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projectiondesign: Thinking Speed

Fredrikstad, Norway, is not the kind of place that springs immediately to mind when thinking about the fast-evolving video projection industry. But this idyllic spot played host to a new crop of 1080P projectors both the installed commercial AV, and home theater worlds.

Fredrikstad, Norway, is not the kind of place that springs immediately to mind when thinking about the fast-evolving video projection industry. An idyllic spot that sits near the border of Norway and Sweden, Fredrikstad is, this early May, a welcome respite from the frenetic atmosphere surrounding the industry, as we get ready to head for InfoComm, and as there’s a new crop of 1080P projectors waiting in the wings to shake up both the installed commercial AV, and home theater worlds.

And even when planning to head to the farthest-north spot in Europe (well, on the planet come to think of it) this reporter has ever ventured, to visit one the projection industry’s most intriguing players, Gary Plavin, projectiondesign’s North American president and my host for the visit, set the scene in a way that made the visit even more intriguing. Gary kept saying, “wait until you meet Brd.” Before there was the usual heads up about the new products that projectiondesign is readying for InfoComm, and before the usual hints about specs and verticals from the engineers and marketers gearing up for new product introductions, Gary kept coming back to “Brd.”

When I met Brd Eker, I understood why. I’ve been to visit a few projector manufacturers in my day, but never have I have visited one with the unique genetic makeup of projectiondesign. In a nutshell, it’s a projector company started by a Norwegian industrial designer who brought some of Europe’s best projection engineers and marketers on board to launch products into one of the most competitive markets anywhere.

B�rd Eker, the driving force behind the industrial design of projectiondesign’s DLP projectors for the commercial and home theater markets. And about the design part of the equation-go ahead and toss out the clichs about “passion” and “cutting-edge design,” etc. Brd Eker is the majority owner of one of the most advanced DLP projection manufacturers in the world. He’s also the industrial designer of the world’s fastest production sports car (the KOENIGSEGG CCR), and is the industrial designer, pilot, and owner of the fastest boat in Class One powerboat world championship (The Spirit of Norway). I could go on, but you get the drift. Don’t think so much “design.” Think Speed. Speed to market. Performance. And just plain speed.

Eker doesn’t talk that much about “form following function.” He’s too busy creating products that are all about performing, and that’s why projectiondesign has been able to carve out a remarkably robust niche in high-resolution, high-performance DLP projection. And do so manufacturing in a Scandinavian country where costs are not cheap.

When touring the projectiondesign factory in Fredrikstad, and then touring Ekerd’s separate design firm, situated on a wooded campus some 10 kilometers outside Fredrikstad, it became clear that Ekerd was not “passionate” about design. He is obsessed…with much more than that. He is intimately involved in the “industrial” part of the equation, that’s what makes him the “designer” he is.

Ekerd is involved as much in the process of managing the assembly lines at the factory where circuit boards and light engines are put together as in the look and feel of the product. Designing products that are elegant, reliable, ergonomic… those are table stakes for Ekerd. His real goal is to create high-performance products that-through meticulous “design” of the down-to-the-circuit board elements-can be manufactured efficiently in an environment where most manufacturers would never dare to set up shop: an ostensibly high-cost country that while having superb engineering and design capabilities is according to conventional wisdom not “cost-efficient” for manufacturing.

Well, there is nothing conventional about this company.

Most of you will never go to Norway to check this all out for yourself. Industry veteran Gary Plavin, anchoring down projectiondesign in the U.S., may be your only face of projectiondesign, and you won’t meet Eker, or Jrn Eriksen (president & CEO) or Sture (pronounced “studer”) Berg (who deserve a story of their own…they bring decades of experience in the projector wars to the table).

So here’s the bottom line: this innovative and nimble shop in Fredrikstad has been bringing to market some of the most interesting new DLP projectors in recent years. If you think I’m star-struck with Northern Lights, consider: In the Texas Instruments/DLP booth at CEDIA EXPO 2005, the TI demo of the first 1080P single-chip DLP projector was actually a projectiondesign product. In other words, they had the first 1080p single-chip DLP projector anywhere, even before TI had one. Ditto at InfoComm last year; a projectiondesign projector was doing duty in the TI booth as the showcase 1080P one-chip demo.

I’m still processing it all, but in Fredrikstad this week I saw a demo that is the most impressive development I’ve seen in DLP this year: the new projectiondesign F1, to be called the M25 when it’s launched this year, a new generation 1080P single-chip that is a step beyond anything I’ve seen. This new unit uses a seven-segment color wheel (R-G-B-R-G-B-Neutral Density) combined with a unique and pd-patented version of TI’s “Brilliant Color” to achieve an imaging speed that eliminates any vestiges of color breakup or artifacting you saw in any previous DLP single-chip system.

Speed, indeed. I guess that’s what you learn by producing the world’s fastest sports car.

And that’s just the one of the projectors that pd will be showing at InfoComm… stay tuned… I’m hurrying back to get ready for InfoComm…