Ultra-Short Throw Projectors as TVs in Micro Apartments

Over recent years, many projector makers have introduced ultra-short throw projectors with the goal of enabling large display areas with the compactness of a projector and without the need for a large room, i.e. a long throw distance. Achieving such ultra-short throw distance has been a great achievement in optical design and fabrication methods.

Both refractive, reflective, and combination systems are being used to their full advantage. Although it is hard to specify throw distance precisely as the total distance between the wall or screen and the far end of the projector depends on the length of the projector especially for ultra-short throw projector as in many cases. The distance between the front of the projector and the screen is shorter than the length of the projector.

The total distance can be as short as 12” (30cm) or less for some small ultra-short throw projectors. In any case, most of the ultra-short throw projectors are very close to the screen making them very attractive for users. This is a great technological advancement compared to the portable televisions available at the time when I was much younger.



Portable TVA portable TV from when the author was younger

I recently went to the largest Ikea in the United State in Glendale, California and planned to have a Swedish feast in the very large cafeteria. It took me a while to walk from the entrance to the cafeteria and in the meantime, I saw a lot of furniture and appliances ranging from sofas, dining tables, chairs, refrigerators, microwave ovens, etc., to decoration items.

Ikea makes a point of showing the complete set up of living spaces with functional areas including living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. In many case, the functional areas are combined together into single areas. For example, a sofa bed in the living room acts as the bedroom. The kitchen counter with bar counter acts as the dining room.

I realized that the whole idea is to minimize the use of space and Ikea does a good job in taking away the need for imagination by most customers. You get what you see. My visit was the first time I saw the introduction of the term “Micro Apartments”. I continued to walk by the various “model” apartments on my way to the cafeteria; I saw another sign highlighting “Compact City Living”. After a few more step, I came upon something that I had never saw before. It is fully functional model apartment inside an area of 320 sq. ft (30 m²). with all the “bells and whistles” that make the person living inside feel like a king. I started to realize the vast potential impacts of these ultra-short throw projectors in these microenvironments.

Urban LivingIkea has areas of its stores set up to show Urban Living.

Thinking back a number of years ago, I took my daughter to college on the east coast and set her up in the dorm room. Dorm rooms, as we all know, can be very small with just enough space for a bed and a desk. I recall that the room assigned to her was a double room with two beds, two desks, and a small bookshelf on top of each desk. The room was about 10 feet (3.3m) wide with two sidewalls, a wall with the door, and a wall with the window at the end.

I could not figure out how I could set up a decent television for her. Instead, I told her, instead, to watch videos using her desktop computer with a 17” screen, sharing the same screen for both work and entertainment. Later on, I thought about having a projector placed on one side of the wall, and projecting the image, with the opposite wall acting as the screen. This seemed to be a good way to have a decent size image for watching movies. Projectors in those days were actually not very small. I did not actually set one up, as it would have taken up a lot of my time being there “on-site” building shelves, i.e. punching holes in the wall, wiring the system up, etc. and I had to leave the next day.

Later, I saw a wall-mounted projector introduced by LG in 2006 that did exactly what I had in mind when I was in the small dorm room where my daughter stayed. I did not buy and install one for her, but I was pretty excited about such a development concept for small rooms. The product was the AN110 DLP Wall Mounted, high-definition (HD) DLP projector, which was designed as a contemporary piece of home theater equipment. This was the first projector designed to be mounted flat against the wall. No shelves were required. The AN110’s ability to display vivid, bright, and crisp HD images up to 100 inches would met the stringent requirements of many HD television viewers.

LG AN110 projector
With this in mind, what do current and future micro apartment residents need? I cannot imagine that they would want to buy a large LCD television with the very high probability that they will move from one place to another in 18 months, which is the national average of how long one stays in one place for renters. High definition television and video viewing have become very enjoyable since the introduction of Blu-ray disc players and HD broadcasts. On the other hand, such high quality content cannot be enjoyed without a large screen. At the same time, more and more viewers prefer to watch movies at home instead of going to movie theatres as the image quality of the LCD HD televisions is excellent. Larger screens are in demand, but most traditional television sets come with a lot of weight and bulk.

Many viewers have set up home theatres in their homes to capture the best of both worlds. On the other hand, the majority of the viewers do not have a home large enough for a home theatre, and as a matter of fact, most people, especially new home owners and seekers are moving to the city and living in small condos and townhouses, where a decent sized living room becomes a luxury.

Ikea’s furniture design for micro apartments clearly shows the future trend in the microenvironments. I started looking at condos for sale and for rent at in popular cities like Pasadena, San Francisco, Emeryville, etc. I found many available units are in the range of 500 to 700 sq. ft. (47 m² to 66 m²) for one bedroom and about 1,000 sq. ft. (95 m²) for 2 bedrooms. The smallest studio I found in Emeryville was 395 sq. ft (36 m²).

The 350 sq. ft. micro apartments set up in the Ikea store, show that the the firm is really forward looking. Such micro apartments are actually very small, but they are very habitable. On the other hand, having a large television is out of the question. Many of the residence are “young adults” with medium and high salaries and often require mobility. As I mentioned earlier, moving from one place to another with a large television is out of the question. This is where projectors come in.

A projector provides a large screen, small package, lightweight, and portability. The main shortcoming is the image quality in well-lit conditions. But, in a dim or darkened room, the viewing experience becomes very acceptable. This development has prompted many projectors vendors to develop projectors for television replacement. Such projectors include LED projectors, short-throw projectors, laser projectors, etc.

I believe that there is a place for such wall-mounted projector in these micro apartments for users who are willing to mount the projector on the wall with some simple fixtures. Once it is mounted and adjusted, it would be permanent and act like a real television. The projector could also be camouflaged behind a framed picture such that it can be “invisible”.

For other users, with the advancement in the development of LED, laser, and laser phosphor technologies for the light source and the new techniques in optical designs and fabrications, a low cost, ultra-short throw projector for every cell phone user could become a reality. At that time, either projector could be sold in cell phone stores with bundled subscription plans for both the projector and cell phone. The users could buy these from online as usual or in the new Amazon’s physical retail stores, Amazon Go. Just grab the cell phone, the ultra-short throw projector, and GO! –Kenneth Li

Any questions or comments can be directed to the author by email: [email protected]