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Research backgrounder: May 2004

Digital media viewer

Researchers use experimental e-book to study how we'll look at electronic information in the future


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HP Labs researchers have designed and built an experimental e-book, or Digital Media Viewer, to investigate how people will look at electronic information in the future, from newspapers to photographs and even motion pictures.

Today’s technology lets us look at digital information using computer monitors, laptops and small hand-held devices such as HP’s iPAQ. But as the things we look at become richer, with denser levels of information, our viewing devices will also need to adapt and change. HP Labs researchers want to find out what these changes might be.

The Digital Media Viewer is a research prototype of one of these future devices. It is light, powerful and includes page-turning software, technology that was also created in HP Labs Bristol.

The page-turning software allows users to flick through an electronic publication -- using built-in touch-pads -- just as you can flick through the pages of a real book or magazine. User studies in HP Labs have shown that people found the page-turning software was a particularly good way of navigating through an electronic publication.

In the future, the researchers believe, people will be able to download electronic books from the Internet and also receive newspapers that have been specifically designed for such devices. Further on, there may also be multimedia versions of motion pictures created for media viewers, with links and interactive sections.

The devices themselves will also have to develop in order to handle all of this rich media. Display technology is a case in point. In today’s laptops the display uses a lot of power, is expensive to make and is very fragile.

To investigate ways to counter these drawbacks, HP Labs Bristol has a research program in plastic, paper-like displays. As well as being durable, these lightweight displays would hold an image without being powered. Result: longer battery life and a lighter device.

Although the Digital Media Viewer is a research project -- there are no plans for it to become an HP product -- the researchers believe that their work will help to reveal the kind of devices that people will want to use in the coming decade.

The next step for the researchers is to conduct user trials. They are building 30 Digital Media Viewers that will be used for public evaluation. The feedback from the user trials will help to guide the way the project develops.



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» Experimental e-book on display at Wired technology showcase

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