Projectors in their most basic form is an optical device that projects an image onto a surface. That can be a single image or a series of images and the surface can vary from a projector screen to a simple white surface such as a wall. The projector has a rich history which dates all the way back to BC, one which we will now explore.
A Brief History of the Projector
The origins of projection can date back as far as Chinese magic mirrors. If you have never seen one, these mirrors are made of polished bronze with a beautiful design on the back. When a light is shined on the front, this imageis projected onto a screen. Not bad considering this was 206 BC to 24 AD.
Next came shadow puppetry in Asia. It is one of the oldest forms of puppetry dating back as far as 840 all the way through to the 1000’s across Indonesia, China, India and many more countries. Crowds would gather and watch shadow shows made with light projected onto a wall and puppets to act out scenes.
Based on the ancient Law of Optics, Camera Obscura dates back to Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti in the 5th Century BC. It works on the basic principle that light travels in a straight line, and when light rays pass through a small hole such as those used in the camera obscura they cross and reform inverted upside down onto a surface parallel to the hole. Aristotle in 384-322 BC fully understood the principles of the camera obscura but it wasn’t until the time of the Islamic scholar and scientist Alhazen (c.965 – 1039) – around the same time as shadow play was sweaping across Asia – that the concept was fully explored and included experiments with lanterns.
This was developed even further in 1490 as Leonardo Da Vinci explored camera obscura in his notebooks. Many of the first of its kind were large rooms like those detailed in 1544 by scientist Reinerus Gemma-Frisius for observing a solar eclipse.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves though, we need to head back to 1420 where Giovanni Fontana depicted the first illustration of the Camera Obscura. In practice this was where light (either from a lamp or candle) shone through a vertical case on which images were drawn and were therefore projected onto the surface held vertical to it.
We are now going to move forward 10 years to 1430 where concave mirrors were starting to be used. At this point it was artists that used concave mirrors or reflective lens to project images onto canvas and boards as an aid.
During the 1500 – 1600 the projector took a few more developments as based on one of his sketches from 1515, it is believed that Leonardo da Vinci had a projecting lantern with a condensing lens, candle and chimney.
Similarly in 1608 Cornelis Drebbel describes in a letter the ‘many marvelous transformations’ he performed using his new invention based on optics. Interestingly, this letter was found amongst the papers of his good friend Constantijn Huygens – father to Christiaan. This reason this is interesting is because if we fast forward around 50 years to 1659 then Christiaan Huygens developed the magic lantern, a device which used lens to project an image forward onto a screen or wall, much like our modern projectors.
Next though we need to go back to 1612 where Christoph Scheiner would further the work originally performed by Italian Mathematician Benedetto Castelli and his mentor, Galileo Galilei. Castelli and Galilei were working on projecting images through a telescope to be able to to study sunspots. Scheiner took this one step further and was during this time working on his Heliotropii Telioscopici which later became more simply, the Helioscope.
We now find ourselves in 1645 and this is where things start to get interesting as we see something more like the modern projector start to emerge. Athanasius Kircher, a German Priest used to project hand painted images onto a screen using candles and oil lamps. This “Steganographic Mirror” was descibed in his book Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae which was well received at the time and is thought to have inspired Huygens with the creation of his magic lantern.
In 1756 this technology moved forward though when Leonhard Euler demonstrated his opaque projector – a device which projects by shining bright light from above. Mirrors, prisms or lens within then device then focuses the image onto a screen. Euler’s opaque projector (or episcope as it became more well known) worked for opague images and small objects. This was taken further first by Jacques Charles in 1780 who used his megascope in his lectures and then again by Henry Morton in 1872 as he used a device based on the same technology to project huge images in the Philadelphia Opera House. A venue which could seat up to 3500 people.
As we move into the 19th Century we see the development of the overhad projector with the French physicist Edmund Becquerel developing the first known adaptation of this device in 1853 and was demonstrated by French instrument maker and inventor Jules Duboscq in 1866. The overhead projector continued to develop and was still widely used up until the 1980’s and 1990’s in schools and other institutions.
During this time, the technology developed with the invention of the magic lantern also continued to evolve into slide projectors which became hugely popular during the 1950’s not only in the education sector but also for use in the home to share holidays pictures.
This brings us up to the 20th Century when in 1996 the first SVGA projector using DLP technology was launched. This produced digital images of a quality and brightness never seen before. It included in built audio and colour technology giving a new level of accuracy.
Soon many more models were seen on the market and by the time we moved into the 21st Century, a wide range of film, video and digital projectors could be found on the market, some of which you can find in our own range for home cinema, education and business purposes.