The portable projector market is a tough market with 68 projector manufacturers and suppliers competing for mind share and shelf space. It is not easy for a new company to join this club unless it has an existing distribution channel, a differentiated offering, a lower cost to market, and/or an entrepreneurial spirit.
In the company profile, Olympus President Tsuyoshi Kikukawa states the need to "act thoughtfully but boldly and fast" through "creative innovation" - a clear attempt to kindle the Olympus entrepreneurial spirit and run with new ideas.
Their targeted channel is the digital camera market. As one of the top 5 suppliers in the digital camera world, it's a channel they know well. To move "boldly and fast", Olympus partnered with PLUS, one of the premier manufacturers of highly mobile projectors. This eliminated R&D cost and reduced the time to market.
Olympus' first projector offering is a very small, light, XGA (1024 x 768) highly mobile projector that is not much larger than a digital
The VP-1 was introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January in Las Vegas along with the P-10 compact printer. Both products are part of the total imaging solution that Olympus is offering digital camera users. The initial market thrust is the business user and an offering for the home entertainment market will follow.
Olympus estimates that the North American market will reach 1.4 million units by 2007 and 4 million units worldwide. Their near-term goal is to achieve a 10% market share in North America and expand to Asia and Europe if circumstances are favorable. Olympus is forecasting 5,000 ($6 million) projectors to be shipped in 2004 and 100,000 projectors in 2007.
Because of its small size, some interesting things were done to retain functionality. For example, composite video and s-video use the same connector. This was accomplished by designing a video cable and an s-video cable with a common input connector. This means that you can connect a composite video source or an S-Video source, but not at the same time.
The VP-1 includes a 1.2:1 zoom lens capable of throwing a 100 inch (254 cm) diagonal image from a distance of 12.8 to 15.4 feet (3.91 to 4.69 m). This is a comfortable size for a room that is dimly lit. Considerably larger image sizes are possible, but you'll want to have a darkened room to go much larger. As a rule of thumb, allow 20 lumens per square foot of image size in a dark room and increase that number as the ambient light increases.
Manual horizontal and vertical keystone correction are included and allow you to place the projector to the side, above or below the perpendicular to the screen giving you additional freedom on where the projector can be placed in a room. Corner to corner focus of the projected image is excellent.
It's interesting that 80% of the projectors in the weight class of the Olympus have a digital input, while the projector market at large is about 56%. We suspect this higher prevalence of digital input on small projectors is to optimize connector space and gain some functionality as most of these small projectors support a USB mouse connection, which is clearly aimed at the mobile presenter.
The digital connector that combines analog and digital with USB is known as the M1-DA. Olympus uses the DVI-I connector and it is functionally the same as the M1-DA except there is no USB mouse option. From an image quality perspective, it doesn't matter as both support analog and digital video and data.
Since the world is still largely analog, the cable that ships with the VP-1, is the industry standard RGB. The VP-1 includes a short DVI-I to RGB cable and a standard RGB to RGB cable as an extention. If you want to use digital video or digital data, and we highly recommend it, you'll need to buy an optional DVI to DVI cable.
Whenever the source image is at a higher or lower resolution than the projector's native resolution, the projector will scale the image to fit the space. Scaling introduces artifacts that are most evident when viewing small text and barely noticeable in photos and video. Scaling on the Olympus VP-1 is no exception. For example, the perfect text that digital input provides when the source is the same resolution as the projector will look more like analog text with character ghosting if the source resolution doesn't match the projector. To get the best image out of any projector, match the source resolution to the projector's native resolution, especially in text or data mode.
Digital keystone correction is a form of scaling. When the screen is not perpendicular to the center line of the lens, you will get a trapezoid. Digital keystone correction can turn the trapezoid into a rectangle, but in so doing it will scale the image along the edges that are shortened and introduce scaling artifacts in the process.
Since the intended audience of the Olympus VP-1 is digital camera enthusiasts, we ran a series of digital camera shots, graphics, and computer data as well as video using a Dell computer, the Bravo D1 analog and digital video DVD player, and a DishNetwork satellite receiver. We used both a Draper Road Warrior screen and a Stewart split- screen of half gray and half white.
High contrast projectors generally don't need the additional contrast enhancement that gray screens provide; however, the VP-1 is a relatively low lumen projector making it difficult to compete with ambient light. In a dark or dimmed room the white screens bring out the whites allowing the image to come alive, but when the room is well lit, the gray screen holds the image together better by maintaining better contrast and image viewability.
Composite Video/S-Video - We used DVD video and satellite television to test NTSC and PAL and found the images to be very good although they suffer from the jagged edges associated with interlaced video that are most apparent when an image is panned across empty seats in a stadium or fences offset from the vertical. Color saturation and flesh tones were very good and we found the best settings with adjustments to gamma (Real), color temperature (Low), and white (High). The higher white setting gives a brighter image and lower settings would be fine in a dark room.
Component Video - We used an RGB to component video extension cable to generate component video images from DVD and satellite television. Image quality improved with RGB and the jagged edges were all but eliminated with this progressive video source. We found we could get excellent flesh tones and color rendering with the same settings as we used for composite and S-Video.
RGB - The Internet, data, graphic and photo images were excellent due to a balanced gray scale, and good color temperature and gamma control. For data we could optimize for light output and for photos or Internet browsing we could adjust as needed to get good flesh tones and a softer image.
Digital Images/Video/Data - If you every wondered about the quality of digital input, wonder no more. You cannot get a cleaner image. Vertical banding and pixel jitter do not exist. Adjustments to color saturation, tint and sharpness are are a thing of the past. About all you'll want to do is tune the color temperature, gamma correction and the white level to your liking. The pristine images of digital input are as good as it gets with the Olympus VP-1 and DVI projectors in general.
Will Olympus and the VP-1 succeed? Only time will tell, but it will certainly give Olympus a first hand look at the projector market and the needs of digital camera customers. If the launch is successful, expect to see some "creative innovations" in their follow-on projectors in the coming years.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Olympus VP-1 projector page.