Prysm Hopes Laser-Driven Screens Will Outshine LCD, LED Displays

If you’re seeing electronic displays on every wall, window, billboard, and passing dirigible, it’s a sure sign that you’re stuck in a science-fiction movie. While a few real-world destinations like New York’s Times Square and Tokyo’s Ginza district are plastered with outdoor displays, such technology is still too expensive and electricity-hogging to put everywhere.

But this might not be true forever. In fact, Prysm, a San Jose, CA, startup that came out of stealth mode yesterday, is working to ease the biggest limitations on large-screen displays, especially their power requirements. The company says that screens using its new laser phosphor display (LPD) technology suck up only one-quarter as much electricity as screens using today’s dominant liquid-crystal display (LCD) or light-emitting diode (LED) technologies.

Moreover, Prysm’s LPD screens—which the startup plans to manufacture at a plant in Concord, MA—can be built in any size or shape, from square tiles to long, thin ribbons, meaning they could turn up almost anywhere someone wants to convey information or advertising, day or night. “We can make it as big and bright as you can imagine,” says Roger Hajjar, Prysm’s co-founder and chief technology officer and the primary inventor of the company’s LPD technology. “That’s the goodness here—the size and brightness are scalable. If you need more brightness, you just add more laser power.”

Prysm displays in a theaterHajjar and Prysm CEO Amit Jain, who have been friends since their undergraduate days at Boston University, co-founded the startup under the stealth name Spudnik back in 2005, with venture funding from Artiman Ventures of East Palo Alto, CA, and Partech International of San Francisco. Hajjar says large LPD-based screens—which actually have more in common with old-fashioned cathode ray tubes (CRTs) than they do with LCDs—became practical for the first time in the 2000s thanks to the development of new phosphor materials by the LED industry and the increasing power and efficiency (and declining cost) of laser-light sources. Unlike many hardware startups, Prysm won’t merely license the intellectual property it has developed to other equipment makers, but plans to manufacture and sell LPD products under its own brand.

The company isn’t saying yet exactly which applications or markets it will pursue first, and it’s only showing off its prototype displays in private, invitation-only settings such as a booth at the Integrated Systems Europe audio-video trade show in Amsterdam next month. But a glimpse at the Prysm website shows where the company’s thoughts are heading. In Prysm’s glossy version of the future, LPDs will light up theaters, casinos, trade shows, stadiums, shopping malls, broadcast studios, train stations, airports, command centers, financial exchanges, hotel lobbies, museums, even churches.

LPD screens may initially cost more to install than LCD or LED screens, but Prysm vice president of sales and marketing Dana Corey says they’ll cost far less to operate, since they use less power and … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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