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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Better than the iPad Retina Display?

Pixel Qi fires a shot across the bow.

  • April 25, 2012

“Them’s fightin’ words,” says Gizmodo.

On the blog she maintains on the website for her company, Pixel Qi, Mary Lou Jepsen makes a bold, even startling, claim: that her team has created a screen to rival the iPad 3’s Retina display, in all its high-res glory. “We can now announce that we can match or exceed the image quality of the screen in the iPad3.”

You may be forgiven if “Pixel Qi” doesn’t quite ring a bell–it didn’t for me, even though we’ve covered it before in these pages. While previous press on Pixel Qi has been mostly laudatory, the fact of the matter is that its latest tech–color screens viewable outdoors–has only launched in roughly a dozen devices, which Jepsen has listed here. (The military, too, is a customer, she says.) Not bad, but this isn’t a brand name like Apple, obviously.

What exactly does Jepsen now say she’s offering, or hoping to offer soon? She’s touting what she calls a “new architecture” of the screens. Not only do they reportedly match the iPad 3’s remarkable resolution, they “match or exceed” contrast, color saturation, viewing angle “and so forth.” I’m inclined to wonder what the “so forth” is–it’s not exactly the precise sort of language to get a consumer or investor excited. (Though Pixel Qi’s reportedly doing fine on the funding front, with a big 3M-backed funding round last year.) I’m also inclined to ask: “Which is it exactly–matching or exceeding?”

Jepsen’s prose may be somewhat less clear than her screens, but let’s not hold that against her. Because Pixel Qi’s track record is indeed impressive, leading me to check any impulse to reach for the term “vaporware.” TR got psyched about it as far back as late 2009. When Gizmodo first went hands on with a Pixel Qi screen back in late ’09, it was so excited that it declared E-Ink dead on the spot. Over the years, the company has garnered a number of awards, including the 2010 IEEE ACE Award for an “emerging technology offering the greatest potential for financial success.” That’s a real endorsement, from a group of people who should know.

But I’ve saved the best for last: amongst all this “matching or exceeding,” there’s one metric in which Jepsen promises better performance: power consumption. “We at Pixel Qi loved the Apple iPad3 screen, but were shocked by the overheating reports and the massive power draw (8Watts?!),” she writes. “We at Pixel Qi are dedicated to low power screens – our screens are the cornerstone of thinner and lighter devices that will work inside and in direct sunlight.” As we explained in our early coverage of Pixel Qi, a few strategies lead to greater efficiency: “A reflector behind the screen allows the device to take advantage of ambient light, and the display, unlike an LCD screen, refreshes only when necessary.” I’m eager to see this new screen in the wild, as soon as it’s ready.

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