Netly: The Third Screen

The “everything screen” will be here within six months

Posted on: October 14, 2009

imagesI moderated a panel today at the MPA Innovation Summit, and, as is always the case, Mary Lou Jepsen blew me away.

Mary Lou is the founder and CEO of Pixel Qi, whose amazing display technology is about to make its debut on a variety of new devices. First up is a tablet that Mary Lou said would be announced by an as-yet undisclosed OEM, perhaps in November.

She was toting around the latest build of the Pixel Qi screen, which had been grafted onto a garden-variety netbook, and it was exponentially better than what she showed me at the start of the summer. This baby is finally ready for prime time.

The LCD screen is “transflective”—a word that I had never seen until Brian Lam of Gizmodo used it the other day. It means that the LCD can work in a reflective mode (like a Kindle—you need external light to see it) or emissive mode (like a typical, backlit LCD.) A flip of a switch lets you choose between refelctive or emissive mode. You want that choice since reading is easier on the eyes without backlighting, but video is much better with it.

I was struck by how damned good the screen looked in reflective mode—color was acceptable, though naturally, not brilliant. But it was good enough for magazine pages (if you were, say, reading outside) and you could even watch a video. Mary Lou said a typical device could run for 20 hours in full-on reflective mode, depending on how much video you watched.

Best of all, the PQ display produces 200 DPI and renders text at least as well as a grayscale Kindle, which can only manage 167 DPI. (OK, I doubt anyone could see the difference there. But still, one is color and can do video and the other can only handle grayscale text and images, so that’s not even a contest.)

I asked the panel, which included Doug Carlson of Zinio and Marc Canel, who oversees the software side of Qualcomm, how long before we’d have what I think of as the “everything screen”—a first-generation color display, with a multi-touch 8-inch screen and wireless connectivity, that can handle everything from magazines to music to movies. They all agreed that we’d have a number of these within six months, no problem. So, yay!

An interesting sidenote to tech history: MLJ pointed out that this would be the first time a cutting edge technology was first used among poor children in Africa, then exported to the developed world. Mary Lou developed the LCD display technology for the One Laptop Per Child project at MIT.

32 Responses to "The “everything screen” will be here within six months"

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Exciting times indeed!

Josh, You mentioned how the screen looked in “reflective” (non-backlit) mode. But what about in the regular “emissive” mode, how did the screen look then? More specifically, how did the color saturation and contrast look?

What I’ve seen in photos and videos so far is a screen with a very poor color saturation, to be honest. But it is still unclear to me if this is also the case in “emissive” mode.

A thought: Should the “emissive” mode of Pixel Qi’s screens reach the color and contrast output that is expected of a normal screen then I cannot imagine that Jobs and Apple would consider launching their tablet without this or equivalent technology.

(This since I doubt that they would be prepared to risk being stuck with a backlit screen just as these “transflective” screens start to reach the market.).

It looked great in emissive mode as well. I couldn’t see any difference between it and a “normal” LCD.

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