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'Wobulation' to boost HP digital projectors

The technology means that high-quality projectors can be made with lower-cost components.

Hewlett-Packard has developed technology called "wobulation" that it says will dramatically improve the image quality of HP digital projectors due to start arriving in 2005.

First-generation "2X" wobulation will double the effective resolution of digital projectors without changing the number of pixels it displays, and a later "4X" version will provide further improvements, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company said Wednesday. The technology means that high-quality projectors can be made with lower-cost components, HP said.

Digital projectors, a growing market, gained a foothold among people making presentations at meetings. The technology is also involved in home entertainment systems and movie theaters. But just as with computer monitors or TV sets, image quality is limited by how many pixels a projector can display.

The technology could further HP's goal to be the No. 1 digital projector seller by 2006, but the company still faces ample competition from rivals such as Epson, BenQ, InFocus, Sony, NEC and 3M. More recently, HP's nemesis, Dell, has entered the projector market.

HP's wobulation--a term loosely derived from the word "wobble"--works by shifting an image slightly in one direction or another by a distance less than the width of a single pixel, changing the image according to where the projection beam is directed. The overlapping images together can create details finer than the original pixel width.

For example, a 1024-by-768 pixel display, augmented by first-generation 2X wobulation, would have an effective resolution of 2,048 pixels by 1,536 pixels. Using the later 4X wobulation, it would have 4,096 pixels by 3,072 pixels.

Wobulated images lack the "screen door" grid of thin black lines that separate each pixel with conventional digital projection technology.

Wobulation requires Texas Instruments technology called Digital Light Processing (DLP), which controls what light is displayed by rapidly swiveling tiny mirrors on a microchip so that tiny beams are projected on a screen or are deflected elsewhere. Typical DLP projection produces a beam in just one direction, but wobulation projects the different images in slightly different directions to achieve the overlapping image effect.

HP has applied for wobulation patents and is in talks to license the technology to others, company spokeswoman Pat Kinley said. HP's first products, digital projectors for business buyers, will use 2X wobulation and will arrive in 2005, and later 4X products are planned, she said.

Wobulation highlights HP's work to boost the intellectual-property prominence of its Imaging and Printing Group. At HP's analyst conference Tuesday, the group said it has 9,000 printing and imaging patents and will increase that amount by 2,000 per year.

In addition, wobulation is the product of HP's effort to scour its inkjet printing intellectual property for patents and ideas that apply to digital projection, Kinley said.