I have spent the last couple months working almost exclusively on the upcoming Insight Media Pico/Micro Projector report. Part 1, covering picoprojectors embedded into cell phone handsets will be issued later this week. Other markets for these small, LED- or Laser-based projectors include:
* Digital cameras
* Stand-alone picos
* Micros for entertainment
* Micros for presentation
Most people, including industry analysts like the ones at Insight Media, have never seen a picoprojector anywhere except as a demo at a trade show. There is a reason for this, however. Two reasons, really.
First, if you look at the total number of small LED and laser projectors sold to date (the first "pocket" projector was introduced in 2005), the number isn’t very large. Worldwide, probably a total of around 2M units have sold over the six year period. Another 2M or so are expected to be sold in 2011-so things are looking up.
The second reason most people have never seen pico or micro projectors in action is their use model. Forget the publicity photos (courtesy of Photoshop) showing guys in bars entertaining their friends or teen agers in school hallways using the inside of their lockers. Most pico and micro projectors are used for entertainment, mostly video but also gaming and still photos. Because of their low output, picoprojectors are used in dim or dark rooms. This includes like hotel rooms, college dorms, bedrooms and army barracks in Afghanistan - so places most of us wouldn’t see them in use anyway. Yes, there are microprojectors bought and used for presentations, but what do you think that road warrior does with it at night? Watch video streamed from his laptop to his microprojector in his hotel, out of sight of everybody. One use-model for pico/micro projectors that spans several of the market segments is TV replacement systems in developing countries. In this case, the pico/micro projector, sometimes embedded into a phone handset, sometimes not, is a family’s only access to TV and the Internet. For $100 or so, the battery powered, solar recharged system can bring the family out of the dark and into the modern age.
In the mobile display market, pico and micro projectors face formidable competition from other mobile display products. Number 1 on the list is direct view LCD or OLED displays. These displays, which are typically 3" - 4" diagonal when embedded in a handset, or 7" - 10" when embedded in a tablet computer, do not make as large an image as a standard projector can. Neither can a picoprojector, for that matter. Forget the picoprojector marketing claims of 60" images, which is only really possible in a dark room. More than likely, you will be viewing a 20" - 30" image, which is better, but the viewer needs to be more careful about ambient light with a pico.
So if you can’t lick them, join them. 3M demonstrated their MPro-180 picoprojector at CES using video from an iPad.
There is strong interest among product developers of picoprojectors, including both manufacturers of components such as microdisplays, scanning mirrors, LEDs, Lasers, etc., and among system manufacturers targeting one or more of the 6 market segments for these systems. Service providers are also very interested in this market. But this interest isn’t sparked by the 2011 potential sales of 2M or so, it is sparked by the potential volumes of 10’s of millions, or possibly even 100M or more within the relatively near future. When, and if, (nothing is certain in the pico/micro market!) these volumes are reached, there should be enough profit to go around to all those who stuck with pico & micro projectors in the lean years.