For a replacement technology that has yet to illustrate that it’s viable, it seems that everyone is interested in building their own laser illuminator. Barco, Christie, NEC, and Sony have pursued laser illuminator demonstrations over the past two years. (Only Sony utilized Laser Light Engines – LLE – in its demonstrations.) IMAX invested in both Laser Light Engines and Kodak patents to give it access to IP that would enable it to pursue its own laser illuminator. And then there’s Laser Light Engines itself, whose substantial development work and IP in this area appears to be shunned by most companies.
Or is it? LLE has a different view of how the laser illumination market will evolve. It takes the view that it’s difficult to sell an advanced product to an engineer not yet skilled in the art. Engineers are famous for suffering from “not invented here” syndrome, a polite way of saying that if someone else can do it, then one must be able to do it better. Until one falls flat on their face trying to duplicate the work of others, it’s difficult to appreciate what others may have done.
An example of this was the Christie Digital two-week demonstration held late March of a pre-prototype laser-illuminated projector in a major cinema in Los Angeles. The demonstration was applauded by cinematographers, who were thrilled to see 14 ft-L 3-D. But that was the gut reaction. The exacting analysis of comparing laser-illuminated images side-by-side with xenon-illuminated ones has yet to take place. One of the well-known problems with laser projection is that of speckle, and Christie’s demo employed a special solution for it. Speckle is caused by light wave additions and cancellations when a primary color bounces from the screen back into its source, causing alternating dark and light spots, and thus the name “speckle.” This can be particularly observable with the green primary in lasers. Laser Light Engines has patented technology that significantly reduces speckle by modulating the laser light. However, Christie’s demonstration reduced speckle without LLE’s technology. The trick was to attach vibrators to the rear of the screen, in as many as a dozen places, generating a low frequency in the screen itself so as to break up and significantly reduce the speckle effect. It was a clever way to create an acceptable demonstration, but not a technique that exhibitors are likely to embrace.
Not one to miss the moment, your author commented to Don Shaw, who leads Christie’s product management group, about their clever of getting around LLE’s patent. But the comment was said in gest. Christie deserves proper credit for its demonstration, which was not meant to signal the industry that its laser illumination product was ready to market, but to give a wide range of experts in the industry a chance to observe laser illumination first hand and provide the company with valuable feedback. It was a brilliant move, no pun intended.
But LLE’s point was made. Exhibitors attempting to understand the laser illumination landscape might take note. It is the nature of engineers to explore solutions in their own manner, if only to better appreciate the work that others have done. The industry is largely in an early stage of development for laser illumination, and most certainly not in a late stage. When we hear about 1 or 2 year time frames to bring a laser product to market, we’re usually hearing talk that’s framed for the kind of product development that leads to a new model of projector. Advanced technologies such as laser illumination introduce a new class of problems to be solved, which can require a significant amount of time.
The challenge for LLE, however, is that it has solutions, and would like to see the cinema marketplace evolve more quickly to better appreciate what it has. That’s a tough problem, one that LLE is optimistic in solving. Fortunately for LLE, its technology has found markets outside of cinema, and it’s now shipping its de-speckled green technology to other commercial users.