New LCD netbook display 'rivals epaper'

Low cost screens mean cheaper netbooks and mobile PCs - especially in the developing world

Pixel Qi has said it will ship a screen that combines the benefits of HDTV and epaper for 10-inch netbooks, according to an announcement at the Emerging Technology conference in San Jose.

As well as the e-paper mode with three times normal resolution, five times better battery life and reflectivity rivalling the electrophoretic imaging technology used by E-Ink, the Pixel Qi 3Qi display has an 'HDTV mode' with normal colour saturation for watching video and an in-between mode similar to the OLPC's XO screen.

Pixel Qi's Mary Lou Jepson, formerly of the OLPC project, says that some of the battery savings come by turning the backlight "practically off", but mostly it's rethinking how you use "the most expensive and power hungry component" - the screen itself.

"You're spending a lot of effort to update over a million pixels 60 times a second; why not just self-refresh the screen? If no pixels are changing, why is the screen on, why is the motherboard on, why is the fan on? Why not just turn it off until a packet comes over the Internet or there's a keyboard event?"

That's reminiscent of the Dynamic Display Power Optimisation that Intel, Matsushita and Toshiba showed in 2006 which could switch between progressive scan mode and interlaced scan mode, to save power when you're working in apps that don't need the detail of progressive mode.

Like the transflective screen Toshiba uses in the R600, that was more expensive than a standard screen; 3Qi will keep the price the same as an LCD, says Jepson.

And there's definite interested from laptop manufacturers, she says. "Every time I meet with a CEO of a big laptop company, they tell me they studied my design." Last autumn, one of them told her "the CPU wars are over; nobody cares. It's the screen wars now".

Despite previous years at Intel, she agrees. "With all these netbooks, these small inexpensive laptops, the idea is who cares what CPU is inside it? Do we need a gazillion gigahertz or a machine that's low cost with batteries that last a long time?"

Using screens to increase Web access

Before the One Laptop Per Child project there were about 1.2 million people with access to computers. Whether you look at it in humanitarian or economic terms, Jepson says shipping machines to a million children is only scratching the surface. "97 per cent of adolescents live in the developing world. If you want to give our world and the future a chance, we need to figure out how to give these kids a chance." And that means computers.

"As much as cellphones do, the world's information is becoming digital more and more – the web, news, we have 10 million books scanned and that was the last bastion of what was offline... The rich countries have access to digital information and the poor countries don't; the so-called 'digital divide'."

Leaving OLPC doesn't mean Jepson is giving up on low-power, low-price laptops, but her new 3Qi screens will also be available for netbooks, bringing them some of the advantages of the XO OLPC laptop.

"Before OLPC, I was designing really high-end HDTVs that less than 1 per cent of the world will ever have," she says.

"What you have in your laptop right now or in your phone is a small HDTV; but reading is not the same as watching. Why not be able to read it outside? Why not go for higher resolutions? The number one reason people like to read on paper is resolution. You also want a paper-white state, not to be staring into a torch because you have a backlight on full blast."


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Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.