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New tech could bring a splash of color to your monochrome e-reader

E-ink screens, the monochrome displays nearly ubiquitous in e-readers, have a whole host of advantages over their colorful counterparts. Their power draw is relatively tiny, for one (e-ink-touting gadgets like Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite last up to eight weeks on a charge versus mere hours on a comparable, full-color device), and they don’t emit light naturally, reducing both screen glare exhibited by LCD and OLED panels and the eye fatigue that can result from it. But they aren’t without their drawbacks, primarily in the area of color reproduction — e-ink displays on the market today have a limited gamut. Thanks to a new technique by E Ink Holdings, the Taiwan-based firm responsible for the Pebble Time’s color e-ink display, among others, e-ink screens may soon sport the same wide range of hues as their alternatives.

The new technology, Advanced Color ePaper (ACeP), shares a surprising number of characteristics in common with e-ink screens on the market. The experimental panels don’t draw significantly more power than current-gen panels, for one, and they aren’t any less legible, or prone to irksome reflections. Significantly, though, the ACeP uses a layer of fluid, carefully incorporated into the microcapsules that make up e-ink screens, that’s capable of reproducing “all the colored pigments” — all eight primary colors, in other words — in every pixel. That’s superior to older methods of color reproduction in e-ink, which achieved pixel color by combining adjacent red, green, and blue hues.

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The ACeP displays can reach resolutions up to 150 pixels per inch — about half the resolution of the Kindle Paperwhite, for comparison’s sake — and are less costly and easier to manufacture than other color e-ink technologies, which require multiple substrate layers.

“We expect ACeP to become the basis upon which another generation of EPD display products can be development,” said Frank Ko, chairman of E Ink Holdings.

Don’t hold your breath for a more colorful Kindle in the next few months or even years, though — E Ink’s chief was rather vague about ACeP’s near-term prospects. But the company’s produced a 1,600 x 2,500 prototype — best suited for “digital signage,” it said in a press release — that it’ll be showing during the 2016 SID Display Week in San Francisco.