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Improved tech to bring e-ink display mainstream

Posted: 24 Sep 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:e-ink display device? e-paper? digital reader?

The original designer of the e-paper display for Sony's eBook and's Kindle model offers an improved technology for its own third-generation iRex 1000 digital reader.

Using an ASIC twice as fast and 8x more energy efficient than components used in second-generation devices, iRex claims its e-ink handheld aims to replace paper for many mainstream uses.

"With generation three, we have achieved a hardware platform that is fully utilizing all the capabilities of e-ink displays, and is capable of replacing most uses of paper today," claimed iRex CEO Hans Brons.

Philips Electronics N.V. designed e-paper subsystems, using media from E-Ink Corp. for first-generation digital readers. Philips then licensed manufacturing to Prime View International of Taiwan. In 2005, Philips stopped supplying subsystems to Sony and Amazon, instead spinning off iRex Technologies, which announced their second-generation technology for an 8-inch digital reader called the iLiad in 2006.

The third-generation iRex 1000 is being touted as solving outstanding problems that have prevented widespread adoption of e-ink paper displays. Brons claimed the iRex 1000 is the only e-paper device that users can write on, "emulating all the functions of paper."

e-ink evolution
First generation e-ink displays were slow to load pages and extremely slow at pen-input, relegating them to read-only applications that only occasionally refreshed the display. Second-generation devices improved the page loading speed, allowing only that part of a display that changed to be refreshed, thereby permitting pop-up menus and limited use of pen input.

However, writing on the devices remained sluggish compared to writing on paper.

The iRex 1000, however, is said to offer optimal page loading and pen input, according to Brons, by virtue of an ASIC that performs all background processing steps faster than users can perceive.

"We have put much more horsepower behind the system environment to insure that everything that needs to be done to update the display is done extremely quickly," Brons claimed.

The device's open platform also supports formats similar to other digital readers, giving users the same access to the Mobipocket library of over 49,000 e-books. In addition, iRex also supports PC-oriented formats like PDF, HTML, JPG and Powerpoint.

"Our device is not intended to go into head-to-head competition with the Sony's eBook or the Amazon Kindle, but is instead [targeting] business professionals who want to use e-paper for day-to-day interactions with a lot of documentationmost of which are letter-sized PDFs," said Brons. "We support newspapers and books on the iRex 1000, but our primary focus is day-to-day interactions with paper."

He added: "We have designed the iRex 1000 specifically to address the legacy of digital print, which is PDFs."

The iRex 1000 weighs 1.25 pounds, is less than 0.5 inches thick. It displays 16 levels of grey, comes with a 1Gbyte secure digital card installed (enough for 20,000 documents) and uses a Li-ion battery. The reader also synchronizes with documents stored on a PC via USB, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

The company is working on a fourth-generation display using a larger, flexible polymer substrate. In parallel, iRex is also developing color versions, but has yet to decide whether to offer it as an option to the current 10.2-inch model or wait until the fourth- generation device arrives with a flexible substrate.

IRex said it is close to deals with several business-to-business customers, which it said will be announced soon.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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