When Is One Pixel Cooler Than Millions?

When Is One Pixel Cooler Than Millions?

On vacation, we went to see a laser show – one of the old school variety that combines multiple different lasers of many different colors together into a single beam, modulates them to create different colors, and sends it bouncing off galvos to the roof of a planetarium. To a musical score, naturally.

When I was a kid, I had no idea how they worked, but laser shows were awesome. As a younger grownup hacker, and after some friends introduced me to the dark arts, I built my own setup. I now know how they work from the deepest innards out, and they are no less awesome. Nowadays, you can get a capable set of galvos and drivers for around a hundred bucks from the far east, it’s fair to say that there’s no magic left, but the awesome still remains.

RGB laser
“Laser show” by Ilmicrofono Oggiono

At the same time, lasers, and laser shows, are supremely retro. The most stunning example of this hit me while tearing apart a Casio projector ages ago to extract the otherwise unobtainable brand new 455 nm blue laser diodes. There I was pulling one diode out of an array of 24 from inside the projector, and throwing away the incredibly powerful DSP processor, hacking apart the precision optical path, and pulling out the MEMS DLP mirror array with nearly a million little mirrors, to replace it with two mirrors, driven around by big old coil-of-wire electromagnets. Like a caveman.

But still, there’s something about a laser show that I’ve never seen replicated – the insane color gamut that they can produce. It is, or can be, a lot more than just the RGB that you get out of your monitor. Some of the colors you can get out of a laser (or a prism) are simply beautiful in a way that I can not explain. IN can tell you that you can get them from combining red, blue, green, cyan, and maybe even a deep purple laser.

What you get with a laser show pales in comparison to the multi-megapixel projectors in even a normal movie theater. Heck, you’ve really got one pixels. But if you move it around fast enough, and accompany it with a decent soundtrack, you’ve still got an experience that’s worth having while you still can.

[Banner image from a positively ancient RGB laser hack. We need more! Send us yours!]

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