Is There a Laser Projector in Your Future?

Last week, Microvision, Inc. announced that it has successfully conducted its first demonstrations of a laser-projection television display. The company claims that the full-color 17" image projected by the prototype system has the resolution of a VGA computer monitor and provides full-motion video. With additional development, the company plans to increase the size of the projected image and improve the resolution to extremely high levels that "exceed high-definition television (HDTV)." Prototypes are planned to be unveiled later this year.

The system uses the same principles as the company's Virtual Retinal Display technology, which rapidly scans a single beam of light to project a full-motion image into the user's eye. Ultimately, with advances in miniature laser technology, coupled with Microvision's new miniature image scanner, the company envisions that the entire system could become pocket-sized.

According to Microvision Executive Vice President Steve Willey, "Imagine pulling a projection system out of your pocket for a presentation. For your home theater, you could mount on your ceiling a system that is smaller than many conventional light fixtures. It will take advances in laser technology to achieve that, but laser technology is developing very rapidly. In the meantime, we will actively pursue applications that can derive real value from a system that uses the larger, more expensive lasers that are available today."

Microvision claims that laser projectors offer several advantages over other types of projection systems, including greater control over brightness, which ensures that images do not get washed out by ambient light. Polarization is not required, resulting in highly simplified optics and outstanding color saturation. The effect is "a vivid image that can be viewed from a wide range of angles." Like other projection displays, laser projectors can be configured as rear-projection or front-projection systems.

"This type of projection system has already seen considerable interest from customers in the defense, medical, and entertainment fields," says Microvision President and CEO Rick Rutkowski. "Many of the same customers who want to use head-mounted or personal displays also have needs for heads-up displays or projection display systems, especially ones that can approach the visual quality of photographic film.

"Microvision's highly miniaturized scanning technology is also going to give us many packaging options that haven't been available to others who are developing laser projectors," he adds. "The same basic engine can project onto coated glass for heads-up displays in airplanes or automobiles, and it can also be easily adapted to project onto curved and non-uniform surfaces, such as the human body within a surgical environment. The modularity of the current system allows the lasers to be located remotely so the very small scanner housing can be easily set up and positioned. Ultimately, as laser technology advances, these systems can be dramatically smaller than anything on the market today."