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TI chip turns mobiles into movie projectors

Using its DLP chip, Texas Instruments transforms a cell phone into a DVD-quality video projector.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
LAS VEGAS--Texas Instruments wants to turn your cell phone into a wide-screen TV.

The semiconductor manufacturer is showing a prototype digital projector, based on its digital light processors (DLPs), that could fit on a cell phone. The projector contains three lasers, a DLP chip, and a power supply and measures about 1.5 inches in length. With the projector, the cell phone can beam DVD-quality video onto a screen, thereby allowing it (in conjunction with the screen or a white wall) to serve as a video player or a TV.

"We have it in our labs in Dallas. Now we have to figure out how to commercialize it," said John Van Scoter, senior vice president of DLP products at TI, in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show here.

The company will discuss it more fully at 3GSM in Barcelona later this year. (News.com saw the prototype in a hotel suite but TI would not permit photos.) A Finnish company has also developed a cell phone projector, but it is based on different technology.

TI also showed how a standard cell phone can be hooked up to a small projector based around a DLP, which then beams movies onto a screen.

"You could actually drive a large-screen TV" with the processor in a high-end cell phone, said TI Chief Executive Rich Templeton.

The cell-phone-as-TV initiative is part of an overall effort at TI to rejuvenate the standing of DLP in the TV market. Projection TV sets, based on DLP chips, have been around for several years. In these TVs, images are projected onto the DLP, which is a chip that houses thousands of moving, small micromirrors. The mirrors then project and magnify the images on a screen. These TVs consume less power than LCD or plasma televisions, says TI, and often cost less.

DLP televisions, however, have not grown in popularity as fast as LCD in the past few years. DLP chips account for less than 10 percent of TI's revenue, said Templeton. The majority of DLP chips end up in projectors, not TVs, he added.

Part of the problem has been size. DLP televisions are SUV-sized devices, often measuring 20 inches or more in depth, making them far fatter than LCDs or plasmas. Most projection TVs have been sold in North America, where large family rooms are more common.

To that end, TI has been trying to trim pounds and inches from DLP televisions. At the conference, Samsung announced a new line of DLP televisions that measure only 10 inches thick.

The thinning of these TVs was accomplished by reducing the size of the DLP chip itself, changing the material the screen is made of, and changing how the light is channeled inside a projection TV. Samsung also switched from using conventional light sources to light-emitting diodes. Samsung and TI worked together on this project, both companies have said.

TI is also working with theaters to install DLP projectors for showing movies. In North America, approximately 2,000 theaters have installed DLP projectors. By the end of the year, there will be 5,000 theaters using the projectors, said Van Scoter.