The tech defining next-gen computing

13th Oct 2012 | 11:00

The tech defining next-gen computing

It's not science fiction - it's happening now!

Next-gen computing: defining the future

The post PC age. The term may have been coined by Steve Jobs and caused Steve Ballmer some difficult moments in interviews, but we're not worried about corporate point-scoring - we're excited about the possibilities beyond the desktop.

Once, personal computing simply meant having access to a machine you could call your own, and you could do so without needing to spend a fortune. Today, it has become much more personal.

That might sound like boardroom rhetoric, but if you consider how computing has changed since Windows ruled all, it's undeniable. Today, people don't just rely on a PC linked to a socket in the wall for internet access. Instead we depend on gadgets like smartphones, tablets and laptops.

These portable devices allow us to access our data wherever and whenever we want. That's the modern essence of personal computing - your data, your way, anywhere, any time. We're going to explore the technologies that the world's biggest tech firms are cooking up to make personal computing even more immediate and powerful.

We're not interested in the pie-in-the-sky musings of futurologists and professional guessers, though. We've commissioned our team of crack writers to dig around and uncover technologies and products that are nearing completion. We'll look at the next chips Intel hopes will push computing to newer heights while frugally sipping battery power. We'll explore the graphics technologies that Nvidia believes will let your smartphone play games with dazzle and finesse previously reserved for desktop PCs.

Finally, we'll investigate new storage technologies, cutting-edge screens and other innovations in mobile technology that will soon be arriving in your hand.

The internet of things

iOT

Website:www.theinternetofthings.eu

What is it?

The internet used to be just about connecting computers to share information, but it 's grown into something much bigger. In 2008 there were more devices (not just computers and phones) connected to the internet than there were people on Earth. The internet of things is about the staggering potential of putting absolutely everything online.

Why is it important?

Imagine linking everything to the internet, from pacemakers to roads. Now consider what would be possible if those objects could all broadcast data too. Suddenly we would have a much greater understanding of the world around us, and a wealth of new data that could be used to improve our lives. Entire cities would be networked, with older infrastructure being upgraded and incorporated to work alongside the new.

How does it work? Under IPv4, the world was running out of the IP addresses necessary for devices to connect to the internet. Some countries had even exhausted their supply. IPv6 – the next generation internet protocol – will enable 340 trillion, trillion, trillion devices to connect to the internet. That's 100 devices for every atom on Earth.

IPv6 makes the internet of things possible, and was a result of technologists striving towards that goal. Cisco estimates that by 2020 there will 50 billions devices online, all broadcasting and receiving data.

NTV processors

NTV processors

Website:www.intel.com

What is it?

A serious x86 processor capable of running at up to 10 times the efficiency of today's CPUs, with power consumption as low as 2mW and the ability to scale from 280mV when running at 3MHz, all the way up to 1.2v at 1GHz.

Why is it important?

Improved energy efficiency is vital for the growth of the computing continuum, not just in terms of HPC servers, but also in terms the devices in your pocket.

How does it work?

Back in September 2011, Intel showed off a prototype x86 CPU so low-powered that it could be powered by a solar cell the size of a postage stamp. This was its first introduction of the Claremont platform and its vision for near-threshold voltage (NTV) processors.

The threshold voltage is the voltage required for a given transistor to switch into an on state. Current CPU designs operate at several times the threshold voltage in order to make gains in performance. If you run a processor at close to the threshold voltage, you make significant gains in efficiency - Intel is claiming 5-10 times.

Another by-product of operating this close to the threshold voltage is that the processor can operate at a wide dynamic range of operating frequencies.

Nvidia GeForce GRID

GeForce GRID

Website:www.nvidia.com

What is it?

GeForce GRID is the name given to a new GPU capable of powering game streaming servers with twice the power efficiency of the current crop. It allows the servers to move from one game each to around eight streams per server.

Why is it important?

Again, such energy efficiency is going to be vital for a growing market like game streaming, which relies on such high performance and power-hungry servers. It will also mean the user needs only a H. 264 decoder (like a modern tablet, for example) in order to play full PC games.

How does it work?

Cloud gaming services have been around for a while, but due to weak network structure, and twice the latency and lag of a home console experience, it has yet to take off.

One of the main improvements that has come from the Nvidia GeForce GRID has been the slashing of latency between the user and the back end. One of the ways it has done this is by shifting the capture and encoding part of the stream onto the GPU itself. That means that once the card has finished displaying the frame, it's ready to be fired across the network without having to go anywhere near the CPU.

The latency you experience with a home console is around 160ms, with the first generation of cloud gaming services being almost double that. Nvidia says that with Gaikai and GeForce GRID, latency will come down to almost 150ms. The home console is in trouble.

Conflict-free microprocessor

Conflict free CPU

Website:http://supplier.intel.com

What is it?

There are four materials classed as 'conflict minerals' in today's microprocessors. One of these, tantalum, is processed from coltan. This is mainly found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where profits from smuggling finance the military regime.

Why is it important?

Profits from the sale of these materials have been linked to human rights atrocities in the eastern region of the DRC. Intel hopes that removing this money will help stop the violence.

How does it work?

When the issue first arose, Intel released a statement that it was "unable to verify the origin of the minerals which are used in our products." It then started mapping and tracing the supply chain for all the four main conflict minerals: tantalum, tungsten, gold and tin.

Flash forward to 2012 and Intel claims to have the supply line mapped to 90 per cent, and is working to ensure that in 2012 it will be able to demonstrate that its microprocessors are verified as conflict-free for tantalum. The goal is that, by the end of 2013, it will be able to say for sure that it is manufacturing the world's first microprocessor validated as entirely conflict-free for all four metals.

System on a chip

SoC

Web:www.amd.comwww.intel.comwww.nvidia.com

What is it?

The holy grail for chip manufacturers and designers has long been a full computer system shrunk down to fit on a single chip. We have been getting closer and closer, and will soon be closer still.

Why is it important?

It's all about energy consumption and efficiency. Instead of having myriad chunks of fixed-function silicon doing different things and only then talking to each other, having a single chip capable of doing everything is far more efficient.

How does it work?

These chips are a fusion of a traditional CPU and GPU, putting both bits of silicon in the same processor die. This is far more efficient than using discrete GPU and CPU silicon, though as yet the performance isn't up there with its separated brethren.

AMD will be the first to be using its latest GPU and CPU technology in its upcoming Kaveri platform in 2013 for a real performance APU.

Intel has taken a slightly different approach, essentially making its top processors close to system-on-a-chip parts with the Ivy Bridge CPUs. These have an improved DX11 GPU on-die along with the fastest consumer CPU parts around. The upcoming Haswell parts will include an even greater focus on graphics performance.

Nvidia isn't to be left out either, with its forthcoming Project Denver. Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang promised that it will be a serious gamer's chip with a full Nvidia GPU as part of the package. It's likely to be ARM-based, not x86, but could be another compelling SoC option going forward.

Memristor

memristor

Website:www.memristor.org

What is it?

A memristor is a 'memory resistor' - a resistor that 'remembers' the previously held resistance.

Why is it important?

The memristor was theorised in 1971 by Leon Chua, but it wasn't until 2008 that it was actually produced by HP Labs. The race is now on to make memristors in an affordable way, as they could potentially replace NAND flash memory.

How does it work?

The theory behind the memristor is straightforward enough - when current flows through it one way, the resistance increases. Flow current through it the other way and it decreases. When no current is flowing, it retains the last resistance that it had.

As memristors don't need a charge to hold their state, they are ideal for non-volatile operations and are a potential replacement for existing NAND flash. This is made more tempting by the fact that memristors don't need much current to operate, and can be run at far faster speeds than existing NAND flash.

There is a problem though - they're expensive to manufacture. Recent research by UCL happened upon a way of making silicon-oxide memristors using existing manufacturer technologies, which should be significantly cheaper than the big labs.

Memory Modem

Memory Modem

Website

What is it?

Memory Modem technology takes many of the ideas used in the world of communications and uses them to improve the reliability and throughput of NAND flash memory, as used in SSDs.

Why is it important?

SSD prices have fallen significantly in recent months. This has been driven by an abundance of manufacturers and improved manufacturing for the NAND flash used in SSDs, but without new technologies, these price reductions will plateau.

How does it work?

The announcement that Seagate is collaborating with DensBits to produce cheaper solid state drives for the desktop and enterprise market will hopefully shift the industry as a whole to produce even more affordable SSDs, which should mean they become truly ubiquitous. While we've seen pricing of SSDs tumble this year, this freefall isn't expected to continue due to the inherent costs of manufacturing NAND chips.

Technologies are needed that maximise existing NAND chips, and this is exactly what the agreement between DensBits and Seagate should enable. DensBits Memory Modem tech will find its way into several of Seagate's storage technologies, including three bits/cell (TLC) consumer devices and two bits/cell (MLC) enterprise offerings.

Memory Modem technology enables cells to contain more bits, and lets drives use smaller process nodes. In other words, the SSDs can use cheaper NAND flash, but operate at competitive speeds.

GPU supercomputer

GPU supercomputers

Website:www.nvidia.com

What is it?

Nvidia's latest release might look like just another graphics card, but the intended application of Tesla K20 is far removed from powering the latest games. This is a graphics processor unit designed to help Nvidia reclaim the mantle of the world's most powerful computer.

Why is it important

Nvidia's GPUs are already used by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, but this upgrade should see the supercomputer leapfrog into first place as the fastest in the world.

How does it work?

In order to claim the number one spot in the supercomputer hall of fame (www.top500.org), Nvidia needed to redesign its GPUs significantly. Not only did it need to produce a more powerful GPU, it needed to make a more efficient one at the same time.

It has done this with its latest GPU, the Tesla K20 (codename KG110) - slowing the operating frequency, but also cramming more CUDA cores into each chip. 19,000 of these new GPUs will be used to upgrade the existing Titan supercomputer, which is housed in the US Department of Energy 's biggest science laboratory.

Nvidia claims that this upgrade will equate to an eightfold improvement in performance, capable of handling 25,000 trillion floating point operations per second. It should also mean that Titan is twice as fast as the world's second fastest supercomputer, Fujistu's K Computer in Japan.

DDR4

DDR4

Website:www.jedec.org

What is it?

The replacement for the existing DDR3 memory standard found in our machines.

Why is it important?

As our systems get faster, the amount of data we shift around increases, which puts a load on the system buses and memory architecture. We can't simply stick with DDR3 and hope for the best.

How does it work?

The goal for DDR4 isn't a million miles away from the original aim for DDR3 - to improve performance over the previous technology while reducing power requirements. This latter point is achieved by setting the power requirement for DDR4 at 1.2V, as opposed to DDR3's 1.5V.

There are DDR3 memory modules available at less than 1.5V, but DDR4 is expected to follow suit, and low voltage memory running at 1.05V is likely to appear too.

When it comes to increasing the performance of DDR4, the specification doesn't see a tremendous change in the prefetch buffers, instead relying on an increase in the operating frequency to garner speed improvements.

The first DDR4 modules will have an operating frequency of 1,600MHz, though given that DDR3 already lays claims to such speeds, faster modules should be available too. The upper limit of the specification defines a 3,200MHz frequency, but it may be a while before modules running this fast are released.

John Carmack's virtual reality

Doom

Website:www.idsoftware.com

What is it?

A virtual reality headset that Doom and Quake creator John Carmack pieced together in his spare time. It uses an 'affordable' optics kit, a 6-inch screen and a software layer to drive the display, giving you the impression of old-school virtual reality.

Why is it important?

Despite a promising stab at the mainstream in the late 80s, virtual reality was limited by the hardware of the time. When the likes of graphics supremo John Carmack start getting excited though, it's worth taking a look to see where it could lead.

How does it work?

Virtual reality, if you don't remember it the first time around, works in a similar way to stereoscopic 3D. Each eye sees a slightly different image, which you then interpret as a 3D space. When it comes to VR, instead of polarising glasses, you use a helmet containing two displays. The movement of your head is recorded as an input, and is transferred to the virtual world.

VR resurfaced when John Carmack demonstrated his pet project on the subject behind closed doors at this year's E3, complete with a working headset and game. The headset comes in kit form, but the optics are good enough to make it a compelling experience.

Carmack's id Software is looking re-release Doom III later this year, and the game will support VR helmets, including the software layer needed to make those optics work when attached to a standard screen.

Next-gen computing: defining the future

Autostereoscopic 3D

Nintendo 3DS

Website

What is it?

3D, but without the glasses. Autostereoscopic 3D uses a range of technologies to present each eye with a different image to convince your brain that the image you're looking at has depth.

Why is it important?

3D isn't for everyone, and when you have to put a pair of glasses in front of your eyes, it has a limited lifespan. Several technologies are vying to make glasses-free 3D a reality.

How does it work?

We could point a finger at Avatar for the resurfacing fad of 3D in cinemas, but it has had some advantages, like rock-solid 120Hz screens. Maybe autostereoscopic tech will produce some other lasting benefits after the 3D trend wanes.

Of the different autostereoscopic technologies we've seen, parallax barrier has the most traction, and can be found in the likes of the Nintendo 3DS and LG Optimus 3D. It uses an array of slits in front of the display that mean that each eye views a different set of pixels - a systems that works reasonably well with handheld devices, but is a little less convincing on larger displays like TVs.

Another option is a lenticular display, which works in a similar way to lenticular printing. The limitations are similar to parallax barrier though, in that it works better on devices you can hold.

Volumetric displays are a different idea completely, and Sony showed off such an idea with its RayModeler at Siggraph 2010. This was impressive, but the tech is difficult to implement.

Project Glass

project glass

Website

What is it?

Project Glass is an attempt by Google to develop a head-mounted display that "helps you share your life as you're living it".

Why is it important?

The fact that this is being developed by Google is reason enough to sit up and pay attention, and the concept has the potential to change the way we interact with social media sites. The prototype glasses are much smaller than previous attempts at this sort of tech.

How does it work?

The project is built around a pair of glasses that offer an integrated heads-up display, with the battery hidden inside the frame. The glasses that Google is aiming to create are relatively small, with a single screen above the right eye alongside a front-facing camera. They will connect directly to the cloud, so you won't have to tether them to your mobile phone, although doing so does make sense as well.

The glasses will be location-aware, with an integrated GPS module, and interacting with the interface will be possible by tilting your head and issuing voice commands.

Project Glass is a bold project that would have been considered fanciful if it wasn't coming out of Google Labs. Early indicators suggest that it will be released to the public some time in 2014.

Tactus Technology

Tactus Tech

Website:www.tactustechnology.com

What is it?

As the blurb for Tactus says, "Why settle for flat?" Tactus is a technology that sits over your mobile phone's screen to offer a tactile interface for your button-pushing or keyboard input.

Why is it important

Whether you're using a mobile phone or a tablet, the chances are you've experienced the frustration of using an on-screen keyboard, and made plenty of mistakes doing so. Tactus will make those button pushes much more responsive.

How does it work?

Tactus Technology is a thin membrane that sits on top of your screen and can make areas bulge depending on what is shown there. Tactus provides somewhere to naturally rest your fingers and offers a certain degree of resistance to presses.

The company behind the technology claims that adding this screen will improve the precision of presses and reduce the chance of mis-clicks.

The technology isn't limited to a standard layout. If, for instance, you were playing a game and wanted a direction pad under your thumb, then your screen could offer that kind of feedback. When they're not needed, these buttons recede into the display again.

Tactus claims that the membrane at the heart of its technology is the same thickness as the glass used on existing devices, so shouldn't add anything to the manufacturing designs. It's still early days for the technology, but it could potentially change the way we use everything from mobile phones to televisions.

IBM 5 in 5: Security

5-in-5 security

Website

What is it?

An internal IBM think tank that predicts future challenges and imagines how technology will be able to solve them. Its latest and most compelling invention is biological security.

Why is it important?

Today we lock our devices with passwords, but these are fundamentally insecure - the more passwords we need to remember, the more we reuse them and the weaker they become. This project solves that problem by using data about your body as a password.

How does it work?

IBM says: "Your biological make-up is the eye to your individual identity, and soon it will become the key to safeguarding it." In the company's view of the future, retinal scans and voice fingerprints will be combined in software to create what the company is billing as "a DNA unique online password".

Biometrics are nothing new, but IBM's system combines factors for more security. It calls this amalgam 'multi-factor biometrics'. If it gets its way, you'll speak to an ATM to withdraw cash or ask your phone to unlock. The devices would match that input with data held in the cloud, but this raises privacy worries.

According to IBM: "To be trusted, such systems should enable you to opt in or out of whatever information you choose to provide."

New RAM chips for smartphones

Samsung Galaxy S3

Website:www.samsung.com

What is it?

Samsung has increased the amount of RAM in smartphones to 2GB while using a 20-nanometer process to create tiny chips that don't drain the phone's battery.

Why is it important?

Mobile processors have become considerably more powerful in the past few years, but they're nothing without solid and capacious memory. Samsung's new chips promise to increase the speed of mobiles even more, and move them closer to desktop PCs.

How does it work?

A couple of years ago, despite having a 32GB SD card installed, your Android smartphone would frequently report that it was out of memory. 512MB of internal RAM has been replaced with the de facto 1GB recently, but it's still not quite enough.

2GB is plenty though, and Samsung has used a 20-nanometer process to create the chips, so they're a fifth slimmer than current ones, which also means that devices themselves can be nice and skinny. They use a lot less power, and more memory means devices are snappier, slicker and able to run more programs at once.

Samsung doesn't just make chips for its own phones - it produces them for all major mobile manufacturers, including its arch-rival Apple. The 2GB chips are now in mass production, and are set to debut in phones later this year.

Market research firm IHS iSuppli believes the chips will dominate the market towards the end of 2013.

Behavio

behavio

Website:www.behav.io

What is it?

An open-source project that collects data from your smartphone, like your location, altitude and even behaviour. Behavio uses as many sources as possible to build models and predictions.

Why is it important?

The ways in which people move and behave can tell us a lot about what's going on in the world, even to the extent that it can show disaster areas or outbreaks of communicable diseases.

How does it work?

It may sound like an invasion of privacy, but the team is being as transparent as possible in the way data is used and stored. As an open-source project, everyone has complete access to everything gathered, and personal information like phone numbers are encrypted as a string of random numbers that are unintelligible to humans but easy for computers to search for.

Behavio takes this data and turns it into something useful in the real world. For example, it can predict when you're about to send a text message, and even tell you what time of year you're most likely to start a new exercise regime.

On a bigger scale, it will be able to monitor users' movements to predict illness, and pinpoint outbreaks of, say, influenza.

Willow Glass

Willow Glass

Website:www.corning.com

What is it?

Willow Glass is an ultra-flexible, tough and astonishingly thin screen that can be wrapped around devices or structures.

Why is it important?

Flexible, paper-like screens are often predicted, but never see the light of day. If one company has the nous to see it through, it's Corning, which has made a name for itself with its toughened Gorilla Glass for smartphones.

How does it work?

Ever since the term 'electronic ink' was coined, electronic paper has been at the forefront of tech boffins' imaginations. In theory, it's a screen that can be flexed and bent as if it were paper, while retaining the ability to display information. It's very hard to get right, but Corning seems to have finally nailed it.

Willow Glass is just 100 microns thick - about the same as a sheet of copy paper - and is able to support both organic light emitting diodes and liquid crystal displays. Corning has also revolutionised the production process, using rollers to 'print' off reels of the glass. The potential is astounding.

Not only could it be used in smartphones that could be rolled up and slipped in a pocket, the company also thinks it could be used in solar cells and lighting.

Corning has yet to demonstrate Willow Glass as anything other than a flexible sheet, and it may lose its transparency once an LED or LCD display is installed. Nevertheless, Corning has already shipped samples to customers developing display and touch applications.

Twisted light

Twisted Light

Website:www.usc.edu

What is it?

A method for transferring huge amounts of data via the manipulation of the orbital angular momentum of light waves.

Why is it important?

Enormous amounts of data are transferred around the planet every day, but large files take an age to upload and download. Speeding up the process could change the fundamental infrastructure of the internet.

How does it work?

Fibre-optics are currently the fastest way to send data around the world, but an international team led by the University of Southern California has found a way to pack even more data into the process by manipulating the light beams themselves.

The technique relies on light's unique properties, and the ability to put a 'spin' on its photons. As with conventional fibre optic data transmission, the spin is encoded at one end and decoded at the other, but the amount of spin dictates another layer of binary code. The researchers were able to include eight such beams in their tests, yielding speeds of 2.5 terabits of data per second - the equivalent of 66 DVDs.

While the team was only able to broadcast data for one metre, it believes it will be able to upscale the tech over long-range fibre-optic cables.

Google Knowledge Graph

Google Knowledge graph

Website:www.google.com

What is it?

Google is hoping to give more relevant search results, with its servers understanding certain combinations of words and able to differentiate between things that have the same name.

Why is it important?

Search is the bread and butter of the internet, but still gives us reams of irrelevant results when we enter terms. Knowledge Graph aims to take us to relevant information faster.

How does it work?

The problem with Google's search at the moment is that it can't get its head around the fact that different things may have the same name. Type 'Taj Mahal' for instance, and you'll get a host of links to the grand mausoleum in India, the American blues musician, and a hotel and casino in Atlantic City. With Knowledge Graph these results are categorised, and a single click will switch to results only relevant to the musician.

"Your results are more relevant because we understand these entities and the nuances in their meaning the way you do", says Amit Singhal, Google's senior vice president of engineering.

Knowledge Graph isn't just about displaying relevant results - it also gives Wikipedia-like information on certain subjects to the right of the results. Search for Brad Pitt, for example, and you'll find his date of birth, a list of films he's been in and more.

It may seem like a minor addition, but Google has essentially - and revolutionarily - removed the need to click on results to find relevant information.

4K resolution

4K resolution

Website

What is it?

4K is the next step up from the 1080p resolution. There's a surprising number of standards fighting for dominance, but they're all roughly four times the resolution of the current HD specification.

Why is it important?

For smaller displays you could argue that we don't need to go beyond 1080p (though you only need look at the Retina display of the iPhone 4S for the counter argument), but for projectors and TVs, 4K can produce a much more detailed image.

How does it work?

Sony isn't alone in the super-high-resolution market, but few other manufacturers are currently pushing professional 4K projection alongside home cinema systems. Sony's VPL-VW1000ES boasts the kind of specifications that make its £16,799 price tag seem almost reasonable.

The main attraction is the resolution - at 4,096 x 2,160, the final picture is made up of 8.8 million pixels. You can sit closer to the screen without seeing pixelation, too.

There is a small problem for 4K at the moment though - there isn't much content that really shows off your investment. This is one of the reason Sony is so keen to stress the quality of its upscaling engine, which takes your 1080p Blu-ray content and interpolates the pixels up to the higher resolution.

Of course you can't beat content filmed at this higher resolution, and YouTube hosts a surprising number of 4K videos. The trailer for The Hobbit is available in 4K, although the film itself was filmed at an even higher resolution.

Natural Interaction

Natural interaction

Website:www.intel.com

What is it?

Touch and voice recognition are a key part of smartphones, so why not bring them to PCs? Intel's Ultrabooks promise to do just that.

Why is it important?

This may not be a quantum shift in computing, but it could certainly change the way we use the web, and turn laptops into more versatile, tablet-style computers. It also means PCs can be made more secure, and can even monitor their users' health remotely.

How does it work?

The type of voice interaction demonstrated in Apple's Siri interface has been around for a while, but on PCs it's remained fragmented: Chrome has a little voice interaction, but it's still very much on the drawing board.

The new Ultrabooks will feature both. Intel's senior vice president Tom Kilroy demonstrated the new technology at Computex, using voice commands to open a new browser Window and post an update on Facebook. It's a shift for computers from being static objects to more fluid and organic products.

Where it gets really intriguing is in Intel's use of Ultrabooks to read biometric measurements and facial patterns to recognise users. This way, an Ultrabook will be able to sound an alarm if it's touched by a thief, and allow doctors to monitor a patient's health from afar.

Stretchable displays

Strechable displays

Website

What is it?

It's still in the lab stage at this point, and under less than normal operating conditions, but scientists at UCLA have produced the first stretchable organic light-emitting diode (OLED).

Why is it important?

Flexible and bendable displays using a plastic framework may offer some kind of deformity, but a stretchable OLED has the potential for a far more interesting set of uses, and could eliminate the need for a fixed form factor.

How does it work?

While we're all used to working with the rigid devices we currently have available, the amount of research going into deformable electronics suggests that we're either much clumsier than any of us imagined, or that there are plenty of uses for technologies when they're freed from traditional restraints.

This latest breakthrough in a lab at UCLA has created an OLED that maintains its electronic properties, even when the material itself is stretched. This has the potential to rewrite the way certain devices are designed, and even where they can go; when you introduce a high level of deformation, more organic uses can be envisaged.

Initially it should allow us to ignore the traditional distinctions between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios, and whether a device should be held in landscape or portrait mode.

Flexible displays

Flexible display

Website:www.lgdisplay.com

What is it?

This is a next-generation e-ink display for use in e-readers and newspapers. The technology uses a plastic substrate rather than glass for more flexible, less accident-prone devices.

Why is it important?

That sci-fi image of holding a newspaper on the tube with stories updating on the fly could finally be a reality.

How does it work?

For many of us, the concept of electronic ink and displays conjures up images of flexible newspaper-like devices. This is exactly what LG Display is promising with its first plastic electronic paper display (EPD), which it started mass producing in March.

The 6-inch plastic EPD is designed to be used in the existing ebook market and boasts a resolution of 1,024 x 768 pixels. This specification may not seem particularly revolutionary, but it's the word 'plastic' that holds so many possibilities.

As Sang Duck Yeo, head of operations for LG Display's mobile/OLED division, explains: "Based on our success in mass-producing plastic EPD, we are excited as we look toward applying concepts from this experience to developments like plastic OLED and flexible displays."

The plastic EPD allows the screen to be bent up to 40 degrees, is a third slimmer than a traditional glass screen, and is half the weight. The plastic EPD isn't as brittle as traditional screens either, with test devices withstanding a fall from 1.5m that would be fatal to more traditional e-reader with a glass screen.

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