HP offers peek at its alternative to LCD

Imagine sitting down to your computer and seeing thin, plastic colour displays on either side of your monitor, showing...

Imagine sitting down to your computer and seeing thin, plastic colour displays on either side of your monitor, showing high-resolution text pages you can refer to and print from.

This is just one vision of the future that Hewlett-Packard hopes to make possible with research into large, lower-cost displays.

HP in its labs in Bristol has been working on developing a high-resolution paper-like display technology using plastic instead of glass for applications such as electronic books, magazines and posters, as well as a whole new range of products that might be made possible, such as electronic white boards.

HP researchers have showed off a prototype using the new display technology at the National Gallery in London.

 "We have a thousand times more disc space and a thousand times more computer power but we're still looking through a little display window that's essentially the same as it was 10 years ago," said Adrian Geisow, manager of displays research at HP Labs.

While the liquid crystal display (LCD) prototype on show was small - just 3cm by 4cm - it could display 125 colours and featured a "bistable" passive matrix, meaning that the researchers could build displays with as many pixels as they desired.

The fingernail-thin prototype displayed clear images from the Gallery's famous collection, and the researchers were confident that they could scale the technology to much larger displays. More developed plans for using the display technology are expected in about three years after more work has been done, the researchers said.

"We think this is a substantial milestone for large, low-cost, quality displays," said Huw Robson, manager of the digital media department and HP Labs.

Once scaled to about 43cm by 58cm, or about the size of a sheet of A2 paper, the researchers expect the displays to be about five times cheaper than today's glass LCD displays. "We've done cost modelling to suggest that this kind of savings is reasonable," Geisow said.

The manufacturing process is much more simple and affordable than making a glass LCD display using photolithography, they said, which requires a process much like film developing on a substrate to achieve a pattern for displaying images. What's more, the technology allows for 200 or more pixels per inch, giving images a resolution normally confined to paper. That's why the technology is suited for art and text, the researchers said.

While commercial plans for the technology are several years away, the research fits squarely with HP's strength in the printing market.

Scarlet Pruitt writes for IDG News Service

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