Sharp to mass-produce low-power mobile displays in 2017

MEMS-IGZO screens could halve power use in smartphones

Sharp's MEMS-IGZO display prototype tablet is shown off in Tokyo on Friday. The display technology could help halve power consumption in mobile devices.

Sharp's MEMS-IGZO display prototype tablet is shown off in Tokyo on Friday. The display technology could help halve power consumption in mobile devices.

Sharp has set 2017 as its target for mass production of a new display it says will reduce power consumption in smartphones and tablets.

The MEMS-IGZO display, being developed under a 2012 tie-up with Qualcomm subsidiary Pixtronix, could be used in smartphones and tablets as well as larger displays.

Compared to current LCDs, MEMS-IGZO technology can operate without blurring the image in temperatures down to minus 30 C, offers better color purity and gamut, and has ultra-low power consumption.

Depending on usage, devices could run for twice as long using the new displays instead of LCD, said Pixtronix President Greg Heinzinger.

The "programmable display" can change power usage depending on whether the user is looking at a video or an e-book, for instance, Heinzinger said, adding that most display technologies use the same power regardless of the content. Color gamut, depth and fidelity can also be modified depending on use.

Power efficiency will become a crucial feature of next-generation displays because resolution has basically reached the limits of perception of the human eye, Sharp Devices Group Chief Officer Norikazu Hohshi told the briefing.

The company is licensing MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technology from Pixtronix. Qualcomm has long been trying to make the technology popular, and commercialized its related Mirasol low-power display in its Toq smartwatch last year.

MEMS displays work in a fundamentally different way than LCDs. Thousands of miniature shutters, as tiny as one per pixel, modulate light emitted from RGB LEDs to produce different colors. It takes only 100 microseconds for the shutters to move and the system has a faster reaction time than LCD pixels, which are each paired with a color filter to allow either red, blue or green light to pass.

IGZO (indium gallium zinc oxide) refers to Sharp's semiconductor technology used with the MEMS shutters. The MEMS-IGZO displays can be built using existing LCD manufacturing infrastructure, which would be a cost benefit.

At the briefing, Sharp showed off the latest MEMS-IGZO prototype, a 7-inch WXGA tablet that displayed a variety of images and text. As the screen changed from color photos to grayscale text, the reading on a power meter next to the device dropped.

Another MEMS-IGZO tablet was set up under a light that emulated bright sunlight. It displayed pages from "Alice in Wonderland" that were easy to see and read in the glare.

Sharp's 2017 target for mass production follows questions about when the tie-up would reach fruition. Qualcomm invested US$120 million in the struggling Japanese electronics maker over the past two years, but that injection was dependent on the latter meeting guidelines for its financial health.

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