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The man in the sunglasses punching the air and roaring, apparently at no one, could be watching a football match; the laughing woman behind her sunglasses might be tuned in to an episode of Friends. Both will be wearing video glasses, equipped with the world’s smallest television.
Paul Strzelecki, a director with the company that has developed the “eyescreen”, believes it will be on sale next year for about the price of a pair of quality sunglasses.
He claims it to be “the first truly personal video experience”. “No one else can see what you are watching. It is much better than viewing a two-inch screen at arm’s length. We describe it as ‘actually small but virtually large’.”
In spite of its size – its display area measures just 6mm by 5mm, which is roughly the same as the pupil of an eye – the eyescreen made a big impression at the mobile industry’s recent 3GSM exhibition and conference in Barcelona.
Developed by the Edinburgh-based MicroEmissive Displays (MED), it offers high-quality, flicker-free viewing using the word’s first polymer organic light-emitting diode (P-OLED) based micro-display and requires little more power than a hearing aid.
The screen can be integrated into a range of portable devices from digital cameras (where it can be used in viewfinders) to a new generation of low-cost, lightweight but stylish video glasses – which look virtually the same as ordinary glasses or sunglasses but contain side-located displays to produce images that are directed round and on to the lenses. These can be wirelessly connected by Bluetooth technology to a receiver or player carried in the user’s pocket.
Mr Strzelecki, one of the directors of MED, says the company has already made its first volume shipment of displays – to an Asian manufacturer which produces low-cost “nightscopes” for night viewing – and is now looking for partners to help it manufacture the display in much larger quantities.
He argues that the development of the screen marks a significant step forward for the mobile video sector. Up until now, he says, the take-up of mobile video has been hampered by problems of screen size, image quality, power consumption, unit weight and product price (in contrast to mobile audio, which has already achieved portability in consumer devices as a result of solving the equivalent problems).
Mr Strzelecki adds that the development generated considerable excitement at 3GSM. “I met with many of the big content providers,” he says. “And they have a lot of content to liberate. We see this as the ‘fifth screen’ after cinema, television, PCs and mobile phones.”
The key to the eyescreen is the use of P-OLED technology to create hundreds of thousands of dots of a specially developed polymer which are layered on top of a standard silicon chip. Each dot of polymer emits light when a charge is run though it. As a result there is no need for the power-hungry backlight required by liquid crystal displays (LCDs).
The use of a silicon chip as the base component enables much of the electronics and intelligence to be implemented on the chip, thereby enabling a dramatic reduction in component count, size, weight and overall system cost.
MED claims the technology works about 100 times faster than the fastest alternative, creating a blur-free picture, and requires about a tenth as much power, a feature which is critical for cordless video products.
The company, led by CEO Bill Miller, was established at The Scottish Microelectronics Centre at Edinburgh University specifically to develop personal microdisplays for video and still images.
It raised £14m through a UK Aim listing at the end of 2004.
It licensed OLED and P-OLED technology from other companies and concentrated on understanding how to layer this sort of material on to a standard chip and on how to manufacture the combination in bulk. The results could be highly entertaining.