Pearl vs Vizplex: Are the New High Contrast Pearl Screens Overrated?

Ever since Amazon announced the Graphite Kindle DX, the first ebook reader to have the new Pearl display from E Ink, the issue of higher contrast has been getting a lot of attention.

All the press releases regarding the new Kindles, along with Amazon’s website, and E Ink themselves state that the new Pearl displays have 50% improved contrast over the Vizplex screens that have been widely used on most ereaders up until now.

Shortly after the Kindle DX was released, there were comparison pictures all over the web showing the new DX next to the old DX and the difference was obvious.

But what about the fact that all Vizplex screens are not created equal.

Despite the fact that all the screens come from the same manufacturer, E Ink, there seems to be subtle differences in appearance from ereader to ereader. The Nook, for instance, appears to have a slightly whiter background than other devices.

The type of font an ereader uses makes a big difference as well. Take the Kindle 3 and new Sony Pocket.

Even though they both use the new Pearl screens, the contrast on the Sony Pocket doesn’t appear as good because Amazon’s font is bolder. Here’s a close-up picture of the two next to each other from the PRS-350 review.

To make things interesting, it appears that the newer Vizplex screens are better than the ones they were using a year or two ago. So comparing the new Kindle DX with the original when it first launched really isn’t a good comparison.

A good comparison would be between a brand new Vizplex screen and the Sony PRS-350, since the Kindle uses Amazon’s proprietary “waveform and font technology” that seems to account for just as much of the contrast increase as the actual screen itself. Luckily, I happen to have a brand new ereader with a Vizplex screen, the MReader from Pixelar, to compare with the new Sony Pocket—and I’m quite surprised by the results.

Take a look at these close-up pics. Make sure to click them for full size. This first picture shows both ereaders using a similar font type and size. Keep in mind that I’m a novice photographer with a cheap camera so the difference between the two is a little more noticeable in person, but not by much.

Pearl vs Vizplex

Now take a close look at this picture. The MReader uses FBReader and can change font type and font weight on DRM free ebooks. This picture shows the MReader with Arial font on the bold setting.

Pearl vs Vizplex Bold

This picture below is probably the best one for comparing the difference between the two screens. I’ve used Calibre to override the CSS in this ebook on the Sony to use the same bold Arial font as on the MReader. As you can see, the PRS-350’s text is certainly darker, but it’s not enough of a difference to throw the Vizplex screen to the wolves.

Bold vs Bold

Just for comparisons, here’s the MReader with the bolder font next to the Kindle 3.

Kindle 3 vs MReader


The difference between the Pearl display and the newer Vizplex displays really isn’t that much of a drastic change. In fact, this particular Vizplex screen appears to have a slightly lighter background than both Pearl screens.

The darker text is certainly an improvement on the Sony and Kindle and makes reading in lower lighting conditions somewhat easier, but considering the Vizplex screens have been in production since 2007, you’d think that after 3 years the new and improved Pearl screens would blow the old ones out of the water. But that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case.

My question is, if the new Pearl screens are so much better, then why are the Vizplex screens still being made and used on the majority of devices in production right now?

19 Responses to “Pearl vs Vizplex: Are the New High Contrast Pearl Screens Overrated?”

  1. E-ink screens are made by 2 different companies, actually (PVI & LG Display). The differences you’re seeing could be due to quirks introduced by the different production lines.

  2. I think it`s the font for the most part that`s making the difference.
    Len Edgerly has a comparison video between the Sony 350 and the Kindle and the Kindle wins hands down despite both having the same screen technology and in your comparison here the MReader looks better than the Sony.When you override the Sony font they`re pretty similar but in the comparison with the Kindle and MReader I think the MReader certainly holds it`s own.It`s too bad that Sony doesn`t allow you to change the font within the Reader.

    I`ll have to figure out how to do that using Calibre.

  3. This is an intriguing review, and the photos are actually quite good. Thanks for changing the font on the Sony for the comparison! . . . And I didn’t know eInk was made by two different companies. Things sure are changing fast in this field!

  4. How about a e-ink vs. sipix review???

  5. A comparison between:

    – e-Ink Vizplex (recent screens)
    – e-Ink Pearl (Kindle 3, Sony PRS-650)
    – SiPix (for example the new Cybook Orizon)

    should be very interesting.

    Thanks for this review!

  6. Thanks for these incredibly honest and detailed reviews! It’s a breath of fresh air in an industry dominated by big companies who will, as always, bullshit as much as they can to sell more expensive crap which actually isn’t that different.

    I’ve been on the market for an ebook reader for several months (I plan on getting one and sticking with it, not buying a new one every six months like an Apple customer). This blog is the best and most informative I’ve seen. Keep up the good work!

    I have to say something, though. In some reviews, no doubt by popular demand, you talk about how fast the page refreshes, and this is a point pushed by the big players, who can afford the extra R&D on this near-irrelevant issue. Personally, I’ve never seen an ereader with a refresh time of more than 1 second. How is this not enough? HOW FAST CAN YOU READ? HOW FAST DID YOU TURN PAGES ON REAL BOOKS?

    I see this insane concern as a real window into the nature of consumer electronics.

  7. Ebook Reader Comparison February 4, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Great blog. I will recommend my friend because he is finding Amazon E-book reader thanks for detail.

  8. I bought a Sony PRS-350 a month ago, and was surprised to find out from the Settings: About menu that it actually uses the Vizplex display rather than the Pearl display. Is this false advertising on Sony’s part? Maybe your evaluation unit was the same way, and that would explain why its contrast doesn’t live up to promise. I wonder how many PRS-350 units out there are not fitted with the Pearl display like it was supposed to. I am not happy at all with Sony’s dishonesty.

    • All of Sony’s new ereaders say Vizplex but are in fact Pearl. Someone just wasn’t paying close attention. They are definitely Pearl. Funny story, someone emailed me and said they called Sony support to point it out and they were going to send a replacement unit–that’s how stupid Sony support is.

  9. I had an iRiver Story. I liked it a lot but in direct sunlight parts of the screen simply disappeared – the black ink faded to nothing. The supplier replaced the unit but the new unit had the same problem. Here on the Spanish Costa del Sol the sunlight is certainly very intense in summer but I thought the whole idea of these screens was their visibility in strong sunlight. Is this a general problem with Vizplex screens, a problem specific to iRiver, or a bad batch ?

    • It’s a known issue with certain E Ink screens. Bad luck to get it twice . . . They should replace it again; that’s one of the main draws of E Ink: being able to read outside in direct sunlight.

  10. Russell Vacek July 29, 2011 at 6:20 am

    I need help, I am looking for a 9in Eink reader with touch screen. The ONYX BOOX M90 has 9.7″ E Ink® Vizplex® PEARL EPD display, is this a good ereader? Or what do you recommend for a 9in touch e reader? There are very few in the USA, and very pricy!!!

    I need it for reading PDF. I also have seen you review on the Nook Touch Rooted with the EzPDF reader, looks interesting also good price, should I go that route?

    Thanks Russell

  11. @ Graham: the problem you had with iRiver Story was because of , I think, the added layer over the top of the E-Ink display which is a protection against scratches & is a part of old (non infra-red) touchscreens.


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