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Tiny Tools Drive Big Change in Displays

Some very small components and fabrication processes are starting to have very large impacts on the projection and display business

Tiny Tools Drive Big Change in Displays

Feb 15, 2007 2:00 PM,
By John McKeon

Some very small components and fabrication processes are starting to have very large impacts on the projection and display business, and in the coming years may fill the corporate environment with new options to meet a wide range of needs.

Consider MEMS and its close cousin, MOEMS. MEMS, or Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (the added O in MOEMS is for optical), uses micro-fabrication techniques to combine electronics, sensors, actuators, and moving parts in a single assembly. The result is a “System-on-a-chip.”

In the AV industry, the first and still largest application of MEMS is the Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) that forms the heart of the Digital Light Processing technology introduced by Texas Instruments in 1996. A DMD assembly includes thousands of tiny mirrors along with the mechanical systems required to move the mirrors in and out of alignment and the electronics that tell them when to move.

DLP has powered a decade-long proliferation of projectors aimed at both the high and low ends of the AV market—big, high-brightness, high-resolution machines for event staging, digital cinema and the like, plus ever-smaller, ever-lighter projectors for the mobile business person and home uses.

A recent report by Insight Media notes that although front and rear projection is more than 50 percent of the MOEMS market today and will remain the largest application area for years to come, other applications are growing, and more will emerge in the near future. Among these are new display options for wireless devices

While familiar front projection systems and RPTV will continue to grow robustly, business users will have an increasingly diverse range of new products and systems at their command, in which these micro assemblies combine with other new technologies that are spreading through the industry.

Sony, for example, has licensed the Grating Light Valve technology developed by Silicon Light Machines to design a new family of displays. GLV devices are built through MEMS processes and feature tiny reflective elements on the surface of a silicon chip. Each element is thin and light enough (like a ribbon) that it can be moved up and down by applying electrostatic forces.

Sony says the coming generation of GLV displays will be big, bright and extremely high in resolution.

But new technology is also creating new choices in the “smaller is better” arena.
In the last year or two, MOEMS has combined with other new technology developments to create a wave of “pocket projectors” weighing in at less than a pound.

For pocket projectors, the additional enabling technology is a new generation of LED light sources. While the new LEDs don’t emit a lot of light yet, they turn on immediately, don’t get hot, and don’t demand a lot of juice. They can run on batteries, enhancing their portability still further.

New LEDs have also won wide use as backlights for LCD displays, and other new technologies, including laser-based projection, are in the pipeline.

The pro AV industry and its corporate clients may soon realize the prospect of truly pervasive, easy projection of all kinds of content in all kinds of settings.

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