Light has become integral part of most of the electronic devices we use today in any sphere of influence; personal, entertainment, consumer, automotive, medical, security, and industrial and so on. It’s obvious; along with IoT (Internet-of-Things) devices, the devices to illuminate and display things will play a major role in that revolution. In order to be accommodated effectively in the end-to-end devices, the light devices need to be tiny enough, energy efficient and powerful in terms of lumen, resolution, mix of colors and so on. Of course, there already has been wide scope of applications for light devices in cinemas, TVs, projectors etc.
Inspired by the current and future prospects of light processing devices, I investigated into the details of the innovative DLP (Digital Light Processing) technology and its applications. It’s a pleasant surprise to know about the intricacies of such a technology and how it is marching into the visual innovation to provide the ultimate of life’s experience. Before I talk about the technology, just see this HUD (Head-up Display) on the windshield of a car, crystal clear with wide VGA resolution showing the directions. Think about what kind of more information, you need, can be displayed while you are on the drive!
In CES 2014, there were demonstrations of other exciting products that used DLP technology. So, what is DLP technology? Invented by Dr. Larry Hornbeck at Texas Instrumentsin 1987, it’s an optical semiconductor device called Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) in the form of a chip that processes light digitally and hence named as Digital Light Processing (DLP). A DLP chip contains up to 8 million hinge-mounted microscopic mirrors, each mirror measuring less than 1/5[SUP]th[/SUP] the width of a human hairand capable of reflecting a digital image onto any screen. The micromirror can be ON when tilted towards a light source and OFF when away from it. When the bit-streamed code of an image enters the optical semiconductor, it directs each micromirror to switch on or off, the rate of switching can be as high as 10000 times per second. Depending on the frequency of a mirror being ON or OFF, it can produce up to 1024 shades of gray color, thus contributing into a highly detailed image. How do those exciting colors appear into the picture? The white light from the source passes through a color wheel (that sequentially filters light into red, green and blue) before falling on the surface of the DMD chip. A single DMD chip can produce more than 16 million colors. For very high brightness projectors used in movie theatres and large auditoriums, 3 DMD chip system is used where a prism creates parallel beams of red, green and blue light which are then processed by 3 separate DMD chips. This system can create as many as 35 trillion colors. Again, there are technologies to replace white lamp source by solid-state illumination that can emit colors itself without needing the color wheel.
Last year, TI introduced DLP Pico projector chipset which is based on its new Tilt & Roll Pixel (TRP) technology. This DLP Pico 0.2” TRP chipset produces images with double the brightness and resolution of its predecessor, and at half the power consumption; optimized for ultra-compact mobile, digital cameras and wearable devices. In this chipset, to augment the details of image and its brightness, each T&R Pixel is further reduced to 1/20[SUP]th[/SUP] the width of a human hair and IntelliBright suite of adaptive algorithms incorporated.
In the above picture, it is shown how the DMD chip that drives the optical engine is combined with the Display Controller and electronics to process the input signals.
Let’s look at the new exciting products emerging out of this technology. We have already seen Sekonixpico projector and curved TVs demonstrated at CES 2014. Many other products are in the making, e.g. see-through near-eye display which needs extremely low power, high brightness and vibrant images; projector equipped smartphones and tablets; VeinViewer which projects an image of patient’s veins for the doctor to spot any good vein or examine them in general.
Other areas of application are 3D images of teeth in dental applications, eye and other organ examinations, vision assistance, spectroscopy to analyze materials, better visibility in bad weather, robotics, security and biometrics, and many more.
What I learnt is that the DLP technology produces the most sharp, bright and vibrant images with consistent picture quality in variety of applications. It’s most versatile and reliable that can be used under various conditions to produce images that will not fade. I think many new arenas of applications for this technology will emerge in near future. Can you guess a few of those applications? It needs creativity to identify those!