• Wednesday , 22 November 2017

Installation projectors: the advance of laser

A recent report from Futuresource reveals that the market for installation projectors (>5,000 ANSI Lumens) in 2020 will be 74% laser lightsource-based. AV News drills down into this forecast.

From early personal models, right through to the high-end of e-cinema, the potential of laser lightsources is exciting the projector market. This potential has started to crystallise, with Laser-LED, Laser-phosphor and pure Laser projectors populating the mainstream in both volume and niche applications.

NEC PX803UL laser projector a100

While the well-documented LED-laser hybrid models make up a relatively small percentage of units sold into volume applications offices and schools, the growth rate is truly impressive. Early adopters are attracted by the significantly lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) offered by mercury lamp-free models. TCO factors in the additional costs of replacement lamps (bulbs)and cleaning of filters which contribute to the overall cost of the projector over its lifetime.

Casio had led the charge here, with other vendors including BenQ, Optoma and i3 also active. The arguments in favour of laser is definitely compelling: “Using a dual wheel laser light source, the i3Projector offers a lifetime of 20.000 hours and reduces brightness degradation significantly. Even after 20 years, your presentations will still look natural and bright. 20.000 hours equals 20 years in a school environment, when using the projector 6 hours a day and 165 days a year!”

benqsue

 

 


Migration

Moving up to the mid-range and even the foothills of the high-end, laser-phosphor will be the dominant technology for the foreseeable future. Gerd Kaiser, Product Line Manager – Large Venue Projectors at NEC Display Solutions, believes that: “We see a broad shift to laser in the very near future as the advantages that laser is providing are huge, and the cost efficiency in creating laser based models will increase.”

For evidence that the mercury lamp / laser phosphor battle is in play right now, take a look at the increasing number of lamp replacement /lamp warranty deals currently on offer manufacturers of mercury lamp solutions. Responding to these initiatives, Kaiser argues the offers can only be short-term: “Low cost lamps are just slowing down what is a clear trend towards laser. Cheap lamps can never outweigh the huge benefits offered by laser.”

End-user concerns

But we suspect that the issue is deeper than pure economics. The use of phosphors to transform the laser light has raised some concerns among end-users about the quality and consistency of colour achievable with laser-phosphor. Could the architecture of Laser-phosphor adversely affect the colour? With both laser-phosphor and their mercury lamp equivalents in his range, Kaiser says that end-users need have no such worries:

“There is need to be concerned at all! The brightness uniformity of laser is in fact much better than the uniformity of lamp-based projectors. Colour depends upon the laser source technology. Laser-phosphor shares a similar colour space with mercury lamp light engines. At the high-end, RGB laser offers the best colour space achievable by projection -it’s almost equivalent to the Rec2020 standard.”

As for reports of ‘speckles’ present on pure laser created images, there has been enough development on management of these granular arrays of spots for them not be a significant issue. While an unregulated speckle pattern can be annoying for the viewer, techniques based on superimposing uncorrelated speckle patterns with equal average intensity are effective at dealing with the problem.

hitachi cmyk

More than cost-savings

Speckles aside, laser projectors have more to offer than simple replacement lamp and maintenance cost savings. Some even talk about laser: “combating the flat panel advantage”. In applications like digital signage, pure laser projectors and laser phosphor offer the reliability, consistency and flexibility of installation to enable novel signage formats and environments.

Laser projectors allow many new applications that previously weren’t even possible with lamp based systems. Laser is exceeding the range of projection applications rather than just coping with any limitations. Examples include:

  • 360-degree installation, in any direction, means formats are no longer limited to landscape orientation, making laser ideal for signage and unusual installations.
  • Laser offers reliable and continuous (24/7) image playback. thanks to a more stable light technology. This supports deployment in mission critical applications, such as control rooms.
  • Laser is supporting ultra-high brightness levels up to 60,000 Lumens. NEC’s new RGB laser model (the NC3540LS) provides up to 70,000 Lumens in stacking mode.

New to the market

In recent months, we have seen progress at both ends of the laser lightsource spectrum. Pure Laser and Laser-phosphor projectors don’t suffer from the limitations of brightness and performance of Laser-LED models, but they are more expensive at present. Fortunately, growth in demand from other sectors has driven down market prices for 1.6-watt blue lasers, which can be used with phosphors to create a cost–effective alternative to pure laser models.

As long ago as 2012, BenQ launched the Laser-phosphor LX60ST in which the BlueCore engine creates all three primary colours using a laser with a phosphor wheel. This showed that it was entirely possible to produce a laser light engine without recourse to LEDs.

At the high-end, pure laser projectors can go beyond the current 12K-lumen limit of laser-phosphor models. As we have already seen, 60K Lumen products are already on the market and even higher brightness levels are in development.

These powerful, ultra-bright projectors have found an initial niche in digital cinema, but adoption of this technology is already moving into other sectors. Barco, for example. has made its digital cinema range of laser projectors available to rental and staging customers, large entertainment venues, live events, simulation and other applications.

The Barco pure-laser models join Christie’s high-end laser models based on the Christie Freedom laser illumination system. The Christie laser projection system used in all models is based on a scalable laser light source with a choice of projection heads and a fibre cable that connects the laser light source with the projection head. The Laser Module consists of multiple RGB lasers, a cooling system and a fibre connection, which allows each module to be self-contained.

Colour balance

Among the 2016 launches, The D13WHU-HS is Christie’s new flagship laser phosphor projector. This is described as Christie’s most versatile projector, designed to serve both rental and fixed markets by combining super-bright 1DLP technology with huge functionality. The HS is compact, low profile, lightweight and at a mere 40db, extremely quiet in operation. The HS clearly hits the spot with the company reporting that it has more back orders for the D13WHU-HS than any Christie 1DLP in recent memory.

The appeal of the HS is due in no small part to its proprietary Boldcolor technology. This incorporates a 2nd patented optical chamber to produce improved colour balance and saturation over typical laser phosphor optics. Traditionally, 1DLP projectors have utilised blue diodes as a light source, which has meant that the colour balance has been difficult to balance accurately. Boldcolor employs additional red laser diodes to supplement the reds, giving a significantly improved colour balance.

Commercial potential

With the potential for super-high brightness, colour consistency, long product lifecycles and lower TCO, Kaiser is far from alone in his belief that laser projection is the future. For the average end-user, it’s not just the potential for extreme brightness that appeals – it is also the consistency of colour and output. A laser lightsource can maintain this consistency over as many as 50,000 hours.

The universal appeal for consistent colour and low maintenance has persuaded customers to adopt laser in markets where lower downtime and operating costs justify the current premium over lamp-based models. We anticipate an increasing rapid rate of adoption.

 

Quantifying the saving with laser phosphor

Gerd_Kaiser_NEC

 

Gerd Kaiser, Product Line Manager – Large Venue Projectors at NEC Display Solutions Europe GmbH has calculated the relative costs over the lifetime of comparable lamp and laser phosphor projectors:

“Consideration of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) (or operational costs) brings huge potential for savings. A comparison between two comparable projectors (NEC’s laser-based PX803UL and lamp-based PX750U) demonstrates this very clearly: over a period of 20,000 hours, operational cost savings of more than 13,000€ is possible. These savings come from a lower power consumption, no requirement for replacement lamps or filters and limited maintenance, and in addition, the initial purchasing price of lamp vs. laser based models is quite similar.”

Apart from the lower TCO, Kaiser summarises the other benefits of laser phosphor projector as follows:

•        Virtually maintenance free for min. 20,000h hours, laser light source is less prone to failure meaning a more reliable operation and high operational safety.

•        Light generated with SSL systems inherently has a longer and more stable brightness level that decreases at a much slower rate than conventional lamp-based systems meaning its operating life span far exceeds traditional lighting methods.

•        NEC’s filter-less design (LCD based laser projectors still need filters which have to be cleaned) brings even lower maintenance requirements since the completely sealed optical engine needs no filter cleaning or replacement.

•        Laser projection brings maximum installation flexibility with 360-degree installation in any direction meaning no more limitation to landscape orientation, making it ideal for signage and unusual installations.

•        Laser brings perfect image quality with high contrast, white balance  and black level, and natural looking colours.

Review: Vivitek DU8090Z laser projector

20,000 hours of operational time; 8000 ANSI lumens; built-in edge-blending, warping and portrait mode projection; 3D compatibility and a wide range of interchangeable optical lenses – and best of all, no replacement lamps. Is it worth the Euros 11K asking price? We think so.

DU8090Z_02_l

If you are in the market for a large meeting room / lecture theatre projector, you are very definitely in a buyer’s market right now. The Infocomm show floor was awash with new laser phosphor models in the 8000 / 9000 lumen class, which the lampers are trying to counter with replacement lamp warranty offers to even up the total cost of ownership equation.

Vivitek’s DU8090Z laser projector is described as the manufacturer’s first to use laser phosphor illumination (although we are just trying to recall the nature of technology providing the very first SSI product we encountered from Vivitek. It was the size of a caravan but with the light output close to that of a Maglite torch).

Early experiments notwithstanding, the Vivitek DU8090Z has none of that ‘still to be sorted’ feel that typified some of the models on show at last year’s ISE. Vivitek is a manufacturer of increasingly sophisticated products that must now be considered along with the best in class.

Prices, of course, reflect this and the sums on laser phosphor v mercury lamp still require users and resellers to make some assumptions about the future.

Head scratching

So let’s start at the beginning. Where the requirement is a projector for large venue projector with power, flexibility and a durability, both laser phosphor and mercury lamp solutions could do a more than respectable job. The eventual selection will often come down to installation specific factors, such as how often will the installer need to climb a ladder or rack up downtime for routine maintenance? In other words, it’s about more than adding the cost of the appropriate number of replacement lamps to the initial purchase price of the projector.

The DU8090Z offers 20,000 hours of operational time (NB manufacturers. please stop describing the operational life of a laser phosphor device as ‘amazing’ or ‘outstanding’ – the 20000-hour figure is quoted by everyone. You’d have to have been living in a cave for the last two years not to know it.)

When DU8090Z was first shown at ISE2016, there seemed to be a number of very similar (identical) models on the show floor. Nonetheless Vivitek, as the market-facing brand of parent Delta Electronics, is giving the DU8090Z a fair old push. We tested our review sample with a 2.8 metre screen in a room that was the largest available to us on the day, but which was still not really big enough to make full use of the projector’s 8000 ANSI Lumens of brightness.

Options

Fortunately, Vivitek has the foresight to supply us with the standard lens option which enabled us to achieve a good fit on the screen. The native WUXGA resolution of this model leaves no doubt as to its intended use, but to be as comprehensive as time allowed, and being aware of the varied use that this type of projector gets in education, we tried a range PC and video sources.

Vivitek claims “strong colour accuracy” as one of the DU8090Z’s virtues and, with relatively little experience of testing laser phosphor models, we were surprised at the ease with which we were able to colour match our ‘corporate identity samples. This is obviously ‘a must’ for guardians of the corporate style guide, and strangely grating when you see familiar content projected on a mercury lamp model overdue for a replacement.

Aside from the standard lens, the Vivitek DU8090Z has a wide range of interchangeable lens options to ease positioning and installation, along with motorised focus and zoom. In addition, horizontal and vertical lens shift are provided for greater installation flexibility. Ten predefined lens positions which are registered in the Lens Position Memory (LPM), although being limited to one room, one screen and one position we didn’t have the opportunity (or need) to test this feature.

Advanced functions

As part of our review process, we looked at typical applications for the projector and we had to agree with Vivitek’s statement that this model is perfect for installations where the maintenance should be limited, like conference halls, auditoriums, theatres and all other large venue with difficult accessibility to locations where the projector is installed. Not only is there no requirement to fit replacement lamps, an airtight sealed optical engine reduces the routine maintenance overhead.

But that is only party of the DU8090Z story. With built-in edge-blending, warping and portrait mode projection, the Vivitek DU8090Z is capable of much more. For the subjective part of the review (always difficult this one), did we like what ewe got out if it? For those who might think that laser lightsource equals cold, sterile images favouring the blue side of the spectrum, nothing could be further from the truth. The 10,000:1 contrast ratio gave use good blacks and shadow detail. Courtesy of TI’s DLP and BrilliantColor, convincing flesh tones were easily achievable, colours in nature were rich and attractive while data screens, were pinpoint accurate and sharp.

Overall, this is a good projector. With the advantage of being a lampless good projector with five-year warranty (3 years on the laser light source or 10,000 hours of use – whichever comes first) your customers might well feel that the list price of Euro 10,990 ex VAT is justifiable

 

Vivitek DU8090Z
Key features / specifications

  • Native WUXGA resolution
  • 8,000 ANSI lumens of brightness with a 10,000:1 contrast ratio
  • DLP and BrilliantColor
  • No lamp maintenance thanks to the laser phosphor engine
  • Operational life up to 20,000 hours
  • Flexible 360° operation and portrait mode projection
  • Wide range of interchangeable lenses as options
  • Built-in hardware edge blending and warping functionality
  • Powered zoom, focus and lens shift (horizontal/vertical) Great Connectivity
  • Full suite of display connectivity inputs and outputs including: HDMI v1.4a, DVI-D, Component (5 BNC) , VGA-In, 3G-SDI-In/Out, VGA-Out, HDBaseT
  • HDBaseT interface with support for distribution of digital HD video content over standard CAT5e/6 LAN cable
  • 3D compatibility with DLP Link and HDMI 1.4 technology support (Blu-ray, side by side, frame packing, top and bottom) for dazzling and realistic life-like images
  • Lens Positioning Memory (LPS) for quick recall of user defined lens positions (focus, zoom and lens shift)
  • Monitoring and control with Crestron RoomView
  • Network ready for integration and system administration via RJ45

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