A Digital Signage Display in e-Book Clothing?

August 1st, 2006

Hitachi, Ltd. has developed a new 13.1-inch display that we believe breaks new ground. It is the largest color display based on E Ink’s electrophoretic display (EPD) technology. Although EPD is generally referred to as an "electronic paper" display technology, Hitachi appears to be aiming its version more at signage and infrastructure use than at consumer e-books.

Chris Chinnock
Sr. Analyst and Sr. Editor
of Insight Media

The display is an upgraded model of a monochrome version that Hitachi released last May. That model, called "Albirey", measures 223 x 289 x 13 mm, offers XGA (1024 x 768) pixels, 7:1 contrast, a built-in lithium polymer battery and CPU with WiFi connectivity.

Hitachi’s web site shows the Albrirey display being used in a number of commercial applications, especially where the display can be updated wirelessly. A trial of the panel, or its predecessors, was apparently used in train signage at Tokyo station. The key advantage of the E Ink technology is that it is bi-stable. Write the image and no additional power is needed to keep the image refreshed. It is thus ideal for application where the content is static or semi-static. Hitachi listed the price of the Albrirey at about $3,600 each in lots of ten displays - clearly not a consumer product.

The new color demonstration unit uses the same Albriey platform but instead of the white/black inks, it features a combination of red, green , blue and white inks. These are arranged in a quad pattern, which reduces the effective color pixel count to one-quarter of XGA (512 x 384). The display achieves 4096 different color shades - not impressive by TV standards, but not bad by commercial standards.

The demonstration panel was made with manufacturing partner Bridgestone Corporation, which has previously showcased an 8.1-inch 4096-color display using "dry" electrophoretic technology, most recently at SID in San Francisco this past June. Hitachi says the new display, in addition to being larger, features higher contrast and better reflectivity than the previous model. Hitachi says it will be able to commercialize the color display in 2007. Given the reduced resolution of this product, and the commercial focus of the monochrome version, this display is not likely to be aimed at e-book applications.

Our take: Hitachi, Sony and Toshiba are now all in the E Ink game. Toshiba has showed a 14.1-inch monochrome WXGA-resolution demonstrator at SID, while Sony has commercialized a 6-inch e-book product using an E Ink display. E Ink technology is still in the early stages of commercialization, but with major and experienced display developers behind it, the prospects are good. More importantly, the technology fills a need in the market - a low-power bi-stable electronic display that has no competitors at this time. What’s not to like about that?

On the other hand, another E Ink developer, Prime View International, has had to scale back its manufacturing ramp up of E Ink-based products as its customers are delaying their product introductions. Prime View supplies the panel to Sony. No one ever said it was easy to commercialize a new display technology. –CC

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