Pixtronix isn’t the only company trying to do this. Pixel Qi, which spun out of the One Laptop Per Child Project, is also building displays in LCD facilities. But whereas Pixel Qi has redesigned the components of LCDs–layers of optical polarizers, filters, and liquid crystals–to produce a display with both backlit-color and e-reader modes, Pixtronix has done away with all of the components of an LCD except for the backlight and the layer of transistors on glass that control the pixels.
Paul Semenza, an analyst for DisplaySearch, a technology research firm, says Pixtronix’s approach is relatively simple compared to LCD technology. But he notes that it is tough for novel technologies to break into the display market to break into. “LCD makers have a track record of beating back innovations that were thought to be ‘better’ than LCD,” he says. “It’s a little hard to say yet whether it will succeed.”
Another hurdle to adoption, says Semenza is something called “color breakup,” in which the red, blue, and green colors appear to separate out, instead of blending together to produce a single color. Some people are more sensitive to this effect, which can occur with MEMS displays.
According to Hagood, Pixtronix has developed an algorithm that determines how fast to sequence pixel colors to minimize color breakup. “So far, people are pretty happy,” he says. “Image quality isn’t going to be the challenge.”
Hagood adds that the biggest challenge will be the same as it was for LCD makers in the early days of that technology: getting high yields with low-cost manufacturing. He expects the first displays with Pixtronix technology to be in products by late 2011. Then users can judge whether the perfect tablet screen has truly arrived.