, Pacific Media Associates (PMA) reported that sales of pico projectors grew 125% year-over-year in Q3 2010 (over 100,000 units for the quarter). About 51% of those shipments were for products powered by DLP® technology. Similarly, iSuppli a report predicting growth to over 7.3 million units by 2013 (CAGR of 258% from 2008). Capturing just a small piece of this market could mean big revenue for display engine developers, such as , , and , as well as Texas Instruments, who has taken the early lead.
At Picopros, we are certainly watching this emerging technology segment. We
many product reviews and news articles, so we have a good feel for where the industry is going – and it does look promising. Not too long ago, the “best” pico projectors were 7-10 lumens. Today, less than two years later, we are seeing many models pumping out anywhere between 15 to 50 lumens – pretty impressive for a battery-powered device. Not to mention, the display resolution for these new products has steadily increased. In addition, the connectivity and features of these devices has also grown. Most pico projectors today offer onboard memory, an internal speaker, and even HDMI connectivity. The next generation of pico projectors will even offer interactive touch projection, as indicated by and . Can 3D projection be far behind?
All that said, pico projectors are still are* too dim for mass adoption in today’s market, where consumers demand high performance at increasingly lower prices. Some people (myself included) are paying $300-$600 USD for pico projectors that are only useful in controlled lighting environments and require the use of all types of cables and adapters. But, the typical consumer is not going to want to deal with all that. And, to date, they have largely chosen not to.
by many people. Most people cite limited brightness, low resolution, and price as the main reasons for limited adoption. I can personally attest to this, as I have evaluated a number of products. Many projectors *
However, many overlook the power of , Clayton M. Christensen describes some similar scenarios where the established technology providers watched as their businesses were radically changed by unforeseen technological advances. One example he uses is the floppy disk drive.
. In the groundbreaking book
“The floppy disk drive market has had unusually large changes in market share over the past fifty years. According to Clayton M. Christensen's research, the cause of this instability was a repeating pattern of disruptive innovations. For example, in 1981, 8 inch drives (used in ) were "vastly superior" to 5.25 inch drives (used in ). However, 8 inch drives were not affordable for the new desktop machines. The simple 5.25 inch drive, assembled from technologically inferior "off-the-shelf" components, was an "innovation" only in the sense that it was new. However, as this market grew and the drives improved, the companies that manufactured them eventually triumphed while many of the existing manufacturers of eight inch drives fell behind.”
There are plenty of examples of this through history, including: mini steel mills, hydraulic excavators, digital photography, and countless others. I would add pico projection to this list. Yes, today’s offerings are limited, but I see that changing rapidly over the next two years.
Brightness and Power Consumption:
Although several manufacturers offer battery-operated pico projectors, the current devices are power hogs. Most of these products currently use batteries that range from 1600-2400mAh and last just 1-2 hours at best. A sure sign of power inefficiency is the fact that many of these devices get warm – or even hot – during use, requiring cooling fans and intricate venting. Further, these inefficient light sources have limited how bright manufacturers can design their products due to overheating concerns and excessively short battery life.
This will be addressed through improved performance of LED and laser technology – the two main lighting sources for pico projectors. It seems a week doesn’t go by where someone publishes a new article related to higher-performance LEDs. Improvements in the
are also playing a part in efficiency gains. Similarly, laser-based pico projectors from steady advances in solid state laser developments. The long-awaited is expected to be in mass production later this year. Additionally, manufacturers are even red and blue laser diodes to further enhance laser-based pico projection. Advances such as these will help address the power consumption issue.
They majority of battery-operated pico projectors deliver WVGA (854 x 480) resolution or less. Some of the small plug-in models can handle higher resolutions, such as the XGA (1024 x 768) offered by the
. Nevertheless, consumers want HD in a battery-powered pico projector. As applications like Netflix and other services become ubiquitous in mobile devices, DVD-quality projection will not cut it.
Not to worry, HD pico projectors will be coming soon. Texas Instruments has HD pico chipsets, as well as Syndiant, who expects to have HD display engines this year. Advances in MEMS and improvements in projection engine design are enabling superior resolutions from smaller display engines.
As we said earlier in this article, many pico projectors are already vastly improving connectivity options. The newest models, in many cases, are capable of VGA, composite, and even HDMI video input. Also, many have onboard SD memory card slots and even a full-Size USB port, in the case of the
laser pico projector.
As we move forward, we will see further advancement in connectivity. Bluetooth and Wifi connectivity will become standard for pico projectors. The
has already adopted these features.
The future of pico projection will include some unique features.
and projectors that based on surface conditions are not out of the question. One of the most recent advancements, as we mentioned above, will be available in Q2 of this year is . Essentially, this technology allows the user to manipulate and interact with projected content – without ever touching the projector. This is accomplished, in the case of the NionCom Vision tablet, via a photodiode and the MicroVision PicoP® display engine. Pretty amazing stuff for a handheld device.
Considering the advancements made in recent years, pico projection holds a lot of promise. To date, these products have received mostly skeptical consideration. However, a holistic look at the technological advancements being made in the space point toward a much brighter future than some would predict. I wonder what Clayton Christensen would say?