Video projector on a chip focuses on eyeballs

Microvision displays a tiny viewer, suitable for handheld computers or mobile phones, that it promises can project a screen with the resolution of a laptop

Handheld devices with notebook quality graphics and video are on their way, according to US company Microvision. It has demonstrated an 800 x 600 pixel full-colour display that has just four active components and can be integrated into a personal digital assistant (PDA) or a cellphone.

The device works by having three light-emitting diodes shining red, green and blue onto a micro-electrical-mechanical-systems (MEMS) chip with a vibrating mirror. As the mirror vibrates, it scans out a full picture, which is projected through a lens to the viewer. The display is designed to be held up to the eye, either as a screen in a handheld device or as part of a wearable headset. Potentially, it can be made not much larger than existing silicon chips.

The image quality of the Microvision prototype is exceptional, said Russell Hannigan, Microvision's director of business development for advanced products. "We achieve full Super VGA (SVGA or 800 x 600 lines) resolution and have measured contrast ratios up to 150:1. Colour gamut and saturation are already comparable with a very high quality CRT and we expect to see further improvements in performance over the weeks ahead," Hannigan said in a statement.

The company says it will spend the next 18 to 24 months improving the display by reducing size, weight, power consumption and cost. The MEMS chip is being developed in conjunction with Taipei company Walsin Lihwa, and the LEDs with American opto-electronics specialist Cree.

Although the concept of scanning LEDs through a moving mirror isn't new -- the first commercial device was the Private Eye head-mounted display, launched in 1990 -- the development of MEMS and full-spectrum LEDs makes very high quality, mass-produced and affordable devices much more plausible.

Microdisplays -- displays less than 1.5" diagonally that require projecting -- are being actively developed around the world with many different approaches. Other technologies close to commercialisation include liquid-crystal on silicon (LCOS), organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), field-emissive displays (FEDs), vacuum-fluorescent-on-silicon (VFOS) and variations on the cathode-ray tube.

All these technologies have different trade-offs between power, size, resolution and refresh rate, and can manage colour more or less well. Although it is commonly held that microdisplays will be a huge market, especially when 3G mobile communications becomes good enough to carry live video, it is not yet clear which of the many options will prove themselves in the market.


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