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Displays Books Technology

New Color E-Reader Tech To Challenge E-Ink Dominance 199

Posted by kdawson
from the daily-prophet-graphics dept.
Technology Review reports from the Consumer Elecronics Show in Las Vegas that potential e-reader competitors to E-Ink are everywhere. The current market leader in e-book displays is greyscale-only, and it takes a long time to change the display ("turn the page"), so video applications are not possible. E-Ink says they will have a color display shipping by late next year, but it will be dimmer than the current greyscale and its response time will still be too slow for video. The wannabe competitors — Pixel Qi, Qualcomm MEMS Technologies, Liquavista, and Kent Displays — all do color and some of them can do video (Pixel Qi, Qualcomm, Liquavista), and some of them (Pixel Qi, Kent) are shipping now.
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New Color E-Reader Tech To Challenge E-Ink Dominance

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  • Power? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chill (34294) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @11:25PM (#30719544) Journal

    The big draw of E-Ink is that it only uses power when doing a page change. Do the color versions mentioned in TFA do that as well? If so, welcome. If not, nice try but fail.

    • Re:Power? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by PCM2 (4486) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @11:40PM (#30719616) Homepage

      The big draw of E-Ink is that it only uses power when doing a page change.

      This was my understanding as well. So maybe someone who owns a Kindle or a Nook can answer me something that has bugged me for a while: Why on earth do these things appear to have screensavers? By changing the image when the machine is idle, doesn't a screensaver actually drain the battery where normally there would be no drain at all? Does an e-ink screen really need to be "saved" (i.e. will it burn out/burn in)?

      As for the competitors, they are all designed to use very little power. At least one functions in a dual mode, where it can either be an e-ink type monochrome screen or a backlit color screen.

      Here's another article [economist.com], from The Economist.

      • Re:Power? (Score:5, Informative)

        by seanadams.com (463190) * on Sunday January 10, 2010 @11:54PM (#30719688) Homepage

        Why on earth do these things appear to have screensavers?

        Kindle does not have an animated screensaver, it just displays some static artwork such as a photograph of a famous author. It's only one refresh when it goes to sleep and one more when you wake it up.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by elcheesmo (646907)

        Why on earth do these things appear to have screensavers?

        The Kindle does display an image, usually of a famous author, when it's turned off. While displaying that image does use some power, it's a negligible amount considering how many page turns the thing gets on a single charge. And it looks pretty cool too.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by value_added (719364)

          The Kindle does display an image, usually of a famous author, when it's turned off

          Hopefully they'd avoid using an image of George Orwell.

          • by bsDaemon (87307)
            Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) would probably be more apt than Orwell though.
      • by Brandee07 (964634)

        The screensaver is a static image- it only appears when you put it to sleep, and doesn't change until you wake it up and put it to sleep again. Because eInk isn't a CRT and doesn't actually NEED a screensaver, it's more of a pretty keylock screen than a screensaver.

      • Why on earth do these things appear to have screensavers?

        Perhaps so that people who glance at your device when it's lying on the table won't be able to know what you're reading? You may not want people to know how far along you are in your novel [valpo.edu].
      • The screensavers are pointless, my Sony 505 does not have one. And yes they drain the battery.

      • So maybe someone who owns a Kindle or a Nook can answer me something that has bugged me for a while: Why on earth do these things appear to have screensavers? By changing the image when the machine is idle, doesn't a screensaver actually drain the battery where normally there would be no drain at all? Does an e-ink screen really need to be "saved" (i.e. will it burn out/burn in)?

        I don't know if it's possible to actually burn-in an e-ink display or not... I'm thinking probably not, but that's just a guess.

        O

    • Re:Power? (Score:5, Informative)

      by theblondebrunette (1315661) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @11:41PM (#30719622)

      If you did RTFA, on the first page you'd see:
      "Switching from the backlit mode, to the reflective one drops the display's power consumption from 2.5 Watts to 0.5 Watts. This is for a refresh rate of 60 Hz--fast enough to display video. Pixel Qi claims that using software to put the display into an e-reader mode--suitable for reading text, where the screen might only update ten times a second--could drop the power consumption to as low as 100 milliwatts."

      For the IMOD:
      "The height of the air gap between the plates determines the color of light that is reflected from the IMOD. When a voltage is applied, the plates are drawn together by electrostatic forces and the element goes black. When the voltage is removed, the plates separate and color is reflected off the IMOD. A single pixel is made up of several IMODs; adjusting the height of each affects the overall color of the pixel. The plates stay in place, using almost no energy, until the color needs to change again. A plate only has to move a few hundred nanometers to change color and can do it in tens of microseconds--fast enough to show video."

      Liquavista:
      "The LCD devices are based on a technique called electrowetting, in which a voltage is used to modify the surface tension of colored oil on a solid substrate. In the absence of a voltage, the oil forms a film over the substrate and is visible to the viewer. When a voltage is applied, the pixel becomes transparent. By controlling the voltage of each pixel independently, a picture can be displayed. Unlike E Ink's technology, electrowetting pixels can be switched in a few milliseconds, making them suitable for showing video."

      What the article doesn't say, which is easiest on the eyes. My bets are still on e-ink.
      Recently I tried this "Libre" LCD-based e-reader, and my eyes were bleeding, it was that horrible, or maybe I'm spoiled by real e-ink, and no, it's not Kindle.

      • Re:Power? (Score:5, Informative)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday January 11, 2010 @12:10AM (#30719782) Journal
        The display in the OLPC XO-1 is the predecessor of Pixel Qi's current products. I'd say that the comparison between that screen and the e-ink implementation of the kindle is as follows:

        Color/video/refresh: The LCD, hands down. E-ink doesn't even rate.

        Monochrome/text/reading: Both are a little "greyer" than one would like. E-ink has worse blacks; but a somewhat brighter background(under standard illuminated room conditions). LCD has nicer blacks; but a slightly darker background unless the ambient light is quite bright.

        I'd say that E-ink was modestly better in medium light, by virtue of its brighter background; but worse in low light since there is no way to backlight it just a bit. In full sunlight, either was highly readable; but E-ink suffered from its usual slow refresh issues.
    • Re:Power? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Idbar (1034346) on Monday January 11, 2010 @12:14AM (#30719806)
      A couple of years ago, I had the chance of going to a talk from the guys of E-ink. They showed the B&W and Color displays before the e-readers came out. I was amazed at the picture frame prototype they had, and always wonder what happened to it.

      I'm curious about the reason they are holding back the release of color screens and waited for a punch from the competitors. I had it in my hands, so I know it existed way longer than the first Sony reader came to the market.

      This is before they took that off of their website [archive.org]
      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        A typical problem with displays is that many newly developed display types have very limited life times. Sometimes as short as days or a few changes, deteriorating fast. I can imagine that such a colour version had a short life time, maybe in the order of 100 changes. That's probably good enough for a prototype display to show off, but not for consumer applications.

        As another commenter points out the pixel size may have been an issue. Again this is something that makes it sound to me like nice prototype, b

      • E-Ink charges a fortune per display, the single most expensive part (about 100$ for a 7 inch reader) is the display, and since they have a monopoly or still have one, that is not bound to change, they probably are withholding the color one for exactly that reason.

    • by hitmark (640295)

      thing is that unless the system fully powers down between page turns (and even then may bleed some purely from the imperfection in transistors), there is still a cpu in the background, idling and waiting for user input.

      the biggest power draw in displays are more often backlight, then maintaining a static image, unless one is using CRT or similar where one continually repaints the pixels.

      • by Korin43 (881732)
        You could use an ARM processor have it draw very little power. Sure, you can't run Windows, but if you're gaming you probably don't care so much about power usage.
        • by hitmark (640295)

          from what i can tell, the standby on the next series of intel atom (N4**, iirc) will be comparable to ARM based products.

    • The big draw of E-Ink is that it only uses power when doing a page change. Do the color versions mentioned in TFA do that as well? If so, welcome. If not, nice try but fail.

      That is a big part of it... But readability is also a huge bonus with e-ink. The fact of the matter is that a backlight is harder on the eyes than simple reflected light. Most of the ereaders advertise that they're as readable as paper books - largely because of the lack of backlight.

  • Do not want. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by binaryspiral (784263) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @11:36PM (#30719586)

    The beauty of grayscale eink is that it's very close to paper - making it easy to read for long periods of time. However, the transition time on the Kindle or other grayscale eink devices is long enough to be annoying. Making these transitions longer will decrease my satisfaction in them, making the display dimmer will make them worthless to me.

    If I wanted color, I'd hit an iPod touch, tablet PC, or laptop.

    Keep It Simple Stupid.

    • If I wanted color, I'd hit an iPod touch, tablet PC, or laptop.

      You must be one of those "I want my phone to be just phone" people.

      But there's no turning back. Color eInk screens were already demoed, they just aren't production-ready... yet. But they will be. Remember, eInk tech is still in its infancy - the first device that shipped with a screen more advanced than N-segment indicator was Sony Librie, and that was in 2004! We've already got much better contrast since then, and - while it may be hard for people who only saw the current generation of readers to comprehen

    • by srothroc (733160)
      Perhaps it would be useful for something that doesn't require a lot of transitions in a short time. A few of the things I can think of are picture frames, advertisements/billboards, signs/menus on walls, digital clocks... those big informative posters I used to see in elementary school that were changed out every week.
    • Except... it's not at all close to paper. I've had a Kindle for a year and it's my main reading device, and the fact that the "paper" is about 30% gray, not even *close* to white, is the thing that bugs me the most. Of course the blacks are nowhere near as black as print either, so the overall contrast level is tiny compared to paper. I can easily read a paper book in light levels that are way too low to read my Kindle2. The main way it's "very close to paper" is that it's illuminated by ambient light.

      (

  • by sznupi (719324) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @11:39PM (#30719608) Homepage

    We see in the summary "e-reader", "e-book"...ignoring that those screens (well, at least Pixel Qi one, that I'm sure of) are great also as replacements for screens in netbooks (remember commercials of those depicting them on the beach, in the park or bright cafe?); generally any highly portable device.

    Those are the screens which were supposed to be in place all along. Finally we can have them. Who cares about e-book readers?

    • by mliu (85608)

      Absolutely! A lot of these e-readers are running Linux of some flavor such as Android, and I remember reading news about both the Nook and the Kindle having been rooted.

      Something that would pretty much instantly open my wallet would be if one of these could be setup with a driver to connect it to a computer and used as an external display. To compensate for the slow refresh, maybe every time a certain key combo was pressed, the contents of the window with focus would be mirrored onto the e-ink display.

      I d

  • by e**(i pi)-1 (462311) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @11:56PM (#30719700) Homepage Journal
    the new technology with color, faster page build and better energy efficiency is welcome. My biggest complaint with electronic ink is the "flicking" before a page turn. I was told that it is necessary to remove any traces from the previous text. Its certainly a personal thing, but I find this annoying. Every page flip reminds on how unfinished the current e-ink technology is.
    • Actually the flicking is a thing of getting used to, at first you are annoyed after a while you wont notice anymore, the bigger problem is the contrast, or lack thereof, paper quality is a lie, the contrast you get is more along the lines of 100 year old newspaper with aging ink.
      Still good enough, but the media was writing garbage on global scale about the contrast, it does not even come close to a real book.

      • Eh, it's not THAT bad (at least not on my kindle). I'd say it's slightly worse than your average mass market paperback book but without the downside of "oh yay, they were running out of ink during print and now I can barely read this" or "oh yay there was too much ink and now this is all blurred and I can barely read this".

        However, higher contrast and something even close to a true black would be really really nice. I wouldn't mind being able to read hardcover quality ink without the weight and size of a ha
  • I love my kindle (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LlamaZorz (1717784) on Monday January 11, 2010 @12:01AM (#30719742)
    I have a Kindle2 becasue it enables me to read more than I normally would. Certain things I would only read online like periodicals and hack tutorials were not being read due to eye strain. I didnt want to print these as it would become expensive and wasteful fast. My kindle has really long battery life and I actually get less eye strain with it than with real paper books given the grey background. I love the thing, any gloss or color will just make the device cause more strain and that's now what I wanted.
  • by JakeD409 (740143) on Monday January 11, 2010 @12:31AM (#30719880)
    A color eBook reader is something that will really appeal to my girlfriend (who has many art books and comic books). I, on the other hand, use my Kindle to read novels and programming books. There might be a little colored syntax highlighting in my programming books, but that's the extent that color would affect my eBook-reading experience. I'd much prefer a higher-contrast greyscale eBook reader. Currently, the contrast on my Kindle (and, from what I understand, the Nook and the Sony readers) is about the same as that of a dirty newspaper (about 8:1 I believe). It doesn't bother me, but I'd buy one that has paperback book contrast (about 50:1) in a heartbeat.
  • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Monday January 11, 2010 @12:42AM (#30719930)
    I don't understand these complaints about the response times for the screens on e-readers. They're designed to be easy to read for the purpose of replacing paper books, not replacing LCD TVs or computer monitors. A real book doesn't have instant page turn times and there's a bit of "flicker" as the page flips up and over the current page. I've used a kindle before and it takes longer to turn a real page than for the kindle to refresh so I don't see a problem here.

    Seems like people are really bitching that e-readers can't be used for video. My question is why did you buy an e-READER if you wanted to watch VIDEO? You should have bought a laptop.
    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday January 11, 2010 @12:57AM (#30719988) Homepage Journal

      You just expressed a view that is completely lost of marketing fools who see features features features as the only way to sell units. This is why every ebook reader also has an mp3 player in it.

      • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Monday January 11, 2010 @03:27AM (#30720616)

        Oh I thought that was because I usually listen to music while reading and the two were a natural fit for sitting on an airplane listening to music while reading.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        This is why every ebook reader also has an mp3 player in it.

        No, every eBook reader has an mp3 player in it because every manufacturer wants audio feedback that doesn't sound like an alarm clock being murdered. If you're going to [therefore] skip the bit-banging speaker interface and even FM synthesis and move along to some real audio, it barely costs more to install a codec capable of handling the audio output part; and decoding mp3 is such a trivial task compared to [say] displaying a PDF in a timely fashion that it doesn't even bear mentioning in terms of CPU time

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by warcow105 (1173105)
      You hit the nail right on the head. My sony reader got me reading books again, and thats what I got it for...I didnt wish it could do video, nor did a pause between pages bother me(like you said, it takes longer to turn a real page). Feature bleed is a royal pain, instead of these manufacturers making a device that does 1 thing excellent, they jam as many features in as possible so their sales flier has more bullet points that company b, but it does it all half assed.
    • First: why should new technology aspire to be no better than old technology? What's wrong with having or wanting a faster/instant refresh?

      Second: the delay on an e-reader is probably more noticeable because you're waiting for it. If you're turning the page of a book, you have something to do to keep you busy until it's done, so it doesn't matter if it takes a while. If your only interaction with the device is to press a "next page" button, you have nothing to do except wait for the display to refresh. Time

      • "the delay on an e-reader is probably more noticeable because you're waiting for it. If you're turning the page of a book, you have something to do to keep you busy until it's done, so it doesn't matter if it takes a while. If your only interaction with the device is to press a "next page" button, you have nothing to do except wait for the display to refresh. Time seems to go much slower if you have nothing to do..."

        Look, we're talking about the time it takes to TURN A BLOODY PAGE. It's not a significant l
        • by grumbel (592662)

          Page refresh isn't an issue when you linearly read a book, but if you just want to have a quick glance at what happened a dozens pages back, than refresh quickly becomes a major problem, as there isn't a way you can quickly quickly through pages.

    • by itsdapead (734413)

      I don't understand these complaints about the response times for the screens on e-readers.

      Its not a problem as long as you're happy with a dedicated device for "page-by-page" reading of traditional books.

      My question is why did you buy an e-READER if you wanted to watch VIDEO?

      Put that the other way round: why would you want to buy an e-reader if your media player lets you read books and watch video?

      Currently, the answer to that is that e-ink (a) is nicer to read than a backlit display and (b) offers vastly better battery life.

      You should have bought a laptop.

      ...and the most interesting thing about these new screens (if they deliver) is that they could be used in laptops, smartphones and "slates", e

    • I don't understand these complaints about the response times for the screens on e-readers.

      I want to browse, at least when not reading literature. Also, I want a full A4 with note taking for browsing code (my own and others).

    • Seems like people are really bitching that e-readers can't be used for video. My question is why did you buy an e-READER if you wanted to watch VIDEO? You should have bought a laptop.

      It's not only about video. If you have any user interface a bit more complex than a few buttons around the device you'll need a touchscreen. And with a touchscreen you NEED visual feedback. E-ink is just too slow for that. Even simple things like scrolling through lists totally sucks with e-ink.

      Have a look at the Plastic Logic [youtube.com]

    • by flatrock (79357)

      The e-readers seem to do a good job at displaying text with low eye strain. However it comes at a heafty price tag for a single function device. It's like asking why people needed smart phones when two way pagers, PDAs, and simple cell phones already existed.

    • Seems like people are really bitching that e-readers can't be used for video. My question is why did you buy an e-READER if you wanted to watch VIDEO? You should have bought a laptop.

      I got a nook for the holidays.

      Had it at work last week, someone noticed it and asked what it was. I told them it was an ereader, for reading books. They then asked if it could play video too. They looked slightly confused when I indicated that it was just for books.

      I think there are two major problems with ereaders right now

  • This e-ink stuff is a marketing gimmick to justify charging outrageous prices. If someone would just release a very basic LCD book reader for $19.99 it would probably sell 100,000 units faster than e-ink sellers could sell 100 units. It would probably put the e-ink people out of business, almost overnight.
    • by Firehed (942385)

      If you're up for wasting some time hacking the software that power those digital picture frames, you'll get pretty close. Maybe not $20, but I spotted a couple on Amazon in the $30-50 range. It would be a bit large and unwieldy (not to mention not even remotely portable, given that they're not battery-powered) but at a vague conceptual level, it's not that far off the mark.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by vcgodinich (1172985)

      1) Failure to understand the benefits of the technology. CHECK

      2) Offer proposal not based in reality (Technical or Fiscal) CHECK

      3) Typical "Someone should do something about ..." bitching. CHECK

      Three strikes and you are out.

      • by Flentil (765056)
        Don't think I don't know and understand all about e-ink and it's low power, looks like real printed text selling points. What I'm saying is that there is no lower priced alternative for people who don't mind recharging a battery more often, and don't care if it looks like printed text in the least bit. e-ink is to book readers what monster cables are to cables, if monster cables were the only cables you could buy anywhere with no lower priced competition. I also know that a paperback book sized LCD devic
        • by dangitman (862676) on Monday January 11, 2010 @08:50AM (#30721756)

          e-ink is to book readers what monster cables are to cables, if monster cables were the only cables you could buy anywhere with no lower priced competition.

          But Monster Cables don't have any advantages over cheaper cables. Electronic Ink displays do have advantages over other types of display.

          This is price fixing.

          I don't think you know what "price fixing" means.

          Once someone starts selling a fairly priced LCD alternative, it's all over for the e-ink people as their overpriced gadgets will only be bought by hardcore textophiles.

          So, how can it be "price fixing" if somebody could just make an LCD-based alternative and take over the market? Price fixing implies collusion among industry players not to allow such competition. But in reality, there are lots of different companies competing for this market with different technology. There's not an agreement among them to fix prices.

          I also know that a paperback book sized LCD device could be mass manufactured and sold for $19.99

          Well, why don't you produce such a device, take over the market, and become wealthy for life, then?

    • Have you ever actually seen an e-ink display? I agree that they're overpriced, one of the reasons I don't own one, but they are a lot better than an LCD. My friend has one and it looks almost like real paper. At first it's slightly easier to read than an LCD but if you want to sit down for a few hours to read it it'll save you one hell of a headache.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vlm (69642)

        At first it's slightly easier to read than an LCD but if you want to sit down for a few hours to read it it'll save you one hell of a headache.

        What is wrong with you slashdotters? Not so much you individually, but in general? Every week we have the required slashvertisement for e-ink based displays, and the astroturfers come out and post unbelievable claims about humans eyes being physically unable to gaze upon LCDs, like they're a medusa's head made of silicon.

        It would be laughable if read on time.com or something, but its even worse here. Come on, this is slashdot. Supposedly we all spend 16 hours a day gazing into our L C D computer screens

    • Um, people did. (Score:3, Informative)

      by aussersterne (212916)

      Go on eBay and you can pick up greyscale LCD e-book readers for well under $100, sometimes under $50.

      Thing is, they suck. You don't want to read 1,000 pages with a backlight, nor can you sustain a battery for 1,000 pages with a backlight.

  • I think there is a market for both the PixelQi type screen, as well as traditional e-Ink. The PixelQi type screen can mimic e-Ink for reading length text, but can also revert to a normal looking screen for other stuff. It'll be great on netbooks and tablets for general purpose computing. However, there are many that just want an eReader without anything else. That's where e-Ink does really well.

    I find it a little hard to believe that the screens can consume less power than e-Ink, but if they consume les
  • MIssing the point. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The problem here is that people are forgetting that the entire purpose of these gadgets is for reading books. How many books that are read by adults have significant amounts of color in them? Almost zero have pictures...let alone color pictures. Furthermore, video (while cool) has nothing whatever to do with reading books.

    I got a Kindle for Xmas - the older one with the smaller display.

    It uses very, VERY little power (I've read about 3000 pages on it - and it still hasn't needed to be recharged) - which

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by OrangeTide (124937)

      Magazine sales are vastly higher than book sales, and I think ebook reader vendors realize this. Plus there has been sort of a race to color by everyone for publicity's sake.

      The display technology used in the Kindle hasn't changed much in the last 5 years, it has only gotten cheap. (so instead of insanely expensive it is simply costly now)

      ps- I'm glad you like the Kindle, I certainly enjoyed making it. And I still use one of my prototype Kindle 2 units every day.

    • I'd like color. I'd like to use it for my textbooks, most of which have fuckloads of color in them. You'd be surprised, but 3-d colored graphs of calculus-related formulas are quite helpful. Same with physics. Color makes graphs, tables, and images much more readable.

      I've studied some BIO a couple years ago and remembering it helping immensely as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The problem here is that people are forgetting that the entire purpose of these gadgets is for reading books

      Not necessarily. The purpose of the e-ink tech is to be a low-power-usage display. However, there's drawbacks (limited/no colors, poor refresh time) that have forced it to be stuffed in to the niche of being a display for books. If/when the technologies improves, it can be used to display other things.

      All of those things are what matters for an actual book reader...not color or video.

      Other uses for this improved tech aren't going to somehow mean everyone stops using it to read books. All it does is expand the market, which in turn will probably mean more funding for better e-book reade

  • Sunlight laptop (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jones_supa (887896) on Monday January 11, 2010 @03:16AM (#30720582)
    I don't care that much about e-readers, but hey, getting a laptop that could be viewed under full sunlight is just revolutionary for me.
  • I've whined before about there being no OLED-over-e-Ink displays. I did a little looking back and of course this was discussed before, there would just not be enough light; e-Ink so far has mediocre contrast and OLED is only partly transparent. But what if you could make two OLED layers back-to-back? One of them faces the page and is there to light it in dark conditions. The other is printed over the backlight layer but faces the other direction and provides video. Either way, e-Ink still needs a contrast b

  • It is too damn slow for me. Thank god, the smarter places like Amazon are also providing much of their ebook tecnology on non-epaper platforms.

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