Japan's Molten to sell e-paper outdoor scoreboard

The company said it will run for 140 hours on four AA batteries and is half the weight of previous models

Molten, the Japanese maker of sporting equipment, is preparing to launch an outdoor scoreboard with a large display made from e-paper, as the technology continues to expand from electronic readers into the mainstream.

The Molten scoreboard, however, shows the tradeoffs of e-paper technology.

E-paper displays, which gained popularity in devices like Amazon's Kindle, are increasingly being used for other applications. They use far less power than traditional LCD screens and perform better in bright environments, but typically have lower resolution and slower refresh rates.

The company said its "Outdoor Timer 30" features five white digits on a blue background, each 23 centimeters (9 inches) tall. The sign is far lighter and more energy efficient than previous LCD models, with the ability to run for about 140 hours on four alkaline AA batteries, versus 70 hours from 12 size D batteries for the previous LCD model. It weighs 3.1 kilograms, about half that of the company's LCD model, and is one-fourth the thickness at 3.5 cm.

However, the e-paper version has a slower refresh rate -- it takes about 0.4 seconds to update so can only display times up to the second, and is harder to see in dark areas, according to a company spokeswoman.

Low-power displays based on e-paper technology have been mainly used in applications that don't refresh quickly, such as public displays and digital price tags in retail stores. But some digital watches employ the technology, which is based on tiny particles that are shifted back and forth by electronic charges to form light or dark pixels.

The sign will go on sale in Japan from April 2 for ¥157,500 (US$1,640). Molten said it will target sports clubs at schools as well as the growing market for marathons and triathlons in the country. It can also be used to display scores, in addition to its timer function. The company has no set schedule for an international launch.

A Molten spokeswoman declined to comment on the exact technology or manufacturer behind the new display, but said the entire device is made in Japan. Domestic manufacturer Bridgestone announced it was withdrawing from the e-paper business last year, but other firms such as Toppan and Brother remain in the industry.

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