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History of Projectors – The Battle for Brightness

Remember when your school teacher lugged out that huge projector to show you overhead images? Or when he set up the slide-show projector, and all the students in the middle of the room had to move their desks aside; and the big screen had to be set up at the front of the classroom? Wow – what a hassle! It was that type of hassle that led the industry to create better technology. And we’ll see here, through this history of projectors, that technology has definitely achieved its goal. But projector technology started long before you and I spent any time in the classroom – even well before we were born.

The first vision of a projector was in 1420

The first idea of projecting an image on a surface was envisioned in a drawing by Johannes de Fontana In 1420. It was a sketch of a monk holding a lantern. In the side of the lantern, there was a small translucent window that had an image of a devil holding a lance. The image, probably drawn on a thin sheet of bone, was projected onto a wall by the flame in the lantern. Without a lens, the image on the wall would have been very blurry.

But the idea had provided inspiration to develop a projection model that would really work. Several people caught that inspiration, and any one of them could’ve been the actual inventor of the projector – it just depended who you asked and what country you were in. Among the probable inventors, with the time and place of their invention, are:

  • Pierre Fournier – 1515, France
  • Giovanni Battista della Porta – 1589, Italy
  • Athansius Kircher – 1646, Germany
  • Christiaan Huygens – 1659, Holland
  • Thomas Rasmusser Walgenstein – 1660, Denmark
  • Claude Millet – 1674, France

Obviously, historic records are unclear. But what is clear, is that in 1645, a highly-educated Jesuit scholar, Athansius Kircher (one of those on the list of possible inventors), described and illustrated a device for reflecting sunlight from a mirror, through a lens and onto a screen. In 1671, he tried to describe his invention, which he called a magic lantern, in a book he wrote called Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (The Great Art of Light and Shadow), but he didn’t do a very good job of the description. But what he did do is, by recording his ideas in a book, get credited with the invention. But not by everybody. In fact, some (probably the Danes) say that the first inventor was, according to records, Christiaan Huygens, who’d been using a practical magic lantern since 1659.

Huygens did business with Richard Reeves, a London optician, who started selling lanterns in 1663. Samuel Pepys, a writer, made an entry in his diary for August 19, 1666: “Comes by agreement Mr. Reeves, bringing a ‘lanthorn’, with pictures in glasse to make strange things to appear on a wall, very pretty”. Another writer, Thomas Rasmusser Walgenstein (also on that list), was the first to call the device a “Lanterna Magica” while he was demonstrating it in various European cities.

The projector was gradually developed and improved

The magic lantern of those days looked like a kerosene-fired slide projector. The lantern slides were large, bulky, complex objects, made of glass, paint, wood and metal. Some had built-in mechanical features, such as pulleys and winches, so the lantern’s projected images could be given a very crude version of animation. Some slides could even project complex, constantly-moving screen displays.

Light and seeing were the principal focus of scientists in the first half of the 19th century, resulting in much progress in dioramas, magic lanterns, photography, the first electric lighting (long before Edison), and public gas lighting. Michael Faraday was one of those scientists – he turned an oxygen-hydrogen flame on a lump of quicklime, which heated it and gave off a brilliant light. This demonstration caught the attention of many people and, from its principles, “limelight” was developed. Limelight became the principal source of illumination for all but the domestic lantern.

By 1837, limelight systems had become streamlined enough to be moved into the theater. On the stage, it gave the look of high noon, so lenses and filters were used to create the desired effects. That was the standard in light projection until the late 1800s, when electric lighting systems arrived. In 1952, Charlie Chaplin actually made a movie called “Limelight”.

By that time, projector technology had indeed greatly improved. Now we were at that point we reminded you of earlier – schooltime projector images in the classroom. But we were entering an age of “smaller was better”. Computers had definitely taken on that image, and projectors, because of their applications, needed to follow suit.

As the business and corporate world grew, so did the necessity of meetings. Presentations became the call of the day. Sales presentations, accounting presentations, motivation presentations – the list goes on and on. The call for better media for these presentations came loud and clear. “We need a multimedia projector that’s small, easy-to-use, versatile, reliable, and capable of creating clear, bright images of any size, in any room, in any light.” Now that was a tall order!

The multimedia projector answered the call

In the mid 1990s, with scientists and engineers working hard, a new technology was created that eventually led to the first multimedia projector. The newest technology of the day was digital processing. Applying digital principals to projectors allowed the development of digital light processing (DLP). DLP technology, created by Texas Instruments, takes the reflective power of more than 1.3 million microscopic mirrors, and hinges them on a digital micromirror device (DMD) chip. The first DLP projectors produced grainy images, but the technology has greatly improved since then, and now the brightest images ever can be produced in a multimedia machine.

Another demand came from the “road warrior”, a term coined for the traveling salesman or corporate businessman. They needed a machine that would allow them to give professional, quality presentations, wherever they were. So their projectors needed to be very small and lightweight, while still featuring exceptional image clarity and brightness.

And back at the home-office, there was a great demand for advanced meeting-room technology. Professionalism was the key to a good meeting, and professional equipment was called for. Many manufacturers heard this call – and the battle was on! From this point on, multimedia projectors were the battleground for many companies and their continuing technological breakthroughs.

Multimedia presentations were vastly improved

So the need was for a multimedia projector with a user-friendly design, that would allow users to easily present any combination of computer graphics, audio and/or video, to business meetings, sales presentations, training sessions or software demonstrations. In 1996, In Focus Systems® answered the call. They were the first to develop an SVGA projector using DLP technology, producing digitally-precise images with superior brightness. It featured enhanced sound from a JBL built-in audio system, including 2 woofers and 2 wide-dispersion tweeters, with custom electronic equalizers that produced extremely clear vocals and rich, warm music. This model also boasted Kodak’s Color Matching System software, giving the best in color accuracy and consistency between input devices, such as scanners and computer monitors, and the projected image. The creation of the best in multimedia projectors was the result of the best in multi-partnering between manufacturers.

The In Focus projector was the first of many models to be introduced in this demanding market. Other manufacturers who followed with similar, but always improved multimedia projectors, were: 3M, Proxima, Epson, Polaroid, Sharp, Viewsonic, and more. Each model introduced had a few more features, or was smaller and lighter, than its predecessor. Improvements were coming frequently and fast.

Multimedia projectors’ future looks bright

With so many technological advancements in multimedia projectors, you’d think that somewhere, there’d have to be a limit. Well, right now, there’s no end in sight, at least not in the near future. Look what’s coming next! As the wireless age creeps in, projectors won’t have those bulky VGA cables connecting the projector to your laptop. And, with the onset of PDAs, you’ll soon be able to manage your entire presentation in the palm of your hand. Not satisfied yet? Neither are the engineers – 3D projection technology is in the works. It’s just beginning now, but it’s developing fast. Researchers are creating rooms that completely encompass audiences in the display. From floor to ceiling, a simple presentation can become a total sensory exhibition. And if you use multimedia projectors now, just think of the possibilities then!

So that’s the past, the present and the future of projectors. It’s very interesting how technology “steps up” to meet the demands of the public. But that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? So when you’re setting up for your next meeting, keep in mind that as time goes on, and projectors get better, you’ll be able to focus less and less on your equipment, and concentrate more and more on giving a winning presentation. Have fun!

About The Author

Gareth Marples is a successful homebased freelance copywriter, one of experience and diversity. He provides valuable tips and advice for consumers purchasing new lcd projectors, slide projector rental and digital camera repair. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

This article on the "History of Projectors" reprinted with permission.

© 2004 - Net Guides Publishing, Inc.

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