HP Offers a Switchable Privacy Filter on Some Laptops

An issue that will be familiar to many users of laptop computers relates to privacy. In the context of such mobile devices, privacy is the concern that, when in public, it may not be possible to prevent the display from unwanted viewing by nearby people. In a new effort to address this issue, HP has developed a technology that allows the user to restrict the viewing angle of the display with a simple key stroke. The technology is called Sure View.

One means by which the privacy issue has been previously addressed is with passive filters. A line of such products is commercially available from 3M. The passive filter is fixed to the front of the display and does indeed reduce the angular range over which the image is visible. A practical downside to such a passive filter approach is that it can become a permanent fixture. If this is the case, then the user ends up with a display that is darker and more difficult to read, even when privacy is not a concern.

HP represents that this situation is resolved by the most distinguishing feature of the new privacy filter technology: it is active. The Sure View privacy function can be turned on and off by pressing keyboard shortcut Fn + F2. As a potential side benefit, since Sure View does not consume extra power, it has the potential to slightly improve battery life.

Sure View technology was jointly developed by HP and 3M. It is based on several of HP’s proprietary technologies as well as 3M’s optical films. The technology operates by utilizing “different setting of the backlight.” At this time, no other technical details appear to be publically available.

HP states that, when Sure View is implemented, the user can see a substantially unimpeded image when the display is viewed from directly in front of the laptop. An acceptable angular range is about 35o to either side of display normal. Outside of this angular range, the display brightness is attenuated by as much as 95% thus rendering the image unreadable. When Sure View is turned off, it has little effect on image quality when the display is viewed from anywhere with the normal angular viewing range.

The appearance of a laptop display with Sure View technology is illustrated in the figure below and in a video that can be found at the end of this article.

HP Sure View

It should be noted that, in the Sure View system, adjustment of viewing angle and brightness are independent. As a result, the range of the acceptable viewing angle can be separately adjusted by using other key stroke commands.

HP claims that Sure View technology is compatible with different types of LCDs. Initially, the company will use the technology with TN and SVA-based LCDs.

A user evaluation of laptops with Sure View has been reported on-line. It describes a demo conducted in a dimly lit room in which the Sure View appeared to work “relatively well.” “When it was off, the laptop screen was bright and clear, without any hint of a filter inside it. When it was turned on, the screen became very hard, though not altogether impossible, to view from the side. It was clear enough straight on; however, to get the full effect, HP automatically dims the laptop’s screen to a fairly dark level. That can make the screen harder to read even if you are sitting right in front of the laptop.”

The company points out that, since Sure View is integrated into the laptop and is not just an add-on, its effectiveness will not degrade over the lifetime of the laptop.

At the time this article is written, Sure View technology has just become available in two HP laptops: the EliteBook 1040 and EliteBook 840. Both of these laptops have 1080p resolution and can support touch.

HP has not revealed the price of Sure View technology but it is reported as a sub-$100 add-on to the HP EliteBook 1040 and 840. The company does state that with higher-end configurations, Sure View should be virtually free.

If the Sure View feature is well received, it seems likely that it will appear in other HP PCs. -Arthur Berman