Researchers at HP Labs are testing a flexible, full-color display that saves power by reflecting ambient light instead of using a backlight. The prototype display's pixels are controlled by fast-switching silicon transistors printed on top of plastic. If the technology can be commercialized, the display will compete with liquid crystal screens as well as other low-power color flexible displays in the works. HP is collaborating with Phicot, a subsidiary of Ames, IA-based Powerfilm, which prints high-performance transistors on plastic. HP plans to target both the e-reader and tablet PC markets. The e-reader screen market is dominated by E-Ink, a company based in Cambridge, MA, that makes black-and-white reflective displays incorporating tiny microcapsules.
E-Ink's screens have the look of paper, do not need a backlight, and do not require any power once the pixels have switched between black and white. But it is also too slow to show video and, as yet, is only available in black and white. In contrast, Apple's iPad uses a more conventional liquid crystal display. This means it produces vibrant color, but it is also expensive, power-hungry, and vulnerable to glare. The display is also relatively fragile because it's built on top of glass. Many manufacturers believe there is still a market for low-power reflective displays. But they're also working to develop robust reflective displays built on plastic that use less battery life without giving up the functionality of LCDs.