Update on Color eInk

EReaders have become a hit, and a huge market, and because of this, there is a huge technology push to come up with a color display, that can be used in direct sunlight, and that will rival our current LCD displays.  I liken this technology race, to the race we saw a couple of years ago to create flat screen TV's. Now, you only see flat screen TV's in the store.

The color eInk display has the potential to have a revolutionary technology impact on every display screen we use. I'm talking TV's, monitors, laptops and game displays, and of course, eReaders. That's a huge market. And because of this potential, and the fact, that whoever comes up with the winning technology, wins it all. This is a winner take all race.

In an article back in January, I predicted color eInk by this Christmas. With the new black and white Nook announced for June 10th, I thought it would be a good time to take another look at the color display market, and see if we're still on course. There are several new technologies and manufacturers that have entered the race since January.

Pixel Qi announced two new color, low-power, 1024x600 and 1280x800 displays viewable in sunlight they will release next month. They have been rumored to provide some displays to Apple.

Pixel Qi


EInk, the current front runner, is actively working on it's Triton color display. Although both of these companies do not state the depth of their color displays in terms of the number of colors displayed. The number that I heard previously was around 4096 colors. They have color now, but it will appear a little washed out compared to an LCD color range of 16.7 million colors, which is much richer.

eInk Triton

Qualcomm is working on its "Mirasol" color outdoor display. This is based on its, Interferometric Modulation Technology, which uses small micro-mirror components for display. It takes incoming light and modulates it with page content to generate colors, like you see when light goes through a prism. This technology is low powered, has a large number of colors, and is viewable in sunlight. Right now it can only refresh the screen at 15 hz, or frames per second, which is slow, but adequate for eReaders. Amazon has checked these displays in their lab with favorable reviews. Qualcomms displays look good, their problem may be manufacturing these displays in quantity.

Qualcomm's Mirsasol


Qualcomm Mirasol


Qualcomm Mirasol










As reported earlier, the leading maker of displays in the world, Samsung, purchased LiquidVista in January with it's new "electrowetting" color oil display technology. This technology offers great promise of extremely low power, and a 15:1 contrast ratio.

What prompted this article were two announcements by Samsung on May 20th. The first was high resolution screens for tablets capable of 2560x1600 resolution, which is five times the resolution of the iPad. The high resolution makes this a natural to take over the next generations of LCD displays.

The second announcement, and here's, the new news, Samsung announced new eReader displays using the purchased LiquidVista colored oil technology with 16.7 Million colors viewable in direct sunlight. This rivals the color depth of LCD displays. The displays will consume much less power, and don't have the background glare of the LCD displays, so there easier to view. The refresh rate is up in the 75 hz area, making it easy on the eye. This is faster than the eInk displays, making the new displays capable of displaying video. Samsung is gearing up to mass produce these displays by the end of the year.

Samsung LiquidVista

Samsung LiquidVista








Who will win this horse race? The company that has a color display that is visible in the sunlight, has a high contrast ratio for crisp images, has the color depth to do 16.7 Million colors, has a high refresh rate for video, and has a lower power consumption than LCD displays. Why wouldn't manufacturers switch to this display. It would be nice to take our laptops outside, and have the laptops have a battery life of 10 hours or so.

I believe we are down to two companies, Qualcomm with its Interferometric Modulation Technology. You can see from the accompanying picture that this is a crisp nice looking display.  Amazon has taken a serious look at using it in the Kindle.

And Samsung, I don't believe Samsung would have purchased LiquidVista if it didn't think it was superior technology. From the new announcement it seems they have hit all the required benchmarks to take over LCD displays. The problem now might be getting enough screens to meet demand. A nice problem to have. Who better to do that, than Samsung.

Unfortunately, I think Pixel Qi and eInk, even with their new Pearl eInk technology, higher contrast eInk, will be the initial losers in this race, and will end up packing their bags. They just don't have the crisp color depth needed, and the window is starting to close on their time to get to market.

Will this come together by Christmas? We're close, if not December, look for first quarter of 2012. You can see, I'm starting to hedge my bet just a little.

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