How Clearink could im­prove screens on your de­vices

Is this a new chap­ter for e-read­ers and tablets? David Crookes looks at a new tech­nol­ogy that could rev­o­lu­tionise the way we read

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What is Clearink?

Clearink is the name of a new kind of elec­tronic-pa­per dis­play for mo­bile de­vices. It’s be­ing her­alded as a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to the cur­rent elec­tronic ink (or e-ink) screens. Cre­ated by a com­pany called Clearink Dis­plays ( clearinkdis­plays .com), the tech­nol­ogy seeks to im­prove the screens used by e-read­ers such as the Kin­dle and other mo­bile de­vices, and those who have seen it say it could prove rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

Why is it in­ter­est­ing?

Aside from the fact that the dis­play is just as friendly on the eyes as an e-ink screen, Clearink is also ca­pa­ble of run­ning video – in colour. It can dis­play text and an­i­ma­tions on the same page, and run video on a full screen, mak­ing it more ver­sa­tile than e-ink. At the same time, it of­fers the same low-power con­sump­tion as e-ink and it can be used out­doors in di­rect sun­light. Clearink won the Best in Show dur­ing Dis­play Week 2017 ( bit.ly/dis­play430) for its video­ca­pable e-pa­per.

How good are its video ca­pa­bil­i­ties?

Not bad by any means, al­though it has a way to go be­fore it can match the LCD and OLED tech­nol­ogy used by cur­rent and forth­com­ing phones and tablets. The ini­tial dis­plays will have a res­o­lu­tion of 212dpi, but they’ll be lim­ited to just 4,096 colours (putting Clearink on a par with the 16-bit high-colour tech­nol­ogy of yes­ter­year) and the re­fresh rate will be only 33fps (frames per sec­ond). That’s higher than a Kin­dle, though, and as the tech im­proves so will the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

How does Clearink work?

As with e-ink, Clearink uses a prin­ci­ple called elec­trophore­sis, which al­lows thou­sands of cap­sules to be ar­ranged to form char­ac­ters that look as sharp as a printed page. By ap­ply­ing a volt­age, the cap­sules are moved around a fluid while the pix­els are switched on and off, form­ing images and words on the screen.

How­ever, whereas e-ink uses black and white cap­sules to show words and images on the screen, Clearink only needs the black ones.

How is colour cre­ated then?

The com­pany says this is achieved by over­lay­ing an LCD colour layer. This means that it needs more power than a mono­chrome re­flec­tive epaper dis­play but it also makes it pos­si­ble for Clearink de­vices to dis­play colour­ful an­i­ma­tions and videos, and lets you have mov­ing images on the same page as text.

Are the screens vi­brant?

The colours can look a tad washed out but Clearink says the screens aren’t aim­ing for the stan­dard of LCD or OLED,

even though they of­fer the same solid re­sponse times. In­stead, they want their dis­plays to be as good as printed pa­per and they are quick to point out that the whites of­fer 83% re­flec­tion, which is al­most dou­ble what e-ink can de­liver.

Does that make the screens easy on the eyes?

Very much so – Clearink emits no ul­tra­vi­o­let or blue light so it of­fers the same ben­e­fit as e-ink screens. This is very timely given re­cent ef­forts to try and re­duce or elim­i­nate the amount of ul­tra­vi­o­let and blue light emit­ted from the dis­plays we spend so long star­ing at. There is wide­spread worry that such screens are dam­ag­ing our eyes.

Why is blue light dan­ger­ous?

These rays have short wave­lengths and lots of en­ergy and they pen­e­trate to the retina. This has been shown, over time, to dam­age light­sen­si­tive cells, in­creas­ing the risk of mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion (an eye con­di­tion that can cause blind­ness). Blue light is also un­der­stood to af­fect our cir­ca­dian rhythm, dis­turb­ing our sleep. It’s no sur­prise that man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Ap­ple have been look­ing at ways to re­move blue light from our com­puter, phone and other de­vice screens, each of which emit sig­nif­i­cant amounts of it.

How will it im­prove bat­tery life?

By opt­ing not to back­light the dis­play, bat­tery sav­ings of be­tween 80% and 90% can be achieved com­pared to LCD. Long-last­ing power is a big sell­ing point of Clearink, mak­ing its dis­plays not only per­fect for use in schools – the com­pany hopes to pro­duce eschool­books – but also open­ing up the pos­si­bil­i­ties for them to be used in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries where con­ser­va­tion of power is vi­tal.

What de­vices is Clearink cre­at­ing?

As well as eschool­books for the ed­u­ca­tion mar­ket, the com­pany’s web­site shows Clearink dis­plays in use on smart­watches, smart­phones and tablets. The screens can stretch to larger sizes, which means lap­tops could also ben­e­fit from the tech­nol­ogy. You’d cer­tainly be able to view apps and web pages as well as ebooks, an­i­ma­tion and video on a Clearink dis­play. In­deed, Clearink is con­cen­trat­ing its ef­forts on video dis­plays rather than ‘bistable’ de­vices such as straight­for­ward e-read­ers (bistable means en­ergy is used to change an im­age or text but not to hold it on the screen).

Can I get a Clearink de­vice now?

Not yet. The tech­nol­ogy is still at the pro­to­type stage but it does hope to have a video ver­sion avail­able for the pub­lic to use by the end of the year, with a bistable ver­sion po­ten­tially rolling out next year. It seems more re­luc­tant to pro­mote a mono­chrome dis­play, per­haps be­cause this would di­rectly com­pete with the Kin­dle and the huge mar­ket share cur­rently held by Ama­zon’s de­vice.

Will the de­vices be ex­pen­sive?

They shouldn’t be, since only one pig­ment is used, which makes them less costly to man­u­fac­ture than cur­rent dis­plays. Clearink also only needs three sand­wiched lay­ers whereas e-ink re­quires more and LCD at least half a dozen. When the de­vices go into mass pro­duc­tion (they can be man­u­fac­tured in ex­ist­ing LCD fac­to­ries), the costs should be brought down even fur­ther.

Haven’t we seen this kind of thing be­fore?

Of course. Other com­pa­nies have worked on e-ink al­ter­na­tives. The most promis­ing has been Li­qua­vista ( li­qua­vista.com), which was founded as a spin-off from Philips in 2006. Ac­quired by Sam­sung in 2011 and then sold to Ama­zon in 2013, it spe­cialises in cre­at­ing colour dis­plays with a long bat­tery life that aren’t im­pacted by bright lights. But we’ve yet to see it used in any de­vice.

Clearink prom­ises to be easy on the eyes and claims to ex­tend bat­tery life

Clearink screens of­fer bet­ter qual­ity than stan­dard e-read­ers

Clearink works in a clever way, as you can see from this di­a­gram

The blue light from your phone can dam­age cells in your eyes

Li­qua­vista is another e-ink al­ter­na­tive but it has yet to be used in a con­sumer de­vice

Clearink hopes to cre­ate eschool­books for chil­dren to use

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