Microvision is one of the most interesting pico-projector companies, with their Laser-Beam-Steering projector module. They have just started selling the Show-WX pico projector (available for $549). Michael Fritts, VP of Global Sales, Marketing and Business Development has agreed to answer a few questions.
Michael has responsibility for
developing the global new products team, establishing partnerships and
collaborations and building market awareness, to commercialize products. Before Microvision, Michael worked for GE for over 20 years, has completed the
Executive M.B.A. program at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management and received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering
from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
Q: Michael - first of all, thank you for this interview. The SHOW-WX is now shipping in a few countries, and is available in the
US too. Are you happy with the sales so far? Do you have any customer
Yes, we’re pleased with the sales results. In fact, we recently released our first quarter results and reported a record backlog of $16.7 million, primarily for products based on our PicoP technology, including the ShowWX product. And yes we have feedback and it's been very positive.
Q: The SHOWWX has no internal memory (it needs a video-signal from another device). Personally I think that's a major drawback. Do you plan a 2nd-generation projector that will feature built-in memory?
Actually, the current design is an advantage because it lets consumers choose which host device to use. They don't have to worry about moving content from the host device to internal memory storage onto the projector. It's what makes the ShowWX a true plug-and-play laser pico projector.
Do we see value for some mobile products to include memory with the projector? Absolutely. But it will be our OEM partners who embed our PicoP laser display engine -- with internal memory -- into their production designs.
Q: You say you shipped the PicoP evaluation kit to a number of potential customers. When can we expect products based on your engine?
Since typical product development cycles for new products are 12 – 18 months long, we expect the first products with PicoP inside to come out in 2011. We recently announced an embedded design contract for $8.5 million dollars for a high-end multi-media player. That customer plans to launch its product later this year.
Q: What's the target price range and size of your PicoP module?
I’ll take the second part of your question first. Our PicoP module is less than 5cc in size.
Regarding price, we have always stated that the initial volumes of our laser PicoP module would be premium priced. Early adopter customers have requested that we provide a module priced in the $100 range. Obviously, with further technology developments on some of the components such as the green laser, and higher volume manufacturing efficiencies, the module cost will come down as volumes increase.
Q: Can you name some of these customers and products they are working on?
We’re not able to share their names due to confidentiality agreements. However, we can say that there is development in gaming, automotive, medical, industrial and government applications.
Q: You have shown a weapons-style controller with a projector on it, and there was a lot of interest in this concept, and you said you might actually develop this as a product. Any news on that?
We demonstrated the First Person Shooter prototype at the invitation of Intel’s Extreme Gaming Masters tournaments. This was a proof-of-concept design, and we haven’t made any official comment on further development.
Q: One of the major problems with laser projectors is the speckle effect. Are you working on solutions to this?
Speckle is not a problem if it's managed properly. And we do that.
The image quality of the ShowWX is rated "very good to excellent" by consumers. That's because we've developed a number of speckle-reduction techniques that improve the image significantly and downplay speckle, which is a natural artifact of laser displays. As part of our technology roadmap, we continue to investigate ways to further improve image quality and increase resolution while continuing to manage speckle.
Q: Several months ago, Syndiant's CTO (Karl Guttag) said that "LBS is just not viable". You have responded, and we have later interviewed Karl. Do you want to further comment on our interview with him and his claims on LBS?
Not really. The bottom line is that very knowledgeable customers in the display industry are buying our first commercial product with PicoP technology, and we are working with OEMs to embed the PicoP inside their products. If competitors have different implementations of pico projectors that's good, because there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each technology possesses advantages and disadvantages, which gives consumers choices to select which product best fits their needs and give OEMs the ability to differentiate their products. No single product can exceed others in every product attribute...there are trade-offs...for example to increase brightness, you must live with lower battery life. There are many other examples such as this. This category has room for multiple players.
Q: Is Corning mass-producing their green-laser already? When do you expect Corning and/or Osram to "ramp up" their production?
Both Corning and OSRAM are in production, and we expect them to support our long-term growth.
Q: How will your projector compete with other LBS offerings from bTendo, Maradin and Opus?
Like I said, this is not a one-size-fits-all product category. We compete by satisfying our target-customer requirements, growing our distribution channels, and improving the performance of our technology.
Q: Do you own the basic patents for an LBS projectors? do other companies (bTendo, Maradin, Opus...) infringe upon your patents?
Microvision ranks #1 in patent strength among the top 20 U.S. electronics companies and 13th overall in the world, according to a just released report from IEEE. We have a significant patent portfolio around our technology.
Q: Where do you see the pico projector market in 3-5 years? Do you think LBS will the most common technology, or will there be room for DLP and LCoS as well?
We expect that the market will be in the 100's of millions of units, with a variety of price and performance offerings.
We are obviously very bullish on our own technology and the future of our laser-based pico projector for a variety of applications in the market. There are so many inherent advantages of PicoP technology including infinite focus, high-color gamut, high-contrast, efficient power utilization, small engine size and a path to even higher resolutions.
While other technologies have some advantages, we believe that long-term, PicoP technology will prove to be the gold standard in pico projection.
Q: Where do you see Microvision in 5 years? Do you aim to be a projector company or a module company?
We have a 5 year plan that supports an exciting roadmap for module sales to OEMS for multiple applications, and we also see product opportunities (under our own brand or private-label brands) to support exciting additional revenue streams. Our vision is that we have the opportunity to fundamentally change how people use, view and share information whether at home, on the road, at work or in public spaces.
Michael - thanks again for this interview. I wish you and Microvision good luck!