SHOWWX Experiments: Infinite Focus

Nicolas Andron

August 21st, 2009
by Nicolas Andron

Infinite focus, as impossible and unbelievable as the concept may seem, has yet to lose its novelty with me.

Let me rewind: a few days ago, I was working with a colleague using the Pico Projector for some impromptu photographs. After we finished taking pictures, I was playing around with the projector (it seriously never gets old) and I projected the splash screen on the ceiling (on A/C ventilation pipes, etc). Infinite focus is amazing. It really is.

Here are some pics I took with my iPhone (click to enlarge):

Later on, I was still thinking about the experience and it slowly dawned on me what it means for our technology. We know that Infinite focus is critical for impromptu sharing of pictures, videos and presentations (I mean who wants to fiddle with focus, anyway?).

But it’s also critical for applications that benefit from (or require!) projection on multiple planes.

Imagine, if you will, a young fledgling artist desperate to get eyes on his newest work. He’s got no money for a fancy gallery or the resources to put together a viewing. He needs to get creative (which luckily for him is down his alley). He takes digital stills of all his paintings, stitches them together with Photoshop, and imports the images to his iPod. During an evening opening of an art gallery, he sits on the steps of the entrance way and projects his painting on the front side of each step. 5 paintings, 5 steps, all in focus. Style points galore and plenty of eyes on your art.

These is just one application of many that would require Infinite Focus to succeed. Feel free to share your own applications of infinite focus!

This entry was posted on Friday, August 21st, 2009 at 10:47 AM and is filed under Pico Projectors.
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19 Responses to “SHOWWX Experiments: Infinite Focus”

  1. Cliff Says:

    The struggling artist example is quite intriguing. Along that same vein, perhaps this could be used as a creative outlet for ‘taggers’. Call me naive, but I was shocked to see the same type of graffiti I see in Chicago or any other major U.S. city in Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Prague, etc. As an alternative, instead of actually vandalizing bridges and the like with spray paint, Youth Centers could set up “canvases” to allow legal tagging. Then the artists could publicly compete by displaying their creations via PicoP projectors onto the sides of buildings, buses, cargo trucks, or whatever. Educational scholarships might be an appropriate prize. This could have a very positive impact on many communities.

  2. Martin Hillerby Says:

    Excellent imagination. Hard to beat that one. Are you an artist in your spare time?

  3. Martin Hillerby Says:

    How about a clothing designer is having a show and has a number of models standing still in varying distances on stage wearing bland white clothing. Like in your vision, digital pictures of the actual new designs on these models are taken and stitched together on Photoshop varying the designs on each model. In other words each model will have a few different designs projected on them from a series of pictures projected. While the models are standing still on the runway with the new designs being changed from projection on each model…Poof…smoke goes off covering the models and when it clears the models are wearing the actual designs after tearing off the bland white clothing and start moving around…all in focus before due to the infinite focus of MVIS’s SHOW WX

  4. Tom S. Says:

    Say I mount my ShowWX up near my ceiling, behind my couch and projected on the center of the wall opposite. Since it is aiming down slightly there will be some parallax with the image wider at the bottom. We know there is no problem with focus across the image but would there be a way to have an adjustment to “pinch” the bottom of the image to have it appear rectangular? Seems like this would be nice if you are setting up a little home theatre.Just curious as to how difficult a feature that would be. Please respond. Thank you!!!

  5. Milt Says:

    How about all the disney attractions etc that could have realistic faces projected onto 3D mannequins etc?

  6. Ellen S. Says:

    Ouch. That’s a little harsh… comments like ‘it never gets old’… ‘imagine, if you will’…. I imagine all the time that I already have one. I started a blog last year listing all of the ways I could have used one on that particular day… but all my wishing didn’t make one show up at my door. I can’t wait to chronicle all of the ways I actually use it. And I would love the opportunity to see if it ever gets old….
    Still waiting – ES

  7. michael Says:

    does that mean there is another delay?

  8. MVIS:Microvision PicoP Projector Has Fast Refresh Rate.

    Fast refresh rate means more detail and less blur on-screen. As a result, the moving images should be considerably clearer compared to a 60Hz TV.

    Refresh rate is important if you demand the best picture while watching a lot of action content, like sports, movies or even programming with moving text. Refresh rate isn’t as critical if you watch a lot of daytime soaps or older syndicated content that doesn’t have a lot of motion.

    LCD televisions, for example, come in 60Hz, 120Hz and 240Hz refresh rate models. You’ve probably seen the numbers while reading BRAVIA product [by SONY] details – 60Hz, 120Hz and 240Hz. These numbers represent the total number of scans performed on the screen within one second of time. How these scans impact you is in the quality of the on-screen image.

    The downside of a faster refresh rate [for a TV] is a higher purchase price as you can see in the list below, which shows price increases as you move from bottom to top through the BRAVIA product line from 60Hz to 240Hz. Prices and models were taken directly from the Sony Style website for 46″ BRAVIA TVs:

    • KDL-46S5100 – 60Hz – $1,299.99
    • KDL-46V5100 – 120Hz – $1,799.99 (+ $500)
    • KDL-46W5100 – 120Hz – $2,099.99 (+ $100)
    • KDL-46Z5100 – 240Hz – $2,599.99 (+ $500)
    • KDL-46XBR9 – 240Hz – $2,899.99 (+ $300)

    We could probably spend hours debating whether or not human eyes can see a difference when doing a side-by-side comparison between a 240Hz BRAVIA and 120Hz BRAVIA. Most observers will tell you that you won’t be able to tell an on-screen difference in picture quality between a 240Hz and 120Hz panel. I know I can’t tell a difference.
    Don’t forget also that 60Hz is how you’ve been watching TV for most of your life. In addition, faster refresh rates like 120Hz and 240Hz are relatively new and can look weird if you’re not used to the overly sharp picture. In other words, the faster refresh rates can make a real image look some what fake.

    But, you don’t have to engage in a debate over “refresh rate” with a Microvision PicoP projector… because you get fast refresh for free as an inherent feature of the lasers based scanning mirror PicoP projectors.

    Here’re some answers to FAQs that I was able to gether over the last year…

    – Laser based PicoP employ a laser light engine as the light source, composed of a compact trio of red, green, and blue lasers. Laser light is capable of reproducing up to 90% of the visible color spectrum, twice what the current HDTV market offers. Laser based PicoP capitalize on the unparalleled qualities of laser light; capable of producing a brighter, sharper, and more vivid screen image than all current LCD and PDP models. Laser based PicoP will eventually cost less and use less energy than contemporary HDTVs.
    Response time is typically measured from black to white and then back to black. A lower measured response time is preferred, leading to a crisp image with less distortion and ghosting. There is no publicly available information on the response time for any laser based TV [or PicoP SHOWwx] at this time. However, Mitsubishi’s DLP HDTV models [and PicoP SHOWwx] have displayed some very impressive response times. Specially, the refresh rates will be very fast for laser based PicoP that use fast modulating lasers as light source and a scanning mirror oscillating at 100MHz.

    – LCD and DLP TVs lose brightness if you view the screen from an angle. Plasma and picture tubes are the only technology I know of that remain the same brightness from all directions. Laser based PicoP [and SHOWwx] will not have any practical angled view distortions… because of its always in focus and coherent light feature. The wide viewing angle screen coupled with superior brightness and color saturation promises to deliver a tremendous picture.

    – Microvision PicoP will be an amazing product from a gamers’ point of view… wide gaming screen, low response time, huge screen and near “perfect” picture that is always in focus.

    Anant Goel

  9. Nicolas Andron Says:

    Lady and Gents,

    My apologies for the late reply. My WordPress account was not able to accept submitted comments! We’ve got it fixed and I’ve got some answers for you:

    Cliff – I love the community outreach idea. Replace spray cans with a laptop / graphics software, and not only can kids still be artistic, their building valuable skills that could easily lead to a career later in life.

    Martin – No, I’m no artist. I can barely draw stick figures. But I like your runway idea. The end would be quite dramatic!

    Tom – That would be “keystone” and no, there won’t be adjustment for that. The projector is built to support spontaneous projection (in your hand, sitting on a desk for a quick presentation, etc), and not so much being mounted for fixed use.

    Milt – We’ve actually tested the projection of faces on mannequins before, it worked really well!

    Michael – Not sure what you mean. It’s still on track :)

    Anant – Well written response. Refresh rate is indeed important and is finally getting some attention beyond the traditional 60Hz.

    Ellen – What’s the link to your blog!? I’d love to read about some of the applications you’ve dreamed up!

  10. Ryan Says:

    Really, no keystone? What about image shift?

  11. Nicolas Andron Says:

    Ryan – I don’t believe so.

    Remember: it’s a small, hand held projector. If the image is keystoned, just move the projector a bit. Keystone, image shift and other features of that sort benefit large, heavy, bulky projectors that are meant to be fixed. Those features are of far less use for a small, easily movable projector that will likely be held in the hand as much as (or more than) sitting on a surface.

  12. John Says:

    This thing has been delayed many times, when are we going to finally order one of these bad boys instead of just keep hearing about it?

  13. Nicolas Andron Says:

    John – it’s still on track. Just a bit more of your patience!

  14. sam Says:

    What about the speckle that is observable in the images?

  15. PacoBell Says:

    @Nicolas Andron: I respectfully disagree. It may be even _more_ necessary for mobile projection units due to the irregularity of immediate arbitrary surfaces. The technology already exists and specialized ASICs to do this would render it essentially invisible to the user. See here for a sample:

  16. A. Peon Says:

    Some observations on comments, as I continue to eagerly await this thing:

    - Keystone really would be nice, but it’s a little late now. In the interim, I hope there’ll be an inexpensive accessory tripod or floor-to-ceiling tension-pole accessory for people who do want to use it in the “apartment home-theater” application? Something to hold the thing steady and level in a semi-fixed, unclip-it-if-you’re-leaving sort of way. Bonus points for including cord-management inside or along the pole so it doesn’t look like you’re growing a wire-vine (plain velcro straps are great for that if you don’t mind supporting 3M!).

    - Related to this, perhaps there is a cheap way to couple a tilt sensor with the MEMS to auto-keystone – assuming a level wall as a surface – by adjusting the width of each scanline? (you could then automatically apply the brightness compensation too, though at standard tilts it’s not very obvious anyway). Failing that, maybe a gravity-based, lens-in-ball-in-viscous-fluid? trick, or a CD-player-lens type electromechanical solution (but that’d probably still be done easier at lower power with an additional ‘motorized’ mirror inside the package). Something for the next version but worth thinking about – or if it *is* better done external to the package, worth mentioning to partner OEMs as a possible value-add.

    I’m envisioning a device that basically auto-keystones vertically once it’s basically level, and has a tiny D-pad/joystick for making the final tweaks – and applying horizontal adjustment if you’re making an “elevator presentation” and want to stand to the side of the image so others can see. Might want to put a simple, mechanical “remember”/”forget”/”reset” switch next to the pad, so when it’s adjusted in a fixed position you just leave it on ‘remember’ between power-cycles, and flick that off if you’re picking it up and playing with it portably. Physical like that for human-factors reasons; obviously the device would only have to poll the switch state on boot to decide whether to use the saved values or re-zero… and handle an event from the ‘reset’ button to zero all the adjustments.)

    Speaking of CD-player lenses, OIS would be another cool value-add if it’s not already secretly in there. (I really want to use mine in a home gym, but isolating the vibration from the treadmill and weight stack is going to be a project. Tension rod would probably work better than a tripod there, or I’ll end up hanging it from the ceiling if I can’t figure out anything else.)

    - More serious radiometric compensation… seems like overkill right now, but don’t your competitors taking the holography approach have to do something similar? If you have a single pixel sensor that can ‘read back’ your output through the beam path – or perhaps a really cheap off-the-shelf QVGA sensor, take in the whole projection field and then DSP to find your dot – you can adjust the luminosity on-the-fly.

    I’m not going to worry about that until these things are sixth- or seventh- generation. Work on getting the brightness up first, add zoom first, and/or come up with an ultra-short-throw intensely-keystone-and-dropoff-adjusted version that puts a 60″ image up when placed directly against/mounted on a wall. *that* would make one heck of a dorm-theater product [and isn't a whole lot different from rear-projection laser TV].

    Also @Anant’s weird comment: LCD has an inherent viewing-angle issue; DLP and other non-polarized rear-projection just has it because you can get a brighter image by using a specially textured rear-projection screen and collimating more light to “where the viewers are,” not off to the sides. With LED/laser rear-projection gets more common, it’ll be cheap enough in energy terms to skip that step and diffuse closer to 180 degrees (but texturing the surface to collimate a little probably still improves perceived sharpness, and keeping the efficiency to reduce the light energy needed might be safer for repairmen and anyone putting their Wiimote through the screen).

    …for the best picture from any front-projection system, particularly in daylight, you’re going to want the equivalent sort of engineered surface (as sold by projection-screen manufacturers), and you’re going to have some similar – though not as pronounced – experiences with viewing angle. Again, when projectors can afford to dump enough lumens to light up a seemingly “matte black” surface (and there are various tricks being researched/already baked to permit that with current business-projector outputs – can’t wait!), it’ll be a nonissue.

  17. A. Peon Says:

    Speaking of potential future short-throw devices, two free ideas for the industrial designers:

    -Image vase: For an upwards projection, no need to stick to conventional form-factors. Stick the projector in some decorative ceramic, punctuated with holes for dried flowers or similar. (This would also make a wonderful digital picture frame, and that might have religious/memorial applications… The projection window would require occasional dusting, of course, though incorporating a piezo ‘SSWF’ might help.)

    -Image sconce: Replace a regular wall sconce with a combination sconce and projector (to the side, or probably down at an angle). Power’s right there, and the up-and-coming “wireless HDMI” standards would make this pretty usable and reasonably future-proof.
    Still, probably best to leave it to someone like Leviton to semi-standardize it so projection modules can clip in and out… and as a package, they could include a replacement wall switch/switches to control the light X10-style while
    Could also have novelty “theater” features, like dimming when the projector’s running / controlled by the projector’s remote (probably need a standard for that.. how about a LED on the back of the clipped-in projector and a photosensor in the sconce, keeps everything optoisolated and easy to standardize if various projectors can clip? Could use a standard IR remote chipset and protocol, cheap as dirt now).

  18. A. Peon Says:

    Woah, failure to edit there. ‘control the light X10-style while keeping power to the projector.’

  19. I really enjoy reading SHOWWX Experiments: Infinite Focus . It’s very interesting. Hope you will post something like this again.