Saturday, June 26, 2010

Microvision: Unveils Increased Brightness, 720p HD Ready Laser Pico Projector

Press Release
Source: Microvision
Monday May 24, 2010, 6:31 am EDT

REDMOND, Wa.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Microvision, Inc. (NASDAQ:MVIS - News), a leading developer of ultra-miniature projection display products announced today that it plans to demonstrate a 720p HD ready laser pico projector at The Society For Information Display annual conference, May 25 – 27, at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, Washington.

The 720p prototype pico projector outputs 15 lumens of brightness while still maintaining its compact, low profile form factor, very similar to Microvision’s current WVGA product. The company plans a commercial product version of a 720p HD PicoP display engine in the second half of 2011.

The new 720p, higher brightness prototype highlights the capability of PicoP® technology to support new performance levels while still maintaining the compelling attributes of the existing PicoP platform, including:

• Infinite focus;
• Wide throw angle that offers an immersive visual experience;
• Superior brightness uniformity;
• High optical efficiency resulting in low power requirements;
• 5000:1 contrast ratio; and
• Vivid colors of up to 200% greater than standard broadcast television

“Microvision’s growing success is rooted in our ability to anticipate market needs and proactively innovate and push the limits of our technology to address them,” stated Alexander Tokman, president and CEO. “On behalf of our entire design team, I’m extremely proud to introduce the world’s first 720p laser pico projector demonstrator that fits in the palm of your hand.”

Mr. Tokman added: “Our customers are looking for best-in-class pico projection solutions and we believe that with our demonstrated ability to advance both resolution and brightness on our core PicoP platform, Microvision will continue to be recognized as the premier provider of customer focused solutions in this exciting new product category.”

In addition to the 720p demonstrator, Microvision also plans to showcase the following developer tools, product and application demonstrations at SID in Booth 1401:

Here’s the link to the Press Release…

The company demonstratd the 720p HD laser Pico Projector at SID Conference. In addition to that, Microvision showcased portable gaming, automotive and wearable display applications that were enabled by its current PicoP Display Engine technology.

The commercial opportunities presented by the 720p PicoP projector at 15 lumens of brightness; while still maintaining its compact, low profile form factor, is huge. The current WVGA product SHOWwx ─ at 848x480 resolution and 10 lumen brightness─ has awed the early adopters. The next generation products─ using 720p resolution and 15 lumen brightness PicoP Display Engines─ will surely delight the masses when introduced in the second half of 2011.

To fully appreciate the implications of going to 720p resolution at 15 lumens brightness in the next generation products; you have to own and use the current first generation SHOWwx… to be first amazed and awed.

To further appreciate the impact and value of 720p resolution at 15 lumen brightness; let’s review the history of broadcast to put the image resolution in proper perspective…

Back in the technological dark ages of the late 20th Century, NTSC television signals were broadcast in a resolution now called 480i… in the U.S., while the rest of the world had adopted differing standards.

"480" signifies the number of horizontal lines that make up a single frame of video. The "i" stands for "interlaced," which is a system that delivers a frame of video in two fields. Interlacing was adopted back in the 1950s to overcome limited transmission bandwidth. If you can remember that far back, all TV was broadcast over antennas.

Interlacing has never been a great solution because it does not offer the best image quality. In a movie theater, film is presented one full frame at a time, which is called progressive, or simply “p”.

Until high definition came on the scene, 480i─ now often labeled standard definition or SD─ was the way that every TV set in the U.S. worked. We lived with these NTSC standards for almost fifty years. As technology and marketing marched on, researchers, manufacturers and broadcasters took a two-pronged approach to producing a better quality video image.

First, they increased the resolution of the video signal and the TVs receiving them. Though there are many different choices in the ATSC standard, the two common resolutions are called 720 and 1080. Again, resolution is denoted by the horizontal lines in a frame. Instead of the old 480, these new standards produce 720 or 1080 horizontal lines. Actually, resolution is measured in both directions, vertically and horizontally. So, you may see them listed as 1280 x 720 and 1920 x 1080. If you do the math, these are both 16 x 9 formats.

[Note: ATSC is a set of standards developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee for digital television transmission. ATSC replaced much of the analog NTSC television system in the United States on June 12, 2009 and will replace NTSC by August 31, 2011 in Canada.]

The simple formula is more lines of resolution = a higher quality (or we can call it a higher definition) image. Of course, nothing is simple in these HD days. The second factor in improving image quality is shifting the signal to a progressive format. Broadcasters have split on the idea of transmitting video progressively. Those who do, use the 720p format. Those who don't, opt for 1080i. Video experts, Joe Kane among many others, believe that progressive can out trump video resolution to the extent they prefer 720p over 1080i.

Of course, in the last few years, manufacturers are beginning to grace us with 1080p HDTVs. Which brings us back to the original question? If you have been following along with our HD calculus, the answer seems pretty obvious: “p” is better than “i”, and 1080 is higher than 720. No argument there… just give me the 1080p.

Well, here's the rub…

In the United States, 1080p over the air broadcasts still do not exist as of 2010; and all major networks use either 720p60 or 1080i60 encoded with MPEG-2. Satellite service providers though have many channels that utilize the 1080p/24-30 format… for example Direc TV, XstreamHD, and Dish Network.

If you mostly watch network television, and that includes ESPN HD and the premium channels like HBO HD, the best you will receive is 720p or 1080i.

Now, if your tastes run to high definition DVDs, then you will have better luck finding 1080p material in the stores. You may even see a lot of classic movies reissued in 1080p format now that the HD DVD / Blu-ray format war has been settled… with Blu ray taking the honors.

[All Blu-ray Disc and the now defunct HD DVD are able to hold 1080p HD content such as movies. Most movies released on Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD can produce a full 1080p High Defiition picture when the player is connected to a 1080p HDTV with an HDMI cable. However, the Blu-ray Disc video specification only allows encoding of up to 1080p24 signal.]

One more thing you should be aware of; and that is the native resolution. Almost every new HDTV will advertise that it handles 1080p, but that does not mean that its native resolution is 1080p. A 720p TV/monitor [or projector] can display 1080p sources. They just have to downscale the image.

Now if you think about it, content is available in a range of formats, 480i, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. Your HDTV or HD projector can handle all of them through technical tricks of up-scaling or down-scaling and interlacing or de-interlacing. Not to mention how well it translates native 24 frames per second films to 30 frames per second video.

The theory of course is that a 1080p native resolution TV [or projector] will handle 1080p sources more cleanly than other lower native resolution TVs. But if the TVs [or projectors] are doing their job well, most non-hypercritical viewers will not be able to tell the difference between a 720p and a 1080p TV when watching 1080p programs.

The real test may, however, be how well a 1080p TV handles the more common lower resolution material?

One more consideration, 1080p is currently the leading edge technology… but for how long?

If you are buying an HDTV in the next few months, then supposedly purchasing a 1080p TV should future proof you for a little while!

But technology is on a roll, which feeds marketing's insatiable appetite for new products.

Expect your state of the art 1080p HDTV to be old news in the next year or two. True HD will be replaced by too good to be true Full HD… and that will morph into wallet busting eye popping Ultra HD.

You get my drift, yes?

In a year or so, I expect to hear Microvision coming out with 1080p resolution at 28 lumen brightness PicoP Display Engine; to support new performance levels while still maintaining the compelling attributes of the existing PicoP platform. 

It is then, that I expect the 1080p resolution and 28 lumens bright PicoP Display Engines to be at the heart of front end media projectors; and selling for a few hundred dollars to give the energy guzzling 1080p HDTVs the run for their money… or should I say: “run for their life”.

Anant Goel
[Long List of Credits]

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Microvision: Pico Projector Consumer is Well and Alive

Economists and investors cheered the 2nd Qtr 2010 earnings results from Apple Inc. (AAPL), saying it was a sign that the global consumer is alive and well. The company sold a mind boggling 2.94 million Mac PCs, 10.89 million iPods, and close to 8.75 million iPhones in a three-month time span. And these numbers do not include the 3 million iPads sold since April.

First, here’re the Apple numbers for the 2nd Qtr 2010…

• Total sales: $13.5 billion, up 48.6% year over year
• Earnings: $3.33 per share. up 86%
• Profit: $3.07 billion, up 89.5%
• Mac sales: 2.94 million units, up 33%
• iPhone sales: 8.75 million units, up 131%
• iPod sales: 10.89 million units, down 1%
• iPod touch sales: up 66%; iPod revenue up 12%
• Apple store visitors: 47 million in 286 retail outlets, up 20%
• Gross margin: 41.7%, up from 39.9% last year
• Cash and marketable securities: $41.7 billion, up $1.9 billion since December
• Guidance for the third fiscal quarter: revenue between $13 and $13.4 billion, EPS between $2.28 and $2.39, gross margin 36%

Wow, that doesn’t sound like a recession. But is that really good news or is there something unnerving about all that spending in this harsh recession that we should be concerned about?

Could it be that people spent money in a haphazard manner? Or they spent money [just to keep-up with the Jones] when they really should have been saving?

Either way, I expect the laser based PicoP Projector to follow the same buying pattern as the iPods, iPhones, and iPads.

[Note: Just to be sure we are on the same page; let me qualify that statement with a caveat… it’s the first second half of 2011 that I’m talking about; when the green lasers have become plentiful and their price has come down significantly from the current levels.]

Here’s a story [that I read somewhere] to explain why…

“In the 1970s, Harlem was one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation, but it was a money making machine for people selling expensive clothes, sneakers, and cars. Before it opened, there was much concern that a McDonald’s in the hood would be an abject failure.

As it turns out, the first McDonald’s in Harlem became the number one selling restaurant for the chain in the entire world for years. Back then, there were street vendors who lived in the community and the money they made circulated among the people that earned it. However, for the most part it was like there was a giant vacuum cleaning hose sucking up all disposable, and not-so-disposable, money out of the hood.

Nothing was more peculiar than the need to own “Air Jordan” sneakers. Mothers that scrubbed floors for minimum wage had to drop $200 to make sure their children fit-in and were part of the hip crowd. Households that sustained themselves on welfare checks also felt the same pressure. Demand for these overpriced shoes never waned even after waves of violence, even murder, was being committed to own them. It was the ultimate status symbol, one that made you cool and one that also made you a potential candidate for the morgue. It was American consumerism at its best. It brought out what John Maynard Keynes called “animal spirits.” The desire to own these ultra expensive sneakers also brought out what sociologists might also brand “animal spirits”, too.

After fueling the growth of the world for decades, it is clear that the American consumer is now struggling. One lesson we’ve all learned over the years is that prosperity can be fleeting. In fact, in a blink of an eye it seems like all of our wealth vanished and somehow landed in China. It’s such a fascinating reversal of fortunes, but it underscores the notion of fiscal prudence. Those “Air Jordan” sneakers that were all the rage in Harlem were made by peasants in China whose annual income was so small they couldn’t afford to live [in Harlem] for one week. China isn’t the financial juggernaut it is because there are 1.3 billion people there; the cheap labor source of the world belies the notion of becoming wealthy. Their secret was saving. Saving money for years, living on the bare minimum, fixated on the future.

With that in mind, iPods, iPhones, and iPads are today’s “Air Jordan” sneakers… hip, stylish, and must have gadgets… but not a necessity.

Stuff We (don’t) Need but Must Have:

Ironically, the Pew Research Center released its latest survey on things that the public believes are  necessities. The results are somewhat shocking. There were huge percentage decreases for clothes dryers, home air conditioning (maybe it will be higher in July than April), television sets, and microwaves. In fact, there were only a few items listed that more people believe are necessities now versus 2006. High speed internet access increased 2%, but only 31% said it was a necessity. Flat screen televisions increased the most, up 3%. Then, there were those iPods, again, increasing 1% to 4%. Like many surveys, much could be made of the results. On one hand, it could suggest less materialism.

But this list isn’t about chasing the Jones; rather it’s about basic stuff that is within reach of most Americans… like iPods, iPhones, and iPads. There is no doubt that income, or lack thereof, played a major role as respondents are certainly feeling the pinch. A whopping 57% said that they’ve bought less expensive brands or shopped more at discount stores… this is evident in the moves of stocks such as Family Dollar Store, 99 Cents Only Stores, and CitiTrends. Perhaps a silver lining is the 28% that said they’ve cut back on alcohol and cigarettes.

Here’s the link to Pew Research Center survey database…

There are so many other things people are doing to adjust to their current circumstances. The sharp decline in what people think they need, however, is remarkable. Maybe there is something else afoot in this story.

Still, there is another way to look at the results. In some ways I believe that people may be taking many things for granted… things like iPods, iPhones, and iPads. I kind of lean that way, and it’s not just that we think an air conditioner is less important but some people think we don’t need more ships and jet fighters to protect us. Heck, this weekend we fired up the air conditioners in our house. If asked a week earlier I may have been inclined to say air conditioning wasn’t a necessity, but after a two hour bike ride in the blazing sun I felt like a walking volcano and at that moment the ice cube maker and AC were right up there with Guttenberg’s printing press as the greatest inventions ever.

One of the side effects of a horrific economic slide is a sense of defeat as well. However, we can’t be so down in the dumps as to become vulnerable to so many things, including the shifting away from the things that made the nation great in the first place… our innovation and the high tech industry to fuel the future prosperity.”

Yes, I do expect to see the global consumers buying millions upon millions of more iPods, iPhones, iPads… and of course, the PicoP projectors.

The next popular product categories that integrate PicoP projectors would be fixed and mobile computing devices, and a whole range of multi-functional consumer electronic products such as smartphones, digital photo frames, personal media players, digital cameras, and digital camcorders.

“As mobile devices add more multimedia capabilities, embedded picoprojectors can add a big-screen experience to a very small device,” said David Chamberlain, Author of the report and Principal Analyst, Cellular Devices, Mobile Consumer and Mobile Video Services, In-Stat.

In-Stat found that illumination technologies are rapidly and continuously evolving by the day with manufacturers able to produce and supply Light Emitting Diodes (LED’s) and green lasers, and that the demand for such gizmos integrated within other devices will be so huge that the volumes will easily drive down modular costs to the extent that pico projectors will become part and parcel of billions of relatively low cost cell phones and media players.

“Technological advances in miniaturization, signal processing, and light sources—including green laser—are making pico projectors a realistic feature for small battery powered devices like cell phones, media players, computing devices, and other consumer electronics,” said Chamberlain.

The future for pico projectors is guaranteed since there is evidence of consumers willing to pay more for additional technologies such as good quality cameras, reported TMCnet, to be included in a single hand held mobile device.

Anant Goel
[Edited By]

Monday, June 21, 2010

Flash Crash: Is Another One Coming Soon?

Some of you have asked for my reasons to stop posting new entries on the blog.

Without going into the details, let it suffice to say that after the “flash crash” of May 6th I wanted to take some time off to re-group, re-strategize and get a fresh perspective on all things related to financial matters.

The “flash crash” of May 6th, when the DOW dropped over 1,000 points in a few minutes, may be history but its after-effects—and threat to the global stock markets—continue to haunt further with two recent mini-crashes in individual stocks.

Regulators have characterized the initial flash crash, as a one-off occurrence possibly attributable to a "fat finger" trade or some other market anomaly… and to this day, regulators are still not sure what caused it.

Growing number of traders and regulators believe the flash crash is symptomatic of a larger problem with high-frequency trading, derivatives trading, and a very complex market that lacks visibility and is susceptible to similar events in the future.

Thus far, the main reaction has been the implementation of circuit breakers that stop trading on individual stocks should they rise or fall more than 10 percent in a five-minute span.

The rule, implemented for a six-month test period, played out its part twice over the last few weeks. First, it was when Washington Post [WPO] shares doubled inside of a few seconds on June 16th, from nearly $460 to $929.18. Trades totaling 766 shares at $929.18 crossed on NYSE Euronext’s NYSE Arca platform at 3:07:30 p.m. in New York, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The stock changed hands for $462.84 prior to the jump. The orders, later canceled, triggered a five-minute halt under rules adopted after the May 6th flash crash… which erased $862 billion from U.S. stocks in less than 20 minutes.

The circuit breakers essentially did their job, halting trading in the company after the surge. But the mystery remains over why such events happen in the first place. While the regulations didn’t prevent the erroneous orders from being placed, they may have kept more shares from being bought and sold at prices that would later have been voided.

Tech services company Diebold [DBD] saw its shares plunge 35 percent then recover in a period of a few minutes on June 2nd, before the circuit-breakers kicked in. The plunge in Diebold shares that erased 35 percent of its market value in six seconds is under review by U.S. regulators, people with direct knowledge of the investigation said. The stock dropped $8 in six seconds to $18.26 before recovering to above $25 a minute later, Bloomberg data show. Four-hundred twenty-seven trades occurred in Diebold shares below $23 totaling about 113,600 shares, according to Bloomberg data. All of them took place on electronic venues such as Nasdaq and Bats Exchanges.

The non-transparency that stems from high frequency trades, which can happen in milliseconds, makes tracking the trades virtually impossible. Some estimates have high-frequency trading accounting for about 70 percent of all market activity. Defenders of high-frequency trading say it pumps liquidity into the markets and makes fair trading possible. But perhaps the most stunning characteristic of the May 6th flash crash was that liquidity actually evaporated from the market, sending shares of some big-name companies momentarily to a penny when they couldn't find a bid.

“Exchange traded funds as a class were more affected by the flash crash of May 6th than any other category of securities," the Investment Technology Group said in an analysis.

Most traders still believe that the integrity of the market is intact and investors have little to fear, even though there's little reason to believe future flash crashes won't happen.

With that in mind, I’m back in the saddle for another ride on this roller coaster.

Anant Goel