Angles Of View
This article marks the end of this series' fifth consecutive year. Throughout that time, Angles of View have sought to present and explain the various aspects and attributes of visual displays. Even though many of those attributes are independent of the technologies which produce them, some are not. Even though some of these attributes demand the same priority they deserved five years ago, many do not. Predicated, then, on the accumulated texts of the nearly sixty previous articles, this last essay of the millennium will stick its neck out, peer into a crystal ball, and hazard a few
Speculations - Reflections, Transmissions, & ProjectionsOne of the things that is fun to think about at the end of any millennium is whatever we might expect to see in the next. Venturing such prognostications, of course, risks not only error (bad) but ridicule (worse) and, as such, is always fraught with peril. Nevertheless, as long as we are careful not to take ourselves too seriously, some forecasts can still be made.
Before we begin looking forward, however, let's look back to 1909, exactly ninety years ago, when a young woman in Chicago by the name of Adele deBerri founded Da-Lite Screen Company. She did that at a time when women weren't generally doing such things but she did it anyway seeing, as she did, the enormous potentiality of the still nascent movie business. It was in service, then, to that industry that the first real projection screen came to be developed.
Looking at that same event from a longer, millennial point of view, a case can be made that film was the first technology that enabled the assembling of people together for the sole purpose of looking at something that wasn't there. What we mean by that, of course, is that what you saw when you went to the movies was and is completely illusory. What you watch is "motion pictures." Neither the actors, nor the sets and stages surrounding them are real. Nevertheless, the projection of their images onto a large screen can involve and excite us in ways and to degrees which previously were unimaginable.
Roll the clock forward ninety years and we can see that the number and types of display screens in the world has proliferated greatly. Quite apart from the myriad applications which rely on CRTs for their imaging, there have emerged toward the end of our century scads of alternative projection devices with which, surely, our industry is the most conversant. Yet despite their superficial dissimilarities, every one of those display types have this one interesting thing in common: they are specifically designed to present imagery to audiences whose number is greater than one. (By virtue only of its typical usage, your computer monitor may perhaps be an exception to this observation, but there is nothing implicit to its manufacture that requires that this be so.)
Only recently have we seen the arrival of credible single-person display devices, but if their appearance is only sporadic today, by Da-Lite's 100th birthday, there will be few among us who will not regularly be relying on many of them. In your house, in your dashboard, and probably on your person will exist small and visual displays which can show you not only who's just rung your doorbell, but which way you should turn to avoid the stalled tractor trailer blocking the intersection of Route 30 and Detroit Street. You might even have a really small display projecting PIM information for you embossed in the inside frame of your sunglasses. You just might.
Then, there's virtual reality. To date, the problem with that phrase is its second word, not its first. The human organism has received an awful lot of extensive training over an awful lot of millennia in being able to distinguish the image of a tiger from its actual and, thus, incarnate cousin in the bush. Those of our ancestors who failed to learn this lesson... well, probably weren't our ancestors after all.
Yet, given the certainty of ever greater computer power and the consequently certain future developments in projector design, the time will certainly arrive when each one of us may be so totally immersed in a displayed environment that none or all of our faculties will be able to tell that it's not, in fact, "real". Thinking, then, of virtual reality as a kind of super "special effect", it is interesting to note that the maximum effectiveness of its effects is likely still to require that its subjects experience it solitarily. VR at its future best is unlikely ever to be a group experience. The illusion of exploring fantasy galaxies or Escher architected castles is too susceptible to being compromised by the intrusive other reality of a giggle emanating from some "real" flesh-and-blood creature who just happens to be with us along for the "ride".
On the other side of this millennial divide are the displays whose audiences will continue to be gathered together to look at something projected on a large screen together. These are the venues which our industry will certainly continue to serve. Before taking a stab at describing what the 21st Century A/V system might look like, however, a word about plasma displays is probably in order.
Many of us at Da-Lite Screen Company these days are being confronted by predictions that the increasingly popular and increasingly handsome plasma displays portend the imminent demise of the projection screen. This notion arises, of course, from the concept of the "flat screen" which technologists have been forecasting for at least the past thirty years. This is the device that will be just an inch or two thick, that will hang on your wall and look exactly like your favorite Rembrandt when it's in its "off" state, and that, when you do turn it on, will display 5,000 channels of content in exquisite resolution and at unparalleled brightness.... We want one too.
The plasma screens get associated with this idealized display of the future because, in fact, they're flat and self-luminous. But, in the context of the Pro A/V market, the resemblance ends there. The reason that all those jillions of Ľen have been invested in the development of plasma screens is not, fortunately, so that they will supplant the Cosmopolitan Electrol. (A little research into the plasma technology itself reveals that even its most enthusiastic advocates doubt that, one day, they could make one with a diagonal greater than 72-inches.) It is not the boardroom that plasma is aiming at, nor is it the bank lobby, nor the airport. It is the living room. Plasma wants to be your new TV set and, given the number of consumer living rooms available to receive it, who can blame it?
At sizes greater than those appropriate for a self-contained living room "set", the screens that everyone will still need to use when they create a large screen display will, of course, remain the ones manufactured by Da-Lite. Yet the selection of those sundry surfaces and the choice between their attributes is certain to become simpler and simpler as the next century progresses. So many of those surfaces and so many of those attributes have been designed and developed primarily as compensations or corrections for deficiencies in brightness in the projection devices. One way or another, every single screen that Da-Lite or any other screen manufacturer makes with a gain that is greater than 1 is superfluous if mated with a projector that by itself can produce enough brightness for the instant application.
Therefore: Although Da-Lite will most assuredly continue to have available a variety of special application screen surfaces for quite a long time still to come, it would surprise us if the enormous majority of the screens that we sell don't all come to have a gain of 1. In rear projection this will mean that the DA-100 or the yet better Fresnel-backed DA-100 Ultra will be the dominant models. And in front projection it will be the matte white surfaces which will prevail.
Can the efficiency and utility of these surfaces be improved? Yes and no. There are theoretically techniques which may improve the transmission of rear projection screens or, really, rear projection substrates. To the extent to which Da-Lite's research in this regard will be successful, will be the extent to which the answer is Yes.
With front projection surfaces, however, we will firmly contend that the answer is no. Despite its pedestrian reputation, despite its apparent lack of glamor, despite even the degree to which it is generally taken for granted, the fact remains that no front projection screen surface is closer to true "state-of-the-art" than Matte White or Da-Mat. Its perfect uniformity and unrestricted viewing angles make it today the unequivocal choice for the best front screen of the next century. Recalling further that its luminous efficiency is to all intents and purposes 100%, it is hard even to imagine how it might be made better.
Our last prediction forecasts that the defacto aspect ratio of our entire industry, the ubiquitous 3:4, is about to become extinct, its primacy to be overthrown by the emerging 9:16 of HDTV. While opinions may vary as to how fast this change will sweep over us, few doubt that, inexorably, it will.
That shift from regarding our images in 12:16 to looking at them in 9:16 is going, absolutely, to be paradigmatic. Nothing, we might say, is ever going to look the same again.
Have we forgotten or ignored something that hindsight in the years ahead will make us understand we should have emphasized? Guaranteed. But one thing we shall not forget is certainly to wish all of our customers and friends a most prosperous and Happy New Year!