At CEDIA this year, Optoma (Milpitas, CA) (www.optoma.com) showed a 100-inch modular in-wall RPTV solution that the company said offers a unique in-home solution for custom installers in new home construction, and may portend the future of high-end projection technology.
With Gen 6, 7.5, and now Gen 8 fabs announced by LCD manufacturers â€“ the latter to pump out Sharp 65-inch LCDs in a three-up configuration (three panels per motherglass) â€“ there is no end in sight to continued ASP declines as supply of ever-larger flat panels ramps upward.
Regardless of who wins the flat display wars, PDP or LCD, conventional wisdom maintains a healthy delta between the flats and RPTVs in the > 50-inch size, but that number can’t remain constant forever. Long term, RPTVs may just be heading for niche super-large displays, but the cabinet – already the size of a midsize Steinway â€“ doesn’t have the â€œclassâ€ a flat display offers, and, at some point, will grow too big to fit in the door.
Enter in-wall RPTV systems, which offer all the ambient projection advantages of current RPTVs, plus super-large size, and not just flat, but downright 2D, with no visible depth whatsoever. Other added advantages include no â€œcaveâ€ (dedicated and dark home theater room) in the house sporting a front projector breathing hot air on you and dangling above like the sword of Damocles.
With approximately 50% more display area over the 65-inch LCDs, we’re talking way big and way cool. The idea for mounting the RPTV into the wall is not new, but to modularize it into a single kit for easy dealer install within a limited space (36 inches) belongs to display industry pioneer Lou Mannick, founder of ADF Visual Display Products (Dominguez Hills, CA) (www.adfvisual.com) . His product, TheaterWall, was launched a full two years ahead of the completion target, with innovations that were not lost on Optoma’s new design.
â€œWe welcome Optoma into this space to show the world just how powerful this solution really is,â€ said Mannick, who seemed confident that there is plenty of room, with a â€œCome on in, the water’s fineâ€ attitude toward the Optoma solution.
For its part, Optoma proved to be a good student, doing its homework, and then some. Ron D’Alli, Optoma’s senior product manager and head of the new BigVision 100 project, told us the product concept is simple â€” â€œSell full HD in the largest RP format possibleâ€. The 100-inch 1080p in-wall modular system boasts a 30-inch depth requirement and uses the new xHD4 DLP chip from TI, a 1080p wobulation chip set that when implemented into the projection engine, yields, a 5000:1 contrast ratio. The modular kit solution will sell in the $20K range. We were also told the light engine design is finalized and uses a 150W Okra lamp. More optic specs will follow, and delivery is set for mid-2006.
The modular kit includes a 100-inch mirror and custom bezel system that allows for front access to the electronics and components â€” using a unique â€œgarage door-likeâ€ spring-loaded mechanism that swings the screen forward. Alternative access through a side door configuration was shown at CEDIA. The prototype device had a raw engine without the housing, but the design is â€œin-the-can,â€ according to D’Alli.
Interestingly, the solution also includes an ISF C3 certified high-end control system featuring Gennum scaling chips and the Jepico color management solution. â€œAll formats coming into the controller will be scaled to 1080p for display on the wall in full-HD resolution,â€ D’Alli continued. The controller also serves as a video switcher with DVI and three HDMI inputs, BNC component connectors, and a host of other accessories. For Optoma, it is the company’s first video control device that will ship in the same time frame as the BigVision100.
We called on a couple of CEDIA dealers that were a bit sensitive about us using their names. They did tell us that while the idea of in-wall RP systems is a good one in concept, it is a tough sell to some dealers that just want to â€œhang and bang.â€ The push-back is not surprising, given that most dealers willingness to change can be measured in geological time. The idea of offering an in-wall solution is a far cry from the simple days of spec, mount and go.
Optoma plans to circumvent this by sticking to the CEDIA channel and targeting new home construction, where the cost of the system can be folded into a line item on the mortgage like the HVAC system. It is looking for the customer that wants to avoid â€œthe caveâ€ and integrate the wall unit into any room in the home.
For some companies like ADF Visual, and more recently Optoma, the writing is on the wall (excuse the pun); ever-larger flat display systems will continue encroaching on RP’s large format space, and the 60-inch size will surrender to flat screens in the midterm as ever-increasing supply drives ASPs down â€” ultimately to a point beyond the pain threshold RPs can handle.
There are few places for RP technology to go but up and into the 2D space, disappearing behind the wall and morphing into yet a newer, more beautiful iteration of a fantastic display technology. Put mine in the great room please.