Light at the museum: how Canon's XEED laser projectors bring the past to life in immersive exhibitions

René Magritte's famous works projected across a room in an immersive exhibit in Milan.
The immersive Inside Magritte exhibition at La Fabbrica del Vapore art museum in Milan. René Magritte's work was animated and scaled up to cover the size of the room using 29 Canon XEED laser projectors which transmitted over 40 million pixels onto the installation surfaces. © Emanuele Bonapace

Museums are evolving. Roped-off corridors of dusty artefacts are no longer enough for audiences accustomed to accessing interactive digital content as part of their daily lives. As a result, institutions are seeking more engaging ways of educating and entertaining visitors, such as immersive experiences delivered by projectors.

Today's projectors offer an impactful yet cost-effective way of delivering immersive content, with the small footprints and flexible image sizes of current models allowing installations to be more discreet than ever before.

Freed from the restriction of having to use a fixed position for the image, entire spaces – including the floor and ceiling – can be bathed in bespoke visuals. Warping and blending technology enables a single, seamless image to be formed by multiple synchronised projectors, and even an entire building can be transformed into a three-dimensional display surface through projection mapping.

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Creative projector installations

Canon's XEED range of laser projectors is highly rated for its clarity, colour accuracy and compact design. These models feature a central lens mount, which makes it easier for installation without affecting the aesthetic of a room as the image is cast equally across the space. This means it can be installed at any angle, including being pointed down from the ceiling in order to project an image onto the floor or a table, without burning out the lamp or voiding the warranty. The central lens mount is also compatible with a range of optional high-quality interchangeable lenses.

A number of high-profile exhibitions have taken advantage of this versatility. The curators of the ambitious Inside Magritte show, at La Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan, selected 29 Canon XEED projectors to scale Belgian surrealist René Magritte's work to room size.

The Dutch National Military Museum's equally striking 360° dome projection of heritage in military missions through the decades has been realised using nine high-brightness Canon XEED WUX6600Z laser projectors teamed with one Canon RS-SL03WF wide fixed lens and eight Canon RS-SL05WZ wide-angle zooms.

Not all museums have the space or budget for such grand installations, but the range of compact chassis Canon XEED projectors offers a creative solution for smaller projects. These models deliver punchy colours courtesy of a Liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) panel and Aspectual Illumination System (AISYS), along with high-quality Canon optics and a great level of brightness, despite not having interchangeable lenses.

In the mirror room at the Magritte exhibition a visitor is up-close to the painting projected on the walls.
The clarity, colour accuracy and quality of the Canon XEED projections at the Inside Magritte show meant visitors could get up-close with the famous works. "The technology makes it possible for us to observe much more closely, sometimes even beyond the capacities of our eye, the details of the painting," says art historian Julie Waseige. © Emanuele Bonapace

Native 4K LCOS projection

To deliver maximum impact, the projected image has to be rich and detailed. With its latest LCOS projectors, Canon has taken image quality to a new level. The introduction of the Canon XEED 4K6021Z – Canon's smallest and lightest native 4K projector to date – brings the additional advantage of a laser light source rated at 6,000 lumens.

"We don't use pixel-shift technology to build a 4K image," says Matthew Koshy, projector specialist in Canon Europe's Imaging Technologies & Communications Group. "This means the 4K signal that's fed into the projector is displayed natively without the need for any downscaling or upscaling. The benefit for museum clients is that visitors are able to get up close to the projected image and view details free of pixellation."

The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is obviously of paramount importance to museums, where every saving can be re-invested in future exhibits and conservation. Keeping running costs and downtime to a minimum is crucial, and this is an area in which Canon's XEED laser projectors, with their low power consumption and exceptionally long laser life, truly shine.

"The more you use a lamp-based projector, the more rapidly the overall brightness declines," explains Matthew. "But a laser is a solid-state light source with up to 20,000 hours of continuous use, and the brightness doesn't diminish at such a rapid rate compared to lamp-based projectors.

"Also, if the bulb blows in a lamp projector and you've got an exhibition coming up, do you really want to be waiting 24-48 hours for a new lamp to arrive? From a maintenance perspective, once a laser projector is installed by a system integrator, it can essentially be forgotten about."

A man and woman look at exhibition prints and text at Ilvy Njiokiktjien's Born Free exhibition.

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Canon XEED projector lenses

When creating your exhibit the choice of lens is just as important as the choice of projector, and Canon's XEED projector lens range opens up a wealth of different options. A particularly attractive option for museum use is the Canon RS-SL06UW, an ultra-wide fixed lens that has a throw ratio of only 0.54:1 – so it can project a 250cm image onto a surface from just 1.16 metres.

"In a museum setting, you might have no option other than to position the projector very close to a display surface," explains Matthew. "If it was to be positioned at some distance, there's obviously a risk that visitors will walk in front of the beam and produce shadows on the image. A short-throw lens is a better choice in this instance.

"The lens's shift option makes it even more versatile," Matthew continues. "If you have the projector positioned close to a wall, you can just press a button on the remote and the image will be shifted by up to 75% vertically. No other manufacturer currently offers a short-throw lens with this degree of shift. Its marginal focus function is ideal for ensuring curved screen projections are sharp into the corners as well."

If you're interested in 4K image quality Canon also offers a dedicated 4K projector lens – the Canon RS-SL07RST – which achieves the industry's highest level 4K resolution. Unlike the majority of projector lenses, which tend to display 4K resolution in just the centre of the image, the Canon RS-SL07RST produces a uniform 4K image from the corners to the centre.

The Canon RS-SL06UW lens.
The Canon RS-SL06UW lens can produce a large image even when only a short distance from the project, and it has a lens shift of -15% to +75%, which is the largest of its kind. "No other manufacturer currently offers a short-throw lens with this degree of shift," says Matthew.
The Canon RS-SL07RST lens.
The Canon RS-SL07RST lens projects the industry's highest level 4K resolution, producing a uniform 4K image from the corners to the centre.

"We use high-quality glass in our Canon XEED interchangeable lenses, including Ultra-low Dispersion (UD) and aspherical elements, whereas the majority of other brands opt for acrylic," says Matthew. "Canon has a heritage in optical design, and the Canon XEED lens elements are made in the same factory as the glass used in our SLR and pro video camera lenses. Not only does this ensure our lenses produce exceptionally crisp and sharp images, but it also helps to maintain a high level of brightness."

Some level of ambient lighting is largely unavoidable in a museum setting, but Canon's XEED series fuses adjustable laser light output with bright optics for clear, high-contrast images. Crucially, the brightness of Canon's projectors is measured on colour lumens, rather than white lumens alone. This ensures consistent brightness, regardless of the image being displayed – and gives museums the freedom to focus on making history and culture come alive in illuminating new ways.

Autor Marcus Hawkins

Experience Canon’s advanced imaging ecosystem at ISE 2020 at the RAI Amsterdam.

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