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Coming soon: HD projector cellphones

Posted: 15 Jan 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:HD cellphone? high-definition projector? laser? CES event?

Are you ready for cellphones that could generate, play and even project high-definition (HD) video? Those concepts, along with a hope that consumers will buy multiple phones for different uses and occasions, were on vendors' minds at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

3M, Microvision Inc. and Texas Instruments showed at CES tiny projection modules they aim to get designed into cellphones this year. National Semiconductor is working on a similar device.

The cool factor is high for having a phone that projects a video or picture on a wall, a piece of paper or a friend's shirt. But analysts remain skeptical given the relatively high power consumption and low light output of devices that have been discussed so far.

TI is shipping its DLP Pico Projector module which it claims will appear in a Samsung phone in Korea in January. The device already powers handheld projectors from Dell, Optoma and Samsung.

The TI module is a 44.8mm x 67.4mm x 14.2mm device that can create a half VGA display (320pixel x 480pixel) at up to 7.5 lumens in brightness. It uses a version of TI's digital light processor chip with 300,000 micro-mirrors. A TI system using the device consumes up to 3.5W.

Meanwhile, 3M is sampling its MM200, a second-generation of its LCOS-based module released a year ago. It is similar in size and brightness to the TI module, but can deliver a full VGA (640pixel x 480pixel) image and can draw as little as 1W at the module level.

Microvision's Integrated Photonics Module consists of lasers and MEMS on a tiny board with batteries. It is roughly the same size as its competitors at 60mm x 68mm x 10mm but delivers resolutions up to 848pixel x 480pixel and brightness up to 10 lumens. However, it will not ship until the second half of the year.

Microvision sells a full system also called the Pico Projector which consumes 3.5W. Its embedded module, expected to ship by June, will consume 1- to 1.5W.

In December, Brian Halla, CEO of National Semiconductor, told EE Times his company will ship late this year a tiny projector using an array of red, green and blue lasers. It will project 12 lumens of light and draw less than 1W, said Halla.

The designs of both Microvision and National are waiting on green lasers from suppliers including Corning and Osram. Osram is said to be expanding its green laser production capacity by mid-2009.

A TI spokesman said the reflective nature of its micro-mirror approach is more energy efficient than the LCOS approach from 3M. Microvision said its module is unique because it uses a single beam of light to project still or moving images.

"It's always in focus. No lens is needed," said Matt Nichols, a director at Microvision. Further, "It can project images onto a variety of surfaces including a hand, shirt or any surface," not limited to a flat white wall.

At the heart of the Microvision module is a MEMS scanning mirror. The tiny mirror is connected to small flexures allowing it to oscillate. The MEMS scanner oscillates vertically and horizontally, scanning the modulated laser beam to generate an image pixel-by-pixel, according to the company.

Tim Barajin, principal of consulting firm Creative Strategies said the modules he has seen to date are too dim. He called for devices that can generate more than 10 lumens and still fit into the power budget for a cellphone component, which typically is limited to a couple hundred milliwatts.

HD appeal
Broadcom engineers believe creating and playingnot necessarily projectingHD content is the next big thing for handsets. The company showed its BCM2727 at CES handling encode and decode of 720-progressive video at 180mW.

The device also handles imaging at up to 12Mpixel. It comes with third-party facial recognition software for a camera phone that can automatically decide when to shoot based on detecting blinks and smiles.

The chip also contains a 3D processing block to play mobile games. It comes in a package with a 32Mbyte stack of memory.

"We can do six hours of HD video encode on a normal cellphone batteryyou needed a car battery for that in the past," joked Scott McGregor, CEO of Broadcom.

Separately, LG Electronics showed an audio feature it hopes will drive sales of its handsets in 2009. The cellphones use two microphones and a noise cancelling algorithm to eliminate ambient noise when a user is making a call from the street or a crowded room.

"We will have the technology in many of our cellphones in the second half of the year," said Ehtisham Rabbani, VP of product strategy for mobile phones at LG.

Mobile phone use saw significant growth in 2008, despite the recession, he added. Much of the growth was in data uses, he said, noting, users sent more text than voice messages last year.

"In 2008, 64 percent of consumers said the cell phone is their primary phonethat's up 10 points from 2007," Rabbani said. "That means within one year 30 million people went from a landline to a cellphone as primary device," he added.

The growth is intensifying a trend to cellphone design as a fashion statement, a factor LG played on with its square Lotus design. Woo Paik, LG's chief technology officer, created a stir at a CES press conference when he showed he was wearing a new wristwatch phone the company will ship later this year.

The trend indicates a vendor hope that consumers may want multiple phones. For example, Motorola showed at CES its Aura phone, a design geared to look like a piece of jewelry.

"You might out away your business phone after work and pick this up on your way to a cocktail party," said a Motorola spokeswoman.

- Rick Merritt, Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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