There's not much to cover yet here in Dallas—the CEDIA Expo starts tomorrow, except for one press conference and a media tour of the still-under-construction show floor today. But I did manage to get invited to a room in the Omni hotel where Texas Instruments is demonstrating a prototype single-chip DLP projector with a 0.7" DMD (Digital Micromirror Device) chip and an RGBRGB color-filter wheel operating at 4x speed.

What's so special about that? There are myriad such projectors on the market already. Yes, but not projectors such as this. The DMD in this prototype has a native resolution of 4K/UHD—well, almost. Actually, it has 4.15 million micromirrors that are arranged in a 16:9 aspect ratio, which means a pixel array of about 2716x1527. (The TI rep would not reveal exactly what the numbers are, but a bit of simple geometry and algebra does the trick.)

That's not true UHD by any means, but TI has some tricks up its sleeve. The switching speed of those micromirrors is measured in microseconds—as opposed to milliseconds for LCD and LCoS—so each one can reproduce two completely independent pixels by quickly shifting back and forth by half a pixel diagonally.

If this seems familiar, it is—anyone remember wobulation? That was a similar technique used by HP in its rear-projection DLP TVs to achieve 1080p resolution when the DMD chips couldn't. More recently, JVC and Epson have applied a similar approach—JVC calls it eShift—to allow 1080p imaging chips to simulate 4K/UHD.

But as the TI rep pointed out, JVC's eShift and the Epson equivalent don't actually reach 4K/UHD; they double the number of pixels from 2 million to 4 million, though JVC and Epson would argue otherwise. By contrast, the new TI DMD doubles its native pixel count of 4 million to 8 million, more closely matching the 4K/UHD spec. In fact, TI identifies three attributes that define a great 4K/UHD image: 8.3 million pixels, precise pixel alignment, and high ANSI contrast, all of which were demonstrated today.



The new 4K/UHD DMD, seen here in the lower right, measures 0.7" diagonally. The 1.4" DMD used in digital-cinema projectors is in the upper right of this photo. The micromirrors on the new chip change their angle by 17° between on and off; previous generations changed by 12°, which means the new chip should achieve darker blacks.

The demo consisted of two screens—one for the TI prototype and the other for one of several current projectors, including the Epson LS10000 laser-illuminated model, which uses the pixel-shifting technique to achieve "faux-K," and the Sony VPL-VW350ES, which has a native resolution of 4096x2160. Both currently available projectors were in their out-of-box default settings, and the TI prototype was roughly calibrated to come close to the Sony's measured performance (1000 lumens versus 1200 for the TI prototype). Also, the Sony and Epson were adjusted to align the red, green, and blue subpixels as closely as possible. Still photos were shown from a computer, and video was played from a BrightSign 4K player; both were connected to an HDMI switcher that fed an HDMI splitter, which sent the signal to each projector.

Comparing the Epson with the TI prototype, we saw several still photos with very fine high-frequency detail, including one of power lines that looked much sharper on the prototype. Next was a map with fine black and white alternating lines in the border, which had some serious aliasing artifacts on the Epson that were absent on the TI. The same difference was evident in a DisplayMate test pattern with fine black-and-white swirls; in addition, there was a distinct color shift in the Epson image that TI attributed to less-than-perfect pixel alignment. We also looked at the same images on the Sony VW350ES, which didn't have the aliasing artifacts, but it still exhibited some color shifting. Also, the TI prototype rendered alternating, single-pixel white and black lines more cleanly than either the Epson or Sony.

TI also played some 4K/UHD video of birds from Harmonic at 40 Mbps (constant bit rate) and 60 fps encoded with HEVC on the Sony and the prototype. The TI prototype was slightly brighter, and there was slight color shifting on the Sony.

Unfortunately, TI would not allow photos to be taken of the two side-by-side images, but I can tell you the difference was obvious for the most part. TI says that commercial 4K/UHD DLP projectors should be available in the second half of 2016, so look for them at CEDIA next year.