Screen plays: Double-duty projectors beam displays to the desktop

This is the third in a three-part series on products that take monitors in new directions. You can read the first part here and the second part here.

Projection technology has long held promise because its source can be embedded into small devices. However, companies have struggled to make the projection surface — typically large, distant, and colored pure white or black — useful for everyday work.

Today, two companies are taking advantage of ultra short throw projectors to blend projection and productivity.

Splay

There’s been no shortage of portable monitors to make it through the crowdfunding crucible; morethanone have claimed to be the thinnest in their class. But such was not the case for SPUD, the Spontaneous Pop-Up Display. Powered by a projector behind a collapsible white screen, the 24″ SPUD shared the big-screen advantage that living room rear-projection TVs had early in the HD transition.

Also: Meet the SPUD: A collapsible hi-res screen you can open like an umbrella

Now, SPUD’s developer Arovia is back with Splay. In addition to boasting a more clever name that plays on “display” and a synonym for “spread,” Splay is noticeably brighter and a half-inch larger than its predecessor. The company says it worked for years with a leading lab to develop Splay’s wrinkle-resistant surface material.

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Arovia

But the real win is that Splay’s pico projector can be used without the screen, which folds down to a compact size. This makes it one of the few ulta-short-throw HD projectors on the market with a feature that makes it easier to justify — for those who want to use it with a larger screen or a wall. Arovia recommends putting the projector on a tripod when used with a larger surface.

Splay accepts input via HDMI and claims a four-hour battery life. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Splay is now available through Indiegogo InDemand for $700; it’s expected to be delivered to backers in July 2022.

AIPC

Like the Splay, the AIPC also features an ultra short projector. However, it includes an integrated PC that can project a multitouch display onto a surface. For those who prefer more traditional input, Bluetooth is supported as well as USB-C and HDMI out to attach to a display (perhaps a Splay) in case the lighting conditions wash out the projection screen. While it is cannot accept an external video source, it’s easy to see how a similar product could function as one via HDMI in, operating as a second display.

The Intel-powered AIPC supports 10-point multitouch and can output 720p onto a table or wall. Its early bird price for the 64 GB version is a shade under $1,500 and it is expected to be delivered to backers in February of 2022.

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AIPC Kickstarter

As with Splay, the idea has precedent, albeit from other parties and outside of crowdfunding channels. Lenovo, for example, had a few Yoga tablets that included a pico projector in their bases; the company’s Motorola division also had a projector add-on for the Moto X architecture. However, the AIPC’s closest predecessor is Sony’s Xperia Touch. It also integrated multitouch input via an infrared camera in 2017, albeit just for Android. And earlier this year, Amazon debuted a simplified version of the interactive projector concept with Glow, its video communication device focused on kids interacting remotely with friends and family.

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