Winner: Black, White, and Readable

The low-contrast flat-panel readouts ubiquitous to today’s consumer electronics products may soon be obsolete, thanks to a tiny Dublin-based start-up

10 min read
David Corr
Razor Sharp: David Corr, chief technology officer of Ntera, thinks the highcontrast, low-power display of the future is at hand.
Photo: Peter Evers; Image Manipulation: Mike Vella

How many little monochrome displays do you have in your house? Lots, probably. They’re on alarm clocks, the digital tuner on your radio, the bathroom scale, and the thermometer in the medicine cabinet. There’s one on the control panel of your microwave, and yet another, probably, on your refrigerator or dishwasher. Don’t forget the thermostat in your living room, your calculators and wristwatches, the indoor-outdoor thermometer, and your MP3 player. You’ll likely find even more if you look in your briefcase or car.

For 30 years, at least, the mainstay of the market for these simple numeric and alphanumeric displays has been liquid-crystal-display technology. LCDs are cheap—a 5- by 8-centimeter display can cost a product manufacturer as little as 60 U.S. cents if bought in quantity—but they leave a lot to be desired. Without backlighting, they have poor contrast ratio and poor brightness, so they’re hard to read in ambient light that’s very bright or dim. With it, though, they consume too much power and are nearly unreadable in bright environments. LCDs are also rigid and difficult to make lightweight, which further inhibits their use in mobile gadgets. What manufacturers have long wanted is a display that is power-thrifty, cheap to make, and as crisp and easy to read as ink on paper, in all lighting conditions. A display like that could carve out a huge piece of the consumer market for LCDs and other low- information displays, a market valued at US $1.2 billion annually.

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