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OLPC Spinoff Pixel Qi Merges E-ink With LCD 78

MaryBethP writes with some tasty prototype photos and info about the new OLPC spin off "Pixel Qi" that is combining the best of e-ink and traditional LCD displays. "The screen can work as a traditional backlit LCD when indoors, can have that backlight disabled to be perfectly visible outdoors (shown after the break), and, as its pièce de résistance, can be toggled into an energy-efficient 'epaper' mode. How exactly the company is fitting these seemingly disparate slices of technology into a single 10.1-inch screen is something of a mystery, but we're guessing much will be answered next week ahead of a planned product launch by the end of the year. Color us intrigued."
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OLPC Spinoff Pixel Qi Merges E-ink With LCD

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  • LCD is traditional?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bruiser80 ( 1179083 )
      On a laptop it is :-)

      "Portable" computers used to have that 4" CRT on them back when they weighted 20 lbs. But as for the modern laptop, it's been LCD all the way.
    • by linzeal ( 197905 ) on Friday May 29, 2009 @03:53PM (#28142877) Homepage Journal
      Generation X is dead and their cathode ray tubes are dead, long live the twittering tweens and their lcd screens.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by snl2587 ( 1177409 )
      For laptops? Yeah...though I guess that should technically say "active-matrix liquid crystal display".
      • "active-matrix liquid crystal display"... That sounds cool. I bet 007 has some of those. Oh wait, I have one before me... I suppose 007 uses OLED now... What? Those are already abaible? Then he must be using something the likes of a "Direct Impulse Cognitive Kaleidoscopic" display tipe.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nine-times ( 778537 )

      Yes, they are when compared to things like OLED or electronic ink. And whatever the hell these people are doing.

      It seems to me the holy grail of displays would be something like full-color electronic ink with fast response times, paired with some kind of lighting scheme for when ambient lighting isn't sufficient.

      • Bull.

        The holy grail would be a fully 3d holographic display projected into the empty air.

        Or if you want something that might actually be feasible, a headmount that projects the image directly onto your retina so that it looks like it's floating in the air. Of course that would would be combined with augmented reality technology.

        • Well I guess that depends on what kind of work (and play) you're doing. Most of what I do with a computer is reading and writing text. I don't see how having the text rendered in 3D would help me.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Intron ( 870560 )

            Haven't you ever seen Fringe?

            I think giant letters floating in the air would make navigating Boston streets much easier.

            • Is that a standard effect in some of the video effects packages?

              I thought it was neat when I first saw it on Fringe, then later I've seen what I think is the exact same effect in other places -- I think in commercials. (Yeah, even though I 30 second skip through commercials, I still see bits of them, and at a friend's house, whoever controls the remote doesn't jump on FF or 30 second skip fast enough..)

        • by icebike ( 68054 )

          Projected into empty air? (What is empty air?).

          And where do you find "empty air" with no background image to mess things up? Are we all to stare at blank walls while viewing our displays?

      • I don't know if it's the holy grail, but it's up there. I think mediatronic wallpaper is the current goalpost, but you could argue that it's apparently-solid holographics. At the moment, I would be satisfied with a cheap eyetap.

      • It seems to me the holy grail of displays would be something like full-color electronic ink with fast response times, paired with some kind of lighting scheme for when ambient lighting isn't sufficient.

        So what benefits would e-ink provide in this case? Its benefits are precisely that it doesn't need to be redrawn much (but if you need fast response time, it means you're redrawing often anyway, and a single redrawing of e-ink is actually more expensive than, say, TFT); and that it doesn't shine a powerful lamp directly into your face, straining the eyes.

        • So what benefits would e-ink provide in this case?

          You get the low power-consumption of electronic ink so long as you're displaying a static picture, but something which could also be used as a monitor. That the redraw is electrically expensive is, among other things, why we don't have a "holy grail".

          But imagine you could buy something that looked like a plain white poster rolled up in a tube. You take it home, stick on your wall, and it's a TV or computer monitor that doesn't need a backlight so long as there's enough ambient light. But then you turn o

    • I still like nixie tube displays.
  • e-Ink? (Score:5, Informative)

    by owlstead ( 636356 ) on Friday May 29, 2009 @03:53PM (#28142869)

    As far as I know, e-Ink is a marketing name for a specific piece of technology using colored particles and static electricity. Somehow I'm not so sure that this is the technology used here, it looks more like different ways of handling an LCD than a layer of e-Ink. I would not know how you could make a sheet of e-Ink invisible for the eye, and it seems this is required. The screen in the photo does not look like digital paper either.

    My money is on B/W LCD without (significant) back-lighting.

    • Re:e-Ink? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Shagg ( 99693 ) on Friday May 29, 2009 @03:59PM (#28142955)

      You're right. People get the terms mixed up all the time. E-Ink is the name of a company that markets a specific implementation of epaper technology (electrophoretic display). There are other technologies that also qualify as epaper (including variations on LCD, which is what Pixel Qi uses). As far as I know, Pixel Qi has nothing to do with e-Ink. Lots of people just get confused and thing e-Ink == epaper, which is not true.

      • Re:e-Ink? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Thaelon ( 250687 ) on Friday May 29, 2009 @04:33PM (#28143369)

        So what you're saying is not all in-line skates are Rollerblades(tm), not all adhesive medical strips are Band-Aids(tm), and not all vacuums are Hoovers(tm)?

        You are correct, but good luck with that.

        • ...not all tissues are Kleenex, not all DVRs are Tivos (unfortunately), etc..

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Timmmm ( 636430 )

          They're more different than that. To use a car analogy, it's like saying "not all cars are 4x4s".

        • and not all vacuums are Hoovers(tm)

          Is there really a place in the world where everybody cleans their carpets with 'hoovers'?

        • by Shagg ( 99693 )

          There's a little more to it than that. E-Ink (the company) markets an electrophoretic display. However, lots of people refer to electrophoretic displays as "eInk". They are using it as a generic term just like your examples. I have no problem with that. I do it myself all the time.

          This is a little different though. Pixel Qi is not making an electrophoretic display, they're making an LCD display.

          It's accepted that people call all facial tissue "Kleenex". However, if you referred to a paper towel or a

    • As far as I know, e-Ink is a marketing name for a specific piece of technology

      Meh. People use e-paper, e-ink, digital paper, digital ink, electronic paper, electronic ink, and maybe some other terms I haven't heard. They use them all interchangeably to mean "flat panel electronic screens that don't need a backlight." And maybe they also include the part about not needing a charge to maintain the displayed image, but only needing the charge to change the image.

      I think people just haven't quite settled on a terminology here.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Shagg ( 99693 )

        I think the distinction here is that e-ink is only one type of e-paper (although probably the most well known at this point because of the Kindle). Pixel Qi is not using e-ink, they are using a form of LCD. It's a completely different technology.

        • Well fine, you can make that distinction. What I'm saying is, I don't think that there's any real consensus about distinctions between those terms. Even if one or more of those terms are trademarked and referencing a particular technology, it may end up being like "xerox" or "kleenex", where the brand name becomes a generic term.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by owlstead ( 636356 )

            One does not need any energy to be functional, only a refresh now and then. The other one can probably run at quite a few hertz, making scrolling and moving pictures a possibility. One is using normal color absorption and refraction. The other on uses absorption and reflection. One has clearly a glassy look to it, the other one looks like real paper. One can be used with back-lighting and may be combined with normal LCD, the other not. One may be bend, the other probably not.

            Sure, they are both gray scale (

            • And I'm saying that if you want to make those distinction in terms, that's fine. Yes, there are multiple forms of "electronic ink" or "digital paper", and I'm fine with you wanting to assign whatever terms you want. But there doesn't seem to be a common consensus that any particular term is referring to any particular technology, except perhaps within companies who are trying to coin a term for branding their own products.

              In common use, all of these terms just mean, "flat panel displays that don't need a

              • Since when is Slashdot or Engadget common use? These are nerd sites that keep us in touch with new technology. Now if they would have used those terms in a know-nothing-of-technology newspaper, fine. But for a technology oriented site it's pretty lame to mix these terms up. This article was specifically about this technology, nonetheless!

                • Whatever, this it retardedly pedantic. Insofar as this stuff is talked about, people seem to drop in whichever one of these terms they like. I've seen it talked about in tech sites, with technical people I know, and since the Kindle started getting mainstream press, I've seen it talked about on normal news websites, on TV, and among non-technical people. I've heard all of these people drop in these terms however they feel like it, and nobody is particularly concerned about the underlying technology used

    • by agurk ( 193950 )

      You could have e-Ink technology behind the lcd tech. When you turn off the lcd layer you would reveal the e-ink screen.

      e-Ink particles layer -> LIGHT -> lcd layer

      or if you had semitransparent particles:

      BACKLIGHT -> e-Ink particles layer -> lcd layer

      I really cannot see what technology is used from those blurry pictures.

  • The B/W e-paper and the high-contrast Color LCD - sounds like the color is used in both the backlit and non-lit versions, while the e-paper is used to get the high efficiency mode.

    I wonder what the refresh rates on each of these displays is?
    I'm guessing the refresh rate on the e-paper is way low if it uses so little power. Black to White in 250ms maybe?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      E-paper only requires power to change the display, not to keep the image shown.

    • I was going to blog about this idea. Was going to say that with ebook authors being encouraged to use "advanced" media enhancements in their ported ebooks (like, y'know, color), that it was getting difficult to justify standard epaper with its rotten page refresh times and glorious monochrome. Once people are used to seeing colour video on their iPhones and MP3 players, monochrome and page-scrambling every time you flip a page is a bit sucky.

      So I was a going to suggest a dual-layer screen, perhaps with a

    • by Kz ( 4332 )

      this is not e-ink. it's reflective LCD.

      the trick is to put the color filter needed for color LCD _behind_ the LCD itself, and turn the backlit off.

      I remember using my Palm III on bright sunlight by turning the backlit off. it was really good. now, a modern LCD, with thinner walls, and higher contrast would be even better. and having color capabilities when you want them, is just great

      • by sznupi ( 719324 )

        AFAI remember/understand from how OLPC XO-1 screen works (and this is basically just upgraded version of it) there's more to it - specifically, not using colour filters which are based on absorption of certain frequencies of light. Instead, they use light scaterring (prism/CD-like), and this is what allows/doesn't interfere with reflective mode.

        But yes, it's just a single screen, not some sort of sandwiching like parent poster assumes. Which also means it's just marginally more expensive and able to use bas

  • XO? (Score:2, Informative)

    by AvitarX ( 172628 )

    This looks to me exactly like the XO, but with a better color display.

    I was intrigued 2 years ago when i got my XO.

    Now it is simply what I hoped would happen, same tech, but with focus on image quality and resolution over inexpensiveness.

    On the XO, the wavy lines can become quite the hassle.

    • As long as they fix the resolution issues that the XO has, with different things interpreting the resolution differently. That's a software issue, but it's one that doesn't come up for most screens, so it's important to deal with it somehow.
  • Looking at power consumption of LCD's by laptops as percentage of total power consumption it isn't much for most modern laptops (5-0.5 watts versus 50-20 whats for a system under moderate load) and its going down on average with LED backlights becoming more common. It Using this sort of black and white only mode only really makes sense for ultra low power system.

    That being said, it would be killer on a laptop with an embedded SplashTop.

  • Pixel Qi - no E-Ink (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2009 @08:35PM (#28145913)

    While the Pixel Qi displays are (we believe) remarkable and can and will really serve as exceptional e-paper displays, there is no relationship to E-Ink. Not the company and not the electrophoretic technology that E-Ink uses.

    John Ryan
    Pixel Qi Corp.

    (Filed as anonymous coward, because I *do* have a separate /. personal account.)

    • Indeed, do you intend to announce anything that has previously been kept a secret, or do you just want to make a big proper press conference to give the media the relevant info as a package? Because I don't get the impression you're going to announce info that is new for anyone who has been following the progress of your (awesome!) company.
  • by jipn4 ( 1367823 ) on Friday May 29, 2009 @09:20PM (#28146161)

    It's not "e-ink", which is an electrophoretic display, it's an LCD that can be run in two different modes: reflective and with backlight. When it's used with a backlight, the LCD elements are colored, and when used without, they are not colored. It's kind of a hack, but it's a useful hack. In terms of resolution, it doesn't actually help much, since you can do color antialiasing on a color LCD anyway. It's good for battery life, though.

    The OLPC screens already work that way. I'm not sure what they are announcing. Maybe they just needed a press release.

    The question I have is: when is there going to be an EEE PC with one of these screens? That would be really useful.

    • by anothy ( 83176 )
      the part that helps resolution is that, at least in b&w mode, you can address each of what would otherwise be a sub-pixel individually. the composition of a "pixel" is different in these displays: rather than three bars of three different colors forming one addressable pixel, in this display each pixel is much smaller, but only one color. in color mode, color anti-aliasing gives you more or less the same effect (but typically with fuzzier edges), while in b&w mode you get substantially better addres
    • by anothy ( 83176 )
      it's also worth noting that (again, at least on the XO) the screen very often looks better in b&w mode; i run it that way even in daylight often. it's just a software setting that sets it to b&w when backlight goes to zero; you can toggle each manually.
  • I predict that the 3qi technology is going to be a real game-changer. The daylight-readable screen means you will be taking your netbook into many more places and situations than you ever had before. The e-paper mode means that you can truly use your netbook as a Kindle-like device -- only better, because then it will be a true PC, and not a purpose-built appliance. The low power, full-motion color mode means you'll be able to use your netbook to watch video or play games without sucking down twice the c

  • This looks interesting. For some reason, low-power displays just fascinate the heck out of me. I can think of so many neat projects to create out of them. (eInk displays would be great, except that they are horribly expensive right now.)

    One display that I'd love to get more information on is the one in Google's new electronic conference room signs [youtube.com]. It looks and acts just like a standard low-resolution LCD display, except the image is retained even when power is completely removed. I did some research and I

  • There are already laptops with translucent screens that let ambient light substitute for the backlight, so you can e.g. turn off the backlight entirely when you're outside. As the owner of a Japanese Toshiba Dynabook SS RX2 [dynabook.com], I can confirm that it works as described -- I'm beginning to wonder if they actually enforce "truth in advertising" over here or something -- and is actually easier on my eyes than using the backlight indoors.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus