Home » Reflectivity/Sunlight readability » Qualcomm added a superior to its mirasol, but also MEMS display technology for its upcoming US$1B fab–UPDATE: Plans on Hold–UPDATE2: Sharp is involved

Qualcomm added a superior to its mirasol, but also MEMS display technology for its upcoming US$1B fab–UPDATE: Plans on Hold–UPDATE2: Sharp is involved

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Suggested preliminary reading: Qualcomm mirasol display technology delivered [Nov 22, 2011]

Updates: Capital Alliance with Qualcomm, Inc. and Display Technology Development Agreement with its Subsidiary Pixtronix, Inc. [Sharp press release, Dec 4, 2012]

Sharp Corporation (hereafter “Sharp”) today announced that the Company has reached an agreement with Pixtronix Inc. (hereafter Pixtronix), asubsidiary of Qualcomm Incorporated (hereafter “Qualcomm”, NASDAQ: QCOM), concerning the development of Pixtronix’s MEMS*1 displays. In addition, Sharp signed the capital alliance agreement and will issue new shares by a third party allotment (hereafter “This Third Party Allotment”) with Qualcomm Incorporated, a world leader in 3G, 4G and next-generation wireless technologies, as the allottee.

MEMS display to be developed jointly by the two companies is a display using ultrafine process technology and existing display manufacturing infrastructure with features including high color reproducibility and low-power consumption. The development for commercialization of MEMS display will be achieved by integrating Sharp’s core display technology, IGZO*2 and MEMS display technology of Pixtronix.

In addition, Sharp is planning to accept up to 9.9 billion yen*3 from Qualcomm in equity investment to pursue this joint development. This capital will be used for the development of MEMS display and necessary capital investments related thereto targeting for the achievement of the technology for commercialization.

With this agreement, the two companies will consider the possibility of further collaboration of chipsets by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Qualcomm Incorporated and IGZO-based display technology for lower power consumption and higher performance of mobile terminals.

With this agreement, Sharp will accelerate its strategy for growth in small- to medium- sized LCD business with IGZO-based display technology as its core, and expand its revenue and corporate value.

*1  MEMS: Micro Electro Mechanical Systems

*2  IGZO: IGZO (InGaZnO) is an oxide comprising indium (In), gallium (Ga), and zinc (Zn). A thin-film transistor using this material has been developed by Sharp in collaboration with Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co., Ltd. (a company based in Kanagawa, Japan, and led by President Shunpei Yamazaki)

*3  Equivalent to 120 million U.S. dollars calculated by exchange rate of December 3, 2012

Summary of the joint development and capital alliance

1. Development for the Commercialization of Next Generation Display

  • The next generation display will be jointly developed integrating Sharp’s IGZO-based display technology and Pixtronix’s MEMS display technology. The joint development will establish facilities in the LCD panel plant in Sharp Yonago Corporation (location: Yonago city, Tottori prefecture, Japan) for development of the technology for commercialization.
  • The development for next generation displays and necessary investment will begin immediately. At the point when the development of the technology for commercialization is confirmed to be feasible, we will move to the next stage by implementation of equipment targeting to achieve mass production technology.

2. This Third Party Allotment
Sharp will issue new shares by third party allotment with Qualcomm as the allottee by each stage of joint development of the technology for commercialization. The second stage is contingent upon achieving certain milestones.

<Notice Regarding the Execution of Capital/Business Alliance Agreement with Qualcomm (US Company) for the Joint Development of Next Generation MEMS Display and the Issue of New Shares by Third Party Allotment (PDF:83KB)>

(Related post: Sharp-er Hon Hai / Foxconn [March 31, 2012])

Q&A: Qualcomm’s Display Ambitions [The Wall Street Journal, 10, Dec, 2012]

The Wall Street Journal spoke with Qualcomm’s Chief Marketing Officer Anand Chandrasekher and John Stefanac, president of Qualcomm’s Southeast Asia and Pacific operations, to get an update on the company’s efforts in expanding into the display business. The following interview has been edited.

WSJ: Tell us the rationale behind investing in Sharp. How can this investment help Qualcomm make further inroads into displays?

Mr. Chandrasekher: Our unit, Pixtronix Inc., has had a joint relationship with Sharp from a development standpoint and we are just intensifying this further. Sharp has had a history of great display technologies and they still have a great portfolio. This agreement is a deepening of that relationship.  In the process, we are taking an equity investment of up to $120 million broken up into two tranches of roughly equal sizes. The first tranche will happen by the end of this year and the second tranche will probably close in the second quarter of next year.

WSJ: Qualcomm announced in 2010 that it was investing in Mirasol displays by setting up a manufacturing plant in Taiwan. Are you producing these displays at the factory now?

Mr. Chandrasekher: We still have the fab in Taiwan and we are still investing in Mirasol. But it’s fair to say that we have reduced the rate at which we invest in Mirasol. Some of these technologies, if you don’t manufacture in reasonable scale, you don’t learn and you can’t prove it. So the plant is still being used in that regard. Whether it goes further, we’re not ready to talk about that. We are talking about using Mirasol as more of a licensing enabler, if you will.

WSJ:  How would Mirasol be different from the MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) displays using Sharp’s IGZO (indium gallium zinc oxide) technology?

Mr. Chandrasekher: They are both MEMS-based technology. Mirasol has different characteristics and they are complementary. But they would have other applications and how they would get used in products. The Taiwan plant is being used as a pilot facility to help us to prove out the Mirasol technology. Under the partnership, we would assume Sharp will make the displays.

WSJ: Would you consider discontinuing Mirasol production?

Mr. Stefanac: We certainly aren’t stopping our investment in Mirasol. We will continue the intellectual property that we will license to others.

Reflective OutLook: Shades of Gray or Colorful? [Touch and Display-Enhancement Issue of Information Display, Sept 21, 2012]

The summer of 2012 was an eventful one for the reflective, low-power industry. Two major players made announcements that may be difficult to interpret right now, but certainly indicate changes ahead. In July, Qualcomm, maker of the mirasol low-power MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) reflective technology, announced that it would begin licensing that technology. And in August, E Ink Holdings, which makes the E Ink on which the majority of e-Readers are built, announced that it planned to acquire Sipix Technology, Inc., a developer of microcup technology-based electrophoretic displays.
For some time, mirasol has been considered a possible contender to E Ink’s ubiquitous electrophoretic technology. One of the main reasons that Qualcomm’s announcement came as a surprise was that the chipset maker has been vigorously researching, developing, and promoting mirasol for several years, and is currently building a mirasol display factory in Taiwan. A quick survey of technology bloggers shows the general consensus is that Qualcomm may be going in a different direction with mirasol, which began appearing in e-Readers in 2011. Mirasol can show color and video, but somewhat like color EPD to date, the color is not bright and crisp, but muted.
So what’s going on with mirasol? According to an article by The Verge’s Adi Robinson, who notes that Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs spoke of licensing next-gen mirasol display technology and directly commercializing certain mirasol products: “This doesn’t necessarily mean the mirasol line will be discontinued, but it’s clearly being scaled back, and it’s possible that this is effectively the end for Qualcomm’s own production.” At press time, Qualcomm representatives said they were not commenting on the announcement or plans for the factory in Taiwan.

QUALCOMM Incorporated Management Discusses Q3 2012 Results – Earnings Call Transcript [Seeking Alpha, July 18, 2012]

Paul E. Jacobs – Chairman and Chief Executive Officer:
With respect to QMT, we’re now focusing on licensing our next-generation mirasol display technology and will directly commercialize only certain mirasol products. We believe that this strategy will better align our updated roadmap with the addressable opportunities.

Question-and-Answer Session

I just wanted to say also we’re obviously investing a lot in QMT. We’re looking at the opportunities to — on that business model to reduce some of the expenses that we have there. And so that could have a pretty significant impact as well [on OpEx].

Updated: Qualcomm: No Launch Date in Sight For New 4.3″ Screen (video), Factory Delayed Until 2013 [The Digital Reader, June 6, 2012]

Do you know that new factory which Qualcomm is building in Taiwan, the one which was going to produce Mirasol screens and was supposed to be up and running by now? Yeah, that one. I was told yesterday by Bruce Lidl [PR manager of QMT] that the factory is not due to start operation until sometime in 2013, and that means we won’t see consumer products using screens made there until late in 2013 at best.

Right now Qualcomm is making the Mirasol screens on a smaller production line, and from what I’ve heard it doesn’t have the capacity to make enough screens for a major partner. The last info I got from my source at Pocketbook, Qualcomm’s still unconfirmed European partner, was that Pocketbook’s Mirasol based device was on hold because they couldn’t get enough screens.

Kyobo Mirasol eReader Now on Clearance – 71% Off [The Digital Reader, July 6, 2012]

Kyobo Book Centre, South Korea’s leading bookseller, has recently put their Mirasol eReader on sale at a drastic discount. I’m still waiting for confirmation from Kyobo or Qualcomm, but it looks to me like this ereader is on the way out. That’s great; neither the software nor the screen techwere worth the original retail, which was more than $300 USD.

The price posted above is 99,000 won, or about $87 USD. That’s a considerable discount off the original 350,000 won, and it leaves little doubt that this ereader is headed for the scrapheap.

End of updates

Qualcomm buys MEMS display startup, reportedly for $175M [EE Times, Jan 25, 2012]

Communications technology company Qualcomm Inc. has bought fabless MEMS display startup Pixtronix Inc. Qualcomm (San Diego, Calif.) confirmed the purchase but did not give any details and declined to discuss the price. However, reportedly, Qualcomm has paid between $175 million and $200 million.

Pixtronix (Andover, Mass.) was founded in 2005 by Nesbitt Hagood, chief technology officer. The company has developed a low-cost display technology based on the use of MEMS shutters that it appears would make a useful complement – or better alternative – to Qualcomm’s own MEMS-based Mirasol display technology.

The Pixtronix display – called PerfectLight – is based on a MEMS-based digital micro shutter that modulates light from an RGB LED backlight. A high switching speed makes it suitable for applications ranging from full-speed video to e-reader operation and Pixtronix claimed that the display offered greater than 170 degree viewing angles, more than 3,000:1 contrast ratio and 24-bit color depth at one quarter of the power consumption of equivalent size and resolution liquid crystal displays.

The display is not in the market place yet but Pixtronix had developed a 5-inch diagonal display prototype with Chimei Innolux Corp. (CMI), a leading TFT-LCD manufacturer. Pixtronix was also developing a display for Hitachi.

Meanwhile, at about the same time Qualcomm was acquiring Pixtronix, Qualcomm subsidiary Qualcomm MEMS Technologies Inc. announced that a 5.7-inch Mirasol MEMS display technology is used in the Kyobe e-reader. Qualcomm acquired the Mirasol technology when it paid approximately $170 million in cash for the 86 percent of Iridigm Display Corp. that it did not already own.

The Mirasol display is reflective, which means it can save power by making use of ambient light and not requiring a backlight. However, it also means that the display is less bright and visually appealing than an emissive display.

Since its formation Pixtronix had raised more than $53 million in funding from such investors as Atlas Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, DAG Ventures and GoldHill Capital. It had about 50 employees and continues to operate as a subsidiary of Qualcomm at present.

Qualcomm acquires Pixtronix, Andover company developing tech for low-power displays [The Bioston Globe, Scott Kirsner, Dec 1, 2011]

San Diego-based Qualcomm, a major developer and licensor of mobile technology, quietly scooped up Pixtronix last week. The Andover company, founded in 2005, has been working on multimedia display screens for phones, tablets, and laptops that would use just one-quarter of the power of today’s liquid crystal displays. With today’s mobile devices, the display is typically the component that uses the most power.

Pixtronix and Qualcomm had been pursuing different approaches to low-power displays, according to this 2009 New York Times piece, but both incorporated MEMS (microelectro-mechanical system) technology; in Pixtronix’s case, thousands of tiny shutters control the light emitted by LED bulbs.

Pixtronix had raised just north of $50 million in funding from investors like Atlas Venture of Cambridge and Silicon Valley based Kleiner Perkins. Neither Qualcomm nor Pixtronix would comment on the acquisition price, but sources close to the deal tell me it was in the neighborhood of $175 million to $200 million.

Pixtronix has 45 employees, and Mark Halfman, the company’s senior director of business development, says they’ll remain in Andover. “We’ll continue to focus on developing and licensing our technology,” Halfman says. The company’s technology isn’t yet in the market, Halfman says, but the company has announced joint development projects with companies like Hitachi Displays and Taiwan-based CMI. Halfman says that Pixtronix CEO Tony Zona plans to stick around. (One year is always a safe bet…)

Pixtronix CEO Anthony Zona touts low-energy display tech [Boston Business Journal, Sept 2, 2011]

How does this technology differ from LCD?

It’s digital. So we’re moving from analog display, which is LCD, is to a digital display. … Because it’s digital, it can adapt to application needs. So in an e-reader type application it can consume extremely low power, or almost no power. That same display on the fly can change to accommodate full-motion, high-speed video.

This could have implications for the batteries of mobile devices?

You can get at least four times the current battery life — you’ll get days of use, just because the display is different. Right now the display on most smart phones consumes more than half the battery life. …

Mobile display firm Pixtronix seeking $20M round [Boston Business Journal, Aug 19, 2011]

… Pixtronix is already working with Hitachi, Samsung and Chimei Innolux, which are licensing the company’s PerfectLight Display technology for planned mobile products. The first products from the customers could include smart phones and tablets, and are expected in early 2013, Zona said.

The fourth partner for Pixtronix will also be an Asian electronics maker, and is expected to announce the partnership in the fourth quarter of this year, Zona said. “We had planned on having three partners at this point in time, and actually are adding a fourth sooner than we expected,” he said. …

Pixtronix closes $19 million equity round [Boston Business Journal, Dec 29, 2009]

… and may have brought in a major cell phone maker as a new strategic investor … The company did not disclose the names of the recent round’s investors. However … disclosed the names of four board members. … Two of those directors … represent returning investors Atlas Venture and Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Beyers … A third, Gerald Fine, is a Boston University professor who holds an advisory position on the board.

Besides Atlas and Kleiner, its investors include Duff Ackerman & Goodrich Ventures, and Gold Hill Capital.

The fourth board member is Bill Byun, a new addition to Pixtronix’ board. The documents do not identify Byun beyond his name — but Bill Byun is also the name of a California-based managing director at Samsung Venture Capital, the venture investing arm of Korean mobile phone maker Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.

New displays for e-readers – Read all about it [The Economist, Technology Quarterly: Q4 2009, Dec 10, 2009]]

Another micro-electro-mechanical display comes from a start-up called Pixtronix. Instead of reflecting ambient light, its PerfectLight technology uses tiny shutters that open and close quickly to allow through light from a backlight composed of red, blue and green light-emitting diodes. LCD displays also use shutters, in effect, consisting of liquid-crystal elements whose polarisation can be changed to block light or let it pass. The trouble is that liquid-crystal shutters absorb over 90% of the light passing through them, even when they are open. PerfectLight’s technology allows as much as 60% of the light through. And its shutters can switch fast enough (up to 1,000 times per second) for video.

Pixtronix micro-shutter MEMS display consumes much less power [Jan 1, 2011]

Compared to conventional thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal (TFT LCD) or active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) displays, a new digital micro-shutter (DMS) display from Pixtronix (Andover, MA) consumes one-quarter of the power while delivering equivalent image quality.

Using standard TFT LCD manufacturing equipment, processes, and materials, a microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) shutter is built on top of an active backplane and a simple aperture plate replaces the color filter.

Essentially, the DMS technology is made of four key elements: a digital micro-shutter (laterally translating) element at the heart of each pixel that uses a patented zipping actuator; the use of field-sequential color with color-change frequencies greater than 1 kHz to avoid flicker or color breakup; an optical architecture with a light-recycling LED backlight that allows an 11.5% aperture-ratio display to transmit 60% of the light to the viewer (10 times the output of liquid-crystal displays); and a digital-backplane circuit. Pixtronix has announced partnerships with both Hitachi Displays (Japan) and Chimei Innolux (Taiwan) and has developed 2.5 in. QVGA display prototypes that can run 60 Hz videos, achieve a 135% NTSC color gamut, have a 170° viewing angle and 24 bit color, and consume less than 50 mW of backlight power.

Pixtronix and Hitachi Displays Announce Successful Joint Development [Pixtronix press release, Oct 4, 2010]

Displays built based upon Pixtronix PerfectLight MEMS display technology to be demonstrated at CEATEC

Pixtronix, Inc., an innovator in the development and licensing of low power multimedia display technologies, today announced the successful joint development with Hitachi Displays, Ltd. of its PerfectLight low power MEMS display technology for mobile multimedia applications. The two companies recently completed the development of prototype displays, which leverage the Pixtronix proprietary technology and were built by Hitachi Displays. These displays will be demonstrated by Hitachi Displays at CEATEC Japan, the cutting edge IT and electronics exhibition, October 5-9, Makuhari Messe, Tokyo, Japan.

“We are pleased to have jointly developed displays with Hitachi Displays that directly address the needs of high growth markets ranging from next generation smart phones to tablets,” said Tony Zona, CEO of Pixtronix. “Our rapid progress in delivering full speed video, ultra-low power displays built utilizing existing LCD manufacturing infrastructure demonstrates the key strengths of our PerfectLight display platform.”

About the Pixtronix PerfectLight Display Technology
The PerfectLight display is an innovative low-power multimedia display for portable devices, achieving 135% NTSC color gamut, 24-bit color depth, 170-degree viewing angles, and 100 microsecond shutter response times; all with a 75% power reduction over LCD displays. In addition, this new class of display offers Application Agility to dynamically optimize image quality and power consumption for all applications, ranging from full speed video to e-reader operation in a single device. The PerfectLight display is based upon Pixtronix’s Digital Micro Shutter MEMS technology, which is built within LCD infrastructure and eliminates liquid crystals, polarizers and color filters to enable a highly efficient, programmable, and durable display.

About Hitachi Displays, Ltd.
On October 1, 2002, the Display Group of Hitachi, Ltd. split from its parent company to form Hitachi Displays, Ltd. With a head office in Tokyo, Japan, Hitachi Displays specializes in all stages of the production of display devices, from planning to development, design, manufacturing and sales.

About Pixtronix, Inc.
Headquartered in Andover, Massachusetts and led by experts in the fields of displays, optics and MEMS, the Pixtronix mission is to develop, license and market the perfect display for today’s multimedia lifestyle. The company’s PerfectLight displays combine the best image quality at the lowest power consumption for all applications and are designed to scale from mobile devices to desktop displays through HD televisions. Pixtronix’s investors include Atlas Venture, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, and DAG Ventures. For more information, visit www.pixtronix.com.

Hitachi MEMS Shutter Display: DigInfo [Diginfonews Technology from Japan, Oct 24, 2010]

Qualcomm Acquires Pixtronix [Display Daily, Dec 7, 2011]

Qualcomm has recently acquired Pixtronix, the Boston area-designer of a MEMS-based flat panel display for low-power mobile applications. This makes the second MEMS-based display company Qualcomm has acquired. In 2004 it bought Iridigm Display Corporation’s IMod technology, now called Mirasol.

This seems to have been a stealth acquisition and neither company has issued a press release on the transaction, so details are not certain yet. I guess it is no surprise Jignesh Gandhi, Director of Product Engineering at Pixtronix, did not discuss the pending acquisition when he talked to the SID on November 10th. Instead, he talked about Pixtronix technology and the company’s three licensees, Hitachi, Samsung and Chimei Innolux (CMI). While these companies have all demonstrated the technology, none are expected to have a product on the market for at least a year.

The news appears to have been revealed in a December 1st article by Boston Globe Columnist Scott Kirsner. The price is reportedly in the $175M – $200M range, although that hasn’t been confirmed. To date, Pixtronix has been financed by venture capital, with investments from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Atlas Venture and Samsung Ventures, to the tune of about $50M. Before the acquisition, Pixtronix had been looking at another round of VC funding of about $20M. I guess those plans have been dropped.

Qualcomm is spending about $1B to construct a display manufacturing factory, which is expected to begin production next year. While this production line was, presumably, originally intended for the Mirasol technology, it should be able to manufacture the Pixtronix display as well. Gandhi had said the Pixtronix display could be made on normal direct view LCD fabs, as can the Mirasol display. So presumably if both the Mirasol and Pixtronix technologies fail to take off (not likely, in Insight Media’s opinion) the company can use the new fab to make conventional LCD for mobile applications.

Qualcomm: The Rest of the Story [Display Daily, Dec 8, 2011]

Yesterday in Display Daily my colleague Matt Brennesholtz discussed the acquisition of Pixtronix by Qualcomm. He asked why a chip-maker would want even one (much less two) MEMS display technologies and insightfully speculated, “Perhaps Qualcomm wants to be able to offer its customers vertically integrated solutions for handsets and other mobile devices.”

Here’s the rest of the story, or at least another piece of it. In late November, the Kyobo Book Centre of Korea (the country’s largest bookseller) announced the Kyobo eReader (photo), the first eReader to use Qualcomm’s mirasol color reflective MEMS display. The display appears to be the same 5.7-inch, XGA (1024 x 768) display Qualcomm MEMS Technologies (QMT) has been showing us for the last couple of years. The MSRP is the equivalent of slightly over US$300, which is solidly in tablet, not simple eReader, territory.

The Kyobo device uses a customized version of Android 2.3 and supports WiFi 802.11b/g/n. But here’s where things get interesting (and why I think Matt was so insightful yesterday). The Kyobo’s smarts come from a Qualcomm 1.0-GHz Snapdragon S2 processor. Between the mirasol display and the Snapdragon processor, Qualcomm can indeed offer the key components of a color eReader kit.

Qualcomm is still making its mirasol displays on a pilot line, so it can only support low-volume customers. Kyobo was identified as falling into that category. A high-volume plant is under construction and scheduled to ramp up in 2012.

At SID 2011, I told Qualcomm Marketing Manager Jesse Burke that the very long gestation period between the demonstration of a credible Mirasol display and the first commercial adoption was creating doubts about the technology. This was obviously not the first time Burke had to answer that question, and he had a well-prepared answer. First, he said, Qualcomm had some design wins, but before the customers could go into production, two things happened. The first was the introduction of the original iPad; the second was the continuing Great Recession. Both caused serious reconsideration of new-product introductions. In particular, many products that seemed cutting-edge before the introduction of the iPad, seemed immediately out of date afterwards.

Second, because Qualcomm only had a pilot line facility for the mirasol, the company was limited in the kind of customers it could pitch in the short term. To Burke’s credit, he told me to expect a low-volume product to appear before the end of 2011, and high-volume products to appear in 2012. With the Kyobo eReader, the first half of his prediction has come true.

Along with Matt, I don’t pretend to know how things will play out with Pixtronic and Mirasol under one roof. But I will express an opinion about relative technical merit. The Mirasol technology is devilishly clever, but it has shortcomings (such as an insufficiently saturated red that appears to be an unavoidable feature of the technology). In general, these shortcomings didn’t look all that serious two or three years ago, when the only competition was an electrophoretic technology with slow switching speed without practical color, and Mirasol’s strengths were compelling. But time moves on. To me, Pixtronix now seems to be the more compelling (and probably the more manufacturable) technology. It will be interesting to find out what Qualcomm thinks.

Really Truly New Stuff at SID 2011 [Display Daily, May 19, 2011]

… In the Samsung booth, you could see electro-wetting prototypes. Samsung bought the company that was formerly Liquavista … Next to what I still can’t help calling the Liquavista displays, were two impressive Pentile displays developed through the remarkably productive relationship between Samsung and Nouvoyance. … The other display is hard to explain briefly. Nouvoyance’s Candice Brown Elliott tried, … The result is a FSC display with no color break-up, a 130% color gamut, and sharply reduced power consumption.

Nearby was a 10.1-inch MEMS display based on Pixtronix technology. (10.1-inch is a popular size this year.) Both Samsung and Pixtronix personnel said the roadmap calls for a commercial eReader/tablet display in 2013. Hitachi is also working with the technology. Mark Halfman of Pixtronix said Hitachi is working on a cell-phone version, hopefully for late 2012 introduction.

Samsung was also showing a prototype 70-inch ultra-definition (3840×2160) 2D/3D panel oxide TFT backplane technology. …

Pixtronix Announces a Partner [Display Daily, Nov 10, 2010]

Every year at about this time, Mark Halfman emails me to arrange a meeting at Flat Panel Display International (FPDI) in Japan and, incidentally, make sure that Pixtronix hasn’t fallen off my radar screen.

The problem is that it takes so long to develop even the most interesting new display technologies that a professional display watcher can get jaded before a technology he is tracking reaches commercialization. A diligent marketing guy like Halfman makes sure that analysts don’t forget and move on to something else.

Last year, Pixtronix showed convincing technology demonstrators at FPDI. Halfman told me then that the company had “engaged” — a wonderfully ambiguous word — with several panel makers, couldn’t reveal their identities, but hoped to have an announcement before the next FPDI; that is, the one taking place this week.

Halfman was as good as his word. On Monday, his company issued a press release announcing that Chimei Innolux (CMI) and Pixtronix had recently completed the development of prototype displays that utilize Pixtronix’ proprietary technology and were built by CMI. The displays will be demonstrated at FPDI.

“With CMI, we have achieved rapid progress in delivering prototypes that demonstrate both full-speed full-color video and ultra-low power consumption. We look forward to continued joint development with CMI, and the availability of larger displays next year,” said Pixtronix CEO Tony Zona.

Unlike some other novel display technologies, the Pixtronix display, which the company calls PerfectLight, genuinely has something to offer, especially for portable devices. An easy way to think of PerfectLight is as a field-sequential-color (FSC) LCD in which the LCD sandwich is replaced with an in-plane MEMS shutter. Like an LCD, PerfectLight makes use of a “Venetian blind” architecture to control the amount of light from the backlight that reaches the viewer. Unlike an LCD, it has no polarizers and (because of the FSC) no matrix color filter. As a result, says Halfman, 60% of the light from the backlight reaches the user, compared with 6% to 8% for LCDs. This contributes to a 75% power reduction compared to LCDs.

Also, the MEMS shutter is fast: 100 microseconds, compared to milliseconds for an LCD.

Pixtronix claims a 135% NTSC color gamut, 24-bit color depth, and 170-degree viewing angle.

In addition, many display parameters can be adjusted to balance display quality and power consumption for different applications. For instance, full-speed color is appropriate for video, while slower-speed black-and-white is fine for e-reading, while using considerably less power.

Now that Pixtronix has a manufacturing partner with deep pockets, it will be interesting to see how long it takes to develop panels that are available to system makers in quantity — and that system makers will want to buy. That, as always, is the test.

Pixtronix and Chimei Innolux to Demonstrate Latest MEMS Displays at FPD International 2011 [Pixtronix press release, Oct 25, 2011]

Pixtronix, Inc., an innovator in the development and licensing of low power multimedia display technologies, and Chimei Innolux Corp. (CMI), a leading worldwide TFT-LCD manufacturer, today announced the successful joint development of 5-inch diagonal MEMS display prototypes. These displays, which utilize the Pixtronix proprietary MEMS technology and were built by CMI, will be demonstrated at FPD International 2011, the comprehensive exhibition and convention on Flat Panel Displays, October 26-28 in Yokohama, Japan.

The two companies previously announced jointly developed 2.5-inch diagonal prototypes at FPD International 2010. Since then, Pixtronix and CMI have worked together to build a MEMS display twice that size and four times the resolution. The new 5-inch diagonal displays offer the lowest power consumption at the best image quality for all applications, achieving over 135% NTSC color gamut, greater than 170 degree view angles, more than 3,000:1 contrast ratio and 24-bit color depth, all at a 75% average power reduction versus LCD displays. These new MEMS displays will be demonstrated by both Pixtronix and CMI (Pixtronix booth 3502 and CMI booth 3602).

“We are extremely pleased in the progress we have achieved with CMI, as the 5-inch diagonal prototypes represent a leap forward in bringing Pixtronix technology to the smart phone and tablet markets,” said Tony Zona, CEO of Pixtronix. “We look forward to continued development with CMI as we improve the performance and scale of these displays on the way to commercialization.”

“MEMS display technology is a new technology bringing additional consumer benefits to the multimedia markets and in the collaboration between CMI and Pixtronix a large step is set to industrialize this technology,” said Andre Krebbers Vice-President Mobile Device BU of CMI.

About the Pixtronix PerfectLight Display Technology
The PerfectLight display is an innovative low-power multimedia display for portable devices, achieving over 135% NTSC color gamut, 24-bit color depth, and 100 microsecond shutter response times; all with a 75% power reduction versus LCD displays. In addition, this new class of display offers Application Agility to dynamically optimize image quality and power consumption for all applications, ranging from full speed video to e-reader operation in a single device. The PerfectLight display is based upon Pixtronix’s Digital Micro Shutter MEMS technology, which is built within standard LCD infrastructure and eliminates liquid crystals, polarizers and color filters to enable a highly efficient, programmable display with proven MEMS reliability.

About Chimei Innolux Corp.
CMI is one of the leading worldwide manufacturers of TFT-LCD display products, including TFT-LCD panels, and total solutions for LCD TV and monitor systems. Its one-stop shopping business model vertically integrates TFT-LCD panel manufacturing expertise with systems assembly capabilities. More information about CMI is available at www.chimei-innolux.com.

About Pixtronix, Inc.
Headquartered in Andover, Massachusetts and led by experts in the fields of displays, optics and MEMS, the Pixtronix mission is to develop, license and market the perfect display for today’s multimedia lifestyle. The company’s PerfectLight displays combine the best image quality at the lowest power consumption for all applications and are designed to scale from mobile devices to desktop displays through HD televisions. Pixtronix’s investors include Atlas Venture, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, and Samsung Venture Investment Corporation. For more information, visit www.pixtronix.com.

PerfectLight and mirasol Show Displays in New Light [Jan 4, 2009]

pxtronix.jpg There are two new energy efficient display technologies on the tech horizon – Pixtronix’s PerfectLight and Qualcomm’s mirasol that shine a new light on display technology.

Pixtronix PerfectLight has an energy efficient prototype that uses thousands of very little LED lights controlled by microelectro-mechanical system (MEMS). PerfectLight uses one-fourth the energy of a an Liquid Crystal Display. PerfectLight prototypes consumed less than 50 milliwatts for the backlighting of a smartphone display while a LCD uses about 200 milliwatts.

The image is created with thousands of digitally controlled, MEMS, shutters that open and close over each pixel opening, allowing light from the red, green and blue LEDs to pass through.

Qualcomm’s technology uses natural light and MEMs in mirasol.The light for the pixels is provided by ambient light. To create an image, reflective optical structures in the MEMS (which they call IMOD), selectively reflect red, green or blue light to create an image.

The Interferometric Modulator (IMOD) element is a simple MEMS(micro-electro-mechanical system) device that is composed of two conductive plates. One is a thin film stack on a glass substrate, the other is a reflective membrane suspended over the substrate. There is a gap between the two that is filled with air.

The IMOD element has two stable states. When no voltage is applied, the plates are separated, and light hitting the substrate is reflected as shown above. When a small voltage is applied, the plates are pulled together by electrostatic attraction and the light is absorbed, turning the element black. This is the fundamental building block from which Qualcomm mirasol displays are made.

LCD 2.0 – Pixtronix’s PerfectLight DMS Display Technology [June 27, 2009]

Pixtronix's PerfectLight DMS Display Technology

Pixtronix has finished development of its new MEMS based PerfectLight DMS (Digital Micro Shutter) display technology.The display, demonstrated at this months SID Display Week 2009, delivers exactly what both consumers and manufacturers are looking for; significant energy savings (75 percent) without compromising video quality.

Pixtronix was established in 2005 and is led by experts in the fields of displays, optics and MEMS (Micro-electromechanical systems). Having completed development of a PerfectLight DMS display prototype, the company is now searching for manufacturing partners. While initially targeting smaller display sizes for portable multimedia devices, Pixtronix can scale the display sizes to suit large screen products such as HDTVs.

Pixtronix’s PerfectLight DMS (Digital Micro Shutter) display technology has been designed to combine high video quality with low power consumption for display sizes from mobile devices through to HD televisions. Performance figures include 105% (of NTSC, CIE 1931) color gamut, 24-bit color depth, 1,000:1 contrast ratio and 170 degree viewing angle with a power consumption only one quarter (25 percent) that for TFT-LCD displays.

PerfectLight DMS Gamut vs LCD

Cleverly Pixtronix’s engineers have developed their technology based on a similar architecture to that of an LCD panel (hence LCD 2.0!) except for using micro (MEMS) shutters instead of liquid crystals. The DMS display system is based on sequentially flooding the display with red, green, and blue light from LEDs while using the MEMS shutters to modulate the light and produce a full-color image. MEMS have already established their robustness and reliability in display technology through technologies such as Texas Instrument’s DLP micro mirror chips used in projectors.

PerfectLight DMS Substrate

Key Elements of DMS Display Technology

  • Digital MEMS micro shutter element at the heart of each pixel. It is a laterally translating (moving) element which is supported on a patented dual compliant zipping actuator. Use of micro shutters frees DMS displays from using the polarizers, filters and liquid crystals of current LCD display technologies. The polarizers can reduce light intensity by 50 percent and color filters reduce it even further.
  • Field Sequential Color (FSC) use is enabled by the MEMS shutters through the rapid color change frequencies of about 1kHZ (1,000 operations per second) achieved. Pixtronix have developed some innovative algorithms for achieving deep, rich colors without image artefacts.
  • Proprietary optical architecture including a light recycling backlight. Through a combination of waveguide and mirrored surfaces the light in the backlight is contained to deliver 60 percent of the light from the backlight which about 10X more output than a conventional LCD display (6 to 8 percent). This is the primary source of power consumption reduction of the DMS display technology.
  • Use of energy-efficient LED lightsources
  • A digital backplane circuit which decouples the functions of actuation and information exchange. This makes possible time division gray scale with color change frequencies in excess of 1 kHz while minimizing drive power.

From an engineering background, what impresses about Pixtronic’s new display technology is the cost savings promised by its having been designed with minimization of manufacturing costs in mind. Manufacturing can use existing TFT-LCD factory equipment and processes and higher yields can be achieved through the wide manufacturing tolerances applicable.


Take a look at Pixtronix’s video introduction to the PerfectLight Display’s impressive image quality and ultra-low power consumption.

If you would like to gain an idea of what MEMS is about have a look at this introductory video from the MEMS Industry Group. Is has some interesting shots of another MEMS display technology, DLP, in action.

MEMS Industry Group: An Introduction to MEMS [MEMSindustryGroup, Feb 8, 2008]

Using the MEMS accelerometer and the digital micromirror as an example, this DVD explores MEMS technology in a concise, easy to understand, 8.5-minute package. Examples of MEMS are given from all industries, including industrial, automotive, life sciences, and consumer electronics.

Using LCD Fabs for Non-LCD Displays? [Display Daily, May 23, 2007]

SID is where display ideas are demonstrated and evaluated. There are lots of these ideas as well as evolutionary and even revolutionary ideas floated at SID each year. It is where you will see the next big thing in the display industry or some company’s folly in pursuing a pipe dream. The key is to understand who is pitching which. Today, I will look at two of them I heard about in private meetings.

The two companies are Pixtronix and UniPixel. Both are early stage display companies with plenty of capital behind them to pursue a big dream. They want to use their technology to make LCDs obsolete, but use some of the LCD foundries to make these new displays.

Bold dreams yes, and after hearing the pitches, both actually show some merit. Can they pull it off? Time will tell.

It used to be that 20 years was required to bring a new display technology to a mainstream commercialization state. This time appears to be shrinking – and if you believe these companies, it may now be possible in 4-5 years. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, but I am leaning toward the shorter rather than longer side.

So what are these new technologies, you ask? They are similar, but slightly different. Both eliminate the color filters, polarizers, liquid crystal, light management films and even the CCFL in a conventional LCD. What they have in common is an LED-driven backlight with light recycling components, a MEMS or MEMS-like modulator to extract the light at each pixel and an active matrix backplane.

Pixtronix has developed what it calls a Digital Micro Shutter (DMS). The idea is to extract light from the backlight by opening up a pixel gate. Think of this as a pair of pocket doors that open up to allow light to escape. It is an all-digital approach that uses pulse width modulation at each pixel to control grayscale.

These ideas are clever and elegant. When compared to the structure of an LCD, they will indeed eliminate a lot of components. And, both companies are targeting using LCD fabrication equipment to make these displays. With some minor adjustments, existing LCD fabs can transition to these new displays fairly easily. And they are scalable approaches for any sized display.

This all sounds marvelous – and it is quite exciting. But both companies have a lot of development work ahead of them to prove they can deliver the goods. There is a lot more to their stories that I can’t reveal, but suffice it to say that these are companies we will be tracking to see how they meet their milestones. SID 08 will again prove to be the place where dreams are made or companies are brought down to reality.


1 Comment

  1. […] Qualcomm added a superior to its mirasol, but also MEMS display technology for its upcoming US$1B fa… [Jan 26, […]

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