Suppliers are banking on the adoption of embedded pico projectors to boost the projector mobile phone business.Projector mobile phones constitute a minority category in China’s handset industry, but makers are confident of strong growth in the years ahead. Most are riding on the robust embedded pico projector line, with worldwide shipments expected by iSuppli to surpass 3 million units by 2013 from less than 50,000 in 2009. The technology is targeted at portable devices, and cell phones are seen as a major application.
Leading global manufacturers such as Samsung, LG and Sony Ericsson have developed projector mobile phones. In China, Netcom Technology Co. Ltd collaborated with Butterfly and Jiangxi Jinggangshan CKing on a homegrown variant that was released as early as 2008.
Guangzhou Weijie Electronic Ltd Co. recorded a 200 percent YoY increase in its projector handset shipments last year, with export volumes reaching 50,000 units. General manager Hu Xiwu is optimistic of growing demand for the category, expecting the trend to cause a shift in cell phone use similar to what cameras did to the industry years ago.
One way suppliers are addressing performance issues is by strengthening their technology base. More China companies are considering migrating to DLP technology, which at $80 is more expensive than the first at $30.
The latter is the input of choice by most manufacturers at present. Besides the lower cost, it is easily available from many providers, including Taiwan Himax, Displaytech, Aurora and iView, factors that encourage use among local enterprises. Video playback with this technology, however, lasts no more than 120min.
In contrast, TI’s DLP pico projector delivers enhanced brightness, resolution, color and power consumption. At the 2011 International CES, the US chipmaker unveiled its latest display solution, a walnut-sized chipset that can support 1280x800 WXGA.
As for optical engines, component specialists have begun rolling out new, more powerful models that promise improved performance. According to Netcom, one of the few suppliers that produce LCoS and DLP optical engines, outlay for the input fell by 12 percent in 2010. The downtrend is expected to persist throughout this year. Its latest LCoS optical engine boasts enhanced compatibility and is about 10 to 15 percent less expensive than older units.
Some handset makers are looking to push brightness levels to beyond 10 lumens to boost display performance. Others are working on external design innovations.
For projector smartphones, manufacturers will release models once LCoS technology is able to meet the requirements of the handset type. Although DLP is being considered, many companies agree costs remain prohibitive. Netcom and Guangzhou Weijie, nevertheless, have plans to roll out several versions in the next few months.
Overall, the low technology barrier is encouraging players to expand the sector in China, which accounts for about 70 percent of global yield. There are currently 50 makers in the country. Nine of 10 enterprises are located in Guangdong province, the leading mobile phone sourcing hub with its well-entrenched industry chain. The major optical engine suppliers are based in the city of Shenzhen.
Besides projector mobile phones, vendors provide handheld micro-, USB mini- and camera projectors. Most companies are small and midsize operations because large enterprises are staying out of a line with limited demand. Their average annual output does not exceed 50,000 units, but many forecast a growth rate surpassing 100 percent this year.
Releases from China suppliers are generally categorized as low-end and midrange. They have features and functions similar to other handset types. Products usually run on GSM or CDMA and have touchscreens, cameras, built-in flash memory, FM radios and A/V players. These dual-SIM units support Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and TV.
Most cell phones adopt low-cost LCoS technology, with chipsets from Butterfly, iView, Himax, Fotek Control and Netcom.
The solutions used are the same as those in other phone types, except for the addition of an optical engine. Handsets adopt LED as a lamp source, with a brightness of 5 to 10 lumens. They run on 1,100 to 1,500mAh rechargeable batteries and enable a video playback of less than 2hr on projector mode.
Low-end models, which are between $90 and $105, deliver 5 to 8 lumens. Such variants incorporate a 2 to 2.8in touchscreen, flash memory, a 1.3 to 2MP camera, an FM radio and an A/V player that reads MP3, MPEG-4, 3GP and AVI formats. They support dual SIMs and Bluetooth.
Midrange versions have a slightly larger touchscreen in the 2.8 to 3in range and a higher-resolution camera at 3 to 5MP. Priced at $106 to $130, these have Wi-Fi and analog TV.
Units classified as upscale start at $131. They are usually smartphones with an embedded pico projector and either a Google Android or Windows Mobile OS.
Most interviewed companies see a decline in prices in the next 12 months, citing projected technology developments that would boost handset performance. Tighter competition among LCoS chipset manufacturers could likewise bring about a slide in quotations. Guangzhou Weijie even forecast a 30 percent decrease in 2H11.
Projector mobile phones are a niche sector in Taiwan. Targeted mainly at business users, this category is pursued as a secondary line by most manufacturers because of the high production costs. The other obstacles to widespread adoption are high power consumption, optical engine dimensions and low lumen rates. LCoS-based miniature engines are currently at 4.5cc. Units have a brightness of 10 lumens or less, although some can support up to 15.
Makers are looking to come up with a PCB layout and design that address thermal issues. Suppliers such as Asus-Tek Technology Co. Ltd and Compal Communications Inc. accept customization requests.
Many are optimistic a drop to sub-$50 and $20 in optical engine and pico projector module rates respectively will encourage adoption among companies and volume orders from buyers.
Most pico projector phones from Taiwan come with an embedded module and a white LED light source. Models have an image display of 5 to 50in using a TI solution. LCoS-based units boast video projection that can reach up to 64in.
Entry-level handsets are considered mainstream. These support GSM and quadband GPRS 850/900/1,800/1,900MHz. The phones incorporate a 2.4 to 2.8in display, camera, TV and Bluetooth. Prices range from $100 to $140.
Upscale models run on CDMA2000 and W-CDMA 3G.
Projector smartphones are expected to rise in number in 2012. These have a 2.4 to 3.7in high-resolution color touchscreen LCD, built-in speakers, a 3MP or greater camera and TV reception. Some versions are equipped with intuitive flick navigation for presentations and slideshows. PC and TV connectivity is enabled. Lightweight, compact releases are a major design trend in this category.
Pico projection solutions are sourced from TI, 3M and MicroVision. The first is generally used by international brands such as LG and Samsung. Taiwan makers providing off-brand models prefer 3M’s low-cost LCoS technology, which can be installed for between $30 and $50. Optical engine components and lenses are from Young Optics, Asia Optical and Foxlink.
Netcom Technology Co. Ltd
Walsoon Technology Co. Ltd
Note:This article was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.
All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.
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