With the acquisition of High End by Barco a little over a year ago and Barco’s simultaneous release of the DML 1200, it’s clear who the leader in “digital lighting” will be for at least the next few years. However, it’s worth taking some time to talk about the other players in the field.

Robe’s introduction of the DigitalSpot 7000 DT is a good place to start. When I saw this unit at LDI, for a moment I mistook it for the High End DL3. I wondered briefly if I had gotten lost and wandered by the High End booth again. The cases are so similar they could have rolled off the same factory line. The only immediate difference is that the Robe has two panels of RGBW LEDs in the “vents” on either side of the lens where the DL3 has its camera and infrared illuminators. Their insides are similar too: both are based on 6500-lumen, LCDx3 projectors. Their internal media players are the only real defining characteristics, and even there we are talking about “different” features, not “better” ones: different file formats, different geometry tweaks, different layer modes and masks.

So why go with the Robe? Why not? The RGBW LED color wash feature is an interesting touch and could be useful with some experimentation. My brief conversations with reps from both companies lead me to believe you could probably purchase the DigitalSpot for siginificantly less. And if you are looking for something less high end (pardon the pun), you can drop down to the DigitalSpot 3000 DT, with a much smaller profile and a 3000 lumen projector.

But this overwhelming similarity bugs me. With “digital lighting” as new a field as it is, I would have hoped that competing innovators would have struck out in new directions, especially considering the substantial lead Barco/High End have in the market. Where are the new features, the new ideas? How about a unit that knows where it is in space (or better yet senses where the surfaces are around it)? What about new ways to alter the physical shape of the field? Why are both these units built on aging LCD technology?

The simple choice to retain the moniker “digital lighting” might itself signify a limiting mindset. We’ve taken projectors and transformed them into “lights.” This synthesis has been good for lighting. Now when will it be good for projection?