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What’s Next for E Ink

The company’s latest prototypes show crisper, brighter color, and are being combined with flexible backplanes.

On the floor of the exhibit hall at the Society for Information Display conference in Seattle this week were many amazing technologies. One of the things that impressed me the most was E Ink’s latest prototypes. The company still isn’t providing full color, video capable displays, but the picture on their latest screens has a better color gamut and it’s crisp and easy on the eyes. Other companies have leapfrogged E Ink with color, video-capable reflective displays, such as Qualcomm’s Mirasol, but E Ink’s electronic paper is getting better and better. (See the video below.)

E Ink pixels contain electrically charged black and white particles; the application of a small voltage moves one or the other color particle to the surface to make it reflect white light or appear black. Due to the reflective mechanism, these displays look good under strong light. And they sip from the battery because no power is required to maintain an image. To create a color display, E Ink applies a filter on top of a black and white screen. Earlier versions appeared washed out because too much light was lost on its journey into and out of the capsules and through the filter. But the next generation of color displays have a better color gamut. They’re built with a higher-resolution black and white screen that contains new materials. Company representatives didn’t go into detail, but said the new displays look better because the black material is blacker, the white material whiter.

A prototype e-reader they wouldn’t let me get on film played a flash video advertisement from the New York Times website in black and white. They can’t do video in color yet but the company expects to create screens that do by the end of the year. And E Ink is now using a compact power-management chip designed by Texas Instruments for E Ink displays that will save battery life without taking up too much space.

E Ink was acquired by Taiwanese company Prime View International (PVI) in December. One upshot of this partnership is that PVI is developing flexible plastic display backplanes that could be combined with E Ink for fully flexible screens. The company’s electronic paper is flexible, but the transistor arrays its been paired with so far in products are not. In the exhibit booth, the company showed off fully flexible displays mounted on PVI’s plastic backplanes. These might be used in future e-readers and other devices that are lighter and tougher and potentially flexible.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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