Kindle DX 2 screen contrast improvement analysis

The improved Kindle DX 2 screen contrast is its big selling point. Amazon hasn’t really revealed too much about what led to this improved screen contrast.

Well, let’s take a closer look and see what factors might have helped improve the Kindle DX 2′s screen contrast.

Kindle DX 2 Screen Contrast Improvement – possible Factors

Here are the 3 factors that we can identify right away -

  1. Actual hardware improvements. eInk say the Pearl screen has 10:1 contrast as compared to the 7:1 contrast in previous versions. Quite frankly it doesn’t really seem like the hardware improvement by itself is 43%. In terms of measurements we have this from Bruce Wilson’s comment at Teleread -

    From density numbers alone – white is a little whiter, black is a lot blacker.

    Old White Kindle DX 1 (6 months old):
    white area density = 0.46, Lab = (65.8, -2.3, 0.6)
    black area density = 1.30, Lab = (26.6, -1.0, -2.2)

    New Graphite Kindle DX 2:
    white area density = 0.42, Lab = (68.2, -2.4, 0.9)
    black area density = 1.58, Lab = (18.5, -0.1, -3.6)

    I used a Datacolor Spectrocolorimeter model 1005. “Lab” is a color space measurement like RGB, only for print.

  2. Graphite Casing. Amazon have implied this is not factored into the 50% better contrast – However, it’s clear after playing around with the Kindle DX 2 that the graphite casing has quite an important role in making the screen look better.  
  3. Speckling on the Screen. There are very tiny speckles on the screen of the Kindle DX 2 when you zoom in. Click on the last photo on the Kindle DX 2 Photo page to see this speckling. When photos have noise like this added to them it improves their contrast – It’s hard to believe there could be any other reason speckling would be added to the screen of the Kindle DX 2.

We also have two additional possibilities –  

  1. Software improvements. Kindle software upgrades have improved Kindle screen contrast in the past by making the text bolder and it’s possible that Kindle DX 2 comes with some software improvements. Kindle DX 2 comes with firmware version 2.5.5 and it makes you wonder if that firmware version includes screen contrast tweaks.
  2. Additional changes in the screen hardware. There’s a very interesting mention in the official Kindle forum that the Kindle DX 2 screen is noticeably whiter if you tilt it a little rather than look at it straight on. For my Kindle DX 2 this is true – It’s noticeably whiter when tilted a little. Is this by design? Is this a byproduct of the new screen technology?  

The former is very, very likely while we understand too little about the latter to factor it in.

Breaking down the supposed 50% screen contrast improvement

After shooting a lot of Kindle DX 2 videos and taking a lot of photos and comparing screens in all sorts of lighting conditions it seems to me -

  1. Compared to Kindle 2 Global – Kindle DX 2 screen is 25% to 30% better normally, 30% better in sunlight, and 30% better when Kindle DX 2 and Kindle 2 are both tilted a bit. 
  2. Compared to Kindle DX 1 – Kindle DX 2 screen is 40% better normally, 45% better in sunlight or when both are tilted a bit.

There isn’t really a 50% improvement in screen contrast. It’s 40% to 45% when compared with Kindle DX 2 and 25% to 30% when compared with Kindle 2 Global. 

Furthermore it seems that this 40% improvement is broken down into -

  1. Half due to hardware improvements. If the spectrocolorimeter readings are correct hardware improvements might be responsible for as much as three-quarters of the improvement.
  2. A quarter due to the graphite casing. 
  3. A quarter due to the speckling.

The Kindle 2 Global screen is much closer to the Kindle DX 2 ‘better hardware screen’ than the Kindle DX 1 screen. This might be due to software tweaks or International Kindle 2s getting better screens or perhaps my Kindle 2 global was an exceptionally good version.

How did 50% screen contrast improvement and a graphite case and speckling and possible software improvements add up to 40%?

Well, it seems that eInk messed up and Amazon did as much as they could to make up for it.

Seriously – Look at the videos and photos. If you happen to have any of the earlier Kindles and the Kindle DX 2 compare them in various lighting conditions. If eInk’s claim is valid and there’s a 50% screen contrast improvement then it means that the graphite casing and the speckling and the software improvements (if any) contributed minus 10%.

The far more likely case is that eInk did a terrible job with their screens and improved just 20%. Then Amazon did a lot of brainstorming and came up with the graphite case and the speckling design for the screen and software improvements to get to 40%.

Amazon better hope Pixel Qi or Qualcomm Mirasol deliver color eInk screens soon because Amazon can’t keep compensating for eInk’s inadequacies with software upgrades and smart design decisions. The new Kindle DX 2 has managed to use almost every design and software trick possible to improve screen contrast (we’re including font sharpness improvements in the Kindle 2.5 upgrade). It’s had to because the actual screen technology from eInk isn’t improving fast enough.

Quick Summary 

Yes, Kindle DX 2 has a noticeably better screen. No, eInk isn’t responsible for all of the improvement. If eInk really would have improved their eInk screens 50% we would be looking at 70% to 75% better screen contrast on the Kindle DX 2.

Kindle 3.0 Design Ideas – Kindle Multi Touch or Holographic Screen

The boat for Kindle 2.0 has probably sailed – so it makes sense to look beyond 2.0 and look at what features we’d like to see in Kindle 3.0. Hopefully someone from the Amazon Kindle team stumbles across this and picks one of these for Kindle 3 (or at the minimum, takes inspiration from them). Here are the touch screen and holographic screen technologies that I think would go very well with the Kindle’s 3rd version (my personal favorites are Microsoft Surface and Dreamoc) -

  1. Microsoft Surface Multi Touch – This Microsoft Surface demo is the coolest thing I’ve seen from Microsoft (even cooler than PhotoSynth). If they put this into Windows 7 I’ll buy a copy the day it comes out (well, actually I’m going to buy a copy anyways). BTW they do have a working product already (Sheraton uses it). It costs between $5000 to $10,000. Jump to 2:47 to see Bill Gates describe it.
  2. HelioDisplay – You can check out the explanation video for HelioDisplay. However, the video right here shows something even cooler – HelioDisplay with interactivity (jump to 0:32). This goes beyond Multi Touch to a holographic interactive screen. Don’t just change the font size, change the screen size. 
  3. Jeffrey Han’s Multi Touch Screen – This is one of my personal favorites and I even sneaked one into a work presentation some 3 years ago. He later presented at TED (Feb 2006) – jump ahead to 2:31 for the good stuff. Also, he founded a company called Perceptive Pixel and they have a beautiful video of the screen technologies they’re working on.
  4. Dreamoc 3D Display System by RealFiction – This seems to be targeted at Retail outlets. However, a modification would work really well for the Kindle if you gave the Kindle 3.0 some depth (not sure how much would be needed) and projected books as holograms. Also, their DDC design center illusion video totally blew my mind.

I tried to find other screen technologies that excited me, and couldn’t. If you have any suggestions let me know. Jeffey Han’s technology is showing it’s age when compared to the others. I’d be ecstatic to see any of the other 3 technologies in Kindle 3.0. On a side note, Apple bought Fingerworks to get its iPhone multi touch magic -

In 1999, Fingerworks, a Newark-based company run by University of Delaware academics John Elias and Wayne Westerman, produced a line of multi-touch products including the iGesture Pad and the TouchStream keyboard.[4] Westerman published a dissertation in 1999 on the subject. In 2005, after years of maintaining a niche line of keyboards and touchpads, Fingerworks was acquired by Apple Computer. In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone, marking the first time multi-touch technology was used on a phone.

Its a little disheartening that something available since 1999 took until 2007 to come out in a widely used product. However, as the success of the iPhone shows – there is a huge premium associated with bringing cool new technologies to market. Amazon Kindle Team – its a huge opportunity – bringing an interactive holographic display or some variant of Microsoft Surface Technology to the third incarnation of the Kindle would bring huge rewards.

Finally, Kindle 3.0 having something like MS Surface multitouch is somewhat more likely now that -

Addie Wagenknecht and Stefan Hechenberger of Nortd studio, based in New York and Vienna, created a scaled-down open-source version of Surface, called CUBIT (multi-touch) and a screen based kit called TouchKit.

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