Reflective LCD promises color images in direct sunlight

For me, one of the most frustrating things about tablets and smartphones is the fact that their backlit LCDs are typically unusable in direct sunlight. Japan Display Inc. has developed an LCD that ditches the backlight and instead uses the natural light of the environment to illuminate on-screen images. These reflective LCDs can't be viewed in complete darkness, but they should do just fine on a sunny day.

DigiInfo has a short video of the display technology in action, including an explanation of how it works. A so-called light control layer gathers light from the environment and reflects it back to the user. Monochrome images are produced by the liquid crystal shutter, which combines with filters to generate color images that purportedly look similar to paper.

There are some limitations, of course. The 7" prototype that's ready for mass production has a decent 1024x768 display resolution but covers just 5% of the NTSC color gamut. A second prototype that's apparently still being tweaked covers 36% of the NTSC color gamut. However, this display has a lower 1024x576 resolution and is less reflective, producing dimmer images. Both screens have 30:1 contrast ratios and consume just three milliwatts when producing still images. The refresh rate seems to be fast enough for video, as well.

While the color reproduction may be lacking versus traditional LCDs, even the lower-gamut model should look better in direct sunlight than the best tablet displays. It will be interesting to see whether the tech catches on. I certainly hope it does, since Qualcomm has given up on producing displays based on Mirasol, another reflective screen technology with full-color credentials.

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