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INFOCOMM ’99: a review

This year's running of INFOCOMM had more product announcements, marketing alliances and technology demonstrations packed into a three-day period than

INFOCOMM ’99: a review

Aug 1, 1999 12:00 PM,
Pete Putman

This year’s running of INFOCOMM had more product announcements, marketingalliances and technology demonstrations packed into a three-day period thanany other trade show I have attended in the past two years. From the momentDick Clark cut the ribbon and officially launched the show, it was a caseof putting on your running shoes and sprinting amongst the more than 400exhibitor booths, not to mention the aircraft hangar-sized Projection ShootOut and Projector Encounter, a 30 minute walk-through crash course indisplay technology.

The biggest crowds were drawn to the numerous booths exhibitingultraportable projection systems. At last count, Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, InFocus, Epson, Proxima, NEC, PLUS, Mitsubishi, Davis, Toshiba, Sanyo,Hitachi, CTX, and Compaq all had either or both lightweight SVGA (800infinity 600) and XGA (1,204 infinity 768) projectors on display, rangingin weight from 4.2 pounds to 10 pounds (1.9 kg to 4.5 kg). Many were ratedat 500 to 600 lumens output, while some of the bigger boxes were pushingmore than 1,000 lumens. Several of the ultra-thin single-DMD designs wereshown, projectors not much bigger than a notebook computer. Many models nowhave PanelLink direct digital inputs.

In this category, the biggest news was Sharp’s Notevision 7 ultraportable,which uses a single 1,024 infinity 768 DMD for imaging, a major change forone of the preeminent manufacturers of LCD projectors. This projector – andthe Panasonic PT-D7, NEC MultiSync LT84 and LT140 – are all derived fromthe PLUS U-870/U-1080 chassis. In Focus’ LP330 ultralight is of its owndesign and also uses a single XGA DMD. The Compaq MP1600 is even smallerand stands vertically with a snap-off video input adapter, and Davis’ DLX16 is still in the engineering stage but tiny indeed.

Among the LCD bunch, Sony’s VPL PX1 9 pound (4 kg) portable employs three0.9 inch (23 mm) XGA LCD panels and cranks out 1,000 lumens, also using anupright design that looks a lot like its consumer-version CPD LCDprojector. Epson upgraded its Power-Lite 5500C and 7500C ultras to the5550C and 7550C, increasing light output to 850 and 950 lumens. Proxima’sLX-1 and LS-1 ultraportables also use 0.9 inch chips and operate above the800 lumens range.

There was also considerable interest in SVGA and XGA desktop projectors.Hitachi had several new models (CPX series), as did Panasonic(PT-L597/797). Sharp (Notevision 6) and Sony (Super-Bright) both showeddesktop LCD boxes that weigh about 15 pounds (6.8 kg) and can easily crankmore than 2,000 lumens. Sanyo (PLC-SP series), NEC (MT 830+, 1030+, and1035+), Toshiba (TLP 600/700 series), Proxima (DP-series), Mitsubishi(X200) and Epson (PowerLite 7250/7350/5350) all had desktop offerings inthe 1,500 to 1,800 lumens range.

Slightly bigger desktop XGA projectors (essentially installationprojectors) from Sanyo (PLC-9000NA), Epson (PowerLite 8000i) and Proxima(Pro AV 9310) now yield more than 2,000 lumens. Some, Sanyo (PLC-EF10N) andProxima again (Pro AV 9400), plus APTi (AP-2000), In Focus (LP-740), Epson(PowerLite 9000i), Hughes-JVC (G1500), and JVC (DLA-G15), support SXGA(1,365/1,280 infinity 1,024) native resolution.

Barco showed a high-resolution version of the BarcoGraphics 6300, calledthe BarcoReality 6300 DLC. It uses 1,280 infinity 1,024 LCD panels and hasdirect digital inputs. PanelLink is now beginning to show up on desktop andinstallation/desktop projectors as well. Sony has souped up its VPL-X2000Udesktop/installation projector to SXGA resolution, giving it the monikerVPL FE100 and increasing the light output to 3,000 lumens.

The biggest projector surprise for me at the show was NEC’s MultiSync T5, a90 pound (41 kg) installation, staging and rental projector that usesthree-chip XGA DMD imaging and a xenon light source. It is not much biggerthan a 7 inch (178 mm) CRT projector, has the NEC pull-out handles,supports direct digital input and cranks out 4,500 lumens from a 120 VACpower source. This projector uses Texas Instrument’s Thunder light engine,and you can bet your last dollar that more three-DMD installationprojectors will be making an appearance shortly.

At the high end, a category sure to be affected by all the increasedbrightness and decreased size of desktop and installation LCD and DMDprojectors, the magic number is now 10,000 lumens, and Digital Projection(Lightning 10sx and Lightning 15sx), Barco (ELM G10 and R12), andElectrohome (VistaGRAPHX Roadie 10K and 12K) all had high-intensity modelson display. Several (Lightning series, R12 and Roadie 12K) incorporate thenew 1,280 infinity 1,024 DMDs.

Digital Projection also showed a 6,000 lumen SXGA box (Power 6 sx), whileBarco unveiled the BarcoReality 9300 DLC, a higher-brightness version ofits SXGA large-venue LCD projector withdirect digital inputs. Panasonicjumped into the large-venue fray with the PT-D9500 (9,000 lumens, XGADMDs), while off in a remote corner of the Hughes-JVC booth, I foundanother pleasant surprise, a 4,000 lumen, large-venue projector using threeof JVC’s 1,365 infinity 1,024 D-ILA imaging devices (reflective LCDs). Itlooked spectacular with HDTV footage, and was not much bigger than NEC’s T5.

In the retro projector and videowall crowd, DLP imaging is also making itspresence felt. Synelec, Mitsubishi and Electrohome all showed projectioncubes using TI’s new single-DMD XGA projection engine, while Toshiba hadits P410DLU/P411DLU SVGA projection cubes on display. Electrosonic is alsoa participant in the DLP market and showed an XGA DMD cube solution, whileClarity continues to offer both DLP and LCD engines in its cubes.

Plasma display panels also commanded a lot of attention this year. Thedevelopments in 42 inch (1.1 m) technology continue fast and furious; allthe major players introduced new panels. Fujitsu exhibited its latestseries glass in the PDS-4211, which is also used in Sony’s PFM-500A2W.NEC’s latest PlasmaSync 4210 has improved brightness and contrast over itsearlier models. Panasonic’s PT-42P1 42 inch panel was noticeably brighterthan any other 42 inch models at the show, and it is also being sold byToshiba as the PD42W1U.

Higher-resolution PDPs were in abundance. Hitachi’s 42 inch CMP402-HDW isan XGA resolution PDP, while Fujitsu’s HD panel and Sony’s PFM-510A1WUMegaPixel panels have 1,024 infinity 1,024 non-square (brick) pixels, areal video scaling challenge. Pioneer showcased its higher-contrast 1,280infinity 720 PDP-V502 (it has noticeably better contrast than thePDP-V501), while NEC got its long-awaited 1,365 infinity 768 PlasmaSync5000W 50 inch (1.3 m) PDP on the road. The big plasma news came fromPanasonic, where a prototype 60 inch (1.5 m), 1,366 infinity 768 PDPassembled by NY-based Plasmaco was in the spotlight. It had everything -contrast, color saturation and brightness.

As far as interfaces go, the big news was in video scalars. Regular readersof this column know that I have been predicting for some time now a shiftaway from conventional line doublers, triplers and quadruplers, and theevidence was there in Orlando, FL. Faroudja, which came out with one of thefirst digital video scalars a couple of years back, followed up itsrecently-launched DTV-2200 with two more models – the DVP3000(NTSC) andDVP3000U (PAL). Both can up-convert video to any resolution from 640infinity 480 to 1,920 infinity 1,080.

Analog Way made more improvements to its revolutionary multi-input RGBGraphics Scalar/Switcher, the first RGB switcher to work like a videoswitcher and effects controller by incorporating both preview and masterswitch bus lines. Just down the hall, Folsom Research demonstrated asimilar solution using the VFC-2200 dual-input scalar with an external RGBpreview/on-line switcher designed by Vista Systems, mixing and switchingeverything from video to HDTV.

Extron showcased the DVS 100 for video scaling, and DVS 200 for RGB-to-RGBscaling. Communications Specialties has made further improvements to thepopular Deuce scalar, resulting in the Deuce Pro, which has a few new pixelcounts (1,365 infinity 768 and 1,280 infinity 768 for plasma) plus someblank pixel memories you can write yourself. Finally, RGB Spectrum broughtalong the new VLI 200 high-end scalar (it also has several write-your-ownpixel memories) but also acknowledged the economy market with the DTQproduct (doubler, tripler, quadrupler).

Final thoughts

Is the widespread availability of these high-brightness, high-resolution,auto-synching plug-and-play projectors a bell tolling for pro A-Vcontractors? There were several comments heard at the show that thecombination of such projectors and sales through PC channels (catalogs andon the Internet) spells bad news.

It has been my experience that the availability of such products usuallyincreases demand for accessories and peripheral equipment. What is morelikely is that end-users will now want to build custom, integratedpresentation rooms in a multitude of sizes instead of wheeling projectorsaround on carts all day long simply because the prices of projectionequipment and interfaces have become more reasonable.

The introduction of digital television and high-definition televisionformats has thrown several monkey wrenches into the do-it-yourself mindset.New projection screens, monitors, projectors and interfaces are beingintroduced to merge HDTV and conventional analog 4:3 video and computerimaging. Based on the questions heard in my DTV seminar at INFOCOMM, thereappears to be even more confusion today about the multitude of picture scanrates, aspect ratios and analog vs. digital interfaces. How will theaverage end-user know the best way to integrate both analog and digitalvideo formats in one system?

HDTV may have also saved the skin of CRT front projectors, which have beencoming under fire lately as an old-fashioned and overly-complex way toproject images. At present, no flat-matrix display (plasma, LCD, DMD) cancapture 100% of the resolution in a 1,920 infinity 1,080 signal. Only a 9inch (229 mm) CRT is really up to the challenge, although 8 inch (203 mm)tubes can get close. Despite this, only three CRT projectors were enteredin this year’s Projection Shoot-Out – two in the 1,280 infinity 1,024/1,600infinity 1,200 category and one in the HDTV section.

As far as showing large-venue HDTV, Hughes-JVC’s ILA light valves are theonly super-bright systems that can capture every pixel and scan line 1:1.All other DMD and LCD large-venue projectors have a maximum nativeresolution of 1,280 infinity 1,024 and must scale HDTV images down todisplay them. Among the plasma crowd, the 50 inch panels from NEC andPioneer (and eventually Panasonic’s 60 inch) can display 720p video at fullresolution, but even they must compress 1,080 video by 29% to 33%.

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