Marvell has been working with E-ink to build a highly integrated system on a chip (SoC: imagine a PC motherboard into a chip) designed from the ground up for eReaders. The chip can handle general processing, but also WIFI, Bluetooth, 3G and other key technologies used in eBooks. Marvell has built a complete platform from which manufacturers can build many kinds of eReaders with different shapes and price points. Part of the Armada family, the Armada 166E chip has an integrated EPD controller (the piece that converts memory buffer into E-ink display signals). With the integrated controller there is no data that needs to be copied to an external chip, the CPU also has a direct access to the memory buffer that creates the image. Finally, it removes one chip of the equation, thus saving money and space.
A short animated story (video coming up…) playing on the SDK
Performance-wise, I’ve seen a demo of the Armada 166E: it is smarter and does not need a pixel reset before refreshing the screen (on the Kindle, the screen goes “all black” – that’s the reset), so e-ink animations are possible with the Armada 166E. We’re talking about a cartoon-ish animation here, not a 1080p movie. Still, that’s a big step from “no animation”.
Marvell sees eReaders as a huge opportunity as displays get more displays and are asked to decode more complex files, such as .PDF documents. It’s not hard to imagine that color is also coming soon, and that will immediately multiply by six the amount of data that needs processing (from 4bit to 24bit color). going to 10″-12″ displays might add another 4X factor on top of that. In short, there’s plenty of growth ahead: a dream for any semiconductor company.
A reference design
Is that small enough for you?