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Projectors: unique benefits and opportunities

In the second part of look at projectors and flatpanel displays, we turn our attention to the advantages projectors have over displays and the expanding range of larger applications providing new opportunities.

Following a look at where flatpanel displays have hit projection technology hardest, we turn our attention to the advantages projectors have over displays and the expanding range of larger applications providing new opportunities, investigates Ian McMurray.

“If redundancy is important – “the show must go on” – then stacking projectors is a solution,” notes Guy Phelps, head of retail sales at NEC Display Solutions. “If multiple projectors are stacked with an overlapping image, in the unlikely event of a projector failure, you will still have an image from the second projector. If a screen fails, it fails…

“And then,” he goes on, “laser projectors can be used in any axis, enabling an image to be projected vertically up or down for unlimited creativity – for example, floor projection where people can continue to walk over the image without touching anything.”

Mark Wadsworth, international marketing manager at Digital Projection warms to the theme of the possibilities that projection technology brings.

“Projectors are ideally suited to situations where images need to be displayed on irregular-shaped surfaces such as building facades, or in live events where large, bright images are required,” he explains. “If the application requires content displayed on a curved or irregular surface, flatpanels and videowalls do not provide a solution.”

Colin Boyle, product marketing specialist, projectors at Canon Europe sees similar creative possibilities. “As exhibitions look increasingly towards more immersive experiences, there has been a shift towards using projection in more creative ways,” he says. “At this year’s Expo Milano, a Canon XEED WUX6000 was used to deliver a 360º projection onto a sculptural centrepiece [see Installation September 2015]. The effect was a visually immersive installation that could be viewed from all angles.”

It becomes apparent in talking to the industry that a projector can do almost anything a flatpanel display can do – but that the converse is not the case. Projection is disadvantaged only in smaller rooms with smaller screen sizes, in environments with uncontrollable high ambient light, and where line of sight is a consideration (and even the latter is now largely addressed by short throw projectors).

Staying relevant

Projection technology continues to evolve and develop in resolution, in ease of use, in cost of ownership – and in connectivity.

“On the projector inputs side, we now see HDMI, DisplayPort and HDBaseT,” points out Bram Dieryckx, director of product management for projection at Barco. “This has made things easier from an installation point of view compared to the old analogue RGB cables. Control of projectors over a network has also become very important.”

And, yes, developments in brightness too: at the IBC Big Screen Experience last year, Christie showcased a 70,000-lumen 6-laser digital cinema projector.

Representative of manufacturers’ aggressive plans to keep projection relevant and competitive is Panasonic. “This year, we will be introducing high frame rate video reproduction with frame interpolation technology in both lamp and laser projection,” says Hartmut Kulessa, marketing manager, projector products at Panasonic Visual System Solutions. “After progressively increasing the still picture resolution, with 4K kicking in this year, we will now also be working on the best and sharpest reproduction of moving pictures. We also have strong plans to introduce more innovative lenses like the DLE030, which is the only exchangeable UST lens on the market. We want to expand this concept into higher brightness areas and 3-chip DLP projectors. We are also planning to have shorter throw exchangeable lenses for LCD installation projectors.”

Commentators are agreed: the future for projection does indeed look bright.

“Keeping step with the demands of customers will be key,” avers Damien Weissenburger, head of corporate and education solutions at Sony Professional Solutions Europe. “Ensuring that projection technology is straightforward to install, priced reasonably, and provides excellent quality imagery will secure projectors’ place in the market for the foreseeable future.”

“The projection market will continue to grow and continue to innovate,” adds Wadsworth. “Flatpanels and LED walls have their space in the market, but ultimately they aren’t in a position to completely replace projection.”

Most cost effective

“The fact is that projectors stack up favourably on cost per square centimetre basis,” adds Julia Lin, Vivitek product marketing manager EMEA. “It might be a cliché, but size does matter. When it comes to large venues such as boardrooms, lecture halls and auditoriums and beyond, a bigger screen size is a must. Projection is the most cost-effective way of accommodating the viewing needs of sizeable audiences.”

There was a time when projectors were, in effect, the only show in town if you wanted to deliver anything other than a moderately small image. Those days are long gone, and many of the installation slots that projectors would once have filled are now occupied by flatpanel displays.

For screen sizes above around 70in, though, projection remains the de facto technology of choice because it is more cost-effective, more flexible and more practicable. What is perhaps surprising is just how many large-screen applications there are – and how that number seems to be growing. According to Futuresource Consulting, worldwide shipments of projectors in 2014 were up over 8% compared with the prior year, with over 8 million units sold.

Perhaps the real schoolboy error was perpetrated by those who foretold the long, slow death of projection. No, it never did become a mainstream TV technology – but that’s not the point. That predicted death didn’t happen and, by all accounts, it won’t.

Case study: visitors immersed by Digital Projection

A new commercial and tourist complex in Kunming, the capital of Yunan Province in China, features an immersive dome measuring 28m long, 15m wide and 4.8m high.

It uses 14 edge-blended Digital Projection HIGHlite Laser projectors to illuminate the huge surface area with 10 projectors used on the perimeter and four on the cap to immerse visitors in stunning natural scenery from the surrounding areas.

The video content runs in a 15-minute loop and operates 12 hours a day. For this reason, the venue needed projectors with a long-life light source to ensure smooth running of the attraction. The HIGHlite Laser was chosen due to its 20,000 hours of illumination and associated reduction in maintenance and downtime costs when compared with traditional lamp-based projectors. The projectors also had to be flexible enough to be mounted in a variety of extreme orientations, which aren’t possible with traditional lamp-based projectors.

Case study: solid-state illumination

One of the primary disadvantages of projection technology was always its use of a lamp for illumination. This would last, on average, 3,000 hours, begin to lose brightness from day one and be expensive to replace. Solid-state illumination (SSI) sees lasers and/or LEDs replace traditional lamps as the light source for projectors. SSI illumination lifetime is typically rated at 20,000-30,000 hours, power consumption is substantially reduced and inconveniences like allowing the projector to cool down are eliminated. SSI has been a significant contributor to ensuring the continuing vibrancy of the projector market.

Barco visualisation solutions
Canon Europe
Digital Projection
NEC Display Solutions
Panasonic Visual System Solutions
Sony Professional Solutions Europe
Vivitek projectors