Where the Chips Fell at CEDIA EXPO 2008

In the mind of many die-hard home theater pros Ive talked with over the past year, the biggest news in the chip world, i.e. the DLP and 3LCD worlds, is news that has not yet arrived: These home video gurus are clamoring for a 2.35:1 chip from any camp, DLP, 3LCD, or the smaller but innovative LCoS camp.
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In the mind of many die-hard home theater pros Ive talked with over the past year, the biggest news in the chip world, i.e. the DLP and 3LCD worlds, is news that has not yet arrived: These home video gurus are clamoring for a 2.35:1 chip from any camp, DLP, 3LCD, or the smaller but innovative LCoS camp.

In the mind of many die-hard home theater pros Ive talked with over the past year, the biggest news in the chip world, i.e. the DLP and 3LCD worlds, is news that has not yet arrived: These home video gurus are clamoring for a 2.35:1 chip from any camp, DLP, 3LCD, or the smaller but innovative LCoS camp.

Well, 2.35:1 was not here yet, on the floor of CEDIA (unless you do it with lens attachments), but what was in ample display on the show floor of CEDIA was an array of new technologies that demonstrates the resourcefulness of both DLP and 3LCD projector manufacturers. (LCoS cannot be overlooked; Sony and JVC had great demos at CEDIA, but for the sake of space Ill restrict this blog to the two larger camps, and revisit LCoS later.)

My DLP quest began at the projectiondesign booth. Perennially pushing the DLP envelope, the engineers at this Norway-based innovator showed an entirely new line of home theater projectors, the avielo series -- the spectra, optix, and prisma. The most impressive was the optix, which uses a two-lamp, two-color wheel system. Yes, while the debate over 3LCD vs. single-chip DLP has been going on, projectiondesign did an extremely clever end-run: theyre running single-chip DLP with two color wheels. And theyve moved their standard color wheel configuration from the previous RGBCMY wheel to a RGBRGB wheel. (But they claim that theyre still squeezing TIs BrilliantColor, in a fashion, out of the spokes on the wheel, while toeing to the RGB gospel for the color purist.)

The newest high-definition video projector from Italian manufacturer SIM2 is its new Grand Cinema HT30000 HOST system, which pairs a surprisingly compact projector, with a discrete outboard video input processor that connects via SIM2s proprietary, three-line optical-digital High-Definition Optical Signal Transfer (HOST) system. SIM2 says that HOST is able to link the projector and processor over distances up to 750 feet (250m). HOSTs 10-bit video processor will feature six HDMI 1.3 inputs along with numerous component, composite, RGB, and S-video inputs.

The two-piece HT3000 HOST begins with an ultra-compact projector just 17 inches square and weighing only 24 lbs., housed in Ferrari-like exterior created by noted designer Giorgio Revoldini. The projector utilizes the latest-generation, 0.95-inch DLP chip from Texas Instruments to deliver full-HD 1080 progressive imaging.

Digital Projection Internationals recently launched displays, shown at CEDIA, are the TITAN and LIGHTNING Ultra Contrast displays, delivering up to 5000:1 contrast, with great dark area detail and saturated, vivid colors. And DPIs iVision 30 and dVision 30 WUXGA displays, presenting a 16:10 aspect ratio and capabilities of displaying full 1080p video with no scaling required, bring up the single-chip DLP line. DPI also showed its TITAN 700 Series displays, an extension of the popular 600 Series, with enhancements including higher brightness, standard HD-SDI input connectivity, longer-life HID lamps and improved rigging flexibility.

Of particular interest to me at CEDIA was DPIs demo of a rear-screen configuration using a 3-chip TITAN projector on a DNP rear screen. The image was produced with very bright wash lights shining directly onto the screen. It also brought to the forefront a very significant trend in video projection: the use of rear-projection systems for home theatersor better said, home environments. This trend has installers increasingly putting large screens in brightly lit rooms, outdoors by pools basically, a lot of places that screens have not gone before. Its all about putting a large screen in a place where theres a ton of ambient light (that would wash out front-projection systems)

Speaking of rear projection, at CEDIA 2008 Runco previewed its new CineWall CW-95HD in-wall projection display, featuring Runco's CineWide 2.35:1 technology. The CW-95HD combines the sleek look of a flat-panel display, but with 2.35:1 solution available in an enormous 95 diagonal, achieving the same 2.35:1 imagery that previously only front projectors featuring lens attachments could achieve.

There were just too many DLP projectors -- not to mention DLP RPTVs -- at CEDIA, to even skim the surface here. On the TV front, Samsung showed only LED-based DLP TVs in its booth. And Mitsubishi, showed, for the first time publicly, laser-based DLP TVs at CEDIA. Mitsubishis laser-illumination system with a DLP light engine, the LaserVue, will be available in 65- and 73-inch models with the 65-inch Diamond shipping to authorized retailers in the third quarter of this year and the 73-inch Diamond to follow.

According to Mitsubishi, they have an advantage because of their majority share of the world-wide high-performance red laser market. According to Mitsubishi, the color gamut as a percentage of BT.709 for LaserVue prototypes, has been measured at approximately 200 percent, delivering over twice the color of many of todays HDTVs, and with operating power targeted at under 200 watts, they are environmentally friendly, consuming approximately one-half the power of today's LCD TVs, and one-third of plasma TVs.
And speaking of non-lamped displays, at least five different projector manufacturers are actively developing LED-based DLP front projectors. These are lampless projectors, as TI likes to call them. The bottom line is that there are three tiny LED arrays, one each for R,G, and B. Each in a tiny 16x9 frame no bigger than a few millimeters long. No lamp. No heat. About 700 lumens out of the gate in early 2009, and some claiming theyll have 1200-1500 lumens by late 2009. Digital Projection is one of exhibitors with a back-room LED/DLP projector demo at CEDIA. Its not fully here yet (the plethora of animated film demos at these showings attests to the fact that skin tones are a bit on fire at this point) but its coming soon.

3D is being touted by TI as the future of much of the market. But most of the active 3-D demos weve seen in the past few years are SXGA+. (There are of course lots of passive 3-D demos, including some at CEDIA 08, but passive 3-D is nothing new.) The hurdle is taking active 3-D to 1080p. Its not as easy as it looks through funny glasses. You need dual processing, all the way to the light engine, to do 3-D right, at 120Hz. The resolution X frame rate = Bandwidth equation is not stepping aside for 3-D. On the contrary its harder to accommodate. And its where DLP has a processing/refresh advantage over 3LCD projection (or LCD panels).

At CEDIA 08, 3LCD--as a chip manufacturer--focused its message on the benefits of more efficient power consumption. Briefing reporters from the Denver Athletic Club adjacent to the Convention Center, the 3LCD marketing team cited recent studies showing that 3LCD projectors are up to 29-percent more energy efficient than comparable DLP projectors. 3LCD said that in the study (by projectorcentral.com) 3LCD projectors demonstrated on average, power usage/output of 14.5 lumens per lamp watt, compared to just over 11 lumens per lamp watt for DLP (750 shipping models compared, all resolutions and brightness levels). Specifically for 1080P projectors, 3LCD claimed that the comparison broke down to 7.5 lumens per lamp watt for 3LCD, 6.2 lumens per lamp watt for 3DLP, 5.2 lumens per lamp watt for one-chip DLP, and 4.5 lumens per lamp watt for LCoS.

(This study only focused on single-chip DLP vs 3LCD. Digital Projection International, the DLP manufacturer of projection systems, announced at CEDIA the companys initiative to lead the projection display industry in efficient product designdelivering measurable results. According to DPI, DPs CoolTek Engineering platform introduced last year, allows the current 3-chip DLP TITAN and LIGHTNING projectors to deliver the highest efficiency, lowest cost of ownership and smallest physical and environmental footprint of any comparable display products.)

There has not been any major new chip development this year for 3LCD (as there has not been for DLP or LCoS), but there was no shortage of 3LCD product news from the show floor. Probably the most interesting 3LCD news at CEDIA was not a breakthrough to new technical levels for 3LCD, but a broadening of features to lower-priced units. This is perhaps best exemplified by a product that was introduced just a few months ago and has proven popular. Epson has been shipping since early 2008 a new, fully-integrated high-end home entertainment solution -- the Ensemble HD Home Cinema System -- to dealers and installers. It really is making the selection of a projector -- as opposed to a large flat panel -- easier for many consumers (especially those on the low-mid end of the market). The systems offers a choice of Epson PowerLite 3LCD (three-chip) high definition multimedia projector with either 1080p native resolution (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) or a more affordably priced 720p option. Also included is a 100-inch motorized screen with front-channel ceiling mounted speaker system; Audio/video controller with integrated upconverting DVD player; Atlantic Technology speaker system and a proprietary 150-watt subwoofer containing all 5.1 channels of amplification; Universal remote that controls the entire system including the motorized screen; all audio, video and power cable needed to complete the installation while maximizing performance (including HDMI); wire management track system that hides all of the included cables from the site of users; and necessary mounting brackets.

Technical breakthrough? Not really, but its a marketing breakthrough that will ripple through both the CEDIA and the CES markets. (The Ensemble HD Home Cinema System is available for a suggested retail price of $6,999 for the 1080p system, and $4,999 for the 720p version.)

Epson also announced at CEDIA the introduction of its latest 3LCD 1080p front projector, the PowerLite Home Cinema 6100, with a price below $2Ka significant drop in price point and a first for the industry for 1080P 3LCD.

At the higher end of 3LCD, Mitsubishi introduced at CEDIA its new HD8000, designed, with 5000 lumen output, to produce well-saturated images even with ambient light. The HD8000 uses three 1.1 inch inorganic LCD panels for long color life.