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Toppan, MPico, and Why E-ink’s New Prism Wall Hangings Aren’t All That New

When I reported last week on the new E-ink Prism wall hangings, I said that I wasn’t terribly impressed but I forgot to explain why.

The thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen a modular wall decoration based on E-ink’s screen tech. Prism is the first to use red/white colors and a 12″ module, yes, but previous designs have been released to the market which used other sizes of E-ink screen. Those older products used black/white inks and different screen sizes to pull together the same basic trick.

Actually, they accomplished a better trick; while the Prism is intended to be interior design, those older products were intended to work as signs and thus could show more detail.

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For example, in 2013 MPico Systems and Pervasive Displays partnered to build a 19-foot sign and install it in the UN headquarters in NYC. The eWall was installed in the North Delegates Lounge, and consisted of 231 individual screen panels arranged in a grid 33 panels wide by 7 panels tall. Each panel measured 7.4″ (it’s one of Pervasive Displays' stock sizes), and had a screen resolution of 800 x 480.

19 foot e-ink signThe screen panels were made by Pervasive Displays, and the sign was assembled by  MPico Systems. They call their system Pico Sign.


toppan signageHaving launched the Pico Sign product in 2013, MPico is a relative newcomer to the market, but Toppan is not. This Japanese printing tech company was one of the original partners in developing the screen for the Sony Librie (in 2001 to 2003), and they used what they learned in that project to also develop a modular sign product which assembled E-ink screen panels into signs which could be read from across a crowded room.

They’ve also built prototypes which used other screen sizes, including Bridgestone’s now discontinued QR-LPD screen and a 42″ proof of concept sign based on Plastic Logic displays:

Plastic Logic 42 inch tiled display

Toppan’s E-ink screen panels resemble long strips and have pixels measuring 4 mm on a side, so from the viewpoint of interior design they’re not all that pretty or convenient. What’s more, they’re not as colorful as the red/white Prism screens which E-ink showed off at CES 2015 last week.

In fact, neither product mentioned above is as colorful or as convenient for the interior design market as the Prism product, which uses 12″ panels. So as you can see, it’s pretty clear why E-ink launched a new product rather than bringing out the old; neither is quite as suitable for the new market as Prism.

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