People who have thought much about it have concluded that projectors are the one way to reconcile ever-tinier gadgets with the ever-more data and media we have on them. And plenty of companies have been trying to build a micro projector that you can carry in your pocket or even get built into your cellphone or iPod.
But no one knew that 3M (yes, the Post It people) would be the first company to do it. After two years of stealth development, they popped out a little press release on Friday announcing that they had a working projector in hand—just as I was finishing an article proclaiming Microvision to be the company that won the race.
More details and incredible video after the jump.
3M’s projector shows full-color, standard def video at a rate of at least 60 frames per second—television quality. Its 10 lumens of brightness make it powerful enough to overcome bright room lighting to project an image about 15 inches across. When we took it into a dark room, it could easily do 50 inches.
Instead of lasers, which Microvision and its rival Light Blue Optics are using, 3M uses LED for illumination. They wouldn’t tell me if it’s one white LED or three (red, green, and blue) bulbs. But my bet is on one—given the size of the projector and the color quality—which was nice, but not stunning.
Texas Instruments is trying to do the same thing with LED and it’s DLP imaging chip—similar to what you get in rear-projection TVs from Samsung. But 3M is using liquid crystal on silicon—basically and LCD on a mirror that bounces light out the front of the projector.
3M won’t be selling final products, but will supply the guts of the projector to companies that will sell it either as a handheld accessory (about the size of an iPod Classic) or possibly even built into gadgets. No word yet on who those companies are, but a 3M rep told me they are definitely ones we’ve all heard of.
The projector’s a bit fat for cellphones—at least those made in the last five years. But 3M promises to get it way smaller (and brighter and with higher screen resolution) in the coming years.
What can you use it for? Well, the demonstration products I saw take flash memory cards, have USB ports and/or have regular video inputs. I can see it making a really nice iPod accessory.—Sean Captain
In bright light
In dark room
Want more? Check out our entire CES 2008 coverage here.