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Chip Hall of Fame: Texas Instruments Digital Micromirror Device

An Oscar-winning invention brought digital video to movie theaters

1 min read
Digital Micromirror Device chip
Image: Larry Hornbeck

Digital Micromirror Device chipImage: Larry Hornbeck

Digital Micromirror Device

Manufacturer: Texas Instruments

Category: MEMS and Sensors

Year: 1987

On 18 June 1999, Larry Hornbeck took his wife, Laura, on a date. They went to watch Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace at a theater in Burbank, Calif. Not that the graying engineer was an avid Jedi fan. The reason they were there was actually the projector. At the heart of the projector was a chip—the digital micromirror device—that Hornbeck had invented at Texas Instruments. A DMD uses millions of hinged microscopic mirrors to direct light through a projection lens. The Phantom Menace screening was “the first digital exhibition of a major motion picture,” says Hornbeck, a TI Fellow. Today movie projectors based on this digital light-processing technology—or DLP, as TI branded it—are used in thousands of theaters. It’s also integral to rear-projection TVs, office projectors, and tiny projectors for cellphones. “To paraphrase Houdini,” Hornbeck says, “micromirrors, gentlemen. The effect is created with micromirrors.” For his efforts, Hornbeck was ultimately awarded an Oscar—unlike The Phantom Menace.

Photo: Larry Hornbeck

An early prototype digital mirror device. Descendants of this chip can be found in projectors worldwide.

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How Ted Hoff Invented the First Microprocessor

Hoff thought designing 12 custom chips for a calculator was crazy, so he created the Intel 4004

14 min read
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How Ted Hoff Invented the First Microprocessor
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The rays of the rising sun have barely reached the foothills of Silicon Valley, but Marcian E. (Ted) Hoff Jr. is already up to his elbows in electronic parts, digging through stacks of dusty circuit boards. This is the monthly flea market at Foothill College, and he rarely misses it.

Ted Hoff is part of electronics industry legend. While a research manager at Intel Corp., then based in Mountain View, he realized that silicon technology had advanced to the point that, with careful engineering, a complete central processor could fit on a chip. Teaming up with Stanley Mazor and Federico Faggin, he created the first commercial microprocessor, the Intel 4004.

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