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Meet the projector that turns any surface into a touchscreen

The touchscreen is undoubtedly one of the most revolutionary technologies of recent decades – and it’s impossible to imagine modern smartphones and tablets without it. Until now, though, it’s remained imprisoned behind a sheet of glass – but a revolutionary new gadget from Sony is setting it free!

The Mobile World Congress expo in Barcelona is one of the biggest events in the tech calendar, with manufacturers from around the world lining up to show off their latest and greatest gear…

But from all the hype surrounding the relaunch of a 17-year-old phone, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was very little genuine innovation on display at this year’s show.

Step forward Sony. Alongside a clutch of new Android phones, the Japanese company proudly showed off the Xperia Touch – a genuinely revolutionary projector that can turn just about any surface into a 720p touchscreen!

Today, then, we’ll take a closer look at the device, how it works, and how you can get your hands on one.

What is the Xperia Touch?

From the outside, there’s nothing too exciting about the Xperia Touch: it’s a fairly unassuming silver box with a row of buttons, a speaker grille and a couple of lenses. In most respects, it looks xperia touch device 4_3a lot like other compact, consumer-grade projectors.

But turn it on, and the differences immediately become apparent – even before you get to its impressive touchscreen-like technology.

Most projectors are just that – projectors. They need to be connected to an image source, like a laptop, DVD player or smartphone, in order to display an image. But the Xperia Touch is actually a self-contained Android device in its own right, meaning it’s capable of running apps and playing media without any additional kit.

But of course, this just lays the groundwork for its really impressive feature: the image it projects responds exactly like the touchscreen on an Android phone or tablet.

Thanks to a very smart array of sensors, the projected image features full, 10-point multi-touch – and the potential applications here are fantastic:

You could instantly turn any surface into a digital whiteboard for keeping notes or presenting ideas – or use it with a painting app to create a virtual mural on any wall. You could pair it with a virtual piano app and turn your kitchen table into a musical instrument, or use it to turn a virtual ‘pass and play’ board game app into, well, a real board game! And of course, you can also connect any other video source to the Xperia Touch by HDMI to use it as a regular projector.

All told, it’s a seriously impressive piece of kit. But how does it work?

How the Xperia Touch works

The impressive multi-touch capabilities of the Xperia Touch are powered by a combination of an infrared light array with a fast, 60-frames-per-second camera.

xperia touch wall 4_3Essentially, the camera monitors the infrared light projected by the device. When your finger (or other pointing device) breaks the infrared beam, the precisely-calibrated camera is able to detect exactly where the breach occurs.

And it’s not limited to simple touches: swipes, drags and long-presses can all be detected. In fact, it can do just about anything a conventional phone or tablet touchscreen can do.

It’s a very clever system, and easily the most sophisticated consumer technology of its type we’ve seen – but it’s still not quite perfect. While the projector itself is capable of displaying an image up to 80 inches away, the touchscreen functionality stops working if the image is projected more than 23 inches.

For tabletop use, this probably won’t matter too much – but it might cause a bit more trouble if you’re trying to project a touchable image on a high wall, for example.

In any case, it’s a minor niggle, and doesn’t really detract from the very impressive technology on display.

How much does it cost, and when can you get one?

Sony haven’t put an official release date out yet, but they have said it’s coming in ‘spring’. A quick glance outside suggests it’s nearly spring already – so the device should be landing within the next few weeks.

As for the price, that brings us to one of the Xperia Touch’s great drawbacks. There’s no getting around it: the smart little projector comes with a great big price tag.

At €1,499, the Touch is more expensive than just about any smartphone or tablet you care to name. It even gives most high-end laptops a run for their money. With a price tag like that, it’s never going to be an impulse purchase – and it’s likely to remain out of reach of most consumers.

That said, for more specialist uses, it might be worth the money. Shops and other business, for example, might want to produce a touchscreen display without running the risk of it being broken by the careless hands of the public!

But for people like you and me, the cost will probably be too hard to justify – and it’s a real shame, as with a lower price point we could really see this one taking off.

Here’s hoping Sony develop the technology a little further to bring that price down. But for now, the Xperia Touch still stands as an impressive example of what modern projection technology can do.

Are you tempted by the Xperia Touch, or will you be waiting for a more affordable take on this fascinating technology? Whatever your opinion, let us know in the comments below!

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