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Old 01-07-2010, 05:03 AM   #1
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Three Big E-paper Flavours

I was asked to post a quick summary for laypeople, but please feel free to ask about other related technologies or companies, since there's more out there than just these three, and EPDs are a big market being approached from a few angles.

The term E-Ink has become very much genericised for use in describing virtually all e-paper display technologies. This is somewhat erroneous, as there are numerous e-paper technologies that are being developed, and will, with little doubt, become serious competitors with the E-Ink name as a dominant basis for future e-paper devices. Without getting into technical discussion, here's a beginner's guide to some of the big technologies around.

EPD
First, let's properly name E-Ink's product. It is commonly referred to as an EPD, or electrophoretic display. It is what is used in the Sony Readers, the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes and Noble Nook, and most other ebook reading devices. Currently, it's by far the most popular e-paper technology being used. In addition to E-Ink (which was acquired by PVI, a large display manufacturer), many other companies have been developing EPDs. Key innovations being sought after now are color (which at first was visually mediocre and very slow with EPDs) and flexible backplanes to replace the much more fragile traditional glass ones.

EWD
An up-and-coming e-paper technology is called EWD, or electrowetting display. It is being developed by a few companies, the most public of them being Liquavista. Their technology is also low-power, while also being able to produce video-rate speeds and higher white reflectance and contrast than EPDs are currently capable of. Their first product, LiquavistaBright, has been around a while but has not entered the ebook reader market (2010 may well change that). A successor to it is already being developed and is demonstrated at CES in January 2010, called LiquavistaColor.

IMOD
Qualcomm's Mirasol displays use a technology called IMOD (interferometric modulation) that, according to their marketing, is a form of biomimicry inspired by butterflies. They too are an actively-marketed e-paper developer, and expect to see usage in devices like ebook readers before the end of 2010. Their product, while being fundamentally different from both EWD and EPD, is capable of producing color video with relatively minimal power consumption.

When any apparent "ebook reader" display is announced, demonstrated, or promoted, many people ask if it's "e-ink". To address this without favouring E-Ink as a company:
  • They all have excellent power consumption with fixed images (the exception being Liquavista, which is not a true bistable solution but what they call a quasi-stable one)
  • They are all reflective displays ("less straining" for the people who find that backlighting hurts their eyes)
So in those senses, they are all e-paper. Those consumers who enjoy the EPD screens on their current ebook readers have nothing to fear from these emerging e-paper products, and in fact should be enthusiastic that these new technologies will allow greater functionality and performance, as well as offering competition that improves not only innovation, but also market pricing.

Hope that is helpful!

Last edited by LDBoblo; 01-07-2010 at 07:28 AM. Reason: Edit: Removed bistable mark as it's not technically true of Liquavista
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Old 01-07-2010, 06:05 AM   #2
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Hugely helpful! Thanks.

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Old 01-07-2010, 06:40 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LDBoblo View Post
[*]They are all reflective displays ("less straining" for people who believe backlighting hurts their eyes)
So strained eyes are a consequence of beliefs?
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Old 01-07-2010, 07:27 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Krystian Galaj View Post
So strained eyes are a consequence of beliefs?
Most likely bad reading habits or sensitivity to flickering in older displays.
Many people suffer no ill effects from reading for long periods on backlit LCDs, and so I thought it unnecessary to suggest it as an absolute effect. I will revise to make it less offensive.
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Old 01-07-2010, 08:17 AM   #5
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Nice summary.
Also, can you confirm how the [bi- | quasi-]stable term relates to the lay person.
As new technologies are discussed, I see these terms used to describe the technology.
If I understand correctly, when something is described with terms like bistable or quasi-stable, the lay person can interpret that to mean it's not drawing (much) power once the screen has been painted. And, thus leads to multi-day battery life. Is that right?
If that is right, then for me that means I don't care about any technology unless it is described with some relatively accurate (i.e. not marketspeak) "stable"-related term.


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Old 01-07-2010, 08:21 AM   #6
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Very helpful and informative - thanks!!
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Old 01-07-2010, 08:40 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mitch G View Post
Nice summary.
Also, can you confirm how the [bi- | quasi-]stable term relates to the lay person.
As new technologies are discussed, I see these terms used to describe the technology.
If I understand correctly, when something is described with terms like bistable or quasi-stable, the lay person can interpret that to mean it's not drawing (much) power once the screen has been painted. And, thus leads to multi-day battery life. Is that right?
If that is right, then for me that means I don't care about any technology unless it is described with some relatively accurate (i.e. not marketspeak) "stable"-related term.


Mitch
Yes with EPDs and IMOD, a "fixed" image will not draw power and will remain on the screen. When they are pushed to video rate refresh of course, they will have to constantly redraw segments of the screen, which obviously does require power.

Liquavista's so-called "quasi-stable" terminology is slightly more a marketing-term and obviously suggests it is not fully bi-stable, but that its power draw is extremely low at a reduced frame rate. With selective pixel addressing/selective redraw, you can combine several-second refresh rates of something like fixed text with high-rate sections, such as video.
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Old 01-17-2010, 10:04 PM   #8
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Are there longevity studies on any of these techs yet? 100 thousand page flips...a million?

I remember a whole slew of SLR LCD displays going bad about 10 years after the cameras were released back in the 90's. Not all, but enough that the pattern was noticeable. I'm just curious.
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Old 01-17-2010, 10:27 PM   #9
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Excellent post!! It's good to know the correct terminology so I know what people are talking about when they get into specifics about screen quality.

I have to say I've never had any ill effects from e-ink or LCDs or paper. But CRTs used to give me chronic eyestrain. Maybe one day they will have an eye test which tells us which hertz we need our monitor on to avoid eyestrain.
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Old 01-17-2010, 11:02 PM   #10
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Thanks for the definitions. Do you have any approximate costs for each product, eg, how much does it cost to make a 6" "plate" for each of the 3 technologies? I think with that info, we can then guess which will be the next "big thing".
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Old 01-18-2010, 02:24 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LDBoblo View Post
Most likely bad reading habits or sensitivity to flickering in older displays.
Many people suffer no ill effects from reading for long periods on backlit LCDs, and so I thought it unnecessary to suggest it as an absolute effect. I will revise to make it less offensive.
IMO there is no need to revise your original post. There is a gazillion posts on this forum arguing pros and cons of reading on backlit as oppose to non-back-lit screens.
I personally prefer non-back-lit as LCD does hurt my eyes. But since I spend about 8 hours starting at the computer monitor a day, this may well be the culprit. I have what my optometrist calls "lazy eyes" - meaning that I do not move my eyes often enough to allow them to re-focus. This problem affects me no matter what I read - I only find that non-back-lit screens aren't as bad.

Great work on the write up though, karma to you!
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Old 01-18-2010, 05:16 AM   #12
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I found that the biggest difference for me is the flickering. If I look at the LCD screen in the darkness, it's one minute till my eyes hurt - but I can work with it 8 hours a day if it's well lighted with an old light bulb (not one of the new "energy saving kind").
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Old 01-18-2010, 05:27 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guyanonymous View Post
Are there longevity studies on any of these techs yet? 100 thousand page flips...a million?

I remember a whole slew of SLR LCD displays going bad about 10 years after the cameras were released back in the 90's. Not all, but enough that the pattern was noticeable. I'm just curious.
This is a good question, but I'm afraid I'm not in a great position to get information like this quite so early. I do not recall any of the white papers detailing longevity as either a strength or weakness of the display, though admittedly most white papers are not completely new, and do not include safety testing, longevity testing, or production efficiency numbers. There's still an unfortunate amount of secrecy and vagueness with the various producers as well, despite the many white papers publicly available.
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Old 01-18-2010, 05:55 AM   #14
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Quote:
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Thanks for the definitions. Do you have any approximate costs for each product, eg, how much does it cost to make a 6" "plate" for each of the 3 technologies? I think with that info, we can then guess which will be the next "big thing".
Sadly, that information is being kept quiet as far as consumers are concerned.

The best we get is vague competitive, which makes sense particularly in Liquavista's case as it makes use of most of the LCD manufacturing process and can thus "piggyback" on existing LCD developers with supposedly minimal cost.

MEMS-based IMOD is a different, more specialized animal and though they seem to suggest their prices will be competitive, I suspect they are targeting EPD's pricing structure, which is quite a noticeable premium over LCD currently.
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Old 01-18-2010, 06:00 AM   #15
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Oh and more information for people if they're interested in reading short summaries of many different e-paper technologies:

http://www.epapercentral.com/epaper-technologies-guide

You can see there's a lot more going on than just Mirasol and Liquavista, but they are currently 2 of the most market-relevant groups.
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