“DLP technology makes 3D projection much more affordable”


EFY team caught up with Kent Novak, Senior VP and GM, DLP Products, Texas Instruments, who talked about TI’s DLP technology and how it’s playing an enabling role in the growth of affordable and brighter Pico Projectors. Excerpts from the conversation:

Kent Novak

Rohini Lakshane: For the benefit of our readers can you describe DLP Technology in a simple fashion?
Kent Novak: What we are able to do is essentially put mirrors on top active silicon, and then be able to flip those mirrors to a light source or away from light source, thousands of times per second. And on a given chip – these are some examples here – there are anywhere between hundreds of thousands of mirrors, or upto 8 million mirrors on each individual chip. As where we used that – display technology and industrial applications as well.

EFY: So what are the devices that run DLP?
KN: One of the biggest applications are being driven by smart phones. For example, there is now a sleeve for iPhones that can be put on your device and can project images stored on your iPhone using a DLP Pico projector! It has a battery in it so it doesn’t run down the battery on the iPhone. When you put them together, then for the video, here you go. There can be anything that you want to display on the screen in the iPhone that you can display in the projector mode and share. Some other applications include shared gaming, being able to communicate with the projected image, being able to pass information through projected image. And we are able to do that, we are actually able to that with a DLP chip just because of how much information we can put through the light source and the flipping mirrors.

EFY: So what are the applications that you are banking upon to drive adoption of DLP in India?
KN: I think a huge growth opportunity, we believe, across the world but also specifically in India, is being able to put projection inside consumer devices. We’ll use cellphones as an example. Typically, I mean, using the cellphone during the day, but also being able to do streaming video, video downloads, mobile TV. Cricket’s nearly year around but whenever cricket season is in full swing, whenever tournaments or matches are on, being able to have that, share that information, talk about highlights or even being able to watch that, and all the sessions in groups. So that’s an application we have seen started outside India and that we think can be quite prevalent. You can also use that in health and human services, for remote education, any sort of information that the government would want to share, especially in the villages, anywhere that you are able to get mobile service, then you could share images, then you could be able to communicate and teach with those images.

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EFY: What is the price point that we are talking about that, if we talk about this technology? How, I would say, cheaper or more expensive is it as compared to similar technologies?
KN: I think from cost or price perspective, the technologies are very similar. I think it’s important that we have higher brightness and higher efficiency because that lets a brighter image that holds up to ambient light, or that makes the battery last longer. I think the general point on cost is very important. And what we’ve seen inside the technology is the technology has improved significantly in past 2 or 3 years in terms of brightness but it has also decreased the price significantly.

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I think the simple answer is another factor that would help decrease in price with time is the total solution includes the DLP chip, includes LEDs, and includes electronics. With volume, all three of those are going to reduce in cost, but especially the investment going into the lighting market right now with LEDs, consumer LEDs, automotive LEDs and industrial lighting. So, I think we’ll continue to see those improve in technology, so the solutions will be brighter but they’ll also be cheaper. In think in its ultimate form – remember what, when you first saw camera inside a cellphone and it was expensive, and you thought why would you ever want a camera in a cellphone- but, I think if we get more and more applications, and the technology becomes ubiquitous, hopefully, we would see people wanting to have shared experiences and be able to project, whether its streaming video or mobile TV, that will have to be much more prevalent, of course, then the cost would continue to decrease.

EFY: You just mentioned the use of this technology in education. Can you elaborate on that?
KN: I think in education there are a couple of big opportunities for us. When I say “us” that not only includes Texas Instruments but also the students.

One we have talked about previously which is 3D. Because we can move the mirrors so quickly, on the same chip, we can do, we can do left eye- right eye image. Which means you don’t have to have two projectors to do 3D, which makes 3D much more affordable, and you don’t have to pay the premium to get the 3D capability out there. We have worked with schools, and particularly Queen Mary Schoool, here inside Delhi, to do a pilot study on 3D education and how students learn in 3D for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Those were the courseware. Studies in India along with studies in rest of the world have shown that students learn better, have better retention, learn faster, and have better test scores. So in that scenario we want to continue to work with software developers, content developers, with the government in India, with private schools, and particularly we work with Educomp that help to bring our technology into private schools. And so they are helping to focus on 3D. I do believe that the Pico technology, either in devices like this, or anything that we may purpose-build will include some mobile connectivity at a lower price point. More functionality, I think could benefit education very much as well. I think there are about a million schools or five million classrooms inside India. Clearly there’s a great opportunity there to roll out more technology in classrooms.

EFY: What, according to you, are the top trends in display technology that design engineers should look out for in 2012?
KN: I think, probably it is best represented if you look at where we are going in the consumer domain in Pico (projection). I think we do want to continue to make the technology to be brighter and more efficient so it uses either less power – whether that power comes from a plug on the wall or whether it comes from a battery – or using the same amount of power bring brighter and just having got more lumens or a brighter image, I think, helps whether it’s in a classroom. Clearly that’s what has made the difference for us and the key differentiator we have in cinema technology when we light the biggest and the brightest in the world. I think when people see that is when they go watch a 3D movie. You need to have a very, very bright screen in order to create that 3D effect. So we will continue to work on brightness which will help us here.

I think a long term trend which you are going to see is what we will call interactivity. So with being able to interact with the projected image – we have done some of that with our what we call our point black technology, being able to use it in classrooms and being able to stay away from the screen and to use essentially a pen device and being able to gesticulate standing with an interactive white board. I think more and more you’ll see through gesturing or some sort of interactive with the projected image. And I think that is going to be a long term trend. We talked about the brightness, efficiency and interactivity.

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And a trend that we are going to see in DLP, and we have started to see it a little bit by now, is using it for non-display applications. We use the DLP chip in optical networking, we use it in medical applications and 3D measurement. I think there is a whole wide area of new applications and capabilities that will pick up. And as I say fundamentally, when you give smart engineers the ability to manipulate hundreds of thousands of millions of mirrors individually on a wide spectrum of light, engineers can be very creative and figure out new applications and where they use of that technology.

EFY: The devices that you talked about, let’s say this iPhone device with Pico projection that is compatible with the iPhone. How soon will those devices be available in India?
KN: There are several products that have Pico projection in them already available in India. There are a few of these laptop accessories. There are some cellphones that will become available in the beginning of the next year that have DLP technology announced. The Nikon digital still camera is available here. It features DLP projection. Some Sony Camcorders feature DLP projection. So there are quite a few products probably approximately 20 products in the market right now. Inside India we really started out with Pico projection when I think it was first made available in about 2008 in really small numbers and we have seen considerable growth, nearly exponential numbers in past few years. It’s similar to the general market. One trend that we have shown here. Last year the market grew over a 100 per cent, we expect it to grow a hundred per cent for the next several years coming over, in Pico projection. The general answer is you’ll see more and more products, especially given that as India moves into a larger and larger consumer market, I think you will see more and more recent products here.

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EFY: What kind of a platform and an environment does TI provide to the design engineers and budding design engineers in India?
KN: Well, we see most of the activity for individual design engineers will be in the area of new development that may be health care, optical networking or industrial application. So we have developed several developing kits with associated application notes, just as you would do in any other semiconductor tech product. We have been releasing those in the marketplace with a variety of platforms giving flexibility, and continue to drive the cost of those development platforms down. And to put it in perpective, when we first did it several years ago, we made the technology available to general designers, the development kit was over $10,000. I think the least expensive one we come out [with] now is a few hundred dollars, making it accessible to engineers and also to students.

EFY: Are these development boards and development kits easily available?
KN: They are. You can find them on the web. If you look at www.dlp.com, you can find the development kits there. If you go to www.ti.com/mems, then you can find the development kits there.

EFY: Can you share some examples of innovative applications that we can see in the near future, which will be driven by DLP?
KN: A few areas that we are working on now that are – we have some products out there. One product – I’ll give an example- is called the Vein Viewer that uses IR, and then you can see where the veins are, and then you use DLP to project an image back onto the arm or the hand, and then you can see where the veins are. It’s used for taking blood and especially people who have been in hospital for a while and they have constricted arteries or constricted veins, it is very difficult to find the artery to take blood. In this case, it’ll show exactly where it is. That’s kind of a novel technology. Probably more practically, we use it to take 3D images. You can use it for dental implants, or you can use it for any sort of a dental modelling.

If I point more creative ones, is that we use it for something we call Hyperspectral Optical Imaging – essentially taking a very large wavelength of light, putting in an object and then based upon the reflected light and the difference in the spectrum, you can tell what the density is of the item that it hit. So doctors now inside the United States are saying you can use it in surgical applications, to tell the difference between a bile duct and a vein and an artery, so that way they know in a surgery which one to cut and which one not to cut, you can also use it for wound therapy, you can use to take a look at the back of the retina to see what’s healthy and are you getting enough blood there. You can tell the difference between oxygenated tissue and unhealthy tissue. So these are the few things that we are working on that shows the flexibility of the technology.