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What's Next in e-Ink Technology


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Not only is the technology of e-readers progressing rapidly, but e-Ink technology is improving alongside it. There have been a number of new developments that we will be seeing later in the year, one of them being color e-Ink. However, although E Ink has plans to launch a form of color display later this year, it is not expected to be of high quality just yet.

However, the new generation color E Ink products are certainly crisper and offer better resolution and color reproduction that anything else seen to date, so what is the immediate future for e-Ink products and when can we expect to see electronic ink begin to compete with LCD displays?

Color E-Ink

According to T. H. Peng, the VP of Prime View International that owns E Ink, it will be some time before e-Ink quality can match that of LCD. However, he did indicate that some customers are preparing to launch colored e-paper by the start of 2011 at latest. Although the colored e-Ink is said to compare with color newsprint, it is certainly nothing like the quality of color in glossy magazines and has a long way to go to attain it.

Not only is it often difficult to distinguish between the various colors, but the contrast and saturation are not up to standard, and the results are far from impressive. Though some examples shown the opposite. According to the article “E-paper 2.0 And Fujitsu Has It In Color ", researchers at Fujitsu have upped the ante in the very competitive E-reader market by releasing a group of color devices in their new FLEPia line. These E-readers incorporate Fujitsu’s ground breaking color e-paper and look to be the first in a new wave of color E-readers (Digital Book Readers).

It has been stressed that there is a number of possible ways of expressing color with e-Ink, and this demo was only one of them and not necessarily the end result. It is possible that the best is being kept under wraps, although it is difficult to believe that E Ink did not display its best at the Display Week conference in Seattle at the end of May.

Although it might be reasonable to assume that it will be a few years yet before high quality color is available using current e-Ink technology, the iPad launch has stimulated interest in e-readers as a means of reading glossy magazines. Not surprisingly, this appears to have stimulated research into reproducing the color quality of magazines on the iPad display as they consider a switch to digital publications rather than paper.

It is also fair to say that the e-ink displays are easier to read on platforms such as the iPad, although as already stated, the colors available are not as bright as LCD colors. Nevertheless, once a successful commercially viable option is available, power usage will be less due to the elimination of the need for a backlight and the relative ease of reading without a backlight will be better on the eyes. Such an energy efficient and healthier reading option will offer a significant commercial advantage to the company that first introduces it.

Flexible Plastic Displays

There are a number of different types of plastic display under investigation, although the HP system is looking very promising. HP is using three layers of electronic ink to produce bright colors, although even these are not a vivid as LCD displays. Nevertheless, the benefits of their ‘roll-to roll’ plastic displays almost render this irrelevant because it introduces the possibility of displays of almost limitless dimensions, and also wrap-around displays for advertising and gaming purposes.

The HP labs are investigating 40-micron thick displays produced using the process of imprint lithography, where resistors are imprinted on thin plastic about half the thickness of normal book paper, weighing about 40 times less than the standard portable glass displays and hence significantly lighter. They are therefore less expensive to manufacture and will offer more flexibility in pricing.

An HP Labs spin-off, Phicot, has already produced viable wrist displays that are powered by a solar cell and can offer instant information to soldiers in the field: these should be available in 2011 and will significantly improve communication during battle and under conditions of secrecy and security.

Development in e-Ink and associated technologies is proceeding at a rapid rate, and it would not be surprising if new products were commercially available well within the above estimated timescales. Both E Ink and HP are under increasing pressure from other businesses, some of which have been involved in the e-reader field for some time, and a few that are entering what appears now to be the reading platform of the future: e-readers and non-backlit e-Ink on flexible roll-up screens that can not only be extended as needed but also rolled into shapes for 360 degree display and to match specific contours.

If this sounds like some Sci-Fi for the future, it is not. It is happening now, and keep your eyes peeled because if the amount of R&D being carried out is a guide, the first commercially viable products should be hitting the shelves much sooner than most experts have estimated.


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