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Is E-ink Working on an Ultra-HD Screen?

concoursEN[1]If you’re down in the dumps today about E-ink’s slump in revenue then I might have some good news for you.

A reader has tipped me to some rather interesting details in a recent Bookeen contest.  I am still not convinced that this means anything, but this mindworm has been gnawing at me for the past week and I have decided to spread the contagion.

Earlier this month, the French ereader maker Bookeen announced a contest on their blog. They invited readers to submit images to be used as screensavers on Bookeen’s ereaders. The contest itself was nothing unusual, which is why I didn’t report upon it.

In fact, I barely even noticed that it had been announced, but Bob had looked at the contest and noticed that the requirements were rather strict:

  • images must be in portrait mode, .png format, 768 x 1024px or 1536 x 2048px
  • the image must be black and white, with high contrast, since it will be displayed on a 256-level greyscale screen.

Here’s what has been bugging me: Why are the requirements so damned high?

The funny thing about the requirements is that you cannot buy a 256-level greyscale screen at all, much less get one at an incredibly high 1536 x 2048 resolution.

So far as I know the best screen E-ink can make is a 16-level grayscale screen. Anything more detailed than that will be lost when the image is displayed on the screen, so there is little reason to use such a high level of detail (or a such a large image size). Even Sony’s 13.3″ writing slate, which has the latest and highest resolution E-ink screen to date, only has a screen resolution of 1200×1600.

That’s why I have to wonder whether the new ereaders this fall will have a surprising new screen.

E-ink has already surprised us once this year with the 6.8″ screen on the Kobo Aura HD, and there’s no reason to think that they can’t do it again. The Aura HD has a screen resolution (1440×1080) that is actually higher than the screen on the Nook HD Android tablet. That tablet at that time had currently has the highest resolution (1440×900) 7″ screen on the market, and E-ink surpassed it.

And E-ink surprised me in May when they revealed a new 3-color E-ink shelf label. What are the chances that E-ink is going to pull off another shocker in the next few months?

I would not rule it out. Remember, they did tell CNet last month that they had a next-gen screen in the works:

In the next few months the company will announce its next-generation e-ink platform for e-readers, the successor to Pearl. That screen, released in 2010, is the one used in most current e-ink readers, including the Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader.

The new platform will offer slightly improved contrast and better optical performance that’s "better tuned to capabilities of higher-resolution TFT displays that are making their way into e-readers," Mancini said.

If it does happen, folks, remember that you heard it here first.

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Robert August 16, 2013 um 1:14 pm

The new Nexus 7 offers a higher resolution screen. It’s 1920×1200.

I’d love a new eInk reader. I was very interested in the Aura HD until the reviews came in and I fiddled with one in person. It’s not what I wanted but maybe something else will launch this fall to breathe new life into eInk readers.

Robert August 16, 2013 um 1:17 pm

and where are the beautiful color eInk screens they all promised a few years back? Dagnabit!

Nate Hoffelder August 16, 2013 um 1:19 pm

Good point. Let me fix that.

b August 16, 2013 um 5:49 pm

The next cybook will be called the Cybook XL

Scott Tuttle August 16, 2013 um 6:20 pm

Eink readers are getting taken over by tablets and phones. I love it for reading and hope they keep on making readers with it.

fjtorres August 16, 2013 um 6:22 pm

Some people named Nathaniel have been wondering if Amazon might have a replacement for the Kindle DX on the way…
And now we have hints of a very high-res screen…
A ten incher at that resolution would be well within the pixel-density of the Aura screen *and* current LCD backplane tech.

I’m thinking that:
265 dpi X 6 in = 1590
265 dpi X 8 in = 2120

Close enough, no?
I’d say a 10in (nominal) reader is incoming from Bookeen.

MizzBee August 17, 2013 um 1:19 pm

E-ink hurts my eyes, plus I want color when I use my readers or tablets. That is why it is great to have choices in the marketplace.

Alexander Inglis August 18, 2013 um 10:03 am

Screen resolution is one of those metrics that is truly in the eye of the beholder.

The first gen Kindle/Kobo were pretty amazing: you could change the font and font size, and, in good reflective light (the same light you’d normally read a book in), the text was clear and crisp.

Along came the e-ink Pearl with the Kindle 3/Kobo Touch. Woo-hoo! Now THAT’s clarity! Text was sharper, denser; more choices in fonts and sizes. Still used reflective light but, boy, what an upgrade!

Until side-lighting arrived (from Nook first) in Kindle PaperWhite/Kobo Glo. Now there was no need to fiddle with LED attachments or special cases to read in the dark. Same Pearl goodness but, wow!, read in any light! Not just on the beach! 😉

Then in March, Kobo launched "HD" in its Kobo Aura: side-light but with a screen resolution that was truly *better* than paper … more fonts, font sizes, read in any light, type crispier than bacon!

It’s been a quick evolution and pretty amazing that the prices have remained hovering between $100 and $150 since the launch of the big blue button Kobo Original in May 2010. Personally, I am still astounded by the high quality of the Kobo Aura and recommend it highly to anyone who is a dedicated book reader in the epub camp.

But what’s right around the corner from Amazon, B&N or Kobo? Hard to say but you can rule out one thing: Sony. What a sad missed opportunity that it didn’t have the vision to press its early advantages and global branding.

Bookeen to Launch 8" eReader – the Cybook Ocean – The Digital Reader October 30, 2013 um 4:47 pm

[…] not the Cybook XL (the name Bookeen teased on their blog some months back). It won’t have the Ultra-HD E-ink screen that I suggested might exist, and in fact it won’t even have an E-ink […]

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