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Qualcomm's Mirasol gets a revival

Ultra-low power screen technology demonstrated in 577ppi 5-inch screen, but first commercial target may be smart watches


Published: 23 May, 2013

READ MORE: Qualcomm | Display

With all the - possibly misguided - excitement about 'smart watches', Qualcomm may have reawakened its interest in its ultra-low power display technology, Mirasol. Last year, the company backed away from direct commercialization of the MEMS-based system, though it suggested it could license it to partners. But it was demonstrating the latest iteration of Mirasol very visibly at the SID Display Week event in Canada, and company representatives said it could turn up in small-screen devices (about 1.5-inches) this year.

That could point to the smart watch launches that many are expecting from Samsung, Microsoft and even the Apple 'iWatch'. Though Samsung and LG have sold cellphone/watches for several years, they have never been a mainstream category, but they would be a strong target for Mirasol, which has mainly been implemented in small sizes and reportedly struggled to scale up to full smartphone or tablet sizes.

However, the prototype demonstrated at the show suggests that, while commercial launches this year may be in the small-screen sector, Qualcomm has overcome some of the challenges of adapting its technology for larger displays and also for full color. It was showing a 5.1-inch screen boasting massive resolution of 2560x1440, which means pixel density of 577 per inch (this compares with 440ppi on a full HD 1920x1080 display such as that on the newest Samsung Galaxy 4S).

As well as high resolution, Mirasol's chief claim to fame has been its very low power consumption, which can be as much as six times better than LCD or OLED smartphone screens. It uses ambient light and MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) to create small air gaps - as their size changes, the light color passing through is manipulated. They provide very clear visibility in sunlight or in limited light, though colors can be rather washed out, say critics.

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