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Smaller, brighter, more accurate: Mapping out projection’s state of play

Mark Wadsworth, vice-president of global marketing for Digital Projection, explores projection’s place in the modern AV ecosystem – and explains why size does matter…

When it comes to projection technology, Digital Projection has always taken a radically different approach to its competitors. Building on a legacy of industry-first innovations – including co-creating Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology, introducing the first commercially available 3-chip 8K laser projector, and enabling true digital collaboration with MultiView 3D projection – Digital Projection has in recent years pursued a “smaller is better” design philosophy, culminating in the launch of the modular Satellite Modular Laser System (MLS). Satellite MLS represents a paradigm shift in the projection market by making it possible to meet the growing yet seemingly contradictory demand for brighter, and at the same time smaller and quieter, projectors. 

Innovations such as the modular Satellite Modular Laser System (MLS) are, as Futuresource Consulting pointed out in its recent ISE Show Report 2023, making projection the technology of choice for visitor attractions, museums, art exhibitions and other cultural sites, which use projectors to bring artwork to life and create immersive experiences. Projection is by far the most suitable technology for these kind of applications, given its ability to map on 3D surfaces, blending and warping capabilities, and scalability, despite the growing popularity of LED technology in other verticals.

The popularity of projection for these kind of attractions, which can include everything from large-scale projection mapping to traditional exhibits in museums or next-generation dark-ride content and interactivity, poses new challenges for manufacturers, such as the need for specialised lenses or ultra-high frame rates (used to great effect in MultiView applications). It is no longer just about brightness and resolution, though these are still important aspects, especially where direct-view LED and flat panels are increasing their market share.

Accurate colour fidelity, such as that offered by 3-chip, RGB laser projectors, is also becoming more and more important, given many visitor attractions’ reliance on visitors’ social media photos and video to help build buzz.

Though it’s attractions, VR and mapping events, in particular, that are creating new pathways for projection technology, any application, from education to retail, that needs the ultimate in colour reproduction – ie REC2020 colour space – will benefit from projectors that use direct RGB laser light sources. The stunning, colour saturated images they produce is really something that needs to be seen to be believed, and if you add this to 8K resolution the viewer is transported to a whole new world of ultra-realistic images and experiences. Once the preserve of very high-end applications, the cost of lasers is now at a point where they are accessible to a wider market.

Smaller and/or modular systems really come into their own in environments with limited space. These systems make installation, and subsequently super bright images, a reality in venues where it was previously very difficult – in heritage sites and historic buildings, for example, where it is often impossible to hang big, heavy projectors.

Modular systems such as Satellite MLS – which separate the whisper-quiet projection heads from the light source, which may be located up to 100 metres away – are also perfectly suited for museums and similar environments, whose visitors won’t be distracted by projector noise, adding to a feeling of total immersion. 

Even with these advancements, from a technology standpoint projection is a known quantity, which means manufacturers and suppliers – particularly those of high-end, DLP projectors – must differentiate their products from rival solutions, making a case for projection as the only practical solution to the challenges of many types of installation. Outside of visitor attractions, projection is finding a home in office environments, where corporate customers appreciate the beneficial effects on users’ optical health (due to softened white and blue light) compared to LCD or LED screens, while the high fill factor of DLP provides the necessary visual acuity in simulation applications where the viewer is required to be very close to the screen.

Where the pixellated nature of videowalls is not acceptable or too expensive, where high frame rate display is necessary, where motion artifacts and image quality are critical, where the project involves mapping onto buildings and irregular shapes, or where the architecture does not permit the weight or size of other imaging solutions, projection is the only solution – and will remain so for years to come.