Getting Big Pictures From Small Screens

Within about three years, "third-generation" (3G) cell phones will let people cruise the wireless Internet at six or seven times the speed of dial-up modems in homes today. That's fast enough to download images and large text files. But how will people view all of this on tiny telephone screens? Some phone makers are opting for larger displays. But that will mean bigger, heavier phones and a shorter battery life.

Displaytech Inc. in Longmont, Colo., thinks the solution is a minuscule display-on-a-chip, magnified by a special viewing lens. The company has patented techniques for mounting high-definition liquid-crystal displays on fingernail-size integrated circuits, which Samsung has built into its expensive, high-definition television sets. These TVs create images by bouncing light off a set of red, green, and blue chips onto the back of the television screen.

Cameras and camcorders could be next. On a digital camera, the typical 1.8-inch LCD could be replaced with a chip-mounted display measuring just a quarter of an inch diagonally. (It will appear larger through the magnifier.) The camera could then shrink down to the size of a deck of cards. Wireless Web phones will go the same route, says Displaytech, which will start shipping 200,000 screens a month by yearend.

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