New in the Maker Shed: Hackable Pixel Qi displays

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Well, I finally get to let the cat out of the bag. We’ve got Pixel Qi screens available in the Maker Shed as of today. If you’re unfamiliar with Pixel Qi (pronounced “chee”) and their amazing 3Qi transflective display technology, here’s a bit about them from the announcement:

These screens look like standard LCD screens in ordinary room light, but take them outside in the sunlight, and see the difference! The Pixel Qi screens are bright and easy to see, even in direct sunlight. Like standard LCD displays, Pixel Qi displays show quality full-color images, full-motion video, and high screen brightness. Each pixel in the Pixel Qi screen is mainly reflective, but still has about the same efficiency as a standard LCD when backlit, enabling the user to experience a crisp image with excellent contrast and *brightness* in any light. The Pixel Qi screens consume 80% less power in the reflective mode making them a great choice for “green” applications.

Indeed, this is exciting news for anyone interested in modding their netbook or building a DIY tablet computer. Regarding the announcement, Mary Lou Jepsen, Pixel Qi’s Founder and CEO said “We hope that by working with MAKE and the DIY community, we collectively will spur innovation in ways we can’t ourselves imagine yet.”

About carrying the Pixel Qi screen in the Maker Shed, Dan Woods (GM of MAKE Ecommerce) said “We’re seeing a lot of interest in making and modding tablets, netbooks, and e-readers within the maker community, and we’re always looking for new ways to help inspire and support DIY enthusiasts to take on new challenges. Getting a brand new technology like Pixel Qi’s screen into the hands of developers and makers who will do something unusual, compelling, and unexpected which is really exciting to us. MAKE is not only uniquely positioned to inspire widespread experimentation within the global maker community, from educators to artists, software developers to hardware hackers, but also to organize conversations around resulting projects.”

I shot a quick installation video of a Pixel Qi display going into one of my netbooks. It’s an Acer Aspire One, which is physically compatible with the screen, but isn’t an officially recommended netbook.

Changing the screen is easy, the process takes about 5-10 minutes using a small screwdriver. 2-4 screws have to be removed to allow unsnapping of the front plastic bezel. Once that step is done, removal of another few screws allows the screen to be unlatched and its cable disconnected. Next, the Pixel Qi screen is plugged in, screwed in, and the bezel snapped back in place. That’s it.

Head on over to the Maker Shed for more information or to order yours today.

Subscribe to the MAKE Podcast in iTunes, download the m4v video directly, or watch it on YouTube.

42 thoughts on “New in the Maker Shed: Hackable Pixel Qi displays

  1. mzungu54 says:

    Cool, I want one, but….

    How do you change the display mode to ePaper?

    1. g-clef says:

      I’d love to have that info as well…plus any info on how it interfaces to generic devices. I think it would be neat to use this with something like a gumstick or beagleboard to get a cool portable DIY system…but I’d like to know whether/how it interacts with regular video interfaces first.

    2. Jesse says:

      @mzungu54, you just turn off the backlight. It couldn’t be simpler.

    3. Adam Flaherty says:

      @Jesse is right. How this is accomplished depends on the system you connect it to. For my Acer Aspire One, Fn-F6 will turn off the backlight. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that a number of netbooks at the local big box store have appeared with a similar key combination.

      1. mookiemu says:

        Does the keyboard backlight shortcut work with linux?
        Is there a way to make a dedicated switch to turn off the backlight?

        I noticed the the DYIer in the video doesn’t reconnect the camera. Is that an oversight or is it on purpose?

      2. mzungu54 says:

        “Fn+F6” does work and it does switch off the back-light, but if you press any keys again, the back-light will go back on again.

        Using the touch-pad and mouse to scroll through a document is fine, but apparently no typing in reflective/ePaper mode.

        I wonder if there is a Window setting that fixes this…?

  2. RocketGuy says:

    Attempts to go to the maker shed page result in:

    An error has occurred. Please try your request again, or contact customer service for assistance. Thank you.
    Please provide Reference #17314716 if contacting customer service.

    Let us know when it’s fixed, looking forward to investigating the screen further.

    1. RocketGuy says:

      But now they’re sold out.

      Man, that was quick!

      1. Gareth Branwyn says:

        We knew they’d be hot, but yeah… (the first order was placed within a half-hour of the piece going live last night).

        The Shed will have more in-stock by mid next week and are taking orders. Thanks for your patience.

  3. tonyv says:

    Where is the interface documentation?

    I would have ordered one if there was any technical info about it at all, but I could find nothing useful on either the pixelqi site or this one.

  4. mzungu54 says:

    Now is time for me to look for a cheap netbook with a broken screen on eBay.

    But for this screen to be a true maker’s tool, you really need some documentation. Is there one?

    Pixel Qi seems to offer a developmet kit on request….

    What I like to know is what the power consumption of this display is in various modes: LCD,ePaper, ePaper+high refresh rates(video)?

    1. Adam Flaherty says:
      1. mzungu54 says:

        Wow, fairly detailed. :-) Have to be more careful what I ask next time.

  5. lowteg says:

    As mzungu54 has said, my biggest concern is that there seems to be no definite way to keep the backlight off when taking advantage of the 64-bit grayscale mode. This is unfortunate, as the epaper-like option of the Qi display is for me its most appealing feature. Any insights or remedies from the DIY community?

    Also, the PixelQi website advertised their screen as having 3 modes- standard transmissive (regular backlight), transflective (some backlight), and grayscale (no backlight). The descriptions for the screens released in the DIY kits mention that there are 2 modes, not 3. Are they referring to the transmissive and transflective modes only? How does one switch between modes; or does the fact that the pixels are reflective imply that one switches between “modes” not in a polar fashion but on a sliding scale depending on the level of backlight that they chose?

    1. lowteg says:

      Figured it out.

      ** The reason that only 2 models (lenovo s10-2 and samsung) are listed as “compatible”, despite most all netbooks having the same 40-pin LCD connector, is in regards to the backlight settings. ** On most netbooks, hitting Fn+F6 or whatever the backlight key is will turn the backlight off, BUT, hitting anything (mousepad, keyboard, etc) afterwards will cause it to turn right back on. This completely negates the epaper-like, backlight-free capabilities of the Pixel Qi screen. In the case of the two models listed (and likely their own sister models), the backlight will stay off no matter what, until the system is actually shut down and rebooted. This is not a Windows issue, but a manufacturer-specific hardware issue.

      So while you will be able to connect the Qi screen to most any netbook, only a chosen few will allow you to keep the backlight off for ALL of your activities in order to actually utilize the epaper setting of the screen. This may change as DIY’ers figure out advanced windows or linux tweaking, but for now I’m picking up a used S10-2 to avoid the headache.

  6. mzungu54 says:

    Anyone know if is possible to safely install an physical switch to turn the back light on or off on a laptop?

  7. mookiemu says:

    I would like to find out if this is possible (using a physical switch to turn off the backlight), too because my idea is to get a netbook motherboard, put a touchscreen overlay on it and design my own case for it in Maya, have it printed in 3d and then turn it into a tablet. So you see a physical switch is important.

  8. Robgoren says:

    I have 13.3″ and 14.1″ laptops. I hope Pixel Qi makes its screen available in other, more mainstream sizes through Maker Shed.

  9. cat55 says:

    I have finished installation of pixel qi screen to my Samsung N150 netbook. Installation was simple and the screen fits perfectly to the netbook. Backlight could be turned off until reboot by pressing Fn F5.

  10. imno007 says:

    I’d love to have one of these for my Nook! Don’t know how feasible it would be, since I’ve no idea how difficult it would be to change out the screens, but it’s a nice dream.

    I just looked for the two recommended netbooks on Newegg and found both to be completely sold out. Coincidence, or a mad rush to do some Pixel Qi modding? ;)

  11. longkeeler says:

    Last week, after seeing PixelQi 10.1″ panels on ebay at 69,99€, I decided to give it a try. The panels arrived here (Germany) from China in record time, just 4 days. Today, I committed myself to open panel surgery on my Samsung N150. The bezel went off in a few minutes (after loosening 4 screws, not only 2!), then the original panel – different from some videos I found, there was an extra fixation for the original panel, two flanges screwed to the panel, but it came off quite easily. Removing the 40 pin LVDS plug let me discover that pulling only in one direction helps, the others are useless and potentially harmful for the screen. But off it went too.

    Now, let’s unpack the PixelQi screen. First discovery: No screw holes for those extra holders. OK, maybe neglectible.

    Next task – reposition the 40 pin plug. What is that? The socket on the new screen sits on the other side of the panel. arrrrggghhh. But it came worse.

    I put the new screen on top of the old one – it was about 10mm (2/5″) wider and 15mm (3/5″) higher than the original one. Generally I like to get more than what I paid for, but in this case…

    OK, this screen and the N150 won’t become a family. But at least I wanted to know if the screen works. So I figured out how to get that microscopic plug into its temporary home, switched the netbook on, and there was an image. Not as crisp as on the original screen, and due to the different aspect ration slightly distorted, but at least, it was there. I was not able, though, to dim or switch off the backlight, but that’s maybe because I don’t know yet exactly how to do that.
    As I plan anyway to build a separate monitor based on that screen and a separate VGA to LVDS converter (also to be found on ebay), reverting the N150 to its previous state, was not that frustrating, specially since it survived the intervention without scars, but it would have been nice, though. So, I ask myself where these ill-shaped panels come from, maybe the orginal parts for the Adam? I have three of those with the PixelQi, which indicates that it’s worth (all second hand, two occupied by my boys for their students’ work).

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