I don't usually blog about Pacifica Fund portfolio companies, for a variety of reasons, but I'm going to break that rule here. (Consider this my full disclosure.) I've been involved with Clairvoyante since our initial investment in 2001. The company's business is to create novel 'Pentile' subpixel layouts and rendering software that offer improvements in power, brightness, and cost in flat panels compared to conventional RGB 'stripe' designs that have been around since the beginning of the color LCD business. Recently the company got a very nice pickup from Technology Review that was based on its announcements at the annual SID display industry trade show. That's gratifying in raising awareness, but the ensuing chain of pass-along coverage also makes an interesting exhibition of the lesser habits of the technical blogosphere, and motivates a slightly mendacious use of googlejuice to amend the record.
The basic Pentile design is a result of insight into the human visual system. For some reason lost in the evolutionary record, we only perceive blue at about half the resolution at which we can discern features in the red/green space. So why should we give blue subpixels equal weight when laying out panels that are simulations of the natural visual experience? By using this bit of naturally occurring slack in engineering tradeoffs, one can come up with designs that yield more brightness for equivalent power, or allow display power reductions of up to 50%, and often give cost benefits. The company site has a more cogent explanation, with a cute simulation. Given that mobile device manufacturers are scratching for energy savings in the face of increased power demands from displays, MPEG processors, more complex basebands and so forth, some of these tradeoffs sound attractive. The Pentile designs have been in the hands of flat panel manufacturers for some time, and there are standard modules now available to OEMs of cell phones and other mobiles. (This investment is one of the better ones for getting sneaks on upcoming cool toys. Except I can't blog about any of them. Rats.)
Additionally, the company has been working on some further optimizations that can occur when the content to be displayed is time varying, e.g., video on smart mobiles, or even full size HDTVs, allowing further improvements in brightness/power. (Televisions account for 6-8% of US wireline power consumption. Who knew? Not me.) So Clairvoyante is cooking up a new generation of their designs that combine the subpixel tricks with dynamic changes in backlighting to further reduce power and apparent contrast. Those are coming soon, but not yet in commercial product.
So the original Technology Review story got the two generation story right, making it clear that the Pentile layouts are here-and-now, and the dynamic systems is coming soon. From there the story bounced through the gadgetsphere, shedding words and nuance as it went. For one example, Gizmodo to Ubergizmo to 2dayBlog. I suppose I shouldn't be complaining about coverage that spells the names right, but while the blogosphere often turns up its nose at the MSM's verbatim parroting of AP coverage (or press releases for that matter), at least the gadget-chasers have developed similar habits. Along the line the distinction between two different generations of technology got lost, with Gizmodo conflating the initial Pentile design with the new dynamic control, but at least the later follow-ons got it it right that end user devices with the first should be out early next year. (No, I can't say who or what.)
Since some of the Gizmodo commenters seemed fascinated re where the name came from, for the record: One of the first designs from the company had a pattern of five (penta-) subpixels to cover (-tile) the LCD panel. And once you've got the name established with the customers, you don't change it gratuitously even if later designs use a different repeat pattern. At least not with my money, you don't...