This diagram shows the
internal components that
make up Microvision’s
PicoP engine, including
laser diodes and a
systems chip. Courtesy
of Microvision Inc.
Pocket projectors are poised to explode, but will lasers or LEDs be the pre-eminent light source?
BY MELINDA ROSE
Tiny projectors, known as pico or pocket projectors, are on the cusp of becoming the next big thing as
they shrink to sizes practical for embedding into ever-smaller cell phones and
other mobile devices as well as head-up
displays for the military and auto industries. As these projectors continue to
shrink, a battle is growing between LEDs
and lasers to become the pre-eminent pico
The lamps first used as light sources for
tabletop projectors or rear-projection televisions are large and power hungry, and
they generate enormous amounts of heat,
so manufacturers have turned increasingly
to LEDs and, more recently, to lasers as
The Show, the
first smart phone to
include a pico projector,
currently is sold only in South
Korea. Courtesy of Samsung
Electronics Co. Ltd.
Pico projectors are driven by three
major technologies: digital light processing (DLP), liquid crystal on silicon
(LCoS) and laser beam steering (LBS).
Texas Instruments (TI) of Dallas pio-
neered the DLP projection system in 1987.
DLP technology is driven by a small chip
containing up to 2 million hinge-mounted
micromirrors. The chip switches each mir-
ror on and off several thousand times per
second, generating light or dark pixels.
“DLP can work with lasers or LEDs and
is poised to take advantage of either LED
or laser technology,” said Frank J. Moizio,
DLP emerging markets manager at TI.
“DLP products today ship with lasers.”
One such product is the 65-in. laser TV,
LaserVue, from Mitsubishi Electric of
Tokyo, which appeared on the market in
October 2008 for $7000. Mitsubishi said
the lasers give the TV about twice the
color range of other high-definition TVs,
while consuming as much as 75 percent
less power than LCD and plasma
LCoS uses liquid
crystal instead of
mirrors to con-
trol the amount
of light each
Its light source
has shifted in recent
years from high-intensity lamps to LEDs,
but lasers also can be used.
LBS systems use optics to combine
RGB (red, green, blue) laser beams and
then guide them with a mirror to create an
Show me the market
With the worldwide economy in a
slump, diode makers are looking to sell
their product however they can. The
worldwide mobile phone market, with one
billion units sold last year, is an attractive
one: Even a 2 percent slice translates to
sales of 20 million to 30 million diodes.
Pico projector prototypes with a resolution similar to a DVD were featured at the
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
in 2008 and 2009 and have been trickling
onto the market.
The MPro110 from 3M of St. Paul,
Minn., has an LED light source and LCoS
imager. The Pico, a handheld projector
made by Optoma Technology of Milpitas,
Calif., and featuring TI’s DLP, began shipping at the end of 2008.
Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. of Seoul,
South Korea, unveiled its Show, the first
smart phone to include a pico projector, at
the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Show also features TI’s DLP and is
currently available only in South Korea.
According to industry analyst iSuppli
Corp. of El Segundo, Calif., the market for
pico projectors will explode by nearly
6000 percent over the next four years,
growing from fewer than 50,000 units this