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Display Revolution: LED to OLED to E-Ink

Flat-screen LCD displays have swept the field, replacing CRTs as computer monitors and picture tubes for TVs. The revolution is complete, so it's time to move on to the next thing!

At CES, Samsung was showing "LED TV" models, which actually aren't a new display technology. Instead, they are LCDs with LED back-lighting, replacing the traditional Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp (CCFL) light source to offer higher contrast ratios and energy savings. The LED designs also can be edge-lit, with the electronics around the sides of the displays allowing them to be even more ridiculously thin.

Another competitor is OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode), which does not require a backlight, and therefore can display deeper blacks with a higher contrast ratio, save more energy, and be even thinner and lighter.

At CES, LG demonstrated a 15-inch OLED TV, model EL9500, due around this summer, which is water resistant, and an amazing 0.1 inch thin (yes, that 1/10 of an inch). Sony also showed a 24 inch OLED 3D TV prototype.

OLED also is coming to portable devices in the form of AMOLED (Active Matrix OLED), which offers brighter and thinner displays and longer battery life.

For example, the Microsoft Zune HD (see previous post) media player has an OLED display, as does the new Google Nexus One smartphone. And it's used on multimedia phones like the fun Verizon / Samsung Rogue, with a 3.1" widescreen AMOLED display, at 800 x 480 resolution for Web browsing on the go.

And we're not done. The completion is heating up in E-Book Readers with E-ink displays, with the Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle (see previous post) joined by the Barnes & Noble Nook, plus new announcements at CES from well-known brands including Audiovox / RCA and Samsung, and some other new entrants.

But E-ink is not just for digital paper for electronic books. The Verizon / Samsung Alias 2 puts E-ink technology to work for the keys, so they can be reconfigured as you re-orient the phone.

The Alias 2 has a clever dual-hinge design: flip up vertically to use it as a phone, or open horizontally to send text messages in landscape mode.

As you reorient, the 10 x 4 grid of E-ink keys are re-labeled to match: they show a standard phone keypad for making calls, and full QWERTY keypad for texting -- which can switch between letters and numbers / symbols. The remaining keys then serve as one-press hot keys.

The E-ink lettering is crisp and clear, very readable in normal light or in the dark with back lighting. The phone keys have room for each digit plus the associated three letter, and the dedicated keys use words (Space, SEND) and symbols (envelope for mail). The 4-way cursor pad section even relocates, with the keys grayed to make them stand out. And, of course, the E-ink persists even when the phone is turned off, so the keys are not left blank.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on these mobile phones and smartphones, and my Media Players Gallery for more on media players and E-Book Readers.

Find the Verizon / Samsung Alias 2 on Amazon.com

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