DLP: Tales from the Dark Side

At the CEDIA Expo, Texas Instruments announced the latest generation of its Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) technology, dubbed DarkChip 4. The company claims even better reproduction of black and dark grays than achieved by its current DarkChip 3 devices (never mind DarkChip 2 and the original, now antediluvian DarkChip).

I've always been fascinated by DLP simply because the whole idea seems so improbable. Who could dream up something as wild as using semiconductor fabrication methods to make chips covered with hundreds of thousands of microscopic, individually rotatable mirrors? But that's how DLP works - hordes of teensy reflectors flipping at breakneck speed under computer control. From the beginning, the main challenges for TI have been packing more mirrors onto the chips and eliminating stray light, which limits DLP's ability to produce deep black. With 1080p DMD chips now available, the focus is clearly on the latter issue.

TI is pretty closed-mouth about what its done to give DarkChip 4 devices a claimed 30% (or greater) edge in contrast ratio over current models. Strategies used in previous DarkChip generations have included increasing mirror rotation angle and reducing the spacing between mirrors on the chip. In any event, given the already very good black-level performance typical of DLP front and rear projectors, it will be interesting to see the pictures produced by those built around the new chips. Marantz and Sim2 have already announced DarkChip 4-based products for 2008, and others are expected. -Michael Riggs