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Electrowetting Promises Power-Sipping, Daylight Readable Color Displays

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the micturation-punishment dept.

Displays 63

Dutch researchers are working on a new application of an old technology that could mean bright color displays that draw much less power than conventional LCDs, according to the BBC. In this application, an instance of a technique known as electrowetting, droplets of colored oil in suspension are the basis for the display's colors; each pixel's color is determined by moving the colored oils with electrical current. A prototype reader from Dutch firm Liquivista is shown in the accompanying video; color magazines with 50-60hz refresh time using this display technology are at least a few years out, though. Significantly, these screens are daylight readable, which makes me wonder how they compare to Pixel-Qi style screens in power draw, brightness, and maximum density.

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1st (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800764)

From TFA: Can be build using existing LCD production setups - that's a pretty huge advantage; hope this isn't vapor.

basement dwellers (2, Funny)

hort_wort (1401963) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800806)

Time to invest in those solar tubes to get the sunlight down into the basement for us then.

Re:1st (1)

euyis (1521257) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800858)

Will it also have the dead pixels, like LCDs?

Re:1st (2, Informative)

kimvette (919543) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800914)

How common are dead pixels anyway? I see hot and dead pixels on only the cheapest lowest-end displays. Bad inverters and bad ribbon PCBs are far more common.

Re:1st (1)

euyis (1521257) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801214)

5 dead pixels on my 1-yr old HP laptop...

Re:1st (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31802844)

Err, why don't you take it back for repair under warranty? That's certainly not normal.

Re:1st (2, Informative)

DesertNomad (885798) | more than 4 years ago | (#31802170)

On any standard XGA and higher-res LCD display, there's a fair chance that at least one pixel has a problem of some sort. Each OEM has their own QA guidelines which they really don't want to share unless you push. This site [] gives some idea of the thresholds.

Re:1st (1)

svirre (39068) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800954)

Driver cells may still be broken so yeah.

Re:1st (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800902)

They had the Pokemon anime running on it at CES. Note the hand shadow, proof positive that it was running in reflective mode ... doesn't look like vapour to me.

Re:1st (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31802340)

Pika pika!

Re:1st (2, Informative)

JohnBailey (1092697) | more than 4 years ago | (#31802746)

Not on sale yet, but there is a working prototype. So perhaps like flexible e-ink and OLED monitors.. Pre production isn't really vapour ware. Saw it on demonstrated on Click yesterday. The colour isn't as bright as normal LCD and there is a bit of ghosting, but it is supposed to give significantly lower power consumption even with a back light, so the power saving alone will be an advantage for long life products. Not just e-book readers. The all day laptop is edging ever closer.

Re:1st (1)

Barryke (772876) | more than 4 years ago | (#31806250)


From TFA: Can be build using existing LCD production setups - that's a pretty huge advantage; hope this isn't vapor

For starters, i can assure you the city Eindhoven in the Netherlands really exists.

Interesting technnology, +1 for open source (2, Interesting)

symbolic (11752) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800804)

Notice the movie they use for the demo - Blender Foundation's Big Buck Bunny.

Re:Interesting technnology, +1 for open source (2, Funny)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800910)

Better then being sued by sony for using a music video :)

Re:Interesting technnology, +1 for open source (1)

nextekcarl (1402899) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801252)

Ton Roosendaal being Dutch probably made that an easier choice for the researchers, I imagine.

Re:Interesting technnology, +1 for open source (3, Insightful)

JohnBailey (1092697) | more than 4 years ago | (#31802824)

I've seen it in quite a few places recently. It's not a random choice. It's royalty free clip available in just about any format or resolution. So basically, do what you like so long as you don't claim it as your own work. And as it isn't advertising anything, it can be used by the BBC too. Even test clips can have some kind of copyright attached, and can bite you in the bum when you are demoing something on TV or in public. BBB is 100% safe to use for tech demos without paying a fee, or asking specific permission.

an instance of a technique? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800808)

An instance of? What are you, some kind of nerd?

Easy (0)

EngineerBird (1521697) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800838)

Every body knows that bright colour displays are much easer to produce than bright color displays.

Re:Easy (1)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801088)

Why? Are the british better at producing displays than the americans?

Re:Easy (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 4 years ago | (#31806416)

Of course - any display designed specifically with u in mind is bound to be better.

Daylight readable? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800842)

Who cares. Just work at night and sleep during daylight. Problem solved.

Electrowetting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800850)

Sounds like something I used to do in bed... with a laptop.

The Netherlands, how appropriate (3, Interesting)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800888)

The Flemish artist Jan van Eyck is often (exaggeratedly) credited with "inventing" oil paint. He did greatly pioneer its use in the fifteenth century.

Re:The Netherlands, how appropriate (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801206)

How is this off-topic, mods? I find it slightly amusing (and helluva interesting) as well.

Re:The Netherlands, how appropriate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31801410)

Really? I found it offtopic and irrelevant.

Re:The Netherlands, how appropriate (1)

IrquiM (471313) | more than 4 years ago | (#31806212)

I find you finding it offtopic and irrelevant offensive!

My /. UID is prime. (1)

hallux.sinister (1633067) | more than 4 years ago | (#31805292)

How many accounts did you have to set-up to achieve that? :) Or was it a happy accident? (P.S. My /. UID is prime too. Total accident.)

Re:My /. UID is prime. (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 4 years ago | (#31812806)

It was random chance for me, too. :P

Re:The Netherlands, how appropriate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31814746)

The Flemish (Belgians) are not Dutch (The Netherlands)!

Cool (3, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800904)

If its low power and cheaper then LCD or E-ink, lets hope it continues. Might even be more earth friendly.

And hey, i see big buck bunny :)

Where's the last breakthrough? (2, Interesting)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800918)

Last time I heard about such a technology, it was organic LEDs. They're finally available after many years, but still obscenely expensive. Why should I believe in this next breakthrough? I'm not holding my breath for this one.

Re:Where's the last breakthrough? (2, Informative)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801058)

> I'm not holding my breath for this one.

Sorry to hear that. We were looking forward to seeing you turn blue again.

Re:Where's the last breakthrough? (2, Funny)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 4 years ago | (#31802370)

What do you mean? An African or European blue?

Re:Where's the last breakthrough? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31806736)

Norwegian blue. Lovely plumage.

Re:Where's the last breakthrough? (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 4 years ago | (#31803970)

OLED's still end up fighting for contrast with ambient illumination, and would likely get washed out completely when reading outside in daylight while waiting for a bus, for example.

Re:Where's the last breakthrough? (1)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 4 years ago | (#31804128)

LCD costs and energy use have been consistently coming down for years now. At some point this sort of stuff is an inevitability if the trends continue.

creators promise newclear power unstoppable & (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800934)

guaranteed. all one need do is ask/investigate. too much to do for many of us.

Electro-wetting? (2, Funny)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800974)

Killer name.

Sounds like a combination of Cyberpunk [] and Depends []

Re:Electro-wetting? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31801360)

If that's the case, definitely something for iPad 2.0

Eindhoven == Philips (2, Interesting)

MonoSynth (323007) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801042)

The guy in the video mentioned that the firm is based in Eindhoven, where Philips' headquarters are located. After some googling I found out that Liquivista is indeed a spinoff of this company and therefore not a 'real' startup.

Re:Eindhoven == Philips (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31801148)

Philips headquarter is in Amsterdam. (Amstelplein 2. Breitner Center). Eindhoven is where they orginated and have many research centers etc.

Re:Eindhoven == Philips (1)

MonoSynth (323007) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801202)

Yes, I know. But Eindhoven = light city = Philips. And a stupid soccer team. It's culture!

Re:Eindhoven == Philips (2, Informative)

Bender_ (179208) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801184)

Aren't start-ups almost always spinoffs of a university or research institute? Liquavista is a spin-off of what used to be Philips Research (Natlab), one of last strongholds of real industrial research in Europe. It used to be a pretty amazing place, maybe the closest of what Europe had to the Bell Labs. Unfortunately it was messed up pretty badly during the last decade due to various splits, carve outs and a general move away from industry backed research.

Re:Eindhoven == Philips (1)

RogerWilco (99615) | more than 4 years ago | (#31806458)

I had an intern-ship at Philips Natlab in 1997, working on electrowetting for displays in x-ray in their micromechanics department. We worked closely together with the guys investigating organic semiconductors for display technology. I worked on organic semiconductors during my Master Thesis at the University of Groningen.

My point is that from what I've seen, these things take a long time to get anywhere near market ready even if you have a working prototype. I hope they succeed.

I also think it's typical of Philips Natlab, that they started their own company and that this is not a new Philips venture. Philips wouldn't know what to do with a real innovation the company is to rigid. They only see the Natlab as a source of Patents to fill their war chest for patent negotiations.
I found it an environment that wasn't very conductive to real product innovation. I know one specific example of a guy who went to the walkman department in early 1996 to pitch them the idea of an mp3 player, a few months before the player by Audio Highway that never even made it to the Netherlands. He was laughed at, the idea was beyond silly. If they had wanted they could maybe not have been the first to have one in the market, but they could certainly have beaten Creative's Rio to market, and might have been a big player today. The first time I heard of mp3 was from this guy in January 1997, and it was immediately clear to me that his idea was brilliant.

I wouldn't be surprised that some of those I worked with can now be found at Liquivista, looking over their "Leadership Team" page, I know two of the guys on that page, Mick Evans and Johan Feenstra, although they were not the people I closely worked with.

Electrowetting (2, Insightful)

Anti_Climax (447121) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801370)

After "Hot Electron Injection", Electrowetting has to be one of the sexiest technology terms I've heard in recent years...

Re:Electrowetting (1)

JackSpratts (660957) | more than 4 years ago | (#31802516)

...yep. sounds like the latest thing in love dolls.

Re:Electrowetting (1)

rockNme2349 (1414329) | more than 4 years ago | (#31805466)

Is it black with white pixels, or white with black pixels?

Baby it don't matter, they're all beautiful on the inside.

eInk? (1)

Miros (734652) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801422)

Isn't this very similar to the way eInk [] works?

Re:eInk? (1)

KibibyteBrain (1455987) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801564)


uuuungh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31801432)

I think I just electrowetted in my pants.

Go green (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31802266)

Use trained squids

Cameras (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31805020)

If you can get the color "correct", then put these on the backs of cameras, and instead of having the rear panel display suck the battery life dead in 5 minutes, you can actually use a regular set of batteries (1 set) to take the 128 high-resolution pictures the SD card can hold (instead of going through a dozen sets of batteries).

flicker-free? (2, Interesting)

nanamin (820638) | more than 4 years ago | (#31805232)

Would this be flicker-free? The article talks about refresh rates, but I'm not quite sure what this means in this context.

I have neurological problems and will lose consciousness if I look at any sort of flickering display, including CRTs. For some reason, plasma screen TVs also affect me (despite not "flickering" per se), and currently the only type of display I seem to be able to safely look at are regular LCD TVs/flatscreen monitors, with LED-lit screens giving me the least amount of trouble.

Even for people without serious, disabling problems like mine, displays that have (even imperceptible amounts of) flickering can cause various headaches, eyestrain, etc during prolong use.

My job involves web development and I'm a bit worried that some day the only display technologies available will be ones I can't safely look at.

Re:flicker-free? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31805782)

It uses the same drive mechanism as TFT LCDs, so it's capture and hold.

Although I have to wonder how you survive in a world of AC voltage driven lighting, even incandescents flicker a bit.

Re:flicker-free? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31814162)

Actually, the filament in incandescent lights stays at a certain temperature as to keep it glowing. Even though the AC voltage is "flickering," the incandescent bulbs themselves do not.

Fluorescents, for some reason, cause problems for people with migraines, photosensitive epilepsy, lupus, multiple sclerosis, etc. Incandescents do not seem to share this effect.

Re:flicker-free? (1)

Barryke (772876) | more than 4 years ago | (#31806468)

Must be very frustrating. What is your disability called?

I imagine you'd like some motion-blur glasses.. how do you cope with the streets and airports lined with displays?

Re:flicker-free? (1)

nanamin (820638) | more than 4 years ago | (#31806634)

It is rather frustrating. I can't be under any sort of fluorecent lighting either, even the compact fluorescent bulbs which supposedly flicker too fast to cause any problems. This basically keeps me from going out most places.

Neurologist is unsure at the moment, but his initial guesses, based on symptoms, are photosensitive temporal lobe epilepsy or basilar type migraine. MRI and EEG both showed nothing, but that's true for a relatively large percentage of people who have problems. Neurology has come a long way, but still has a long way to go.

Re:flicker-free? (1)

cheros (223479) | more than 4 years ago | (#31812460)

Maybe a weird question, but have you tried keeping a DC powered bulb or LED in your line of sight? This idea was triggered by something I once had to do years ago in analogue audio to keep a signal clean (I honestly have no idea what it was - this is from very long ago).

The idea is to enable you to still pick up that other information, but dominate the "signal" (or image, in your case) by data that is acceptable. With HiBri LEDs you can pretty much blind yourself, so maybe there's a point between black and "blinded" where you pick up enough "regular" environment data to at least allow you to move around, but get so much LED light with it that it keeps your condition at bay.

I hope you'll find a solution.

Re:flicker-free? (1)

kimvette (919543) | more than 4 years ago | (#31813778)

Do higher-end CFLs do the same thing to you? They supposedly increase the AC frequency to 10kHz or so to eliminate flicker. I am prone to migraines myself and generally hate flourescent lighting but have used CFLs for about five years without any problem.

Re:flicker-free? (1)

asaz989 (901134) | more than 4 years ago | (#31814484)

Yes, exactly; when people say that these devices, and e-ink displays, are "easy on the eyes", flicker-free is what they're talking about. That's because these devices work by moving (by electrical means) little bits of matter in changed pixels for every refresh cycle - black or white beads for e-ink, little bits of colored oil for these displays. So when the picture stays the same, there's no off-and-on cycling, but instead the colored material just stays put. These devices sound perfect for your problem - flicker-free like e-ink, but with a fast enough refresh rate for use as a computer monitor.
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