Display technology is changing faster than ever. Take for example Qualcomm, makers of much mobile chippery who have recently released upon the world a brand new display technology, the Mirasol display.
Working much like the colorful patterns on butterfly wings the Mirasol display reflects selective wavelengths of light using millions of tiny pits containing mirrors. This allows the display to have very different characteristics to that of today’s kings of display panels, LCD and eInk.
The first example of the Mirasol display is now available to South Koreans in the shape of the the Kyobo eReader, available through Kyobo’s Book Center. The new eReader promises low power, fast frame rates, color and the display actually gets brighter and easier to read out doors.
The Kyobo’s display technology sets this little eReader apart. Working in partnership Qualcomm, Kyobo South Korea’s largest book retailer have released the Kyobo e-Reader, integrating a 5.7″ Mirasol display from Qualcomm. Squeezing in a 1024 x 768 resolution display with 25mhz frame rate the Kyobo eReader is the first tablet device to combine the color and brightness of LCD with the low power and outdoor readability of eInk commonly used in Amazons Kindle eReaders.
Inside the Kyobo eReader contains even more Qualcomm technology, the tablet uses a Qualcomm 1.0 GHz Snapdragon processor, a zippy low power chip. The tablets interface is driven by Kyobo’s application interface sitting a top of the Android 2.3 operating system. This may well be the South Korean equivalent to the Amazon Fire. The software for the eReader ties in with Kyobo’s online books stores to give an integrated library, bookstore and reading experience. Bringing tablet like performance to e-Readers, blurring the lines even more.
“Kyobo is a recognized content leader focused on bringing unique and innovative experiences to its customers,” said Clarence Chui, senior vice president and general manager of Qualcomm MEMS Technologies, Inc. “Kyobo’s customers will be the first to enjoy the exceptional color e-reader experience and long battery life that only Mirasol displays can provide.”
After a rocky start to life the Mirasol displays have finally reached the real world. The first version of the Qualcomm Mirasol display was actually demonstrated in 2009. It was in the final stages of development when the CEO of Qualcomm said they could do better. Qualcomm MEMS Technologies (QMT), the team tasked with development went back to the drawing boards and did indeed do better.
The Mirasol display is based on Interferometric modulator display – IMOD – technology, much like butterfly wings flapping at 25 frames per second. The display itself is constructed from millions of micro devices – Micro Electronic Mechanical Systems, MEMS -. In the Mirasols case there are millions of tiny cavities with an air gap between the displays glass and a reflective surface at the bottom of the cavity. The size of the opening and depth of the cavity dictates the color that can be reflected out. The mechanical part of the system is the mirror itself. Made from a reflective foil it is able to move up and down inside the cavity, changing the size of the gap between the glass and switching the reflection on or off. Three sets mirrors – IMOD Elements – are tuned to generate the Red, Green and Blue sub pixels. The brightness of each sub pixel is controlled by the number of mirrors in the sub pixel turned on or off. The mirrors being tiny they are able to move fast, taking only 10 micro seconds to move between states. This gives the IMOD display high frame rates able to update the display 25 frames second, fast enough to play smooth video and even keep up with most android games, Angry Birds on an eReader anyone.
The micro nature of the panels technology also leads to the display being bi-stable, a characteristic that allows static images to use no power, with power only being used to change the picture. The micro mirrors once moved into place tend to stay where you leave them, unlike keys. Outdoor lighting is a challenge for LCD panels, Mirasol shows them how its done. Due to the fact the display works by reflecting light it actually becomes brighter and clearer outdoors and requires no back-light. For dark environments the Kyobo eReader is supplied with an front light. The lack of a back light and bi-stable nature of the Mirasol helps the display operate at very low power levels. The Snapdragon chip-set the Kyobo is a power miser too, all of which adds up to a claimed battery life of 3 weeks between charging, reading at a half hour a day.
The IMOD technology was originally developed by Mark W. Milesco, co-founder of Iridigm Display Corporation which was purchased by Qualcomm in 2004. Qualcomm took over the development of the technology after the acquisition, subsequently forming QMT. In 2009 Foxlink, Sollink and Qualcomm established a joint manufacturing facility that started mass production in January 2011.
Mirasol’s displays are expected to make a big splash at next years CES electronics show. A number of tablet and mobile phone manufacturers will announce new products and demonstrate Mirasol in action. LG has already demonstrated a mobile phone handset with Mirasol display.
With the readability of an e-reader along with the speed and color of an LCD the Mirasol display is something new and available now in South Korea for KRW349,000 – $310 USD -. With mass production well underway the prices should start come down. As LCD based tablets attack the traditional eReader market through low priced tablets such as the Amazon Fire eReaders are fighting back with the Kyobo eReader tablet.