The French Ministry of Industry and Paris regional councils have announced nearly 40% funding at 2.0M euros ($2.92M) for a consortium of industry and research centers to build up its national industry in digital publishing for mobile e-readers. The consortium, called SYLEN, aims to make larger and more ergonomic displays suitable for reading newspapers and images on the move - while also keeping down the price.
Insight Media Analyst
The e-Paper market for bistable displays is now worth $80M rising to $516M in 2012 according to iSupply. Another research firm, Fuji Chimera, says the market for e-newspapers and books will reach just $15M in 2007. By next March, Insight Media will have it own report on this market.
The lead company in the consortium, Nemoptic, is based in France at Magny les Hameaux. But it makes its bistable LCD ‘BiNem’ products working with Seiko Instruments in Japan, as well as a company in Sweden. However, Jacques Angele, who is leading the project and is the VP of Technology Programs and co-founder of Nemoptics, told us in an interview that, "We expect that the lower cost of our displays compared to the competition, will trigger large markets for our technology. We are not yet fully down the learning curve but already we can manufacture on standard STN LCD lines in Japan for costs similar to STN displays."
Furthermore, he thinks, "SYLEN will help e-paper technology find new ingredients and interesting developments, and will not simply replace physical paper." This includes wireless updateable content for newspapers, for example. He blames the slow uptake of e-book so far mostly on the lack of sufficient titles and the fact that they are only downloaded once, unlike a newspaper of magazine subscription.
Newspapers and magazines would seem to benefit from full color. Nemoptics’ latest demonstrator announced at the SID Symposium in May 2007 uses color filters of RGBW (red, green, blue and white) pixels. Brightness is improved 20% over earlier reflective displays using filters, yet the displays maintain good color saturation. Jacques Angele thinks the BiNem display will cross the minimum performance level for users within a year. However, with a full color reflectivity of 20% reflectivity and only 7% of NTSC color saturation, we wonder if indeed this will meet with satisfaction among consumers.
A more significant near term goal for Nemoptics however, is to focus on indoor applications, such as retail price labels in supermarkets, which Jacques Angele says need to be inexpensive, yet offer benefits of automatic updating at lower labor cost, instant promotions and can even show barcodes. He says this market is growing at 30-50% a year, and is worth several billion dollars. "It’s a new way to communicate with customers and a creative way to market products in stores." Not to mention the quick return on investment this technology offers the industry by replacing labor intensive and mistake prone, hand-price labeling in major retail outlets.
There would seem to be plenty of opportunity for further improvements during the two-year run of this project. From September 2007, it has a first year goal of mock-ups using Nemoptic’s displays and then field testing digital multimedia content in Phase II.
For such a mighty aspiration, one would suppose the project would consider rollable flexible pull-out displays to satisfy the size requirements for viewing and portability, and indeed the Nemoptic technology can make bendable displays, if not as yet rollable.
Jacques Angele thinks flexible displays will figure in the project, and actually be more robust, but initially as small Smart Cards. However, there are plans for increasing size up to 14 inches in diagonal already under way. One issue is maintaining the gap between substrates even when bent, as well as the cost and breakage of the brittle ITO in the case of repeated bending as in rollable displays.
For mobile uses, one must also ask about the thermal effects on the display when used under strong sunlight. BiNem can now manage 5 to 40 deg C, and soon 50 deg C. However, extending this from - 20 to + 70 deg C will require very hard work on materials in the medium term.
For better materials he foresees partnering with those able to provide them. This could include TFT active matrix addressing if really needed, but probably not within the SYLEN project. Such active matrix addressing he gives a lower priority as it would add cost, and the present viewing angle cone of 100 degrees is considered sufficient. In addition, the BiNem LCD technology has sufficient response time at 10 ms. Therefore, he believes page refresh time using line at a time multiplexing would be quite good, even for large displays, versus the liquid electrophoretic E-Ink.
Jacques Angele thinks their latest demonstration for resolution of 200 dots per inch (dpi) will be sufficient for most users, as this is about as much as the eye can perceive at likely viewing distances, and especially if the display size is increased. If necessary, he says the BiNem technology could go to 400 dpi simply by changing the electrode dimensions.
It seems there are no plans to broaden the scope to include other display technologies such as those from the US, Japan and the rest of Europe (including NTERA or ZBD). Jacques Angele said, "It is unlikely customers will differentiate between technologies, and there will be market share for each technology."
With some recent e-book readers priced at $400, potential customers are balking at this purchase price. It would be interesting to know what price point the consortium is expecting an e-book reader using BiNem technology.
So, as the pace of e-paper technology quickens, it seems the French are ready to take on a big challenge and competition in this endeavor. What we can say for now is "Bonne chance mon ami!" - PHJB