Last year at Macworld 2010, I got to see the SHOWWX pico projector in action. Back then it was just a prototype, and the company was still shopping around the technology to try and get a unit into production. MicroVision has released the SHOWWX projector at a unit price of US$299. This year's model, however is the SHOWWX+, and while it's still a little unwieldy (and $100 more, at a $399 price point), it's brighter and clearer than ever, and a few tweaks to the iPhone have made it much more useful.
First up, TV out was simply a lament last year, but since Apple made it official with iOS 4.0, lots of developers are including a TV out function in their apps, and the SHOWWX+ can project all of them. There's the standard ideas of kicking out regular videos or Netflix (which looks terrific, even on a solid 3G connection), but MicroVision pulled up what we really wanted to see: Rage HD. id added TV out to its app recently, so the projector can put the video on a wall, but id also added support for the in-phone gyroscope. Since the projector is portable, the MicroVision rep can move it around while playing the game, so as the projection on the wall moved, so did the in-game angle. The effect was somewhat fleeting (the gyroscope feature isn't quite perfect, and the image was distorted as it moved around the square walls of the room), but there was a definite virtual reality feel, as if the projector was showing a dynamic window into the world of Rage.
So what's the drawback? While the projector is a quality product, and there probably at least a few people out there who could pick one up and use it, even MicroVision agrees the technology has a little way to go before it gets to prime time.
The main issue is that battery. The unit hasn't really changed in size (it's about exactly the same size as the iPhone 4), but the battery still takes up most of the actual device. And unfortunately, the battery life only goes for about two hours, even fully charged -- just barely long enough to watch a movie with the projector. The battery isn't large by any means, but the projector uses a lot of power, and MicroVision is doing the best it can while keeping the cost as affordable as possible. Not everyone has Apple's access to relatively cheap components or R&D budget.
The fact that the projector is still a completely separate unit is also an issue. MicroVision says it has been experimenting with embedded projectors, and it even has an Android tablet working with a projector in it. But obviously, the pico projector is going to have to come a long way before Steve Jobs finds any space in the already cramped Apple devices for something he might not yet be convinced is worth having.
Until then, MicroVision will keep working on its own devices and technology. The ShowWX+ can be found both at MicroVision's own website, and at various retailers. That Rage HD demo was a lot of fun. I'm fully convinced that projectors have a future somewhere in mobile devices, and it's a future that I can't wait to see written up there on the wall.
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