Its all about display

Written by Sudhir Chowdhary | Updated: Nov 18 2013, 10:22am hrs
It is a semiconductor that continues to reinvent display. We are talking about digital light processing (DLP) technology, which was invented by Larry Hornbeck of Texas Instruments (TI) in 1987. From large cinema projection systems in movie theatres to conference rooms, classrooms and even mobile phones and tablets with projector capabilities, this revolutionary technology from the $12.8 billion, Dallas, Texas-based semiconductor design and manufacturing company, has given people a superior visual experience with high-definition video with true-to-nature colours and pin-sharp text and images that are pleasingly vibrant without any eye strain. Beyond traditional projection, this technologybased on an optical semiconductor known as the DLP chipis now expanding into new markets such as industrial, automotive, security and medical sectors.

First, a small measure of its presence in India. Unknown to many, but nearly 99% of the 7,000 digital cinema screens across the country are powered by DLP technology. It currently holds approximately 60% market share in front projectors that are widely deployed in classrooms and office conference rooms in India; nearly half of the worlds new projectors are powered by DLP display technology. Domestic handset maker Best IT World has also debuted, what it claims to be the worlds first 35 Lumens projection from its Andi4a mobile phonebased on a DLP chip. Smartphones and tablets made by several other device makers are also on their way.

In technical terms, the DLP chip is perhaps the worlds most sophisticated light switch. It contains a rectangular array of up to 8 million hinge-mounted microscopic mirrors; each of these micro-mirrors measures less than one-fifth the width of a human hair. When a DLP chip is coordinated with a digital video or graphic signal, a light source, and a projection lens, its mirrors can reflect a digital image onto any surface.

DLP is the most flexible display technology and possibly the most flexible semiconductor in the world, says Kent Novak, senior vice president & general manager, DLP products, Texas Instruments. Around 40 million DLP units have been shipped till date; the technology has potential to enable new applications in industrial, automotive, security and medical sectors. With DLP, we want to spark innovation across India through solutions that will provide real impact in these sectors.

Take for instance, the education sector in India. Educational institutions in India are going in for a steady adoption of modern teaching aids and new technologies. But the fact remains that only 5% of classrooms in India have projectors, making room for growth. I think projectors will become the mainstream technology for the consumers to use in Indian environment. A larger screen definitely is required and through projectors we can project larger screen, especially in the classroom education area, says Novak.

TIs latest solutions for the future of in-car infotainment with augmented reality (AR) head-up display (HUD), digital dashboards and center console systems are enabled by DLP technology. These next generation systems from TI will mark DLPs first official entry into the automotive industry. They represent a notable shift forward with regard to higher resolution and brightness, expanded field of view, tactile feedback, distraction-reduced functionality and interior design flexibility that breaks the design barriers of existing technologies.

With DLP technology, TI has been able to develop a compact HUD system with higher brightness and clarity amid driving conditions, a much wider field of view and increased color reproduction over other display types. Software based augmented reality elements such as navigational indicators, real-time landmark details and safety warnings can be shown in relation to real world objects in order to keep the driver focused on the road ahead.

DLP technology has long been known as a leader in digital image quality and intelligent display capabilities across a variety of products and applications, says Novak. For us, the world of in-vehicle infotainment, especially augmented reality head-up displays in the near future, can benefit greatly from what we can do with DLP technology. With more than 2 million cars sold in India, and many Indian customers demanding globally available features, the HUD market will make inroads into the mid- to high-end car segment, he stresses. We intend to deliver the same connected, immersive experiences that consumers expect from smartphones, tablets, gaming systems, and more into the cabins of modern cars and vehicles, but in a less distracting and more usable way.

In the realm of healthcare, DLP-enabled hyper-spectral imaging method opens up a wide range of possibilities in spectroscopy. It can illuminate a patients tissue and collect information that is reflected back. The DLP hyper-spectral imaging system does not require physical contact with the patient to gather information. As a result, the platform-like imaging technology can provide real-time mapping and visualisation data to assist surgeons with performing difficult procedures. DLP technology helps surgeons to identify the anatomical structures based on their chemical composition.

Hyper-spectral imaging technology is suited for a multitude of medical applications including tissue oxygenation monitoring, non-invasive optical biopsies, diabetic retinopathy, retinal imaging, post-operative care and personalised medicine. Also, applications including hearing aids, dental implants and prosthetic limbs, can leverage 3D measurement solution from the semiconductor major.

Engineers have begun medical research to inset DLP technology into the human eye as a retina replacement; there is no stopping where DLP will go next!