Digital Light Processing

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1pixclear.gif
This photograph shows the point of a common pin laid across the tiny mirrors that make up the digital light processing chip.
1pixclear.gif
This photograph shows the point of a common pin laid across the tiny mirrors that make up the digital light processing chip.
Consumer-grade television monitors use the system described above. For very large projection, such as in movie theaters and auditoriums, a more sophisticated system uses three DMD chips, one for each color, plus an optical prism. The prism splits white light into colors and then recombines the three images before sending them through the projection lens. This system, called DLP Cinema, can produce 35 trillion colors.

In most applications, DLP competes directly with LCD projection. DLP typically offers greater contrast (up to 5,000-to-1 vs. LCD's 800-to-1), with better blacks, while LCD produces greater color saturation. Side by side, an LCD display looks slightly sharper than a DLP in text display applications, but DLP has the edge with moving video, reducing pixelation, or the "screen-door effect."

The brightest projectors still use LCD technology, which is slightly more efficient, but the smallest, lightest projectors use DLP. In 2003, DLP systems accounted for 13% of the market for large-screen televisions (over 40 inches), according to The NPD Group Inc., a Port Washington, N.Y.-based consultancy. In the past year, the number of models of DLP TVs has tripled.

DLP's Origins

The DMD chip was invented in 1987 by TI scientist Larry Hornbeck, who had been exploring the manipulation of reflected light since 1977. In 1992, TI started a project to explore the DMD's commercial viability. A year later, it named the new technology DLP and formed a separate group (now called the DLP Products division) to develop commercial display applications.

In 1994, TI demonstrated prototype DLP projectors for the first time. The technology's promise was quickly recognized. In 1997, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose DLP to project film at the Oscars, where the first three-chip DLP technology was demonstrated to the Hollywood community.

In 1999, DLP Cinema was first demonstrated to the public with the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. By December 2002, TI had shipped 2 million DLP subsystems.

DLP Products has also received two Emmy Awards, for broadcast excellence in 1998 and for technology and engineering in 2003. In 2002, Hornbeck was elected a fellow of the International Society for Optical Engineering and received the David Sarnoff Medal from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.

Kay is a Computerworld contributing writer. You can reach him at russkay@charter.net.

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