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Issue Date: September 2010, Posted On: 9/3/2010

Picture Perfect

After years of secrecy, Prysm emerges with shock new standard for display

By Martin Desmarais

Above: San Jose, Calif.-based Prysm Inc. has developed a new kind of display technology, called Laser Phosphor Display, which will initially be used for large commercial digital displays, such as the ones shown above in the terminal at an airport. Image courtesy of Prysm
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Amit Jain knows how to keep a secret. And when it came to his new company Prysm Inc. he was keeping a really big and bright secret — the invention of a new kind of display technology called Laser Phosphor Display.

Known as LPD, the technology probably sounds familiar in the context of the television market with terms such as LCD and plasma — LCD, or Liquid Crystal Display, and plasma being the main types of flat-screen, high-definition televisions. Prysm developed LPD to not only compete with the commonplace LCD and plasma, but to one-up them. However, the company's first move is to target the commercial large-format display market.

This means Prysm's LPD displays will be on view in public places such as stadiums, hotel and office lobbies, airports, museums and any other place where digital signage can go. When you are talking displays significantly larger than the flat screen many people are used to hit homes nowadays, Jain figures it won't be long before many people get to experience firsthand the power of LPD — and the technology will be a secret no longer.

Tackling the challenges of large display technology, Prysm developed LPD to be brighter, have a higher resolution, stay cool and use less power than any of the other options currently available — 75 percent lower power than any other, according to the company.

Jain says that image quality is the key factor when talking about digital displays and televisions and he believes LPD speaks for itself. "At the end of the day, seeing is believing. It is the Holy Grail," he said.

Started in 2005 by Jain and Roger Hajjar, Prysm was originally called Spudnik, a name that Jain admits was really just a ruse to keep anyone from knowing what they were working on. For four years, Jain, the company's CEO, and Hajjar, the company's chief technology officer, kept their startup in stealth mode and only shook off the misleading moniker in January of this year when they finally let the cat out of the bag on their secret LPD technology.

"We didn't want anyone to know," Jain said. "That gave us four solid years to develop the technology."

Jain added that the purpose for all the hush-hush was to get a head start on what he calls the "900 pound gorillas" that dominate the display industry.

During that time, Jain and Hajjar filed for over 100 patents and made all the moves to make sure that LPD is 100 percent owned by Prysm. This differs from the standard LCD technology, which is used by numerous companies in making televisions and monitors.

With intellectual property protection now secured, though, Prysm is coming out in full force behind LPD.

"Now we want to get the message out as much as possible," Jain said. "About how good it is for the environment, how good it is for use, how good it is for image quality."

So far LPD has made waves in the industry, as Jain expected. "We raised a lot of eyebrows," he said.

"It was received phenomenally. They said, •Where did you guys come from?" he added. "We really showed the solution of how to be creative with digital signage."

Though the consumer market for high-definition televisions is estimated at $135 billion annually, Jain feels that the more modest $13 billion commercial digital display market is a good place to start. "The commercial market is big and it is growing very rapidly," he said.

Image courtesy of Prysm
He also feels that LPD is well suited for the digital display market's need for high performance, brightness and power efficiency. "There is a huge gap in the commercial market where you can combine brightness and resolution — and we do," he said.

That is not to say that Prysm has no designs on chasing a piece of the consumer pie. The company does and Jain says LPD can certainly be used in smaller, household flat-screens and high-definition televisions and the company plans that in several years. First, though, Jain likes the idea of massive LPD displays out in the public eye.

"With large format displays you have that •wow' factor," Jain said. "People saw 42 inch TVs in public places in the past and now they are standard in the home. [The same could hold true for LPD]."

"We will go commercial now and then hit the consumer market a couple of years down the road," he added.

Jain has worked in a variety of industries in his career, including data-storage, high-end optical telecommunication, low-cost datacom devices and semiconductors.

Prior to starting Prysm, he was CEO of Bigbear Networks. Before that he ran Versatile Optical Networks, a company he also founded with Hijjar. Versatile Optical Networks was sold to Vitesse Semiconductor for $350 million in 2001. Jain has also held management positions at companies such as Terastor, Optex Communications and Digital Equipment Corp.

He is a native of Kolkata, India, and came to the United States in 1983 after graduating with a bachelor's degree in physics from Calcutta University. In the United States, he attended Boston University and earned both a bachelor's degree and master's degree in electrical engineering from the school. He also has a master's degree in business administration from the University of Maryland.

Jain puts heavy weight on the long-running friendship and collaboration with Hajjar. The pair first met while students at Boston University in 1986. Having now started two companies together, Jain said that they know each others strengths and weaknesses very well and know how to work together to best complement each other and help a business succeed. Another Prysm executive that Jain has know for years is Patrick Tan, vice president of the company's Massachusetts' center.

"Anytime, you do a company or a startup or anything it is all about relationships," Jain said. "You don't just do it alone. It is the team."

Hajjar has a doctoral degree in optical sciences from the University of Arizona and a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Boston University. He has worked for companies such as TeraStor Corp. and Eastman Kodak Co.

Though neither Jain nor Hajjar had prior experience in the digital display industry, Jain said their work with lasers for disc drives as well as data storage using phosphor gave them a good base to develop the LPD technology.

According to Jain, after their company Versatile Optical Networks was sold they started to think about what kind of technology they should tackle next. "We thought, •Well, display sounds interesting,'" he added. "We looked at what was out there and we thought, •We can do better.'"

When the company started out, Jain said the goal was to create a completely new way to create an image. There was no research and development on approaches aside from what everyone else was doing with LCD and plasma. Not being from the display industry, Jain said the only thing to do was to start from scratch. "It was a strength — not being in the display business," he said. "We had the freedom of thought and we came up with an idea — LPD — Laser Phosphor Display."

Jain feels like it will take a few years to build the brand name of Prysm but that the company is "built to last."

Headquartered in San Jose, Calif., Prysm has approximately 140 employees. The manufacturing is done in a center in Concord, Mass. The company also has a sales office London and is planning to open another in Dubai.

Prysm is already taking orders for its LPD products and expects to release products soon. "The timing for us coming out now is very good," said Jain. "We have high ambition and a lot of big plans."

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