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Tiny projectors set for 2005 debut

15 Jun 2004

Pocket-sized projectors being developed by a Finnish company will make their commercial debut next year.

Upstream Engineering of Finland plans to release a pocket-sized color video projector onto the market next year. What’s more, Upstream believes it can shrink the product down to the size of a matchbox within three years. These developments could pave the way for miniature projectors to be used in everything from mobile phones to laptop computers.

Devices such as projectors need to meet certain criteria if they are to be successful in the consumer market. For example, the product must be small, inexpensive and battery-powered. As well as meeting these criteria, Upstream’s president Mikko Alasaarela believes his firm’s technology removes one of the largest obstacles to mass-market mobile video: creating a large display from a small device. The firm’s initial products will target images in the range of 10 to 20-inch diagonal.

Upstream’s projector is based on photon vacuum technology. “Our photon vacuum replaces most of the optical components used in current projection systems,” Alasaarela told Optics.org. “Photon vacuum is a very small but extremely complex component that combines a lot of optical, electrical, material and manufacturing technologies.”

The projector also uses LEDs and a microdisplay. One crucial aspect of the optical design is the etendue of each component which refers to the size of the light-collection cone of the optical part. Because LEDs emit light over a wide range of angles, collecting this light into the narrower acceptance cone of the microdisplay is a complex optics problem.

“Photon vacuum preserves the etendue of the light source as early as possible and distributes that etendue in a uniform rectangle to the microdisplay in a short distance,” said Alasaarela. “This preservation enables us to go to the smallest configurations available for microdisplay-based projectors.”

According to Alasaarela, the challenges in creating a matchbox-sized device include modifying the electronics; dissipating any heat generated without using a fan; and optimizing the projection lens without losing image quality.

Alasaarela would not speculate on the exact cost of the projectors but commented that, “the products will be sold well under [the price of] current data projectors”.

Jacqueline Hewett is technology editor on Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

Hyperion OpticsBerkeley Nucleonics CorporationMad City Labs, Inc.LaCroix Precision OpticsCHROMA TECHNOLOGY CORP.Universe Kogaku America Inc.HÜBNER Photonics
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