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Getting rid of the gray in LCDs

Ntera is looking to change the LCD business with white screens readable from any angle.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--David Corr sees the big problem with current LCD technology as a black-and-white issue.

David Corr
CTO, Ntera

Specifically, you can't get true black-and-white from current monochrome LCD displays, which instead produce shades-of-gray text and images that can only be read from certain angles. Corr, chief technology officer of Dublin, Ireland-based Ntera, hopes to change that with new technology that gives LCD panels a stark white background that makes text readable from almost any angle.

Ntera is demonstrating its technology at the Demo conference here by showing off two iPods, one sporting a standard monochrome display model and the other retrofitted with Ntera NanoChromics display technology. The difference is striking--the Ntera is easier to read at a glance and doesn't need a backlight, for starters.

"It looks like ink and a paper, which is what people are familiar with," Corr said.

Ntera achieves that readability by outfitting a standard LCD display with a thin film of electricity-sensitive molecules that change color in response to a current.

Besides being easier to read than a standard display, those molecules are also smarter--they only change state when information on the display needs to be updated, as opposed to standard displays that redraw the entire screen at regular intervals. Combine that with no need for a backlight, and Ntera displays demand much less power than a standard LCD.

Ntera displays can be produced at existing LCD plants with no retrofitting, as opposed to other next-generation display technologies, such as OLED, that require significant capital expenditures. "We can go into an LCD plant and use everything that's there," Corr said.

Several device makers are already working on products with Ntera displays, Corr said. The first applications are likely to include retail displays that show dynamic pricing information for products. "It's a huge potential market that's been held back by display technology," Corr said.

Future markets include anything that needs a simple text, or numeric, display, from digital cameras to the nascent market for e-book readers.