[Interview] Pixel Qi COO Discusses '3Qi' Hybrid Display

Jun 30, 2009
Yasushi Uchida, Nikkei Electronics
John Ryan, COO of Pixel Qi, and a prototype of the 3Qi
John Ryan, COO of Pixel Qi, and a prototype of the 3Qi
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Pixel Qi, a US-based venture, unveiled a prototype of its LCD panel "3Qi" in early June. It features not only a normal color display mode but also the "electronic paper mode," which is suited for reading text.

The 3Qi is attracting interest because of its potential of replacing electronic paper (e-paper), which is based on the technologies developed by companies such as E Ink Corp. I interviewed John Ryan, COO and VP, Marketing at Pixel Qi, about the 3Qi.

Q: First of all, please explain how Pixel Qi was established.

Ryan: Our CEO, Mary Lou Jepsen, was the CTO at OLPC (One Laptop per Child), a nonprofit corporation famous for the development of the "$100 PC," before establishing Pixel Qi. In the aim of providing a notebook PC to each child living in developing countries for educational purposes, OLPC developed a notebook PC called "XO."

The most expensive and power consuming component in a PC is an LCD panel. Therefore, it was necessary to develop an LCD panel that is low cost, low-power consumption and can be viewed outdoors.

After designing the XO at OLPC, Mary considered using this panel technology for a wider range of users. That's why she established Pixel Qi.

In the LCD panel industry, most of the development resources are directed to TV panels. In fact, displays for notebook PCs are equipped with panels with a high luminance and a high color reproductivity as in the case of TVs.

However, for most of PC users, the most important application is "reading." Unfortunately, not many PCs are developed by focusing on this application.

So, we began to consider what we could do to improve LCD panels from the viewpoint of "reading." To put it simply, it is a display whose power consumption is low and resolution is as high as electronic paper.

Our goal is to develop an "LCD e-paper." Through several years of development efforts, we have just finally developed an LCD panel we wanted.

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Q: Please explain about the electronic paper mode of the 3Qi.

Ryan: The 3Qi can switch between the electronic paper mode and the transmissive, full-color mode with the backlight on. The electronic paper mode is a reflective, black-and-white mode with the backlight off. The prototype display is 10.1 inches in size.

The resolution is 1,024 x 600 pixels in the full-color mode. And it triples in the electronic paper mode, up to 205ppi. Of course, the electronic paper mode consumes less power than the full-color mode.

We do not disclose the details of the panel structure. But, briefly speaking, each of the RGB sub-pixels, which constitute a pixel, has an additional reflective sub-pixel. When the backlight is off, one sub-pixel forms a pixel, tripling the resolution. The 3Qi has the same operating principle as the panel used in the XO. But their structures and technologies are quite different.

However, because the 3Qi is an LCD panel, it does not maintain the screen image when the power is off, unlike normal electronic paper.

Q: What would you say if you compare the 3Qi and electronic paper used in devices such as e-book readers?

Ryan: The 3Qi has many advantages over electronic paper because, in principle, it is difficult to enable electronic paper to display colors or play videos. Electronic paper does not consume power when it displays content on the screen, but a color, video-capable electronic paper would have a power consumption higher than an LCD panel.

Moreover, the response speed of electronic paper is low. For example, it is difficult to scroll text while a video is being played. The 3Qi does not have such problems.

The cost of the 3Qi is much lower than that of electronic paper because it does not use such materials as cholesteric liquid crystal and it is manufactured with the same materials and processes as normal LCD panels.

However, because the 3Oi has some added functions and its structure is more complex than those of normal LCD panels, it is priced a little higher. We expect that the price of the 3Qi will be slightly higher than the prices of normal LCD panels in a few years.