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Pixel Qi touts power-saving display for seven-inch tablets

Sep 20, 2010 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 2 views

Pixel Qi claims it will begin sampling a seven-inch transflective LCD for tablet devices by the end of this year, and deliver the display in quantity during the first half of 2011. First touted more than a year ago, the company's screens will offer both color and monochrome e-paper modes, and are said to require up to 80 percent less power of an ordinary display.

Pixel Qi (pronounced "Pixel Chee"), which describes itself as a "fabless developer of a new class of screens," was a spinoff from OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), where the former's founder Mary Lou Jepsen is said to have invented the XO-1 laptop's sunlight-readable display technology. The technology allows a portable computer's screen to be switched from a standard, backlit color mode to a reflective mode, saving power and allowing the device to be used even in direct, strong sunlight.

Pixel Qi first showed off screens based on an evolved version of this technology at the 2009 Computex show in Taiwan, at which time it claimed the displays would be available in netbooks later in the year. The company also said that production would have reached "hundreds of thousands a month" by early 2010.

Notion Ink's Adam

None of that transpired, and, as far as we're aware, just two Pixel Qi-equipped devices have been announced. The first was an Android-based tablet, the Adam (above), from India-based startup Notion Ink. An early version of the Adam was shown at January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but the device still hasn't shipped.

Meanwhile, Taiwan-based Innoversal used June's Computex event to show off the "Lattice," (below) a 10.1-inch tablet that combines a Pixel Qi screen with capacitive touchscreen technology. Said to support Windows 7, Android, Ubuntu, or Chrome OS via a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450 processor, the Lattice was originally promised for this month, but hasn't been released, either.

A demonstration of the Innoversal Lattice
Source: Engadget
(click to play)

Frustrating delays to end at last?

Pixel Qi says that unlike the electrophorescent displays already offered by E Ink Corporation, or the planned Mirasol displays created by Qualcomm's MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) division, its screens use conventional LCD technology. While this fact limits the power savings the devices can achieve, it was touted as allowing manufacturing partners to ramp up quickly using existing production lines.

Given that, the ongoing delays have frustrated even steadfast supporters of Pixel Qi's technology. Commenting today on an Engadget story, for example, Boris Terekidi wrote, "It's kinda nice, but how about producing the darn thing already?"

Jepsen (right) admitted in an April blog entry that "our initial manufacturing partner did get slowed down in the midst of the economic crisis," but added that Pixel Qi would reward the faithful by releasing kits allowing do-it-yourselfers to install the screens on their netbooks. On July 1, the company made a 10-inch screen available to the DIY community through O'Reilly Media's Make magazine and its online DIY store Maker Shed (see later in this story for details).

In a Friday blog posting, Jepsen wrote, "Tight supply chain and 100 percent factory usage this spring and summer coupled with Apple's disruptive iPad effectively had a one-two-punch impact, delaying most tablet makers from coming to market as early as they wished." But, she added, "The situation has eased: the supply chain is more robust and factory capacity is widely available."

A 10-inch netbook fitted with a Pixel Qi sceen
(Click to enlarge)

While she provided no new information on availability of the 10-inch Pixel Qi screen (above) in finished devices, Jepsen said "We are developing a seven-inch screen for tablets and e-readers that is planned for mass production in the first half of 2011. Samples will be available earlier, perhaps by late in the fourth quarter of 2010."

Going the DIY route

According to Pixel Qi, its DIY screens are designed to fit typical 10.1-inch netbooks with a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels. They're viewable even in direct sunlight, are "ideally suited for e-reading applications," and, when in reflective mode, consume 80 percent less power than the standard screens they replace, she adds.

Jepsen warned in July that replacing a netbook's existing display with a Pixel Qi screen will likely void any warranty and is "a DIY project at your own risk." But, she claimed, "changing the screen of your netbook is easy; the process takes about five to ten minutes using a small screwdriver."

According to the data sheet for Pixel Qi's PQ 3Qi-01, the DIY screen includes a LED backlight unit and a 40-pin LVDS interface. As well as operating in a conventional mode where the backlighting is used, the device operates in a transflective color mode — still with 1024 x 600 pixels — and in a reflective black and white mode with 64 grayscales, the company says.

Pixel Qi says the PQ 3Qi-01's black and white mode can offer resolution of up to 3072 x 600 pixels for e-reading purposes. On an otherwise unmodified netbook, there would presumably be no way to invoke this mode, however. As a Make forum posting further warns, if a netbook was designed so it cannot completely disable display backlighting, some of the potential for power savings will be lost.

What's most likely to deter would-be experimenters at this point is that the PQ 3Qi-01 costs $275, according to the Maker Shed website. That's almost as much as the price of the netbooks likely to be used with the upgrade.

According to Maker Shed, the kits are guaranteed to work only with two netbooks, the Samsung N130 and Lenovo S10-2. A Make video (below), however, shows the PQ 3Qi-01 being installed in an Acer netbook, and describes the process as being "only slightly more complicated than changing a light bulb."

Installing a Pixel Qi screen on an Acer netbook
Source: Make
(click to play)

Further information

The blog entry cited above by Pixel Qi's Mary Lou Jepsen may be found here. The Engadget story mentioned may be found here.

The Maker Shed page for ordering the Pixel Qi PQ 3Qi-01 kit may be found here.

More about the Notion Ink Adam may be found on the company's website, here. More about the Innoversal Lattice may be found on the Innoversal website, here.

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