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Silly Rabbit! Like Trix, color e-readers are for kids

Laws of physics keep saturated e-paper color from grown-ups

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CES 2013 If you're expecting rich, vibrant colors on your next ebook reader, you're going to be disappointed – the laws of physics are against you.

"Somebody like the National Geographic is still not going to be happy with our product," Sriram Peruvemba, chief marketing officer of E Ink, the company that creates the e-paper displays for such devices as the Amazon Kindle and Kindle Paperwhite, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader, and others, told The Reg at CES 2013.

"It's a physics challenge," Peruvemba told us. "Basically we need a lot of light going into the system." The reason for this is that to produce a color image, a color filter is put on top of each monochrome e-ink pixels, which reduces the amount of light going into the display that can be reflected back for your viewing pleasure.

E-ink displays have a pair of big advantages over backlit LCD and self-lit AMOLED displays, namely extremely low power needs and readability in sunlight. Unfortunately, Peruvemba said, "When you wanted to keep all those features and add color to it, it was a challenge."

That's not to say that E Ink hasn't produced a color e-reader display. Their 4096-color Triton Imaging Film has been adopted by OEM customers in China, Russia, and elsewhere, and is currently being used in educational settings.

What's more, the company recently upgraded their Triton displays. "Essentially we wanted to make the color contrast better," Peruvemba told us. "We've achieved enough color saturation for children's books and things like that." But not for the National Geographic.

Still and all, providing children with a thousand books on a good-enough-for-kids color e-reader that can be used for a month on one charge, Peruvemba opines, ain't chopped liver. "I woudn't even call it an e-reader," he said. "I'd call it a library."

He also noted that e-readers with his color displays are being used in educational settings in developing countries, where children often read outdoors. "Outdoors our color looks better because there's more light shining into it," he said.

Although you may not find magazine-quality color e-paper displays on your next e-reader, you may run into them elsewhere – and not just in your kid's e-reader "library". E Ink is working on advertising-oriented displays that may soon appear on a billboard near you.

"If we increase the size of the pixel," Peruvemba said, "the color saturation improves to the point where it looks almost as good as LCD." So good, he claims, that "If you're at least 15 feet away, it looks gorgeous."

But that gorgeousness won't scale down to color e-reader size in the forseeable future – "not anytime soon," as Peruvemba put it. Nor are there any US OEMs currently working with E Ink to bring a color e-reader to market – or, more precisely, none that have been publically announced.

"If I told you who we were talking with," he told us on the CES ShowStoppers exhibition floor, "next year you would be here, but I wouldn't." ®

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