Qualcomm’s Mirasol display stays small, for now

Qualcomm’s Mirasol display stays small, for now.

Peter Clarke

9/17/2010 5:42 AM EDT

LONDON – Qualcomm is focused on 5.7-inch diagonal and smaller applications for its Mirasol display right now, even though there is no technical reason why the technology could not address larger applications, according to Cheryl Goodman, director of marketing for Qualcomm MEMS Technologies.

On key stopping off point in display scaling has become the 9.7-inch size popularized by Apple with its iPad tablet computer, Goodman acknowledged.

“Qualcomm is super-connected to what’s happening in the mobile device where Mirasol can offset the problem of power consumption,” said Goodman. “First out will be a 5.7-inch e-reader.” Goodman said that rather than scaling to a larger sized display Qualcomm was likely to add smaller sizes tuned to the needs of the smartphone. The 5.7-inch display has a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels at 220 pixels per inch.

The Mirasol technology, which Qualcomm (San Diego, Calif.) acquired in 2004, can save power as it is non-volatile, does not require a back-light and is reflective, making use of ambient light. However, by the same token the display could be seen as less intense and visually appealing than a saturated emmissive display, such as OLED (see Comment: Qualcomm’s MEMS display is smart but is it bright enough?)

Mirasol is based on a MEMS structure combined with thin film optics to create interferometric modulation. The color display is thin and bi-stable so that power is only consumed when changing the status of display. This has the disadvantage that grey-scale requires the application of spatial and temporal dithering. Nonetheless the display is capable of running video at 30-frame per second.

“It is difficult, challenging stuff,” said Goodman, adding “There’s no fundamental reason why the technology could not go larger [than 5.7-inch diagonal].”

Goodman acknowledged that Apple’s launch of the iPad had created a consumer appetite and expectation around the 9.7-inch display size. “We would be remiss if we didn’t investigate that.”

Qualcomm has a dedicated Mirasol 4.5-generation display fab in Taiwan set to deliver in volume in 4Q10 so Mirasol displays are expected to turn up in products in 1H11. A year previously the e-reader design win was expected to deploy in fall 2010.

Goodman declined to comment on reports that Qualcomm is looking to spend as much as $2-billion to build a follow-on display fab.

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