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Pixel Qi Demos Amazing E-Ink Laptop Screen

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 15 comments

Could this be the next generation of laptop displays?

The LCD display is typically the most power-sucking device on a notebook computer, but it’s a technology that’s required for the whole package to be useful.

The display isn’t something that can be trimmed or shrunken to save on power, so we’re going to need a new technology to make screens more efficient. Enter the 3qi screen from Pixel Qi, a company founded by former One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) CTO Mary Lou Jepsen, which look like it could quickly change the ways we view our notebooks – literally.

In order to view our displays outdoors or in bright conditions, normally the user has to crank up the brightness on the LCD, thus further draining the battery. Pixel Qi’s technology allows for the display to operate in a backlight-free mode much like the e-ink displays on book readers.

“What you're looking at is a screen that's entirely reflective,” said John Ryan, chief operating officer at Pixel Qi, in a PC World story. “It's just running like e-paper so that it's running on the ambient light. It's not fighting the office light , it's not fighting the sunlight. That makes it better for reading but it also cuts the power consumption. The backlight in the screen is typically the largest power drain in any notebook computer.”

The company today released a couple of photos of the display in action.

“By popular demand here is the first picture of our new screen. In the above picture, two 3qi screens are shown side-by-side: one of our screens is in full color saturation with its backlight on, the other of our screens is shown in its epaper mode with backlight off. These screens will be available this fall in netbooks and ebook readers. Size: 10.1″ diagonal.

PS: I’ve had many requests for a peak at the 3qi screen outdoors: I took the snapshot below yesterday, on my iphone (sorry, it’s just not a great camera) outside in the hot tropical sun. The laptop is on top of a shrub. Apologies for the glare from the metal bezel of the screen; this will of course be covered up in a real product. Nonetheless, we think its a stunning screen.

We can’t wait to go eyes-on with these at Computex next week.

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  • -6 Hide
    plbyrd , May 29, 2009 8:43 PM
    Um, am I reading this correctly? When the backlight is off it's monochrome? If so, how is this a "stunning screen", unless you mean "stunningly useless?"
  • 1 Hide
    grieve , May 29, 2009 8:48 PM
    Thats really cool. I could see this being used for all laptops one day.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , May 29, 2009 8:50 PM
    Because you totally need colour to read...

    What I wonder is what kind of response time it has in e-ink mode, having a laptop that sucks less to read stuff on sounds neat, but can I code on it without having huge lag while typing?
  • Display all 15 comments.
  • 3 Hide
    Milla_Dahmer , May 29, 2009 9:03 PM
    I'd guess you're not reading it correctly cause you obviously can't read...

    "These screens will be available this fall in netbooks and ebook readers. Size: 10.1″ diagonal."

    I don't own a netbook or ebook reader but I assume you would do a lot of reading on them, do you really need color to read?

    What's stunning about this screen is the fact that you can actually see what's on it in the bright ass sunlight, do that with another screen and let me know how it works out for ya.
  • 1 Hide
    fuser , May 29, 2009 9:09 PM
    This looks fantastic. The ability to switch between the two modes would make it useful in any scenario. I think I'd spend most of my time coding / reading with it in e-ink mode. The percentage of time when I need color while using a computer is very small. Gaming, watching movies and video clips -- and I wouldn't be doing the first two on a 10" netbook.
  • 1 Hide
    haze4peace , May 29, 2009 9:33 PM
    The article doesn't say the screen is monochrome in epaper mode. Looks like its in color to me, albeit muted colors due to lack of backlight.
  • 0 Hide
    xpont8 , May 29, 2009 10:25 PM
    looks good!
  • -4 Hide
    agnickolov , May 29, 2009 10:36 PM
    Guess what - it's already commercially available, in its second generation even. And of course I mean Amazon's Kindle. Not to mention Sony's eReader...
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , May 30, 2009 12:01 AM
    e-ink in a laptop will provide big energy savings over LCD screens and being able to shutoff the backlight when not needed will save even more energy. This will mean longer battery life.


    Amazon's Kindle II does not have color yet and there are a few big problems with the Kindle II that are show stoppers, preventing you from wanting to purchase one.

    The following review is very informative on the Kindle II
    BEWARE of the SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCES between Kindle 1 and Kindle 2!

    The Kindle DX though does have some improvements over the Kindle II

    I was all set to purchase a Kindle II for my wife until I read the above review. So instead, I'll wait till the Kindle III comes out.
  • 0 Hide
    Gin Fushicho , May 30, 2009 1:28 AM
    I need color. D=
  • 0 Hide
    tvel , May 30, 2009 11:32 AM
    This quote from the blog.
    "These screens have a paper-white epaper look with very high resolution and contrast - and - video rate update to allow scrolling, looking at video clips and so forth. With the backlight on they sport full color saturation and video. "

    E-paper display with video rate refresh is great for notebooks. I have a book reader with e-paper with 1sec refresh and it is no problem for reading, but it is not useful for anything else :) 
    I a big fan of this technology, great to see it is getting better every day :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , May 30, 2009 2:38 PM
    It says e-paper 'look' I don't think this is e-ink at all, rather it is LCD with a new better reflective backing. Fujitsu used to make 'tranflective' tablets in the 90s that could do this, but only in really muted colour. This looks great but it isn't e-ink is it? C'mon tom's, how about some clear reporting!
  • 0 Hide
    zodiacfml , June 1, 2009 9:44 AM
    yeah, i doubt it has a monochrome mode.
    imagine an lcd screen with a very unpredictable color saturation, brightness, and uniformity when not using the backlight.

    if this works reliably and costs cheap, then i'm all for this technology since it allows very lower power consumption during browsing and reading. it's the lcd that needs huge improvement in power efficiency.
    my prediction, the picture quality on its backlight "ON" mode might not be as good as normal lcd panels, yet, i have not used a laptop to view a full length film or edit high quality photos.

    haze4peaceThe article doesn't say the screen is monochrome in epaper mode. Looks like its in color to me, albeit muted colors due to lack of backlight.

  • 1 Hide
    bill gates is your daddy , June 1, 2009 1:28 PM
    mousewizBecause you totally need colour to read...

    What if I wanted to take the ol' laptop out to the park and enjoy some porn?
  • 0 Hide
    eddieroolz , June 1, 2009 7:16 PM
    bill gates is your daddyWhat if I wanted to take the ol' laptop out to the park and enjoy some porn?