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Sony e-book to be written in electronic ink

The consumer electronics maker is using electronic ink in its new e-book, marking one of the first applications of the next-generation display technology.

Consumer electronics giant Sony is using electronic ink in its new e-book, marking one of the first consumer applications of the next-generation display technology.

Royal Philips Electronics, Sony and display start-up E Ink announced on Wednesday that Sony would release an e-book in Japan in late April that uses a display based on electronic-ink technology. E Ink and partner Toppan Printing will supply the electronic-ink material to be used in the display, created by Philips, an investor in E Ink. An e-book is essentially a screen that displays a digitized version of a book.

E-books were once touted as the future of publishing because, in digitized form, books were easy to distribute and store. But consumer reaction toward the hardware was lukewarm because of high prices and book retailers, such as Barnes & Noble, stopped selling digitized versions of books. In late 2003, the e-book market by opening its own online store. Adobe's Portable Document Format is viewed as significant for e-books.

Device makers have also pointed to the clarity and power issues of displays used in previous e-books.

"Up until now, consumers have been less willing to adopt e-reading applications because of poor display quality on cumbersome devices," Yoshitaka Ukita, general manager of e-books at Sony, said in a release. "This display solution provides a level of text clarity comparable to paper."

Sony's e-book will cost about $375 when it debuts in Japan. It will be about half the size of a paperback book and have 10MB of built-in memory--enough for 20 books, according to Sony. The device will also come with a Memory Stick expansion slot for inserting more books and a Universal Serial Bus interface for downloading books from a computer. It can be powered by four alkaline batteries. The 6-inch display has a resolution of 800 pixels by 600 pixels.

Electronic ink used in the e-book is based on microcapsules, which contain oppositely charged black and white pigments that float in a clear fluid. The pigments rise or fall in the fluid, depending on an electrical charge. Several microcapsules are sandwiched between a piece of steel foil and a piece of clear plastic. Unlike liquid crystal displays (LCDs), they don't need to be backlit for an image to be visible.

Displays that use electronic-ink technology tend to consume less power than LCDs, as they don't require a continuous supply of power to render images. Once the microcapsules are electrically charged, they can hold the image without using more power.

Electronic-ink technology is also being used in Europe to display schedules in airports, in addition to bus and train stations. Other consumer electronics devices that may use the technology include translator and dictionary devices, as well as cell phones and handhelds. The company is about two years from debuting a color product, an E Ink representative said.