November 11, 2008

E Ink updates capabilities with new controller chip

Original Post from October 29th 2008.

Engadget (here) and other sites are reporting news from E Ink (shown here in an employee video on YouTube. I've added a few details to what you'll see in Engadget and others.

They are now offering their E Ink displays (or in fact, their partners who produce full display modules, such as Prime View International (PVI) are) with an updated E Ink display controller ASIC developed in collaboration with EPSON, called "Broadsheet" (I wonder why?).

Not needing a constant refresh like CRT or LCD displays, the way a bistable E Ink display is driven is very different from your normal display.

Working with Epson is not news, previous controllers were from Epson too.

This Broadsheet controller adds the ability to perform partial screen updates (i.e. just update a rectangle of the screen that changes) and performs updates faster.

This enables reasonable speed animations (depending on the size of the area it occupies I suspect) to be done inside a "static" page.

This can be used for text-books with animated figures that show how things move or work. We saw a demo of that and it was quite compelling for educational/informative material. Imagine a science book or wiki "on paper" where diagrams illustrated how things worked, like the four-stroke cycle of an internal combustion engine.

It also can be used for newspapers ads that move and change to attract your attention. I bet you were all dying for that last one: flashy web-banner-like ads hit your newspaper! How long before we all develop an immunity to them like banner ads?

They have increased the greyscale bit-depth from 3-bit to 4-bit, or grey 16 levels, providing much better rendition of greyscale images. Unless you are a "black and white only" kinda person, then this doesn't change things much in my opinion for photo viewing. Sure I can carry family photos around (and I have a lot of old scanned family photos in black and white...) for viewing on the go, but the ones I most want to view or, more likely, share are recent shots in color.

Where it does make a difference is in books, newspapers or magazines with photo content in them that's either monochrome anyway, or gets the idea across well in monochrome.

The development kit/module includes stylus input (from Wacom and a Chinese competitor of theirs depending on the display/tablet size) and the faster display update with the new controller helps the display 'digital ink' track the stylus movement much better. It's still not perfect, but an improvements over the current state-of-the-art which is the iRex Illiad stylus implementation.

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