Laser light sources for digital projection received attention in the press this month through a licensing deal cut between IMAX and Kodak. According to reports, IMAX paid somewhere between $10M and $50M for the exclusive rights to some 100 patents of Kodak’s pertaining to laser light sources. IMAX also gains rights to the cinema applications possible with another 10,000 of Kodak’s patents. IMAX’s rights to the patents, however, will last only 10 years.
While one could comment on the price paid, this was a smart deal for IMAX. Every projector company around has written off Kodak’s laser projector technology, and it’s equally unlikely that IMAX will utilize it. But by tying the technology up for 10 years, IMAX has insured its investment in Laser Light Engines (LLE).
IMAX is one of the players in the market that will benefit most from laser light sources. IMAX will use laser light to push the experience. One such way would be to modulate the laser light in concert with the moving mirrors of the DLP imaging device, allowing IMAX to push contrast and light levels. Another potential improvement is to extend the color spectrum. Sony is the other projector company that will strongly benefit from laser light sources. Without the coherence of laser light, Sony’s SXRD LCOS imaging devices cannot reflect the light power needed to illuminate large screens. Even in circuits where Sony is the purported supplier, it is DLP that lights the large screens. For Sony, laser light sources are more than a “nice to have.” All of these things are possible with LLE’s technology.
All of this is good news for LLE. With IMAX’s investment in the company and Kodak’s IP off the table, LLE appears set to claim a worthwhile share of the market. The projector manufacturers believe that laser light sources for projection will come to market within 2 years, regulatory agencies permitting. For LLE, it’s just a matter of time.