a test pattern generated by the ShowWX.  When you click on the thumbnail you will get a very large image to see all the detail.  The test pattern has a series of 4 pairs of black and white horizontal or vertical lines.  If the ShowWx met its claimed resolution, you should see these 4 line-pairs distinctly everywhere in the image.   But what the picture shows is that even in the center of the screen there are problems which get worst at the left and right side of the image.  Quite literally, in some spots the resolution is about 1/4th (half vertical and half horizontal) that which is claimed (the 4 line-pairs blur into a mass).  You will notice that the vertical line pairs are blurry in most places.  One special feature I added to this pattern is some groups of 2 horizontal line pairs where the second set of line pairs is on the odd lines relative to the first line pairs; interestingly one set is blurrier than the other set of lines.

The picture was shot at 1/30th of a second and has a “roll bar” where only one of the two scans is present.

ShowWX Test Pattern to Measure Resolution

Another major problem is that a vertical lines all have to be scaled to fit the laser scanning and this process tends to blur all the vertical lines (some more than others).   Yet one more problem is that the red, green, and blue lasers are not perfectly aligned with respect to each other which means that the image for red, green, and blue are all scaled independently of each other.  This in turn causes a color “aliasing” or “twisted rope effect” on vertical lines (see red arrows in in the picture below from the center of the projected image).

To top it all off, there seems to be some quantizing effect in the Microvision scaling process.  This causes vertical lines to jump sideways about 1/2 a pixel every so often.

The problems with the various colors aliasing in the “white” test pattern, make it hard to see the scanning process.   Below I have included a “green only” pattern so you can more clearly see the effects of the scanning process in a single color.

Below, I have included a crops with some arrows pointing to some of the problems on the right side and center of the projected image.   One thing to notice is that different line-pairs are blurrier than others.

Even in the center things get blurry

Below is the whole image (click to see the higher resolution version)

 

 

Finally, I have included a number of test patterns including the ones I used withthe Microvision ShowWX in the example above.   The ShowWX ones were a bit special because I found the unusual odd/even issues with the scanning process.   I have created test pattern that are aimed at the common resolutions used by pico projectors today including WVGA (848×480), SVGA (800×600), WSVGA (1024×600), 720P (1280×720) and WXGA (1280×800).  They should be used at 100% = native resolution of the projector.

848x480 ShowWX Test Chart

848x480 ShowWX Green Test Image

848x480 Test Chart

1280x720 Test Chart

1280x800 Test Chart

800x600 Test Chart

1024x600 Test Chart

Appendix – How the test pattern images were shot

It is kind of tricky to shoot a sharp image of a laser projector.  When shooing an LED illuminated projector, if you want a sharp picture you can stop down (use a higher f-number) the camera’s lens and use a slow shutter speed (say 1/6th of a second) to take out any “roll-bars” from a scanning projector or color field effects from a field sequential color projector.   But with a laser projector if you stop down the lens you make the laser speckle worse and obscure the resolution effects.

The slowest ISO speed on the DSLRs I uses were ISO100.   I didn’t have a set of neutral density filters available so this limited the ability control the shutter speed while getting the proper exposure.  Through some trial and error I settled on f/2.8 for the aperture and a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second (to capture both scans) and then used ISO200 to get the proper exposure.  Since the camera was synchronized to the ShowWx, this mean there would be exactly 1 roll-bar in the image so I took a number of pictures to get the roll-bar in a least objectionable position.   I could have shot at ISO100 and 1/15th of a second but then I would get two faint roll-bars in two places, I decide that one roll-bar was better than two faint ones.

The image above were taken with Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime (non-zoom) lens with the camera mounted on a tripod with an infrared remote.   A prime lens was used to give a sharp image will little distortion and chroma aberration.  All the images of the test pattern were shot at f/2.8 to give some “sharpness gain” over the len’s wide open aperture but still a low enough f-number to limit speckle.

From observations, shooting at f/2.8 resulted in less speckle than I observed with my naked eye. The speckle you see is a function of the structure of the human eye including the f-number of your iris, the size of your retina, the size of the rods and cones in your eye, the surface of the retina.   When you take a picture of a laser projected image with a camera, all these factors are different.  About the best you can do is adjust the f-number of the camera to try an approximate what you see.  In a future article, I plan on talking about the physics of laser speckle.

A 3-stop or more neutral density filter combined with shooting at ISO100 (or less if the cameras supported it) would have allow me to shoot at a lower shutter speed and remove (average out) the roll-bar.  If the projector was much brighter, a neutral density filter would have been absolutely required.

 

Cynics Guide to CES – Glossary of Terms

With CES just around the corner, I thought I would share my observations about viewing demos at CES (and elsewhere).  While the vast majority of products demonstrated at CES are in or are very near production, there are more than a few “technology demos” of things that will never see store shelves.  In between, there are products or concepts that are not yet ready for “prime time” that may have to gloss over a flaw or two (or more).

For those that demonstrate product at CES, the weeks leading up to the show can be a time of panic.  While your friends and neighbors are enjoying the holidays, you may be frantically trying to get your demos for the show to work.  Sometimes that last part you need is going to show up just before the show (or even at the show).  At some point it may become clear that is is easier to “fix the demo than fix the product.”

Below I have generated a glossy of terms I have created mostly related to display product demos but often have general applicability.  While there is some tong-in-cheek in these “definitions,” there is also a good bit of truth to them:

Marketing Physics – Technical information provided by a marketing or sales person that is not bound by the ordinary laws of physics.  Ignorance is bliss and to close a deal a marketing person’s favorite words are “sure it can do that.”

Demoware – Refers to a device that is not near being ready to be a product and has serious problems and the demo has been crafted to hide these problems.  It is easier to change the content of the demo and/or its environment than fix the product.   A well crafted demo will not display anything that will demonstrate the weaknesses of the device.

A Wizard of Oz (physical) – There is something in the demo that is being hidden (as in “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” in the MGM film).   If a “portable product” is bolted to the table, it probably has wires going to other hardware.

A Wizard of Oz (visual) – Carefully controlling the lighting, image size, viewing location and/or visual content in order to hide what would be obvious defects.   Sometimes you are seeing a “magic show” that has little relationship to real world use.

Swimsuit Ratio – The amount of clothing on a female model used in a display is inversely proportional to the image quality of the display device itself.   For example if the image quality is so-so, then the model has a swimsuit, if the image quality is really poor, then the model may be nude/seminude.   If the image quality is great, then you show dull things like text patterns.

Flashbulb Demos – There are some demo products shown that have key components with lifetimes that are so short that that they will barely last the week of the show.   There are even cases of companies having to replace the demos on display every day of CES.  Another example of this would be a handheld device that consumes so much power that the batteries have to be changed often.   Demos that are only turn on when they are being watched usually have a power, heat, or lifetime problem.

Pixar-ized – The showing of only cartoons because the device can’t control color well and/or has low resolution.  People have very poor absolute color perception but tend to be are very sensitive to skin tones and know what looks right when viewing humans, but the human visual systems is very poor at judging whether the color is right in a cartoon.  Additionally it is very hard to tell resolution when viewing a cartoon.

Avatarization – If the display device doesn’t display colors accurately but you want to have human faces in the demo, then you use the characters from “Avatar.”

Stilliphobia – Fear of showing a still image because people will find artifacts.  Videos make catchier demos but they can also be used to keep the things moving so it is hard to see artifacts in the display.  A good demo of a display product should have a mix of stills, videos, and human flesh tones.

Dracula effect – Making lighting environment untypically dark or otherwise crafting the lighting to hide the fact that a projector is not very bright.   The average person doesn’t understand the huge dynamic range of the human eye.  By making the environment darker, the projector will seem much brighter.

Close-up effect – Using extreme close-up pictures gives the illusion of higher resolution.  If you take an extreme close-up picture of a person so you can see their pores, people will confuse the resolution of the display with the ability to see fine detail in the picture.

“Escaped from the lab” – This is the demonstration of a product concept that is highly impractical for any of a number of reasons including cost, lifetime/reliability, size, unrealistic setting (for example requires a special room that few could afford), and dangerous without skilled supervision.  Sometimes demos “escape from the lab” because a company’s management has sunk a lot of money into a project and a public demo is an attempt to prove to management that the concepts will at least one day appeal to consumers.

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.

Direct Diode Green Lasers (Part 2, Chromaticity)

In my last post on Direct Green Lasers (DGL) I wrote about electrical power to lumens conversion.  In this post, I am going to talk about the color range/space and how it is affected by the green wavelength used.   The color chart above is a standard CIE chromaticity chart, often referred to as a “horseshoe plot” due to its shape,  that plots all the possible colors in terms of an “x” and “y” chromaticity coordinate.  The color wavelengths in nanometers (nm) are labeled on the outside of the horseshoe.

First of all, I am not going to give a deep scientific definition to color space, but rather try and give the reader some practical information to help in understanding the significance of the wavelength spec for green lasers.  I apologize in advance to the serious color scientists as I am probably going to butcher some terms.

Humans are not very good at absolute color measurement as the human visual system is adaptive and relativistic.  A wide range of wavelengths of light will look “green,” and this is particularly if you don’t see them side by side.

Laser light has very narrow bandwidth which puts it on the edge of the CIE horseshoe so to speak.  It turn out that diode LED’s  while as pure as lasers are still comparatively very saturated and would plot very near the edge of the horseshoe as well.   A big exception to this would be so called “white LEDs” (and some other colors) that are actually made with blue LEDs stimulating phosphors).

Usually 3 primary colors with wavelengths that are considered, red, green, and blue are mixed to form any of the other possible colors (some systems use more than 3 color primaries).   The RGB phosphors used in old CRTs were not pure color wavelengths and so these “primaries” where inside the horseshoe rather than on the edge like lasers. The TV standards for broadcasting grew up with these limitations set how what color could be represented.  If you plot the 3 primaries used for standard definition television you the SDTV triangle.   Also ploted is the newer HDTV standard which defined a slightly larger color space triangle.

For more on the color space concept I would suggest reading the on-line article by Matthew S. Brennesholtz on expanded color gamuts and the Wikipedia article on CIE 1931.

The the lasers, I have also plotted the color spaces (triangles) assuming a 640nm red and a 460nm blue and then a triangle for each of 510nm, 525nm, or 532nm for the green.    For a given set of RGB wavelengths only colors “inside the triangle” can be represented.  Also if you follow an edge of the triangle it shows what color can be reproduced in between two of the colors assuming the 3rd color is off when mixing the the other two primary colors.

One thing immediately obvious is that the laser primaries are way outside the color gamut/triangles for SDTV and HDTV.  While this means a wider range of color could be represented, it also poses a problem when using existing standard video and still image standards.  For example if you have bright green grass in a video, the video signal will call for nearly 100% green, but if you use a 532nm green laser at 100%, the grass will look like it is glowing green rather than green grass.   So if you want the grass to look right, you actually have to desaturate the green by adding red and blue to it to get to a point on or inside the HDTV/SDTV triangle if you want the image to look like it is indended.

If you have a “wide color gamut display” using lasers or LEDs then you need content that matches your gamut to take advantage of it.  If you use the commonly available video and photos formats which were coded/compressed for small color gamuts you can’t take advantage of the full color gamut if you want the images to look like they were intended (and not an over-saturated glowing look)

Consider particularly the triangle made by the 510nm green lasers and notice how it cuts off the bright yellows and yellow-greens of the SDTV and HDTV color spaces.  There is no way to mix 510nm “green” with 640nm “red” to give a good yellow.  You have to have at least a 520nm green to fully represent the yellow within the standards.    This a major reason why there is the push to have direct green laser wavelengths of at least 520nm or longer.

You may notice that any of the greens from 520nm to 545nm (much more than 545nm and it starts cutting off some of the blue-green areas) will give a larger color space than HDTV.    But if you go back and look at the photopic response curve from part one (copied below) you will see that as the wavelength goes from 510nm to 555nm, the lumens per Watt improves.  For example, if the wall plug efficiency (WPE) was the same you would get nearly double the lumens per Watt at 532nm that you would get at 510nm.  Since 532nm is the common wavelength targeted by frequency double green lasers I tend to “derate” the WPE of shorter wavelength green lasers by their difference in lumens per Watt.   So a 525nm greens efficiency would be multiplied by 542/603=90% to get its effective WPE compared to a 532nm green laser.

One more thing on the CIE chart at the top, you will the “black body curve” in the middle of the chart numbers on it like 6500 or 10,000; these are the so called “color temperatures” of a black body is heated to the given temperature (in Kelvin).    A 6500 “white” is a little on the red side (also known as “warmer”) where a 10,000 “white” is a little slightly blue (also known as colder) which to the human looks “whiter than white” (and why some detergents put “bluing agents” in them).    “D65” is a common standard “white” that is very close to 6500 but slightly off the black body curve.   In the industry it is known that most westerners tend to prefer warmer colors toward D65/6500, whereas people living in Asia seem to prefer the cooler colors such as D93/9300 or even 13,000 Kelvin where the “white” has a clearly blue tint to it (I haven’t seen a study as to why).

It turns out that the target color temperature and the wavelengths of the red, green and blue will set how much of each color in Watts you will want.   If for example the color temperature is set for 6500, it requires will need somewhat more red but if you want 10,000, it requires somewhat more blue and green.

“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).