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E-Readers and Tablet PCs Are About to Get Screen-Tastic


Developing screens for computers and cell phones may sound like boring business, but, as customer demand for portable devices that can handle HD video, e-books, and Web browsing increases, the need for screens that are both awesome and efficient has become paramount. There were several new screens on display at CES a few weeks ago. As we've mentioned, Pixel Qi's transflective LCD screen, which can switch between backlit and reflective modes in an instant, was particularly impressive (see the transflective technology in action in the video below).


But e-reader screens from Qualcomm and a new company called Liquavista are also pretty damn exciting. While Pixel Qi's technology is about making LCD screens better, Liquavista has developed a new technology that they claim is superior to LCD. The company spun out of Philips a few years ago after the engineers who developed the screen technology bought the patent rights. What makes the Liquavista screen (pictured right) unique is its "electrowetting" technology. The resulting screen is capable of reflective, transmissive, and transflective modes just like Pixel Qi, but Liquavista claims their new technology beats out LCD screens in the optical performance category.

But there's a downside to developing a brand new system: Unlike Pixel Qi, Liquavista had to develop a separate manufacturing process to produce their screens. As a result, the company was still looking for hardware partners at CES earlier this month while Pixel Qi's screen has already appeared in one new Tablet PC—Notion Ink's Adam—and is expected to turn up soon in netbooks and e-readers from other major manufacturers, such as Lenovo. Still, that doesn't mean there isn't room for Liquavista in the mobile computing market, especially since the company is focusing on e-readers and mobile phones.

Ditto for Qualcomm's Mirasol screen (pictured left), which is expected start appearing in e-readers in the fall. Like the Kindle and Nook, the Mirasol screen is all-reflective, meaning there's no power-draining backlit mode. Plus, the Mirasol also supports color and video, a major improvement over existing e-reader screens. Qualcomm has been marketing the technology as an "e-ink alternative," which is all well and good if the conversation is limited to e-readers. But with the emergence of tablet PCs that function as e-readers plus netbooks, a reflective-only screen like the Mirasol that only works in direct light starts to make less sense.