Pocket projector market poised for growth

Pocket projectors, which currently use LEDs as the light source, is an application with great potential, according to Matt Brennesholtz of Insight Media.

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This article was published as the April 20 Display Daily from market research firm Insight Media, and is reproduced here with kind permission of Insight.

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In a recent press release, Pacific Media Associates (PMA), a market research firm, identified the emerging "pocket projector" market as one poised for rapid growth in the next few years.

We at Insight Media (IM) are happy to agree, since the PMA results largely agree with the findings of IM's study on pocket projectors released in February.

"The New Era of the front projection market requires innovative designs and new applications," said Michael Abramson, PMA Vice President for Front Projectors. "While pocket projectors are still early in their development, we see enormous potential for these products."

Mitsubproj
Mitsubishi pocket projector
The current generation of pocket projectors typically weigh about a pound and would better be called "palm-top projectors" since that is how they are often photographed for publicity shots. They won't fit easily in your pocket, unless you are a kid with baggy pants - which is one of the target markets for pocket projectors. To reach this market, though, the prices will need to drop from the current $750 range.

The photo shows the Mitsubishi PocketProjector SD without its companion battery, which would normally add about 50% to the height of the projector. Still, the idea and the first products are here, and there's time enough to shrink the projector and battery in the future.

The current generation of pocket projectors has about 40 lumens output, far less than conventional projectors, a market in which you can hardly sell a front projector, certainly not a $750 one, with less than 1000 lumens. Pocket projectors are intended for individual or small group viewing, although the marketers don't know exactly how these projectors will be used.

LED light sources

The models currently on sale use digital light projection (DLP) imagers, with LEDs as the light source. LCD versions have also been shown recently, and some models in development will use lasers for the light source.

PMA forecasts that as the brightness of LEDs increases, they see 100-lumen pocket projectors by 2009 or even earlier. Here, we think PMA is being far too conservative, since that significant milestone will be reached late this year, according to the IM Pocket Projector report, part of our series of reports on Laser and LED projection displays. Insight Media hopes to see 100-lumen pocket projectors in June at SID '06 - as demonstration units if not as released products.

One major question is how these projectors will be used. "We see the development of pocket projectors as going through three stages," explained Abramson. "Currently, they are seen as standalone products, to be connected to other devices such as PDAs, cell phones, iPods, and handheld video games. By 2008, these projectors will be modules designed to attach directly to such mobile business and consumer devices. By 2010, the projector will become an integrated part of the devices to provide large imaging capabilities for handheld, battery-powered units."

In another study in the Laser and LED series, IM looked at integrated projectors, ones built into cell phones, iPods, etc. We expect integrated projectors and pocket projectors to maintain separate identities and markets, although there will surely be gray areas in the middle. A Bluetooth-equipped pocket projector would easily connect to almost anything, no wires required. Unlike an integrated projector, when you don't need it you don't have to carry it around. An integrated projector, particularly in a hand-held device like a cell phone, simply cannot put out enough light to compete with pocket projectors in showing complex images. For simple images like phone numbers and text messages, the brightness requirements are so low that even a cell phone battery can supply the needed power, and an integrated projector makes sense.

Unit sales for pocket projectors are forecast by PMA to reach about 20 thousand units for 2006, but then rapidly increase to more than 1.5 million units in 2010. This is slightly less than the IM conservative forecast of 1.8 million units in 2010. Forecasting the growth of a product category that hardly exists today is always tricky. If this type of projector reaches the magic $300 price point and catches on with teenagers as an iPod, video game or digital camera accessory, growth could be even higher. IM is forecasting in its Aggressive scenario that up to 2.8 million could be sold in 2010.

IM sees pocket projectors stabilizing at around 100 lumens. Much brighter than that and the projector is no longer a pocket projector, and the drain on the battery becomes too great for an acceptable life between rechargings. Once this 100-lumen point is met, we see manufacturers putting their efforts into reducing cost, shrinking the projector and extending battery life, not increasing light output. In these days of 1,000- and 10,000-lumen projectors, people forget how bright and useful a 100-lumen projector actually is -- especially one that fits in your pocket.

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