Laser TV's Future: A Big Step Forward

Since laser video was first proposed in 1996, it has been a tech holy grail, especially for stereoscopic 3D (S3D). Laser-driven projection TVs, in theory, are supposed to deliver huge size, brilliant color, long life and low power consumption in a cheap, thin box. Mitsubishi introduced its LaserVue projection set about a year ago, which delivered on some of those promises. Recently, though, Daily Variety got a peek at a laser TV system that represents a leap forward from the Mitsubishi sets in size, speed and 3D capability. And so, too, did a group of top execs from consumer electronics makers.

Engineers and S3D experts from Sony, Sharp, JVC, Hitachi and even Mitsubishi crowded into a workshop in Los Gatos, Calif., last week to see a prototype 100-inch, rear-projection S3D television from startup HDI. That's far bigger than Mitsubishi's 65-inch LaserVue. The light for HDI sets comes from a trio of small red, green and blue lasers. The red and blue are off-the-shelf parts, but HDI had to develop the green to meet its specs.

As promised, HDI's design is energy efficient, no small thing with California eyeing power consumption limits for TVs. HDI's 100-inch prototype draws 190 watts. Today, an Energy Star-qualified 50-inch Panasonic plasma pulls 388 watts. Overall, HDI promises 80% power savings compared to plasma. It's also fast. For S3D, at full 1080p HD, the screen refreshes at 360 fields per second on each eye. Today's state-of-the-art consumer sets are touting the smooth picture they get from speedy 240 Hz, but that's for 2D; they can only do 120 Hz per eye for S3D.

Mitsubishi's laser TVs are only 120 Hz for 2D, and while they can be adapted for S3D, they're not built for it. Mitsubishi's sets need expensive shutter glasses and an infrared emitter for S3D. HDI uses less expensive polarized glasses similar to RealD's. For a projection system, HDI's approach is compact, too, though not as thin as flatscreens. Their goal is to make their 100-inch diagonal screen fit in a cabinet just 10 inches deep, and to keep that 10:1 ratio at any size.

Last but not least, its sets should be cheap -- compared to plasma, anyway. They promise their sets will cost just 40% of the same size plasma; they estimate $10,000-$15,000 for a consumer version of that 100-incher with costs dropping as volume increases. Moreover, they say, a plant to manufacture their system would need just 5% of the investment for a plasma plant, and would be greener to boot.

HDI hopes someone, even Mitsubishi, will buy their tech in hopes of leapfrogging the LaserVue. They say they could be in production in as little as 24 months. Even if no one bites on HDI's approach it shows the promise of laser-driven 3D TV could be a reality surprisingly soon.

By David S. Cohen, Variety