Canon Introduces LCOS Projector

Canon SX-50
Home theater projector. Business projector. Technologically speaking, the categories have remained separate. Now, Canon says its new AISYS (Aspectural Illumination System) technology, paired with the oft-heralded but little-seen LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) display technology, will help bridge that gap.

The technology will be available in Canon's new SX-50 projector, announced this week as the first model in the company's Realis line.

The unit is capable of projecting a 100-inch image from just under 10 feet away. With the SX-50, "we're aiming for the biggest possible image in the smallest possible space," explains Tim Smith, technical marketing and sales training manager at Canon's video division. "That's important for a small room, in home theater situations. Now, in a 10-foot room, a 100-foot image is a reality."

The SX-50 supports 1400 by 1050 (SXGA+) resolution, is rated at a brightness of 2500 lumens, has a lens with 1.7X optical zoom, and has a contrast ratio of 1000:1. The 8.6-pound unit is not supremely portable, but you can lug it from room to room if necessary. Smith says the lamp life is rated at 2000 hours, 25 percent longer than most projectors in this class; replacement bulb pricing was unavailable at this writing. The unit runs relatively silently, too: In quiet mode, it's rated at just 34 decibels.

Canon plans to market the projector to both home theater and business users. "We call this a multimedia projector," says Smith. "We're keying in on business, home theater, everyone who has a need to see an image projected." The unit has an MSRP of $4999 and an estimated street price of $4000, and will be available in several months.

Projectors Revisited

The leading projection technologies are Texas Instruments' DLP (Digital Light Processing), which relies on a spinning color wheel to reproduce images, and LCD (liquid crystal display), which relies on three mirror panels that act as a prism to project the red, green, or blue light. But both technologies have limitations.

"LCD is fine as a presentation tool, but for video it muddles the image, softens the image, since not all of the visual info makes it through the mirrors at the same time; it's never been taken seriously as a home theater projector [technology]," explains Smith. "DLP solved that problem, because it doesn't have the mirrors. But DLP has color wheels. The color wheels produce accurate color but reduce saturation, contrast, and light output [brightness]. The more wheels you have, with the greater variety of colors to produce, the more they bleed into each other and create the rainbow effect." The effect, in which viewers see a flash of rainbow colors as the color wheel spins, is visible to some, but not all, users.

Another problem with DLP is the brightness. In order to achieve the contrast you'd want for a home theater projector, you'd have to sacrifice the white segment of the color wheel--which makes the projector unsuitable for PowerPoint presentations.

LCOS Jumps In

The newest and least-established projection technology today is LCOS. Smith says LCOS "technically has the potential to be the best system." That's not to say that LCOS hasn't had its share of technical flaws--particularly physical size, cost, and contrast ratio--which explains in part why the technology has yet to take off.

Notes Smith: "It's critical to have the bulb aligned properly with the chip, to minimize the amount of light that's being passed through to the image. The disadvantage to this is that technically the unit has to be big [to accommodate the LCOS design]. It becomes a compromise between how much light you're willing to sacrifice for higher contrast ratios, or how much light you want to have at the sacrifice of brightness."

Current LCOS projectors from Hitachi and Sony are physically large, and weight more than 10 pounds.

Canon developed its new AISYS system to eliminate the design trade-offs. AISYS is a series of lenses that focus the bulb's light on the prism, which in turn directs the light to the appropriate red, green, and blue LCOS chips. This means you'll get a sharper picture than with standard LCOS, including greater detail and better contrast. This stood out in Canon's demo of the new technology.

"It doesn't have to be big anymore, and you can get the contrast ratios now," says Smith.

Canon says its advantage lies in the fact that it relies on its own lens technology. The competitors, says Smith, "own no lens technology. Our philosophy is to build it from the lens back. We're a lens company. If we hadn't had this lens technology, we wouldn't have achieved this. And [our product is] smaller, lighter, and less expensive, and has a higher resolution [than competing LCOS models]."

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