Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


The Display Continuum

A Flash of Brilliant Light…

The dictionary defines the word “brilliant” as 1) sparkling, very bright and 2) as distinguished by qualities that excite admiration. Could we possibly come up with something that encompasses both of these meanings? And could that something be the next great opportunity for a new class of consumer products that rely on display technology?

Well then, come along with me on this brief journey of thoughtful exploration and see if you like where we end up.

Over the last few years, conference room projectors have achieved acceptable brightness so that it is no longer necessary to turn down the lights for viewing the ubiquitous power point presentations. These projectors have also been getting smaller and smaller. But wow, do they put out the heat! Sitting downwind from the exhaust fan of one of these little heat generators can keep a person quite toasty warm. That can become a real problem during an especially boring presentation – with the warm air inducing an overwhelming desire to take a nap. Of course, with this much heat and light being generated, the only reasonable source of power is the nearest wall plug.

Let us now suppose that we could generate a decent amount of light without all of this unnecessary and undesirable heat. And let’s go even one step further and assume that we do not need to project the image onto a conference room wall. Suppose we could be happy with an image the size of a printed page, or if we make it large enough to be projected onto a wall, we turn down the lights and view it more like a darkened movie theater. With these slight modifications, a potentially new and exciting world of opportunities opens to us.

The recent progress in LED efficiency and brightness makes possible what wasn’t possible just a few years ago. A palm size projector, that is portable and can operate for a reasonable amount of time on battery power, is now a realistic goal. And it won’t burn your hand into toast while you are using it. I am going to leave the details of exactly how to make such a mini-projector (nano-projector?) to a future column and first ask -- and then try to answer -- the very practical question: Suppose we could make such a product, who would want one badly enough to buy one?

Isn’t that the perennial question that gets asked whenever a new product idea comes along? Perhaps this same question was posed when the first battery operated flashlights were introduced. If you were used to carrying an oil lantern that provided adequate light and also kept your hands warm on a cold winter night’s walk home, would you want to change to a flashlight that needs expensive replacement batteries, doesn’t keep you warm, and only provides useful light over a narrow angle? Perhaps in the beginning you would have wanted to hang on to your lantern and only use the flashlight as an emergency backup, or as a novelty gadget to show your friends. In the same vein, does anyone really “need” a digital camera in a cell phone, a portable music player, a PDA, or an electric toothbrush? And do children “need” all the toys they receive on Christmas, birthdays, and all of the non-special days in between.

Toys, toys, we’re all in love with them. We all have a great capacity to be entertained. Sometimes we claim that we are doing these things to become more productive -- and that may, coincidentally, even turn out to be true. Mini-projectors are likely to enter the market place appealing to our enthusiasm for the new and novel. One major toy company has already announced that they are planning to sell a modestly performing projector as a legitimate toy. And why not? Suppose your child could lie in bed at night and project a bedtime story on the ceiling of his or her room? Wouldn’t this be a new convenience for a nightly chore that parents could choose to “delegate” to this newfound electronic nanny.

On a more sophisticated level, such mini-projectors could be used for sales presentations to a few listeners, for convenience in airports, or for lunch-table technical discussions. They could also lead to smaller and lighter-weight laptop computers.

Can we even begin to imagine all of the ways these intelligent video flashlights will be used? With time they will, of course, get even brighter as LEDs continue to improve. With such capabilities could we invent some completely new ways that they entertain us, such as projecting soothing color patterns on a bedroom ceiling as a sleep aid? Could they become another format for electronic books? Or will we follow a convoluted path like we did with desktop and laptop computers that both started out as “computers” and eventually turned into predominantly communication devices?

The exciting prospect for this class of new mini-products is that there is already an entry point in both the toy and entertainment segments of the consumer marketplace. Once consumers get a taste of these new devices, the future directions could be quite “brilliant” indeed. Which companies will be the smart ones to spot the opportunities first?

Portable (wearable) electronics and the displays they incorporate are for sure going to be a major growth area in the next decade. LED mini-projects will be making an important contribution to this growth.

Perhaps you are not certain that all of your ideas are “sparkling” and “distinguished by qualities that excite admiration”, but I would enjoy hearing from you nevertheless. You may reach me directly from this site, by e-mail at, by telephone at 425-898-9117, or by fax at 425-898-1727.