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Is There Life Between TFT LCD and Electrophoretic?

By Paul Semenza, Senior Vice President, Analyst Services

Blogging Live from SID Display Week!

As Jennifer Colegrove reported in her recent blog post, E Ink is moving into a new stage in its evolution, and its partnership with PVI should be able E Ink to expand development of its electrophoretic technology. With its successes shipping into the Amazon Kindle, Sony E-reader and other devices, does E Ink/PVI have a lock on eBooks?

Well, as Jeff Bezos recently acknowledged (and those in the display industry know), it will take some time before electrophoretic technology can be produced in color. E Ink’s success has been based on a high contrast ratio for reading text, in a rugged and lightweight form factor.

But two things create pressure to go to color. First, it is a truism that all visual media eventually goes to color-even books, which frequently have illustrations and photographs. Second, there may be a limited market for customers who want to carry a reader in addition to a notebook PC and cell phone, so color would enable other functions. At the same time, standard LCDs are generally too expensive and power-hungry for reader applications.

Mary Lou Jepsen has been a pioneer in using modified versions of standard TFT LCD manufacturing processes to decrease power and cost, originally for the One Laptop Per Child XO computer. This morning at the SID Business Conference in San Antonio, Mary Lou (now CEO of Pixel Qi, a display startup) presented the latest displays made by her startup, using a TFT LCD fab in Taiwan.

As the pictures below (from Jepsen’s blog) indicate, the same display can operate both in color and in high-contrast black & white modes. There is also a third intermediate mode that shows less-than-full color using lower power. Mary Lou referred to the approach as 3Qi (pronounced “three chee”).

Could this approach bridge the gap between high-power high-cost TFT LCDs for notebook PCs and low-power low-cost electrophoretic technology?

Figure 1: One Display with Two Modes: Color with Backlight and Black & White ePaperpixel-qi-1-blog1Source: http://www.pixelqi.com/blog1/

Figure 2: Readable in Bright Sunlightpixel-qi-2Source: http://www.pixelqi.com/blog1/

  • http://www.displaysearch.com John Jacobs

    Miss Jepsen told this analyst that they had already validated their power and sunlight readability claims by retrofitting a mini-note PC they purchased. She also said that the Pixel Qi display would be shipping in a mini-note PC later this year, though she declined to state the brand(s). If Pixel Qi can bring this display to market, and at a price comparable to TFT LCD, then it would solve one of the biggest complaints of mini-notes, their poor battery life.

  • http://www.displaysearch.com David Barnes

    Several other demonstrations at the conference show ways to cut power consumption significantly while delivering full-color video using conventional TFT LCD processes. I think Pixel Qi is on to something important. I hope her efforts will spur others to take LCD to the next level of performance and price.

    As I explained in the Business Conference, TFT LCD suppliers are cautious people in some ways because they gamble so much on each fab investment. Sometimes, smaller companies must be the ones to show suppliers how displays could serve us better.