I got a chance to catch up with the folks from Pixel Qi this morning. If you’re not familiar with the company, it was founded by Mary Lou Jepsen, one of the designers of the original XO Laptop. And Pixel Qi makes LCD displays that are unlike any you’ve ever seen. When you turn the backlight off, the screen is still readable in a high contrast black and white mode. They actually look like e-Ink displays, but they’re not. Turn up the backlight, and you have full color saturation.

The net effect is that you can put a Pixel Qi display in a netbook, tablet, or eBook reader and have a device that you can read indoors or outdoors. It can handle full motion video. And there’s non of that page refreshing effect that you experience with eBook readers like the Kindle and Nook.

One of the other side effects of using the Pixel Qi display is reduced power consumption. In full color mode, the LCD uses about 2.5 watts of power, which is about what you’d get from any other LCD screen. But when you cut the backlight off, that drops to about 0.5 watts.

The image above shows a standard off-the-shelf Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 that’s been retrofitted with a Pixel Qi display. While there are no plans to sell this particular model, I was told that you can get about an extra hour of battery life by using a Pixel Qi screen in high contrast mode with the backlight off. If you were to put the same screen in a low power ARM-based smartbook or tablet that only uses 7 to 8 watts of power total, then you could see as much as a 30 to 40% increase in battery life by using a Pixel Qi display.

The company is also working with vendors on technology that will allow the CPU to idle when you’re not using the computer to do anything but look at text. There’s no reason to constantly redraw each pixel if you’re reading an eBook or a web page.

There are apparently 6 different companies showing off devices with Pixel Qi screens at CES this week, but most of them are holding private meetings and Pixel Qi isn’t saying who’s got what.But the product categories range from netbooks to tablets, and possibly some other devices. If I see any actual products on the show floor, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Pixel Qi expects to ramp up production this year to the point where it can pump out millions of displays. Most of those will be sold direct to vendors who will then bring out products using the screens. But the company is made up of DIY tinkerers, and does plan to throw a bone to the DIY community by making the screens available to end users. I was told we can expect an announcement along those lines next week.

Want to know what that image at the top of the post looks like in full color mode? Check out the color version after the break, as well as a handful of other pictures showing the New York Times Reader application and video playback in VLC. I’ve also uploaded a short video of the S10-2 with a Pixel Qi Screen.


The other thing I was surprised to learn is that while Windows treats Pixel Qi’s 3qi display as a 1024 x 600 pixel screen, it’s actually a 3072 x 600 pixel screen. Those extra pixels help make the text easier to read if your using Roman, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic, or a number of other languages. For Chinese, Pixel Qi is working on higher vertical and horizontal resolutions.

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19 replies on “Up close with Pixel Qi’s dual mode LCD display – Video”

  1. Pixelqi’s 3Qi screen is a great technological step forward. I’ve been on the lookout for such a technology for years now and am very happy to finally see a screen that refreshes in a few milliseconds without drawing too much power.

  2. So it comes down to “We don’t know….yet” if The Pixel Qi screens are as easy to look at as eInk in a typical 30-90 minute reading session.

    For all the drawbacks of eInk, where they shine is on replicating text on a page that is easy on the eyes. There are dozens of advantages that the Pixel Qi tech will bring that mostly have to do with flexibility, price, and color. However, the jury is still out on how easy they are to read page after page of text.

    In the end I think Pixel Qi might have the best compromise. However, I think people are missing the fact that there MIGHT BE a compromise in there that could cut to the very heart of how good these displays would be in an eReader situation with a user looking for a good eReader experience.

  3. My question is in low power b/w mode is the image as easy to look at as a ‘true’ e-ink screen. The real advantage of eInk isn’t power in my opinion; it is the eInk screen is so easy on the eyes. You get less little eye strain from an eInk display because it is not flickering at all.

    Now I wouldn’t expect PixeQs screen to be perfect, but eInk really does have an advanatge in that respect still.

    1. Have you done a side by side comparison? There is someone who has done a compared the two screens, in fact, when someone in the press mentioned that Pixel Qi was doing an e-ink screen, Mary Lou hurried to correct that, didn’t want to be thought of even in the same paragraph as e-ink… and listed the reasons why the 3qi screen was better than e-ink. Maybe Brad will be showing us the Notion Ink Pixel Qi tablet with Nvidia Tegra2 processor, AND give us his impression of e-ink vs 3qi?

        1. The pixelQi screen does have a yellow-background-color to it, and it seams like you need to hold it right in front of you to get a clear imange, but it might still be in development.

          Amazon will have to lower the prize on the kindle or come up with something new when this hits the marked. Amazon has alrady made their books avaviable for PC, and might be prepairing for whats coming.

  4. put this in a unit with an ARM SOC and color me almost sold. I’m curious what kind of price point we’ll see. A Sony Vaio P type form factor would be nice as well.

    1. Pixel Qi says these screens do run a bit more than a typical LCD, but
      they’re hoping to bring the price down as production numbers go up.

  5. Now that is a *true* innovation! I hope we see screens like this is a bunch of products and they are available soon.

    That is a very good idea, and I’d be more than willing to surf the net in black and white to get decent battery life.

  6. Sure wish the folks at Edubook would use this? Brad, have you seen the Edubook folks there at all? If so, then are they showing their 10.1 inch Edubook at CES?

    DYI – is good, because even if 10.1 Edubook’s own screen is low power, wondering if changing that one out, and putting Pixel Qi one in, would save power, be direct sunlight readable, and use AA batteries, and can use LINUX or Windows, or both in a dual boot on it?

    1. PS – did you mean 600 above? As 1024×600… where it can actually be more? Was wondering if if can be 1366×800 for a 10.1 inch screen?

  7. Finally! We have been waiting for Pixel Qi for what seems like forever. Brad, what are your personal impressions of the image quality in each mode? I want a slate with this display and Tegra 2!

  8. Having used an old IBM Thinkpad that was monochrome in the field, all I can say is, BRING IT!

    I was able to schlep around a laptop, that was about 10 years outdated, around and download my weather station data and see what was going on when my counterparts with color screens couldn’t see a thing outdoors.

    This has so many practical applications, I’m excited to see this.

  9. between this, and the tech liquavista is showing of, it seems 2010 onwards will be a interesting time for displays 😀

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