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Tiny Screens, Big Images
by Leander Kahney

3:00 a.m. Sep. 11, 2000 PDT

   

Have you ever been on an airplane and wanted to watch a racy DVD on your laptop but were too embarrassed?

Later this year you may be able to, thanks to a new range of microdisplays -- tiny screens that when magnified appear as large as a regular monitor but offer total privacy.


    



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Based on a new, high-resolution and low-cost display technology, microdisplays will start appearing on the market toward the end of the year, and may impact everything from how you use a computer to the way you watch TV.

Microdisplays work by magnifying a tiny screen to fill your field of vision, allowing a display measuring one-tenth of an inch to look like a full-sized theater screen.

Thanks to their diminutive proportions, microscreens can be built directly on top of silicon chips and easily mounted on special glasses, monocles and other lightweight, head-mounted displays.

In the third quarter, for example, inViso plans to introduce a pair of eShades that can be plugged into a laptop or portable DVD player.

The potential uses for microdisplays are legion, said Gary Jones, the CEO of eMagin, an upstate New York manufacturer of screens for microdisplays.

EMagin recently developed the first chip-sized, active-matrix screen with the resolution of a standard 1,280 by 1,024 monitor. The screen boasts more than 1 million pixels packed into an area smaller than a postage stamp. Measuring only 0.77 of an inch diagonally, the screen can show real-time video in 256 shades of gray, the company said.

Within a year, microdisplays will turn up in headsets like inViso's that can be plugged into notebooks or desktops, Jones said, as well as a wide range of digital camera and camcorder viewfinders, cell phones, handhelds, car audio players, and instrument panels.

Jones said he also expects to see microdisplays for handhelds that solve the problem of trying to squint at unreadable, monochrome screens.

"You could have an ultra-portable laptop," he said. "The headset folds up in your pocket and connects to a handheld with a fold-out keyboard. So you have a large, virtual CRT monitor and a keyboard, but it all fits in the pocket of your coat."

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