As part of my self-education quest at Infocomm, I spent time at the Texas Instruments booth learning about the business side of technology. I examined TI's so-called Mercury initiative, designed to migrate its three-chip DLP projector technology into the mid-range of affordability that could make the technology more useful for staging and rental applications. What I essentially learned was this: Technology may be the drink, but strategic business considerations remain the straw.

In working with its OEM partners, TI's plan to broaden the market for three-chip technology is gathering steam. Wayne Reynolds, business development manager for commercial entertainment products in TI's DLP division, points out that “mid-range” three-chip projectors, priced in the $15,000 to $20,000 realm, are in production as we speak. This is happening via TI's OEM agreement with Taiwan's Delta Electronics and manufacturers like Barco, Digital Projection, and Panasonic. Reynolds adds that announcements from other manufacturers are likely by the time CEDIA rolls around.

Reynolds calls this “a volume play” to let manufacturers grow the market that would be interested in what has traditionally been considered high-end display technology. He expects this, in turn, to create a fundamental change in the market by pushing three-chip technology into a price fall with no cap in the coming years.

“These are still considered high-end projectors, and they aren't cheap by any means, but you have to consider a drop in price from the $40K range to the $20K range and lower a fundamental change that will impact our OEM partners, the dealers, and rental companies that acquire their products, and the kinds of clients and events that will come around to rent the technology,” says Reynolds. “Rental and staging companies have traditionally had a three-tier structure for the kinds of projectors they acquire. They need flagship, high-end projectors for the high-profile jobs; they need middle-range projectors in the 5,000- to 10,000-lumen range for slightly more modest events; and they need third-tier projectors, 5,000 lumens and below, for their lower-end base, which is a large part of their business. Until now, we could not bring the three-chip technology and the stability of such technology to that third tier. But in the coming year, we fully expect to see it happening more.”

Of course, with any price drop, there are tradeoffs and changes made to technology to move it into new and different spaces. In the case of three-chip projectors, the most fundamental change will be in the lamp technology. Rather than using Xenon lamps, these projectors will rely on more standard HMI- or UHP-style lamps.

“That's not as pure a spectrum as Xenon, obviously, but in most venues where live events are held, unlike cinemas, there is a large degree of ambient light, so this specific consideration is not that crucial in most cases,” explains Matthew Cowan, principal at Entertainment Technology Consultants. “The point is, these projectors will still have (TI's) DMD (digital micro-mirror device) technology, and that will offer great control over image quality and image stability at events that generally never had this option before. For instance, for widescreen use, if you are doing a tiling situation, you can get very close to exact color matching using this technology.”

Reynolds' key point: Expect three-chip projectors to eventually become more pervasive in all sorts of applications, particularly in rental and staging.