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Interview with Russell Hannigan, Director of Product Management, Microvision Projection Displays

You attended the SID Mobile Display Conference recently, how was it?
The conference was great. The entire venue was informative in all areas of displays for mobile devices. For us it was especially exciting around the interest and progress around pico projectors. Compared to last year's conference, the pico projection subject wasn’t even on the agenda. This year an entire morning session was devoted to the subject. Microvision was invited to participate and present on the “Projection Technology for Mobile Devices” panel along with Explay, Light Blue Optics, Texas Instruments, and Market Research firm Insight Media.

Tell us about what you saw regarding Mobile Projection?
We demonstrated an earlier prototype of our PicoP™ Display Engine. We briefly saw Texas Instruments' latest prototype and a demonstration of Explay’s prototype. Light Blue Optics did not provide a demonstration. We are encouraged by two things from what we saw. First, there is an overwhelming belief that consumers want a larger display experience from small mobile devices. Secondly, the trends in mobile devices are drastically impacting the performance of mobile displays in resolution, power, and size. It is clear the future of mobile devices center around instant broadband access to all types of multi-media rich content—movies, TV, user generated content, web pages, gaming and even certain business applications.

What are Microvision’s advantages over other Pico Projectors?
The advantages of our PicoP display engine can best be described by what cell phone OEMs have communicated to us. It is all about size, power, and resolution.

To be considered an embedded product the display engine must fit volumetrically inside the device while minimally impacting the overall thinness of the device. Through extensive consultations with cell phone companies, we believe the maximum size of any projector must be about 5 cubic centimeters with a 7 mm thickness. Our first prototypes are already very close to these requirements. The main reason why we can achieve such a small package is because PicoP uses just one tiny mirror to “paint” the image, pixel-by-pixel on the screen. By contrast, most of our competitors require a panel that has one element for each and every pixel, thereby leading to a larger device. Additionally, we don’t require a large projection lens. These and other items lead to a very compact and thin package.

While the first hurdle is fitting inside the device, the PicoP must be compatible with typical batteries used in cell phones. Our PicoP display engine efficiently manages every milli-watt of power by adjusting the light intensity of each laser source as and when it is needed for each pixel. The added benefit of managing the light source is that very minimal light is wasted as heat, significantly reducing thermal issues on other components inside the mobile device. By contrast, most competing systems require the light source to be on continuously regardless of the content being displayed.

While size and power describes the ability of a projector to be embedded and operated inside a mobile device, the display characteristics are what a consumer best judges the display on. For this we must consider advantages in terms of Resolution, Depth of Focus, and Colors.

Consider Resolution: Most of our competitors are focused on developing projectors that will offer resolution of about QVGA which is 320 x 240 pixels, or roughly one quarter the area of a traditional TV screen. QVGA is also the same resolution as used on higher-end cell phones today such as the Motorola Q or the T-Mobile Dash. However, while a QVGA display when projected to create a 36 inch image, for example, may be acceptable for some photographs and lower quality video, we don’t believe it is sufficient for viewing higher-quality photos and video, web surfing, viewing documents and presentations all of which customers have shown they want.

Our PicoP display engine is currently at WVGA resolution (848 x 480 pixel) which is near DVD quality and can support numerous devices like the Apple iPod®, iPhone®, Sony PSP Slim, cell phones with a TV out such the Nokia N95, digital cameras and camcorders, gaming consoles and laptops. We believe the demand for increased resolution will continue to grow as 3.5 and 4G broadband mobile networks flourish. One key advantage of our technology is that it offers a path to increased resolution over time without a large impact to the engine size. In fact, it may decrease. We see this as a distinct advantage over any fixed panel display. Greater resolution for these displays means more elements leading to a larger engine size.

Our understanding of the usages for a projector inside a mobile device is one of spontaneity and instant enjoyment. The infinite depth of focus in the PicoP display engine allows any projected image to be in focus on any surface from any distance. This means a 10 inch image in a dark room can instantly be a 40+ inch image just by moving away from the wall.

For color, because we use lasers we are able to achieve well beyond NTSC colors. NTSC refers to the color standards set for televisions. With laser light we are able to achieve more colors than the NTSC standard. Human eyes are capable of seeing many colors but current displays are limited to how many they can reproduce. Children and teens in particular like the eye popping colors in animated and colorful types of content. For other viewers flesh tones are accurately presented.

What other advantages are there for using laser light sources?
In our opinion, laser light is the only viable technology that enables an incredibly small, thin, and low power projector that can be embedded inside cell phones. Lasers are much more efficient devices than LEDs and as result LED-powered devices require more optics to collect the light leading to a thicker display engine.

Lasers produce a display image dynamic called speckle, what is that?
Any type of projector using laser light will exhibit some level of noise in the image, referred to as “speckle”. This appears to some viewers as a glistening effect typically noticeable in the light color areas. However,as a result of our continuous progress in maturing the technology, the majority of people we have shown the PicoP to either don’t notice it or say it is very acceptable given the application space of mobile devices. Indeed, at the SID conference, a number of people looked at the PicoP image and said “how did you get rid of the speckle?”

Are there any product and safety certifications required for PicoP?
Yes, as there are any with any consumer electronics product. Prior to commercial production we and our supply chain partners and global OEM customers will meet all the requirements to deliver high-quality and safe products for the consumer. For example, the PicoP display engine is designed to not exceed a Class 2 laser product as defined by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The IEC is the global body that regulates laser safety standards. Additionally, as part of our product certification requirements, we would also work with the laser based products and other standards requirements of individual countries.

Tell us about the status of Microvision’s current work on Pico Projectors?
Today, we are in the advanced development phases for PicoP enabled consumer products, starting with an accessory projector which would be a stand-alone device about the size and thickness of a PDA. The consumer could easily plug this accessory projector into various devices with video-out capabilities, such as cell phones, media players, laptops, camcorders, and more.

How are things going with Motorola?
Due to confidentiality reasons we are unable to discuss any of the terms. However, what I can say is that we are very pleased with the progress so far and excited about the future.

Any other developments that are emerging?
Yes, we’re incredibly busy—it seems that everyone in the value chain is interested in mobile projection. We expect to continue to secure new customers and partners along the way toward commercialization of the PicoP-based accessory and embedded products.

What does the future look like for Microvision five years down the road?
It is very conceivable to think that pico projectors could follow the same deployment growth trajectory as the color LCD display or the camera in cell phones. In 1999, there were virtually no cell phones with color LCD displays. The same is true for the tiny camera in cell phones. But look where we are today: Both are in about 80% of the more than 1 billion* cell phones that will be shipped this year alone! Given the global move to broadband wireless, we think the PicoP could be an enabler of a very valuable and compelling mobile display experience.

*According to Gartner, in 2007 1.18 billion cell phones will be sold worldwide.

12 comments:

At October 22, 2007 at 3:54 PM Anonymous said...

Russell or Ben - What I don't understand is that if everything is as rosy as it sounds why no insider buying and why didn't the CFO wait to sell?

 
At October 22, 2007 at 4:42 PM TPS115 said...

Ben,

How is the speckle reduced in the latest version of the PicoP?
R,
TPS

 
At October 22, 2007 at 5:34 PM KD said...

thanks ben and team MVIS. Good timely post.
Keep up the good work.

 
At October 22, 2007 at 8:04 PM Anonymous said...

why is there no insider buying at MVIS? Only a little selling by the guy in charge of the financials, why is nobody buying the stock

 
At October 22, 2007 at 8:10 PM Anonymous said...

woodcheddar and broker fly,
is this acceptable to you as an update, thanks ben for the update. You really found a way to give a great update, I only hope it satisfies the kids who were crying before

 
At October 22, 2007 at 9:14 PM Ben said...

I'm proud of the eloquence with which Russell speaks to this topic! My favorite post here since July.

 
At October 22, 2007 at 9:26 PM digitaldoofus said...

Thanks for the post Ben. You're a true company asset and a credit to Microvision.

 
At October 22, 2007 at 9:52 PM William said...

Gimme a break! Sheesh what the heck are you guys doing over there? Geez figure out how to manage investor expectations; your management team has helped decay a third of your market cap by keeping quiet.

 
At October 23, 2007 at 4:10 AM Woodshedder said...

A glorious PR has issued forth from MVIS. Praise be to AT!

 
At October 23, 2007 at 5:27 AM Finn said...

Praise the Lord!! There is news :D
thank you

 
At October 23, 2007 at 7:00 AM digitaldoofus said...

All Hail The Tokerator!!

 
At October 23, 2007 at 1:46 PM Anonymous said...

There has been a lot of investment talk here lately... of course its all from one paranoid schizophrenic investor who can't help but comment constantly on every MV forum he can possibly find.

 

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