Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New Kindle-2 Screen Contrast Finding by Ted Inoue

This is an update to the original Kindle-2 screen-contrast story and updates, focusing on Ted Inoue's analysis.

While the original theories for varying screen-contrast of Kindle 2 screens involved thinner looking fonts and anti-aliasing that used the increased grayscales available to the Kindle 2, Inoue has done new tests from screen-grabs of the same page using both the Kindle 1 and Kindle 2, enlarged in Photoshop with examination of the pixel make-up of the characters.  They are the same.  Only 4-shades appear to be used for the basic font.

As Ted has explained, including on two forums following this, the variances in screen output of the same basic material comprising the font characters we see, indicates something seen in his earlier test of displays from his first Kindle 2 (Unit-A) vs his second Kindle 2 (Unit-B) - a difference in how both Kindle-2 units are rendering the same font.  What we see as less well-defined or less-sharp on Unit-A (which Ted notes as a unit that does not resolve well) shows less black brought to the 'surface' than we can see for the fonts from his second Kindle, Unit-B, when they're magnified.

  I have wondered if it was more a matter of seeing more black "brought to light" (that we can see) on the second unit so that his first unit's less-solid-blackened characters will appear less sharp then.  With Photoshop, we will tend to add contrast (more dark grays to black and more light grays to white) to enhance the perception of sharpness or definition of edges.

In the meantime, the screen-grabs from a Kindle 1 vs Kindle 2 mentioned above shows no difference in the basic font used for the devices.  Ted says that the differences that people can see easily in photographs result from how each unit renders the same basic combo of same pixels, and M. Matthews posted on March 28 that this might be related to the amount of voltage used to get the black portions to the surface and posted on April 28 that the variations we've seen indicate that the density of the black may be harder to control with the newer e-Ink screen with its 16-shades of gray vs 4 for the Kindle 1.  Whatever, it appears to be a quality control problem, especially with the seemingly unusual number of screens doing all right until brought into direct sunlight and fading under those conditions - a definite defect, since an advertised strength of the e-Ink screen (a feature I personally love) is how readable it is in direct sunlight.  There is an explanation, said to be given by an Amazon customer service representative, for the fading, having to do with faulty e-ink receptors.

Ted refers to some photo comparisons I made of my K1 and K2 and, in my own case, my Kindle 2 display is sharper and is black enough (though somewhat lighter in some lighting but good enough for me because it is definitely sharper than even my excellent Kindle 1).  I also took some photos last weekend of the Kindle2 vs the Sony PRS505 (using the older 8-shade e-Ink screen) and found the Kindle 2 looking very good in contrast (no pun intended).  They both have good displays.  But obviously, these screens can differ dramatically, though the large majority of owners appear to have units that meet the standards set for them.  The photos in my entry about problems for some users with bad screen contrast are repeated here for easier access.  These are some photo-comparison examples plus an added example and the most egregious one.
  In contrast, here are two examples of how the display should appear, taken with a cell phone last weekend while at Target:
Kindle-2 'Home' library listing and
Kindle-2 display of some text that I copied off a website to reference while shopping.

Amazon IS replacing units that are reported to have fonts that are too light to read, in connection with the warranty they do honor.  Customers have been very positive about how Amazon customer svc representatives have been handling this, with the exception of one official Communications executive who dismissed the concerns by telling Wired about a "few" customers wanting less gray shades!  From what I've read -- only as an offered option for pure-text reading where the font becomes gray instead of black.

As mentioned in the original screen contrast entry, customers who almost returned their Kindles have been ecstatic with the replacement fonts offered for trial by Inoue to Amazon Customer Service, at his site.

In the meantime, the long request-to-Amazon thread joined by new owners each day continues.  In between pleas for darker fonts displayed, they praise Inoue's new fonts (but which have to be uninstalled each time Amazon has a Kindle update). Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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  1. Yesterday, around 1pm, I called Amazon to see about replacing/repairng my Kindle2 [5 months old] that suddenly developed a screen defect in one corner. By noon today, I received a replacement--an amazingly fast turnaround, with no hassles. The new unit had a noticeabley higher contrast screen, very obvious when compared side-by-side. I wonder if they are increasing the contrast on all new/replacement units? STM

  2. Stephen, did hear that they solved that problem with the latest batches. (About time.)

    Thanks for the report!


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