Palm Deciding How to Compensate m130 Owners (Updated)
Several days ago, it was acknowledged by Palm Inc. that the m130's screen could not display the number of colors the company had previously advertised. The m130 starts with a 12-bit screen and uses dithering to increase the number of apparent colors displayed. Palm originally believed that this allowed the m130 to display the same number of colors as a 16-bit screen, which is 65,536. Instead, Palm's system can display what it describes as 58,621 color combinations.
Spokesperson Marlene Somsak has said this was an honest mistake on Palm's part and apologized on behalf of her company for this error and an apology appears on Palm's website, though not in a prominent place.
Several news sources, including Wired and Cnet have incorrectly said that Palm isn't going to reimburse m130 customers for its error. In fact, Palm is currently trying to decide on the best way to compensate these people.
Somsak said several plans are being debated, though she declined to give details on any of them. She said more information should be available in the near future
Palm will be getting in touch with all registered owners of the m130 by email to tell them whatever compensation plan is worked out.
Update: The law firm of Sheller, Ludwig & Badey has filed a class-action lawsuit against Palm for false advertising. It was filed in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Santa Clara on behalf of m130 owners. The law firm requests a jury trial.
However, simply filing for such a suit does not mean that there will be one. It requires a court order certifying this as a class action and appointing Sheller, Ludwig & Badey to be counsel for the class.
How the m130 Displays Colors
Shawn Gettemy, Display Technology Engineer at Palm, was kind enough to give a detailed explanation of the workings of the m130's screen, and something of an explanation of what went wrong.
The m130 uses a passive matrix, super twist nematic (STN) screen. This is inherently capable of displaying 12-bit color, or 4,096 shades, through frame-rate control and 58,621 color combinations through dithering.
In frame-rate control, each pixel's color changes rapidly and the eye "averages" these into a new one. As a rough example, a pixel could rapidly switch between white and red and the user would see a shade of red or pink.
Gettemy said, "Frame-rate control is used by almost every color STN display on the market today."
While most handheld companies stop there, Palm used dithering to increase the number of apparent colors. "Dithering is where we take advantage of the eye's ability to perceive a shade of color by mixing colors with adjacent pixels," explained Gettemy. Unavailable shades can be created by mixing pixels of available colors in certain patterns and ratios.
What Went Wrong
It was the use of these techniques that led to the m130 being able to display fewer color combinations than Palm thought. Gettemy said, "The combination of the technologies limits the color combinations you can use without creating visual artifacts. This was something that was not initially apparent in the specification."
A 16-bit screen can display 65,536 colors, or 32 shades of red, 64 shades of green, and 32 shades of blue. Palm incorrectly believed it had matched this number of shades on the m130. After carefully looking over its algorithms again, it realized that the screen can actually display 58,521, or 31 shades of red, 61 shades of green, and 31 shades of blue.
The Debate Goes On
Palm's use of dithering has led to a debate on what constitutes a "true" 16-bit screen. There are some, including an0nym0vs, who was at the forefront of bringing this issue to light, who maintain that the m130's screen remains 12-bit and that dithering is irrelevant. There are others who agree with Palm and say that if the eye perceives a shade to be on the display, it is there, no matter how it was created.
The fact that the m130's screen isn't 16-bit doesn't affect what applications the m130 can run because the screen isn't the only part of the handheld involved, explains Scott Corley from Red Mercury.
According to him, the two parts of the video hardware involved are the frame buffer and the screen. The frame buffer is a chunk of memory that stores a value for each pixel. The screen is the physical LCD device that displays the image. The video chip controlling the screen reads a value for each pixel from the frame buffer and displays the corresponding color on the screen.
The m130 supports a 16-bit frame buffer. The m130 can switch to "16-bit mode", and in memory, each pixel is represented as 16-bits (two bytes), for a total of 65,536 possible values for each pixel. When an application says "I want 16-bit color mode" the m130 provides a 16-bit frame buffer.
"AcidImage runs just fine on an m130 when displaying JPEGs in 16-bit color, because the m130 provides AcidImage with a 16-bit frame buffer, and AcidImage thinks everything is fine, and in general, everything is fine," said Corley.
Even without dithering much less the additional colors Palm mistakenly believed the m130 had, the device is capable of displaying more colors than most applications make use of, according to Howard Tomlinson, CEO of Astraware.
"The standard Palm palette of about 230 colors is what the vast majority of color-enabled Palm applications use," said Tomlinson. Before dithering, the m130's screen can display 4,096 colors.
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