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E Ink's future foretold at CES: Next-gen will be high-res, support color

Electrophoretic display maker shows prototype displays and dishes on what we can expect for your next e-reader display in the coming year.

While dedicated e-readers struggle in the face of competition from multipurpose tablets, the company E Ink and its electrophoretic display technology (more commonly known as electronic paper) continues to evolve.

For starters, the next wave of e-readers should complete the shift towards high-resolution, 768 by 1024 pixel, 6-inch displays, according to E Ink spokesperson Sriram Peruvemba. The current standard is 600 by 800 pixel resolution; only two e-readers have hit the higher-resolution--the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, and the now-discontinued iRiver Story HD. At 212 dpi, the higher-res display can help smooth how text appears.

Also expect to find faster page turn samples. For example, the fourth-generation Kindle can turn 5 to 6 pages without the flashing effect on the page; next year, Peruvemba says, it will be total of 25 pages with any flash. "We've tested the software for even more than 25, but we're advertising 25. and we've minimized the flash so much that most people won't even notice it," he says.

Don't go looking for a color E Ink display any time soon, though. Although E Ink demoed some electronic display sign examples with spot color and motion support, and Etaco has a color device available for educational markets, that's where they'll stay for now. "The color displays have primarily gotten some traction in the textbook market," explains Peruvemba.

Part of the problem with bringing color E Ink to the mass market is that it just doesn't stand up to the bright and colorful tablet LCDs. "It's about making [the display] look good. And when compared with an LCD, [color E Ink] doesn't match expectations," says Peruvemba. "We're nowhere near National Geographic expectations. We expect to put these in signage products, that will be viewed from 15 feet away. There, the display looks gorgeous. We increase the pixel size, so you get better saturation; and they will have 150 dpi, which is not very high. There, it looks just like LCD."

Color E Ink is coming, though. "The production cost has gone down, and the quality of the color has gotten better," says Perumveda. "Those two factors mean color is bound for E Ink screens. We've gotten the color filter closer to the micro capsules, which means you're allowing more light to reflect off of the display. And when you put that front light on it, it looks even better."

Next-gen E Ink

While color waits in the wings, E Ink had several nifty demos on display at the 2013 CES. One was the already-announced Yota phone; this dual-display phone from Russia has a standard LCD on one side, and a single 4.3-inch diagonal display, on the other side. The E Ink display can last one week on a single charge, and the company's goal is to reach one month on a single charge, with 30 minutes of talk time per day.

Already, at CES a company called Central Standard Timing introduced CST-01 on Kickstarter. This watch has an E Ink face, a Seiko Epson controller, and measures just 0.8mm thin, which the company says makes it the thinnest watch ever. The watch will be available in the second quarter of 2013. Look for E Ink in more unconventional shapes and uses, too. Back in mid-December, E Ink began selling a kit and offering round, rectangular, and arch-shaped displays for different content uses of e-paper. This evolution will allow for unusual shapes on mobile phones, and to incorporate a display on products that don't typically have displays, such as locks or music systems.

Also, stay tuned for flexible E Ink displays. The company showed one product that already implements this; the display film itself can be bent, and even when mounted to the display backplane, you can easily put a gentle bend into the display panel. This should open up some interesting designs for the coming year.

For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out complete coverage of CES 2013 from PCWorld and TechHive.


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