Technical, product, and business activity continues to accelerate in the world of eBook readers (EBRs). With one expensive exception - Fujitsu’s FLEPia product sold only in Japan using a Kent Displays cholesteric LCD - all commercially available EBRs currently use monochrome electrophoretic displays (EPDs). But according to a recent report, color screens will be found on 4 to 5% of the EBRs shipped globally in 2H’10, and color will become mainstream in 2011. Given the FLEPia’s high price (the equivalent of US $1000) and current limitation to the Japanese market, most of the color EBRs sold next year are going to be based on E Ink/PVI’s new color EPD, which uses a matrix color filter (MCF) much like that used in color LCDs.
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There may be some truth to this. Plastic Logic said recently they planned to offer a color EBR, but then withdrew the statement. We are planning a meeting with E Ink to try to learn more, so stay tuned.
Since MCFs absorb about 2/3rds of the light that passes through them, prototype color EPDs have tended to produce rather dark images. There are tricks, such as reducing the density of the colorants in the MCF and using an RGBW sub-pixel pattern, that could improve this significantly. We’ll have to see how well PVI does with their production version, and how well the market accepts it.
AUO/SiPix is developing color EPD that doesn’t use MCFs and expects to start small-volume production by the end of 2010, says Digitimes. Because of the Microcup structure of the SiPix design, one could imagine filling the microcups with red, green, and blue electrophoretic "ink" to produce such a display. The Microcups could be filled with an ink-drop-printing approach. When I tried this speculation out on AUO Senior VP C.T. Liu at Display Taiwan last June, he agreed it was a possible approach. AUO expects to start small-volume production by the end of 2010, according to the report.
AUO’s arch competitor CMO announced jointly with PVI on October 1 that the two companies would collaborate on ePaper display production, with CMO contributing a Gen 5 production line to the effort. With most EPDs still being made on Gen 4 or smaller lines, the collaboration could realize a much-needed economy of scale.
Taiwan-based Delta Electronics has now begun shipping EPD panels for medical display devices and expects to launch panels for EBRs in Q2′10, say reports. Delta is using Bridgestone’s EPD technology, which is called QR-LPD (for quick-response-liquid powder display). Initially developed at Kyushu University, the Bridgestone technology uses i charged particles suspended in air rather than a liquid. In theory, this can produce a display with a more rapid response than the liquid-based EPDs made by E Ink/PVI and SiPix/AUO, and this fast refresh was seen in early low-resolution demonstrations exhibited by Kyushu University researchers. Recent high-resolution prototypes shown by Bridgestone have exhibited about the same refresh speeds as the competing liquid-based displays, apparently because the charged particles are much more densely packed. Nonetheless, these relatively large, high-resolution prototypes have been impressive. Delta said its displays can be fabricated in a roll-to-roll process in the future. This is also true of the SiPix and Kent technologies, and may be true for E Ink as well.
Finally, photos have appeared on Gizmodo of Barnes & Noble’s own EBR, which, it seems, will incorporate a standard monochrome 6-inch EPD along with a smaller color LCD with multitouch interface and a soft keyboard. Official introduction is next week, sources say. Books published by B&N will be available in eBook form at steep discounts from the paper versions, and there will be access to books in the Google Books project. Reports are that the B&N EBR will run Google’s Android OS.
That’s a lot of EBR action for one week. And by the way, our subscription newsletter Mobile Display Report, which also publishes today, includes about 8 pages of coverage of e-paper and emerging OLED technology. Want more info from the analysts at Insight Media, write to back to get a free copy or purchase this edition. firstname.lastname@example.org