Flexible, 'Electric Paper' Screens -- What Companies Stand To Profit? (SI, LPL, PANL, HPQ)

 |  Includes: HPQ, LPL, OLED, SIEGY

Imagine downloading your news to a sheet of electronic paper every morning, rolling it up, sticking it in your pocket, then whipping it out for perusal on the train -- in bright daylight. Might not be far away. A long-awaited consumer electronics technology that could change the way all media is distributed is rapidly approaching -- flexible, superbright and paper-thin video screens that can be cheaply produced.

At the Plastics Electronics trade fair in Frankfurt last month, a Siemens (ticker: SI) rep told The Guardian that his company's e-paper-in-the-making has "images in color, and it can broadcast anything that can be shown on a regular flat screen monitor or TV, although with a slightly lower quality. These could be short film clips or flash animations like those found on the Internet."

Hewlett Packard (ticker: HPQ) recently showed off a 'roll-to-roll' printing process for producing such flexible screens. And a recent Reuters article reviewed some of the other companies that stand to produce -- and profit from-- this new screen technology:

"Electronic paper" is a display technology that makes possible flexible or even rollable displays which, unlike current computer screens, can be read in bright sunlight.

But, much like when LCD displays came to the market, consumers are first likely to see the technology in clocks and watches. The popular example of an electronic newspaper that automatically updates itself wirelessly is still years away.

A number of companies are currently working on such displays—LG.Philips LCD (ticker: LPL) and Massachusetts-based E Ink announced last month that they have developed a protype 10-inch display, and Fujitsu showed a color display in July.

Philips' Polymer Vision unit aims to mass-produce a rollable 5-inch display by the end of 2006, and among the first consumer products is a watch with a curved electronic paper display from Seiko Epson, due to hit the Japanese market next year...

The technology at the heart of electronic paper? Tiny black and white particles that are suspended in capsules about the diameter of a human hair. The particles respond to electrical charges—a negative field pushes the negatively charged black particles away to the surface, where they create a black dot. Positively charged white particles create the opposite effect.

At a 10th of a millimeter, the thickness of an ordinary sheet of paper, electronic paper is much thinner than the liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) used in today's computers and mobile phones. It also consumes 100 times less power because it does not require a back light and only needs electricity to change the image, not to hold it.

Like ordinary paper, it reflects light, making it readable even in difficult conditions such as direct sunlight... Michigan-based Gyricon is already selling e-paper signs and message boards that can be updated wirelessly—allowing, for example, to centrally update room signs throughout a building.

The Reuters article only addressed two types of technologies under development for 'plastic displays' -- there's another one to be aware of, which many analysts expect to eventually beat out these two: Organic Light-emitting Diodes or OLED. OLED screens are currently under production from these public companies:

  • Universal Display Corporation (ticker: PANL)
  • Applied Films (ticker: AFCO)
  • Cambridge Display Technology (ticker: OLED), and
  • eMagin (ticker: EMA)