Plastic electronics company Plastic Logic has demonstrated colour video animation on a flexible plastic display, which it claims is the first example of an organic thin-film transistor (OTFT) driving electronic paper at video rate. This could be used on a wide range of devices including tablets such as future generations of the iPad.

The demonstration aims to prove that there are potential uses of electronic paper extend far beyond monochrome text-based e-readers to more sophisticated tablet-style devices that can run colour video, while still keeping power consumption low.

Electronic paper only draws power when the display is updated, making it very energy-efficient. It also reflects light in the same way as ordinary paper, so there is no need for a backlight.

Paul Cain, Plastic Logic's senior manager for technology, said that playing video on electronic paper uses more power than static images, because it is updating all the time, but still uses less power than an equivalent display with an LCD backlight.

At the moment, the frame frequency of videos running on Plastic Logic's plastic electronic displays is fairly low (12 frames per second), because increasing the speed can reduce the contrast of images. However, it is sufficient for simple video clips, such as Flash content on websites, and Cain said the company was working to improve this.

“Ultimately it’s a trade off between speed and contrast,” said Cain. “Our partners who provide the media are very interested in working on this as well.”

Plastic Logic's plastic electronic displays are not only low-power but also thin, light, flexible and extremely robust. This opens up a range of possible uses, including wearable gadgets such as digital watches and hospital wristbands, rugged educational tools, electronic billboards and ID cards.

The ability to render colour images and the low power consumption of e-paper displays, which results in extended battery life, also makes them attractive for business use.

During an open day at its R&D centre in Cambridge, Plastic Logic also showed how an e-paper display could be used as a smartphone accessory, allowing the user to wirelessly transmit images and attachments from the phone to a portable lightweight e-paper screen for larger viewing in seconds.

The company said it was currently working with a number of smartphone companies to grow this concept.

Last month, Plastic Logic announced it was abandoning plans to manufacture its own e-readers, deciding instead to to license its flexible display technology and software to OEMs, system integrators, and device manufacturers.

“Some of our discussions are with e-reader companies where they are interested in rugged or flexible versions of their products,” Plastic Logic CEO Indro Mukerjee told Techworld.

“We along the way have worked out how to optimise the front-of-screen performance on EPDs using our backplane, and therefore we have a number of elemental software parts which we could also take to market as licensing solutions,” he added.

Earlier this month it was announced that Plastic Logic is sharing in a £20 million round of funding from the Technology Strategy Board for collaborative research and development related to electronics, photonics and electrical systems.