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OPLIN 4Cast #315: Eye of the reader

Posted in 4cast

eye chartChristmas 2012 saw very heavy sales of tablet computers, which some say is bad news for e-readers. Why buy a device that is designed for nothing but reading books, especially when tablets (and smartphones) keep getting cheaper? You can’t even watch a video on an e-reader! But there is one thing e-readers might have going for them; many people believe they’re easier on the eyes because they use e-ink. Other folks, however, argue that the e-ink eye strain advantage is just a myth. And while some mobile devices may soon offer an extra e-ink screen, it’s not because of our eyes.

  • LCD panel with 5 second refresh designed to stop eye strain ( Humphries)  “The panel stops eye strain by greatly reducing the refresh rate of the screen. Typically this can be 60 times per second for a normal LCD. With a still image, SEL [Semiconductor Energy Laboratory] only needs to refresh this new panel once every 5 seconds. The backlight has also been tweaked so as not to produce light that has a wavelength below 420nm–light that is thought to harm your eyes. The end result is a panel that is very easy on your eyes yet still capable of performing like a typical LCD.”
  • Russian YotaPhone promises dual 4.3-inch LCD and E Ink displays in Q3 of next year (Engadget/Sharif Sakr)  “At the same time, Yota’s own pre-installed software will pull notifications from the OS and allow them to stay up on the rear display for as long as they’re needed, while placing almost no added burden on the 2,100mAh battery. By divvying up labor this way, the company says it can boost battery life by at least 50 percent, while also improving readability in direct sunlight and allowing the time, messages, and other notifications to always be visible at a glance.”
  • E-ink case turns the back of your phone into a second screen (Wired/Tim Maly)  “Like all e-ink screens, it only consumes power when the display is changed. This allows for an always-on ambient visual interface. What can you do with a second screen on the back of your phone? A lot, it turns out. The most basic application is personalization. You can put pictures there and other people can look at them.”
  • New study suggests E-ink is NOT better for your eyes than LCDs (The Digital Reader/Nate Hoffelder)  “The results from the visual fatigue query were fairly close, though the LCD did rate marginally higher. Even the reading speed was virtually identical. In fact, the only major difference was when the test subjects were queried about general fatigue. LCD test subjects reported a higher general fatigue level than did E-ink test subjects, but that could be due to the size and weight of the iPad. E-ink is often described as being just like reading on paper, and that’s why the scientists were surprised to discover that the results were so similar.”

Ultraviolet fact:
The reference to “below 420nm” (420 nanometer) light wavelength in the first article means the LCD panel does not produce ultraviolet light, which can be harmful to your eyes (and the reason we’re supposed to wear sunglasses in the summer).