Philips spinoff to make screens with oil, water

The latest in the new-screen industry: a fluid-filled sac where oil and water duke it out.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
Oil and water don't mix, but they can make bright colors, says a start-up spun out of Philips.

Liquavista, a new company created by Philips Research and New Venture Partners, will seek to commercialize a technique for making screens for phones and MP3 players that relies on the fact that oil and water repel each other.

Liquavista display
Liquavista technology for mobile devices.

In electrowetting, each pixel cell contains a small amount of dyed oil and water and a layer of a material that can be converted from hydrophobic (water repelling) to hydrophilic by applying electricity. When the material is hydrophobic, the water pushes away from it and forces the dyed oil against the surface. The pixel, which has a light source behind it, then projects the color of the dyed oil out.

In hydrophilic mode, the water draws toward the surface, shoving the dyed oil to the side, changing the color projecting from the pixel. Flipping the pixels rapidly allows a screen containing millions of the pixel cells to create an image.

The dye in the oil can contain one or more colors. The technology is conceptually similar to the electronic paper being promoted by E Ink and Philips.

Liquavista claims that because the screens use dyes the colors are more natural. Electrowetting displays, at least according to lab results, also consume less power than traditional LCDs (liquid crystal displays) or Organic Light Emitting Diodes.

Screens based on electrowetting are compatible with the manufacturing infrastructure for LCD screens and can be made in existing LCD factories, such as those owned by LG Philips. As a result, Liquavista says, this will help it bring the screens to market quickly and more inexpensively than one would expect with a new technology. Liquavista is already trying to strike deals.

One early application for electrowetting displays could be TV phones, a market in which Philips is investing considerably.

The Dutch electronics giant is currently in the midst of a rebuilding campaign. It has streamlined its organization and greatly reduced the number of products it sells at any given time, a chronic problem in the past. The company has also begun to look more to its storied labs for product innovations. Philips, for instance, hopes by 2008 to come out with 3D TVs that can be used without glasses.

Electrowetting displays from Liquavista will be shown off at the Exhibition of the Society for Information Display 2006 starting June 6 in San Francisco.