New Screen Technologies on Display
The Society for Information Display conference was this week and several companies showed off new technologies that might show up in future handhelds. The two most interesting were for flexible LCDs and Digital Ink.
A team of researchers Sarnoff Corporation, Penn State, and Kent State announced the first flexible plastic thin-film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT LCD) that can show video content. "With this technology it's possible that one day you'll carry around a computer display rolled up into a pen," said Michael Kane, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Sarnoff. "You could show multimedia presentations on a paper-thin display that follows the contours of a curved wall, or fits easily into a streamlined cell phone or other portable device."
The new display technology uses an active matrix for a wider viewing angle, better contrast, and broader color range than passive screens. It promises to reduce the size and weight of everything from handheld devices to computer monitors and portable TVs.
The displays could be printed on thin plastic using roll-to-roll manufacturing, similar to the process used to print newspapers, thus greatly lowering production costs. They would be far more durable and resistant to damage than today's screens, which are usually encased in a sandwich of glass.
The team is looking for commercial strategic partners and investors to accelerate product development.
Philips Components and E Ink Corporation showcased their first display prototypes of high-resolution Electronic Ink displays for handheld devices. These consist of a five-inch diagonal sheet of E Ink's electronic ink integrated with Philips' active matrix backplanes and drivers. These initial modules can display monochrome or grayscale images, including text and illustrations, and deliver a resolution of 80 pixels per inch (ppi). The displays' paper-white and deep-black image capabilities provide significantly improved readability over the traditional display technology found in today's handheld devices.
E Ink's electronic ink offers a paper-like look that provides three main benefits over traditional and emerging display technologies:
Readability - Because it contains the same coloring agents as normal ink and paper, electronic ink is more than six times brighter than reflective LCDs, exceeds newspapers in contrast ratio and reads easily in both dim light and full sunlight. Like paper, electronic ink displays have a clear image that can be seen at any angle without a change in contrast. In addition, special properties of the ink enable smoother text characters than many displays used today.
Ultra-Low Power - Electronic ink allows a fixed image to remain on the screen even after the power source is shut off, leading to dramatically longer battery life. The bright paper-white background of electronic ink also eliminates the need for a backlight in most lighting conditions. When commercialized, electronic ink displays will draw less than 1/10th the power required by other 'low power' display technologies commonly used in smart handheld devices, such as reflective LCDs. As a result, portable devices incorporating electronic ink displays could function with far smaller batteries, making them less expensive and more portable.
Thin, Light Form - Electronic ink displays are expected to be 30% to 50% thinner and lighter than traditional LCD displays.
The two companies are on the fast track of bringing to market high-resolution, electronic ink displays for smart handheld devices, with commercialization currently targeted for 2003. The companies are actively working with leading device makers to co-develop and design-in electronic ink displays for PDA, mobile phone, electronic reader and e-mail device applications.
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