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Silicon Light Machines Spearheads Development of Next-Generation Display Technology


Silicon Light Machines Inc., unveiled its plan to address a broad range of emerging applications, based on its breakthrough Grating Light Valve, or GLV, technology.

The GLV technology represents a fundamentally new approach to the problem of displaying high information content, and overcomes a variety of serious shortcomings in current display technologies.

Silicon Light Machines, formerly known as Echelle Inc., is developing a low-cost, reflective display technology that offers superior resolution and contrast for applications in the projection display, portable communications, and instrumentation markets. The GLV technology is more efficient in its use of electrical power and light than current display technologies, including cathode ray tubes (CRT's) and liquid crystal displays (LCD's).

Unlike other recently proposed display technologies, the GLV technology can be produced using existing semiconductor production facilities. By basing its strategy on a proven silicon manufacturing foundation, Silicon Light Machines is able to reduce risks and contain product costs.

The recent name change to Silicon Light Machines highlights the fundamental concepts behind the company's simple and efficient technology. "Silicon" reflects the reliable silicon basis of the GLV technology, while "Light" refers to the principle of diffraction of light which the GLV technology leverages to produce a superior image. "Machines" alludes to the fact that the technology is based on microscopically small moving parts, effectively micro-machines.

The Quest For A New Solution

The concept for GLV technology was patented by Professor David Bloom, now chairman and chief executive officer of Silicon Light Machines, and his students at Stanford University. While developing GLV technology in the research labs at Stanford, Bloom found it held significant, measurable advantages over conventional display technology, and had the potential to transform the quality of real-world information displays. Bloom has since left Stanford to pursue this vision on a full-time basis.

Bloom's discovery came as the limitations of traditional display technologies for next generation applications were becoming more evident. Analog CRT and LCD solutions are not ideal for an increasing number of applications that require fine or graphically rich detail such as small text, photographic images, or map data. Resolving such images in a portable, battery-operated device, or at a scale that allows an entire room of people to participate creates additional challenges that have not been met by traditional technologies.

In addition, alternative display technologies carry other penalties in terms of performance and/or cost. GLV technology, however, tackles both challenges, producing a display that is both enjoyable for users to view and efficient for OEMs to incorporate into their products.

"The demand for increasingly sophisticated and complex display content is outpacing the steady, incremental progress in traditional technologies, such as CRT's and LCD's. This situation has produced either an inferior visual display for the consumer, or has held back the success of otherwise exciting new products," said David Bloom, chairman and chief executive officer of Silicon Light Machines. "Our GLV technology solution represents a completely new approach to the challenge of display design, and is at once both powerful and simple. It provides a quantum leap in resolution, brightness and color-vibrancy that viewers will notice and appreciate."

"This is an exciting time for display technology developers and manufacturers as important new digital applications emerge such as multimedia projection displays, automotive navigational systems and PC/TV screens," said William Coggshall, president of Pacific Media Associates. "Silicon Light Machines' entry into this market is timely, as much content in these next generation displays will require brighter, more vivid colors and higher resolution -- areas where the company can make a difference."

GLV technology is based on micro-electromechanical (MEMS) techniques and simple optical principles that leverage the wavelike properties of light. Ribbon structures are formed on the surface of a silicon wafer, using standard VLSI production equipment. In response to electrical signals, these structures can be snapped between "on" and "off" states, precisely controlling the reflective properties of the chip's surface. The resulting high-resolution image is ideal for both large and small displays, from expansive convention hall projection systems to miniature hand-held communications devices.

GLV technology also offers the inherent benefits of being completely digital. Compared to its less efficient analog antecedents, the GLV technology provides a direct connection to the digital information age. Most of the mainstream information sources that drive the need for high-resolution display are already making the move to digital. Personal computers, mapping data, digital cellular phones, and a host of other devices are already digital.

Today's analog TV signals are rapidly yielding to tomorrow's digital MPEG-based cable set-top boxes, direct satellite systems, and digital video disks (DVD). An all-digital display technology offers the capability to clean up the display of these signals in much the same way that audio CD's cleaned up the pop and hiss of record albums.


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