A brief history of e-paper: evolution and prospects

Electronic books are gradually replacing paper. In Russia, digital publications are already selling 13% more than traditional ones. According to the estimates of the Director General of the library of e-books "Liters" Sergey Anuryev, the volume of the market of e-books will increase twice by 2019-2020 and will be 12-15% of the volume of the commercial book market.

And although the so-called electronic paper is just beginning to spread actively among lovers of “digital” literature, this technology is not new - it has been around for more than 40 years. It all started with black and white copies, but now there is a color and even flexible electronic paper. In the article we describe how it developed, as well as its prospects and possible areas of application.

Gyricon - the first electronic paper

The first e-paper sample, called Gyricon, was developed by Xerox in 1974 as a direct alternative to CRT displays. They were then too dull and had low contrast - to the extent that you had to use them in the dark to see at least something. And the "screen" Gyricon was perfectly readable in bright light, was flexible and energy efficient.

Electronic paper Gyricon was a thin plastic sheet with capsules filled with oil. In these capsules were placed balls, the hemispheres of which were painted in different colors and had a different charge. When current was applied to the substrate, the balls rotated to form a two-color pattern.

In the first version of Gyricon, the image was blurred because the balls rotated unevenly and also affected each other. In the second generation, this problem was solved, but other difficulties remained - low resolution and high cost of mass production. Therefore, when in the early 2000s the technology entered the market (under the SmartPaper brand), it was successfully used only for interactive price tags. After that, the developer stated that Gyricon could never become comfortable enough for consumers and replace plain paper.

E Ink development and SiPix purchase

In 1996, E Ink technology appeared . It used capsule balls, which were filled with black and white granules, floating in a clear liquid. Depending on the applied charge, the granules of the desired color "floated" up. To increase the clarity of the picture, the technology allowed both black and white granules to be built on the “front” surface of one ball at the same time.

They worked on the technology for 8 years, and only in 2004 it was first used in the Sony Librie electronic reader. The device was equipped with a 6-inch E Ink display of the first generation, which displayed 4 shades of gray. Its resolution was 800x600 pixels.

The Sony Librie reader was powered by four AAA batteries, which were enough to read 10 thousand pages. Long battery life is still one of the main advantages of the technology, since energy is mainly consumed only at the time of “drawing” the image. This book cost 376 dollars.

From 2004 to 2010, e-books were mostly equipped with E Ink Vizplex e-paper. In the first samples, the substrate was gray, the picture was redrawn for a long time. A phantom effect was also observed - the “remnants” of the previous image were displayed on top of the new one. However, the latest Vizplex samples were significantly improved: the gray color became white, and the rendering speed increased.

In addition to Sony, several large companies have appeared on the market of electronic E-Ink-readers: Amazon, Kobo, Barns & Noble, ONYX. Last in 2009 released the world's first reader with a touchscreen E Ink-screen. It was the ONYX BOOX 60 model.

In 2010, the second generation E Ink - Pearl was announced . The contrast increased from 7: 1 to 10: 1, and power consumption decreased by 50%. The first reader with such a display was the Amazon Kindle DX, and the new generation officially came to Russia in 2011 with the reader ONYX BOOX A61S Hamlet. ONYX became the third company in the world, after Amazon and Sony, which began manufacturing devices with such screens.

The E Ink Pearl generation screen provided 50% higher image clarity and faster redrawing speed compared to previous generation models. The further development of the E Ink technology was the increase in resolution and the appearance of Pearl HD screens. The first company to offer a device with a touchscreen display Pearl HD, again became ONYX.

Until 2012, E Ink had a competitor - SiPix technology. Its difference from Gyricon and E Ink was that only white granules were floating in oil cells. The oil itself was black. Because of this feature, SiPix was inferior to E Ink in contrast - 6: 1 against 7: 1 in Vizplex and 10: 1 in Pearl. At the same time, the screen itself seemed to users rather gray than white. But to avoid competition, E Ink bought SiPix, having the opportunity to dictate its conditions in the market of electronic paper.

In the same 2012, the revolutionary NOOK Simple Touch with Glow Light device was released. Its feature was the backlight on the base of the light guide layer. But the lighting was very heterogeneous, which caused a lot of complaints.

In October of the same year, almost simultaneously, Amazon and ONYX launched readers with a Pearl HD screen and PVI backlighting, which is distinguished by much greater uniformity. The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite model in the USA and ONYX BOOX Aurora in Russia became a new milestone in reader construction and marked the hegemony of backlit reading devices.

Pictured : ONYX BOOX Aurora

Colored and flexible e-paper

Modern black-and-white readers are equipped with Carta displays with an increased resolution (1440x1080 pixels) and contrast ratio (15: 1) compared to Pearl. Nevertheless, E Ink has already created both flexible and color screens.

Mobius E Ink bought the technology of flexible screens from LG, but it has not yet received widespread use. The first e-book with this screen was the 6-inch WEXLER Flex One. But the bend angle was insignificant, so this feature did not carry much benefit. In addition, in the instructions to bend the device was not recommended at all. The device quickly removed from production.

In 2016, ONYX released the ONYX BOOX MAX e-book with a 13.3-inch Mobius screen and a resolution of 1200x1600 pixels. But the device was supplied in a metal case and therefore did not bend at all. However, the flexibility of Mobius still proved to be useful - due to its screen was not as fragile as the glass, and resistant to light shock.

Later , the ONYX BOOX MAX Carta model appeared , with a higher contrast screen and resolution increased to 1650 x 2200 pixels, as well as support for the SNOW Field function. Its task is to reduce the number of artifacts on the screen during partial redrawing. This reduced the frequency of “black blinks” when reading simple documents.

As for the color E Ink displays, there are two types: Triton and Acep. E Ink Triton displays up to 4096 colors due to the RGB filter applied over the screen. The former advantages of E Ink are saved: energy is still expended only when drawing a picture. The update time of monochrome images remains the same - 240 ms, but drawing a color image takes about one second. How the technology works can be found in this video .

The first model with such a screen was the Ectaco JetBook Color. But the popularity of E Ink Triton has not gained - at least for now. Several companies have released a reader that sold poorly due to low contrast and resolution, as well as high prices.

Michael Kozlowski, the author of the blog and the chief editor of Good e-Reader, writes that representatives of companies producing electronic readers do not promote color E Ink-displays due to high user expectations. LCD panels display 16 million colors, and against their background E Ink Triton with its 4096 colors does not look the best.

As for E Ink ACeP (Advanced Color ePaper), this technology displays a greater number of colors. The balls contain pigments of eight primary colors, the combinations of which form a palette of 32 thousand shades. At the SID 2016 exhibition, E Ink even showed a 20-inch ACeP display with a resolution of 2500x1600 pixels.

Future E Ink

The clearest E Ink-displays have a pixel density of up to 300 ppi, and entry-level models - 167 ppi. In the future, we can expect an increase in this indicator. Together with Japan Display E Ink plans to release electronic paper with a pixel density of 400 and 600 ppi. The developers declare that on such displays it will be possible to read comfortably even text written in 8th size.

Do not forget about the low power consumption of electronic paper. Maybe one of the manufacturers will use the energy efficiency of E Ink and release a solar-powered reader. The cover for e-books with a solar battery, Bookeen, has already been done in 2016, there are also instructions for the independent production of a similar cover.

Expect to see the wider appearance of E Ink outside of e-books. They have great potential in advertising: you can reduce the cost of paper price tags, make reusable posters. The German company RoadAds has developed E Ink-screens installed on trucks. E Ink is also used for car keyfobs, and the Japanese company Android Experiments Object introduced the concept of a calendar on E Ink, which is synchronized with the Google calendar.

Now E Ink-displays are already equipped with smartphones, a vivid example is the sensational YotaPhone, where electronic paper is located at the back, acting as an additional display. In September of this year , the third generation of the device came out - it has a 5.2-inch E Ink Carta II screen with a HD resolution. And for other smartphones, manufacturers of accessories make covers with E Ink.

PS Our library with several hundreds of reviews of electronic books ONYX BOOX.

Source: https://habr.com/ru/post/408303/

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