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Mirasol Display Technology Could Be the Screens of the Future

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 26 comments

Hopefully display tech will catch up with the rapid advancement that we're seeing in chips.

Compared to processors, display technology evolves at a snail's pace, which was evident when we hit the show floor this year at MWC. Despite the virtues extolled by Qualcomm, Intel, Nvidia, TI, and Huawei with their respective SoC designs, every single smartphone that we saw either used an IPS LCD or AMOLED display. That common heredity can't be ignored.

How mirasol Displays Work

Yet, there was one surprise. At Qualcomm's booth, we saw a few products with interferometric modulator displays (IMOD), which is better known under its trademark name mirasol. For those not in the know, mirasol is the first industrial scale application of a MEMS-based display. The cool part of this technology is that viewing quality doesn't change under different lighting conditions. In fact, the more light there is the better the display looks, because the components in the display panel reflects light similar to the way a butterfly's wings shimmer in the sunlight.

At the microscopic level, there are reflective subpixels that reflect only one wavelength of light (one for red, green, or blue). Multiple elements of each color are used to give combinations of colors by using different ratios of reflected colors and to balance overall brightness of each pixel. From a power perspective, each reflective subpixel has two states. The first requires no power and allows for the display to reflect/display an image. Meanwhile, the application of a voltage can be used to adjust the alignment of the reflective elements to create and image or clear the display.

Mirasol Display Demonstration Video: Screens that shine outside


In theory, this could be a more power efficient solution than e-ink that doesn't have to sacrifice the attraction of color technology. Plus, this technology doesn't suffer the same lag issue that e-ink does, so it's perfectly capable of video. If it's so great, why don't we see more devices using displays?

The problem is cost. The first device to use a mirasol display is called the Kyobo e-reader, which is restricted to the Korean market. It sports 5.7-inch XGA display (1,024x768-pixel resolution, 223 ppi), runs on a Qualcomm 1GHz Snapdragon S2-class processor, and employs a touch screen interface. The cost is roughly $310. There are ambitions to bring this to smartphones, but Qualcomm still has a long road ahead before mirasol is ready to go head to head with AMOLED or IPS LCD displays.

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  • 11 Hide
    delazaren , March 2, 2012 12:54 PM
    burnley14Did you even read the article? It has reflective subpixels that not only allow you to view it in daylight, but it looks even better in bright light (according to this article anyway).

    Can you answer outlw6669 question?
  • 10 Hide
    randomstar , March 2, 2012 12:55 PM
    Did you read the question? the reference is for LOW light, and I have the same question.. Like the Kindle, is it requiring an external light to read at night / low light?



    burnley14Did you even read the article? It has reflective subpixels that not only allow you to view it in daylight, but it looks even better in bright light (according to this article anyway).

Other Comments
  • 5 Hide
    outlw6669 , March 2, 2012 12:31 PM
    This tech looks quite promising!
    How does it work under low-light conditions though?
    Is there some sort of front light to keep it visible?
  • 4 Hide
    outlw6669 , March 2, 2012 12:53 PM
    Yes, reflective.
    As in it needs an external light source (like e-ink) or a front light to see in low light situations.
  • 11 Hide
    delazaren , March 2, 2012 12:54 PM
    burnley14Did you even read the article? It has reflective subpixels that not only allow you to view it in daylight, but it looks even better in bright light (according to this article anyway).

    Can you answer outlw6669 question?
  • 0 Hide
    TeraMedia , March 2, 2012 12:54 PM
    While reading the description of how the technology works, I couldn't help but start to think about an etch-a-sketch, and wonder whether shaking one of these upside-down would similarly clear its display...
  • 10 Hide
    randomstar , March 2, 2012 12:55 PM
    Did you read the question? the reference is for LOW light, and I have the same question.. Like the Kindle, is it requiring an external light to read at night / low light?



    burnley14Did you even read the article? It has reflective subpixels that not only allow you to view it in daylight, but it looks even better in bright light (according to this article anyway).

  • 7 Hide
    JamesSneed , March 2, 2012 1:00 PM
    Quote:
    Did you even read the article? It has reflective subpixels that not only allow you to view it in daylight, but it looks even better in bright light (according to this article anyway).


    No reason to be a douche burnley14. In which one of those examples you mentioned are low light conditions? Neither! What you quoted was why the first poster asked, reflective subpixels in low light conditions are going to be reflecting what again?

    Anyhow the Mirasol displays do have an issue in low light conditions if they do not integrate some form of illumination.
  • 5 Hide
    willard , March 2, 2012 1:07 PM
    burnley14Did you even read the article? It has reflective subpixels that not only allow you to view it in daylight, but it looks even better in bright light (according to this article anyway).

    He was asking about low-light, not bright light.
  • -5 Hide
    Anonymous , March 2, 2012 1:12 PM
    Hmmm, there's some weird screen displacement due to lack of vsync in the first video. Hope they get rid of that asap :D 
  • 5 Hide
    GreaseMonkey_62 , March 2, 2012 1:41 PM
    Quote:
    This tech looks quite promising!
    How does it work under low-light conditions though?
    Is there some sort of front light to keep it visible?

    That's my first question as well.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , March 2, 2012 2:14 PM
    its probably a combination of both, it had a backlight but on top of that its actualy CREATING a surface that physicly reflects light like a magazine would, if it was backlit.
  • -3 Hide
    gpj , March 2, 2012 3:12 PM
    GreaseMonkey_62That's my first question as well.


    From the article:
    Quote:
    Meanwhile, the application of a voltage can be used to adjust the alignment of the reflective elements to create and image or clear the display.


    Poorly written, but what I interpret this to mean is that by applying voltage to the reflective subpixels, you can display a specific image or prevent the pixels from display anything. I would imagine this is how low-light situations would work.
  • 6 Hide
    back_by_demand , March 2, 2012 3:13 PM
    Reason cost is so high is lack of uptake, once this hits the volume markets of smartphones, tablets, ereaders and laptops you will see prices tank the same as they did for all other flatscreen technologies.
  • 8 Hide
    burnley14 , March 2, 2012 4:25 PM
    JamesSneedNo reason to be a douche burnley14. In which one of those examples you mentioned are low light conditions? Neither! What you quoted was why the first poster asked, reflective subpixels in low light conditions are going to be reflecting what again?Anyhow the Mirasol displays do have an issue in low light conditions if they do not integrate some form of illumination.

    My condolences, I misread his initial question. Sorry for being douche-y.
  • 1 Hide
    trandoanhung1991 , March 2, 2012 5:11 PM
    I think for low light conditions, your eyes would be adjusting to let more light coming in. So I think the reflection might be sufficient in low-light conditions.

    If it's pitch black, however, then you probably shouldn't be using a tablet in the first place :p 
  • 3 Hide
    CaedenV , March 2, 2012 5:39 PM
    While it may be more efficient than e-ink on a page per page change basis, I doubt such devices would use less power overall. e-ink devices like the kindle do a page change every 3-5minutes (however long it takes you to read a page), while video ranges from 15-60fps. Assuming 30fps (which is the normal standard) then you would have 9000 'page turns' in a 5 minute period, compared to 1-2 page turns on the e-ink display... there is no way that is going to take less power overall in most situations. Granted, it will be way less power than a traditional display, but this is not designed to compete with e-ink on the types of devices it would be used on.

    All that said, the tech looks really awesome! Can't wait to have it in my future Atom based WP9 phone in 2-5 years from now lol
  • 4 Hide
    CaedenV , March 2, 2012 5:46 PM
    To clear up some of the other questions:
    Yes, this is a reflective style display like e-ink. It is quite visible in low-super bright light, but the lower the light, the less contrast, and just like a normal picture or magazine, you can only go so dim before you cannot see anything because there is no back-light. This means that you will not see it in home-theater use any time soon (but why would you when there are better display technologies for such uses?), but it will be great for mobile devices where you are normally in a lit room, or car, or outside where there is light easily accessible. Personally I would love this type of display on my Garmin because it gets really hard to see when I have that morning and evening sun glare :( 

    If all else fails you could use your traditional phone as a flashlight and see what you are doing on the device in a pitch black room :p 
  • 3 Hide
    DaddyW123 , March 2, 2012 5:53 PM
    I was going to say that it I wouldn't think it would rely on reflected light to be seen, only that it helps because of reflection - using your car as an example. New shiny paint looks fantastic in the sun but you can still see the color just fine on a cloudy day... but thinking about it more, you do have a hard time accurately telling the color of a car at night. So I suppose this would need some sort of led strip lighting around the bezel for night time / low light viewing?
  • 2 Hide
    shin0bi272 , March 2, 2012 7:15 PM
    This is sort of what I was hoping for in an e-reader. Dont wanna pay 300 bucks for it but at least you can do FMV in color with it if you wanted to surf the web as well as read a book. Sort of that almost there but not quite perfect tech.
  • -1 Hide
    pacioli , March 2, 2012 8:19 PM
    outlw6669How does it work under low-light conditions though?Is there some sort of front light to keep it visible?

    so what you are really asking is - What happens when you stick it where the sun don't shine?
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