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LASER Projection Systems



Since the early 1960s, engineers have dreamed of using lasers to project high-resolution moving images, but they had been unable to create a practical device that could approach the colour range, contrast, saturation, and resolution of a high-quality television image, let alone that of theatrical film. The problems were:

  • the available colours (typically 488 nm, 514 nm, and 647 nm) were not capable of faithfully reproducing the full colour range.

  • The projection technologies (acousto-optic modulators, galvanometers, and/or spinning disks) were too slow for full-motion high-density video over an extended area

  • maintaining beam registration over long periods of time was extremely difficult.

  • The cost of maintaining the inefficient water-cooled argon- and krypton-ion lasers required for most projection applications was prohibitive.

As a result, laser projection systems have been limited to light shows and Laserium-type applications, where the images are line drawings or relatively low-density patterns (see Figure 2).


Figure 2: Although they produced showy images, early laser projection systems were unable to generate high-resolution images. (Courtesy of Laserium)

Laser Technology Benefits



Unlike the light from a short-arc projection lamp, laser light is coherent, or very tightly focused. A laser beam hardly diffuses at all as it travels over hundreds and even thousands of feet. As a result, a low-power diode laser can provide a beam of light smaller than a millimeter in diameter that is nearly as bright miles away as it was at the source!  In a projector, coherent light is not usable. So the beams from red, green, and blue lasers must be diffused, or softened, before they are mixed to create colours. Diffusing laser light also reduces speckle, which appears as a distracting grainy pattern on laser images.

The advantages of using lasers are several. For one thing, many optical components in a projector can be eliminated, including condensers, light integrators, and polarizers. In fact, the dichroic colour filters can also be removed, as the pure laser colors are of near-equal intensity for ideal colour shading. Lasers are also instant on, instant off devices with a life expectancy of over 50,000 hours. With economies of scale in manufacturing, laser light engines could be manufactured for ½ to 1/3 the cost of a new short-arc lamp.


There are still plenty of operational and manufacturing issues to resolve before the first laser projectors hit the shelves so don't look for them any time soon. But there are real pressures to find replacements for short-arc projection lamps, not the least of which are tighter regulations on the use of potentially toxic metals (including mercury).


Laser-Based System Achieves Cinematic-Quality ProjectionAn RGB laser projector based on diode-pumped solid state lasers and a liquid-crystal spatial light modulator can produce high definition television (HDTV)


By utilizing diode-pumped solid state lasers and liquid crystal light modulators, engineers at the Corporation for Laser Optics Research (COLOR) have developed an RGB laser projector with the speed, resolution, and luminance required for cinematic video applications.


10.5 foot by 6 foot Laser Projection on white screen.
Image photographed with 6 megapixel camera.

RESOLUTION: >1920 x 1080
CONTRAST RATIO: >4000:1 sequential
COLOR COORDINATES: Laser source wavelengths: Red - 628nm Blue - 447nm Green - 532nm
UNIFORMITY: >90% edge to edge
RGB VIDEO BANDWIDTH: 100 MHz (or 150MHz available)



image of a cactus projected by a laser projector

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