I've heard inklings about this technology before, but since it's covered in today's New York Times leading up to Mitsubishi's 2006 line show, we'll be hearing a lot more about it soon. The so-called big-screen company has announced a new rear-projection DLP technology that replaces the tried-and-true lamp-based microdisplay light engine with three lasers, one each for red, green, and blue.
Compared to current DLP HDTVs, the most promising aspect of the technology seems to be its ability to deliver deeper blacks. Current lamp-driven projection technologies require the lamp to be permanently switched on, which can cause internal reflections and other issues that contribute to a lighter shade of black onscreen. Since the lasers switch off entirely, they have the potential to create a pure black, according to the company. Mitsubishi also claims that the laser light source can produce better color, is more efficient, and has an essentially "permanent" life span, as opposed to the bulb, which needs to be replaced every 3,000 hours or so in standard DLPs. Current DLPs also use a color wheel that can introduce rainbows, artifacts that the three-color lasers would likely eliminate or greatly reduce.
Mitsubishi concentrates primarily on rear-projection televisions, and so its spokespeople sourced in the Times did their best to contrast the laser-powered HDTVs with competing big-screen flat-panel plasmas. They claimed that since 4-inch-thick, 50-inch-diagonal plasmas require a 17-inch-deep stand, the new laser models will have comparable depth--but I doubt you'll want to hang one on the wall. They also said that prices for laser DLPs will be comparable to plasmas sized 52 inches or larger. I assume they mean plasmas such as Hitachi's 55HDT52, which lists for $5,900 and costs significantly less in stores. A $4,999 list price for a first-generation 52-inch laser HDTV sounds about right to me. The laser-powered sets aren't expected to hit stores until late 2007, at which time plasma prices will have fallen even further.
If this kind of alternate-lighting-for-projection technology sounds familiar, you may be remembering Samsung's LED-powered DLP that was announced at CES. HP said it will also deliver LED DLPs this year. For its part, Mitsubishi hasn't announced any LED-powered DLP big-screens, but the company will provide demos of its laser technology at its April 7 line show.
Update: According to Mitsubishi's rep, the target size for laser-powered DLP televisions is 62 inches, not 52 as mentioned in the Times story. Since comparably-sized plasmas and LCDs start at about $8000 today, that information suggests that the first laser-powered DLPs will probably cost more than the $5000 I initially estimated.