Eyes-on: Sharp's next-gen MEMS display technology

Sharp on Monday showed off its latest prototypes of a new type of display screen that it says brings several advantages over today's LCD (liquid crystal display) screens.

Sharp MEMS displayMartyn Williams
A prototype MEMS display on show by Sharp at Ceatec 2013

The screens, called MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) displays for the tiny moving parts they contain, are being developed by the Japanese company in partnership with Qualcomm and were on show at the Ceatec electronics show just outside of Tokyo.

Behind each pixel in a MEMS display is a backlight that flashes red, green and blue in fast succession, and in front of it is a tiny shutter can be opened to let light through.

Synchronized to the backlight, the shutter can control the amount of each color of light allowed through. The eye perceives these flashes as the desired hue.

Sharp

In contrast, today's LCD screens create colored pixels using three filters. The filters swallow about two thirds of the brightness of the backlight before it leaves the display, said Akira Imai, deputy general manager of Sharp's new business development center.

The MEMS display can allow all the light through, so the intensity of the backlight can be reduced using less power for the display, said Imai.

In a portable gadget, the screen often consumes more power than any other component, so reducing its demands can have a big impact on battery life.

The screens on show at Ceatec were 7-inch models with 800-pixel-by-1,280-pixel resolution. The colors were bright and the screen image was sharp, although people viewing the screens did tend to see a brief flash of red, green and blue pixel each time they turned their eyes away from the display. That's something Sharp is working on, said Imai.

Sharp also showed a version of the screen working in several low power modes.

The development work with Qualcomm began earlier this year when the U.S. company said it would invest $120 million into Sharp. The money, which was invested in two parts, was accompanied by Qualcomm's MEMS expertise. Sharp has a long history in flat-panel display technology, especially LCD, and has recently been working on a new type of display called IGZO, on which the MEMS display is partly based.

Updated at 11:22 a.m. PT with a video report from IDG News Service.

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