The first commercial electronic paper displays that can show color were unveiled Wednesday at the Flat Panel Display International show in Japan. The screens open the way for electronic book readers like Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader to add color, but so far only a single Chinese device maker has committed to the technology.
Two companies were showing the screens: E Ink, which dominates the e-paper market, and LG Display, which is one of the world's largest display makers.
Compared to the monochrome displays used in current electronic book readers, the new displays offer a dash of color, but users shouldn't expect the same sort of color depth and vibrancy that's seen in laptop computers and flat-panel TVs. (See the screens in this YouTube video)
The E Ink color screen is based on one of the company's monochrome displays with a color filter mounted over the screen. The company says it can display 4,096 colors and in a demonstration on Wednesday it appeared to show many shades of each color.
Like all e-paper screens, there is no light source inside the display and it relies on reflected ambient light to make its image visible. For this reason the colors appeared a little dull, but E Ink said it's not trying to replace LCD screens with the new panel.
"We are aiming at newer markets like electronic textbooks and advertisements in newspapers," said Sriram Peruvemba, vice president of global sales at E Ink.
Mass production of the 9.7-inch screen, which has an 800 pixel by 600 pixel resolution, is already beginning and E Ink's first customer, Chinese device maker Hanwang Technology, was showing an e-book reader that features the screen.
Hanwang, which uses the Hanvon brand name, will sell the device from next year in China and some overseas markets, said Wendy Hua, overseas brand supervisor at the company. Hanwang currently estimates it will cost around 3,500 Chinese yuan (US$525).
LG Display had two models of color e-paper on display.
One was a 9.7-inch screen with similar specifications to E Ink's screen and one was a combo 9.7-inch screen.
The majority of the screen was a monochrome e-paper display but a strip along the bottom offered color e-paper. The monochrome part had 1,200 pixel by 1,200 pixel resolution while the color part was 200 pixels by 600 pixels.
LG didn't say when the screens would go on sale.