Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Microvision: What to Expect At SID 2010

Society of Information Display (SID) expo starts on May 25th, 2010.

That’s about four months away and the supply chain partners of Microvision are expected to further enhance the green laser technology during this period... and that should put further distance between the competition and Microvision offering.

In January of 2008, an excellent article from EETimes undisputedly confirmed that Microvision has the best PicoP technology for any application where the image size, image resolution, pico display engine module size, power requirement, auto-focus and cost matters. It was expected that as the time goes on, Microvision technology will further mature in-line with maturing market [and increasing adoption rates] and all these differentiating features will only get better... while the cost comes down dramatically as the economy of scale is reached with green lasers.

In the future, hopefully by the SID 2010 in May, I expect to see…

• Longer life and reliable MEMS chip.
• Higher resolution that’s better than the current 848x480 pixels… by decreasing the pixel size and increasing the scan frequency of the MEMS chip.
• Brighter pictures [going from 10 lumen to 20 lumen]… by using more powerful laser light modules from Corning and Osram. Both Corning and Osram have an ultimate target of over 28 lumens for their green lasers.
• Reduced power requirements [for the embedded PDEs] by further optimizing the ASIC, and the RGB lasers on/off cycle etc.
• Brighter and larger image size [over 100 inches diagonal] that is always in focus... an inherent feature of the RGB lasers.
• Cost of PicoP Display Engine to about $190 [including cost of bill of materials, assembly and supply chain profit mark-ups]… as a result of economy of scale.

These are some powerful statements and I will try to explain…

First, here’s the link to EETimes article that is perhaps the best [and most comprehensive] article I have seen so far…


Here’re my observations from the EETimes article …

Competing Technologies:
There are essentially three competing technologies: FLCOS panel based [Displaytech, LBO], LCOS micro-display based [3M] and MEMS chips based [TI and Microvision]. However, the two front runner technologies remain the LCOS panels based and the MEMS chips based.

Market Leader Standalone Pico Projector:
Displaytech [and its OEMs like iView, and LBO] and 3M are competing in LCOS panels based Pico Projector direction that may be good for the standalone market but certainly is not ready for the embedded version… due to size, image size, image quality, power requirement, heat generation, and auto focus issues. 3M and Displaytech are head to head in this space and may have [a perceived] cost advantage at this stage. However, you must note Displaytech’s claim: “that a complete pico-projector subsystem, including the FLCOS panel, red-, green- and blue-LEDs, optical lenses and packaging, has a bill of material of less than $100” is misleading. When you include the cost of assembly [by the integrator] and profit mark-ups, this cost to the OEMs is more like $160. 3M may have a price advantage over Displaytech in the standalone Pico Display Engine cost to OEMs.

Texas Instruments and Microvision are competing in the standalone space with their MEMS chips based Pico Projector. Today, Microvision is the un-disputed leader in this space [with quality image, large image size, small PDE module size, low power, zero waste heat and always-in-focus] and when they do release the production PDEs for the OEM market [in the 2nd Qtr of 2010], I can assure you the cost to OEMs may be in the $170 to $190 range.

Microvision’s standalone PicoP projector SHOWwx is scheduled to be released in the US market in March of 2010. At the CES 2010, there were several units on display projecting great images in real time from an iPod… for you to touch and feel. None of the competitors was at the CES 2010 and had nothing close to SHOWwx on display… in quality or for you to touch and feel. 3M and TI showed you their Pico Projector… but did you see it projecting real video or held it in your hand. How about that sleigh of the hand focus by the TI and 3M representative?

The microdisplay vendors like Displaytech and 3M; and the MEMS micromirror companies like Texas Instrument and Microvision; are headed in two different directions. Displaytech and 3M solution uses cheap and readily available LEDs and a low-cost liquid-crystal-on-silicon panel, but companies have been manufacturing LCOS panels for years and their solution will look comparatively power hungry and expensive as time goes by. Whereas, both Texas Instrument's and Microvision's MEMS micromirror chips will become smaller, cheaper and lower power in the future, but might not look as attractive to OEMs today. Of the micromirror solutions, Microvision's MEMS solution will be the smallest, lowest power and cheapest approach, because it uses a single MEMS micromirror, but today it depends on relatively expensive green laser. Texas Instruments DLP, on the other hand, is a little bigger, more expensive and higher power today, since it uses hundreds of thousand of micromirrors, but it produces relatively good images and is readily available. However, one desirable and differentiating aspect of Microvision’s PicoP Display Engine is the always-in-focus feature that no other pico projector has.

Market Leader Embedded Pico Projector:
Today, Microvision is the un-disputed leader in the embedded PicoP space [with quality image, small size, low power, zero waste heat, auto-focus and cost] and when they do release the PicoP Display Engines for the embedded market [in the 2nd Qtr of 2010], I can assure you the cost to OEMs may be in the $170 to $190 range initially... and going lower from there.

When it comes to the embedded PDEs; the unit size, power required, image quality, image size, auto-focus and cost are all important. When Microvision is ready to release the PDEs for the embedded market [in 2nd Qtr of 2010]…

• the module size will be less than 7mm,
• the power required will be less than 1.5 watts,
• the image size will be from 12” to over 100”,
• the resolution will be the current 848x480 pixels,
• the brightness will be better than the 10 lumen today,
• the projected image will always be in focus,
• and the cost to OEMs [like Motorola] is expected to be in the $170 to $190 range… and going down as the production/adoption rate increase in 2011.

In the embedded market space, I don’t see any of the competitors coming close to Microvision in this race… not even Taxes Instruments with their power guzzling million-micromirrors based Pico Projector. The likes of 3M and Displaytech will never get down to acceptable levels of size, power, waste heat, auto-focus and cost requirements… as they will have the “gating issues”. Pico Projectors that use million micromirrors or LCOS panels [with lenses and optics] just can’t cut the mustard in terms of physical size, power, waste heat, auto-focus and cost.

I’m sure there will be many players in the pico projection space... Displaytech with FLCOS, 3M with LCOS, and TI with DLP technologies.

However, no matter how you slice-it or dice-it, Microvision has, in my opinion, no competition in the laser based “embedded” pico projection space... not TI… and certainly not 3M.

Microvision’s laser PicoP Display Engine will lead the rat pack because of the following:

• Small form factor that allows room to add additional built-in functionality. The competition starts-out big and can only get bigger.

• Power consumption will always be the differentiating factor. Two to three hours of use between battery charges is always more desirable than the ones that last an hour or less. Extra power pack(s) in the standalone version will make the competition at par with Microvision’s SHOWwx... but there is a high probability that the user will opt for longer run on batteries. How often do you remember scrambling for a power pack when you need one?

Microvision’s PicoP Display Engine produces virtually zero heat due to lasers being used as the light source and also due to on/off switching of lasers during dark image segments. Competing pico projection technologies of others produce enough waste heat to cook eggs... sunny side up for sure.

• “A wide angle view means that Microvision’s PDE can show a wider screen at closer distance!” This is a very important differentiation as compared to the “rest” in the market. With Microvision's PDE you get…

"A wider image [60 inch from 5 feet away, for example] from a close distance… the image is brighter and sharper… colors are more vibrant… and the image is always in focus."

• Laser based PicoP Display Engines will always have projected image in focus… regardless of the distance [from the screen] or mobility of the projector itself. Try focusing a projector every time you move [with the projector] or change the distance from the screen to change the size of the image.

• Microvision’s PDE has better image quality and is sharper [per lumen] as compared to other projectors using “diffused” light sources the competition is using. The use of diffused light source, like lamps or LED, causes the “torch effect”… where the image is brighter in the center with darker outside.

• One other problem the panel display based pico projectors have is the black outline for each pixel that shows up in their images. Laser based PicoP Display Engine do not have that problem and as such projected images will always be brighter and sharper.

• Microvision’s PDE can go from 12” to 200” diagonal image size. None of the competitor has [so far] been able to match what Microvision is offering.

• Microvision’s PDE projects bright and vivid color with 5000:1 contrast ratio.

• Microvision’ PDE projects bright and vivid color images without motion blur because of its inherent fast refresh feature from laser light source.

• Microvision’s PDE has better resolution [at 848x480] as compared to the competing technologies from 3M and TI.

• Microvision’s PicoP Display Engine is progressing nicely on upwards pathway to higher brightness of 20 lumens using the second generation green laser [G-2000] from Corning.

After the CEATEC 2009 expo, engadget had this to say about the first generation SHOWwx…

"We stopped at Microvision booth at CEATEC in order to take a look at what makes the world's first laser based pico projector so special and we can honestly say that the picture was pretty stunning."

Here’s the link engadget report…

Now just imagine what their comments would be like when they see the second generation SHOWwx [and PDEs for embedded applications] with 20 lumens of brightness and HD resolution.

My money is riding on Microvision.

Anant Goel