Using a laser module as the light source in digital projectors has several dramatic financial and quality benefits over the lamps used in most projectors today. Although people tend to worry about eye exposure safety when they hear the term ‘laser’, it is very important to note that in projector applications the projected light from a laser illuminated projector is essentially no more hazardous that the light from current projectors!
In fact, the light emitted from laser-illuminated projectors is processed in such a way that it loses all of the usual qualities of lasers that are valued in many other laser applications. (see a graphic representation of this)
The scientific analysis supports this conclusion and thus, the international standards body that sets standards for lasers and their use – the IEC – recently changed its categorization of laser illuminated projectors from a laser standard (60825-1:2014) to the lamp standard (IEC 62471).
This new standard is quickly promulgating in many areas of the world through updates to national and regional enforcement documents. Safety-standards agencies in the EU and Japan, for example, have taken swift action to revisit and revise their safety regulations to make it economically possible to harness the inherent advantages of laser light over Xenon or other candescent lighting approaches.
Addressing Laser Regulations
The multitude of multi-national regulatory and legislative organizations requires the industry to be strategic in its approach to making smart and effective changes to safety requirements. LIPA has been created by the industry to educate regulatory institutions worldwide on the needed changes to current regulations.
In the U.S., for example, regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently require many laser illuminated projectors to be legally treated as a high powered laser light show, because the light was originally generated with a laser device.
These regulations — left over from traditional rock concert laser regulations — require users to perform costly and time-consuming actions. This includes obtaining a special license, called a Laser Light Show Variance, prior to purchasing or operating a projector of a certain power or emission level.
The variance requires pre-show safety checks and an operator to watch the theater space during every showing, specialized laser safety training for all employees, as well as ongoing paperwork for governmental reporting for each show. All of these additional requirements for LIP systems, even though they are no more hazardous than the lamp-illuminated projectors they are replacing, which have been used for 50+ years, without incident.
The FDAʼs Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), tasked with regulating Laser Light Shows, has expressed a willingness to implement new legal requirements as appropriate for this emerging technology, while lifting the oppressive requirements created for a different industry some 35 years ago.
LIPA has been asking the FDA to take the steps necessary to resolve this matter promptly, before industry begins wide-spread installation of laser based projection systems into theaters worldwide and begins to lower their total costs of operation.
Gathering industry consensus for application to the FDA for change is only one part of LIPA activity. Other activities include understanding and helping revise international regulations and definitions within the International Standards Organization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the CDRH’s Board of Laser Safety.
As well, LIPA continues to conduct technical tests and create new and useful measurements of LIPs and share the methodologies and results with the expert bodies in order to help them understand the characterization of laser light in use for projectors.