It seems that most of the innovation in the projection technology market these days is going on at the micro scale. Driven by consumer interest in mobile technologies, many of the biggest tech companies on the planet have been devoting millions of R&D dollars to the development of tiny, battery-powered “micro projectors.” While these certainly have their practical uses (I use one for pre-visualizing media on scale scenic models), thus far, they are too dim to have much in the way of value for production use.

This may be changing. The Fraunhofer Institute for Advanced Optics has developed what they call a “mini beamer” that combines surprising brightness at a very tiny size (2.5cm long by 1.8cm in diameter!) by using the technology that many consider the great hope of the display industry: organic LEDs, or OLEDs. Intended for use in cell phones and PDAs, these beamers are highly energy efficient and can produce a monochrome image at 10,000 candelas per square meter (color at half that).

Now, no one really has an easy to understand unit for comparison between an OLED projector and a convention projector, so this number is a little hard to visualize. Fraunhofer’s website compares it to computer monitors, which they say, “generate 150 to 300 candelas per square meter,” but, keep in mind, you use a computer monitor by staring into it. For an image projected into space and then reflected from a surface, this may not be the most useful comparison.

However, some rough calculations using several online unit converters lead me to believe that these mini beamers will produce approximately three times the apparent brightness of the brightest currently available micro projector in color mode (six times in monochrome). That’s right there on the verge of usefulness for specialized applications in production.