TI demos its movie projector in a phone

First cameras went into phones, then MP3 players. Projectors are next, Texas Instruments says.Photos: Tiny movie projector fits in a phone
Written by Michael Kanellos, Contributor
How do you make watching movies on a handheld more pleasing? Use the wall instead, Texas Instruments says.

At the CTIA Wireless 2007 show, TI is providing public demonstrations of its digital light processing (DLP) "pico" projector, a tiny movie projector that can fit inside a cell phone.

TI showed off the components and a prototype at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year to a few reporters. Now the company is touting a working prototype in a phone. The phone is fake, but the projector works. (At CES, the company refused to let people take pictures, but now they're allowed.)

pico projector

The projector contains three lasers, a DLP chip and a power supply and measures about 1.5 inches in length. With the projector, the cell phone can beam DVD-quality video onto a screen or a wall, thereby allowing it to serve as a video player or a television. By using the projector, the actual "screen" size can be much larger than what a person would get by using the LCD panel integrated into the phone. The chip inside the phone, in fact, could drive images for a widescreen television.

TI has not said when it will start selling projectors for cell phones, but it expects better convergence between televisions and cell phones to progress rapidly over the next few years. Finland's Upstream Engineering is working on a phone projector, but implementing it in a different manner.

The cell-phone-as-widescreen TV initiative is part of an overall effort at TI to rejuvenate the DLP TV market. Projection TV sets, based on DLP chips, have been around for several years. With these TVs, images are projected onto the DLP, which is a chip that houses thousands of moving, small micro-mirrors. The mirrors then project and magnify the images on a screen. These TVs consume less power than LCD or plasma televisions, TI said, and often cost less.

Sales of DLP televisions, however, have largely remained flat in a market being gobbled up by LCD televisions. The majority of DLP chips end up in projectors, not TVs. Mitsubishi, Samsung and Toshiba all make DLP projectors.

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Part of the problem has been size. DLP televisions are SUV-size devices, often measuring 20 inches or more in depth, far larger than LCD or plasma TVs. Most projection TVs have been sold in North America, where large family rooms are more common.

To that end, TI has worked with TV makers like Samsung to devise much thinner DLP televisions. Some of these new models were trotted out at CES earlier this year.

TI is also working with theaters to install DLP projectors for showing movies. In North America, approximately 2,000 theaters have installed DLP projectors. By the end of the year, approximately 5,000 theaters will be using the projectors, said John Van Scoter, senior vice president of DLP products at TI.

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