Microsoft puts finger on 1ms touchscreen (w/ video)

Mar 13, 2012 by Nancy Owano weblog

(PhysOrg.com) -- Touchscreen features in smartphones and tablets are satisfying perks in going wireless and mouse-less in mobile computing, but now Microsoft wants to make people aware of how much more satisfying the touchscreen experience might be. In a What-If demo by Paul Dietz of Microsoft Applied Sciences Group, Microsoft is suggesting that a far better experience can be had with a touchscreen display system with far less latency than what users are accustomed to. The video succeeds in suggesting what the speed-up might feel like, from finger to screen. In brief, goodbye to finger lag.

Miocrosoft’s Dietz used a test setup to examine different time periods of latencies, from 100ms down to 1ms in time delays.

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As Dietz explained, the numbers have to do with the moment the finger touches the screen and the response of the interacting object to the touch of the finger. With touch devices that have a response time of 100ms, the image is 100 milliseconds behind the finger touch. If that delay could be lowered to 1ms, the user might enjoy a better sense of control, a sense of heightened interaction between user and machine.

This is especially apparent in drawing something on the tablet, as the demo showed. The finger in the speeded-up response was able to “feel” the drawing of squiggly lines, as in the experience of finger painting.

Reactions from the technology press have been agreeable on one point, that mobile users into such activities as gaming or drawing (engineers, architects, scientists as well as artists) would especially recognize the advantages of bringing down latency. Trouble is, a rollout of such low-latency touchscreens is not planned any time soon and might require years, not months, to achieve. In fact, reports The Verge, the demo from the Redmond team “isn't actually running on a display — input reaction is projected onto the surface from above.”

Still, is planning to work on this concept. Its goal is to keep improving on touchscreen technology. The point of the demo, said Dietz, was to show that “What we have done is that we set a bar for where we would like to head” in years to come. He could have added that the video also furthers Microsoft’s attempts to rebrand itself. Lagging behind Apple and Google in the mobile marketplace, Microsoft is putting much effort into product introductions to attract a “Kinect” generation of mobile users who will readily respond to novel ways in which humans and objects connect.

As for setting the bar, the impressive demo might give competitors some motivation as well. Matthew Humphries in Geek.com makes the observation that “touchscreen latency will become a selling point for a manufacturer. When the Retina Display resolution demonstrated on the new iPad is the norm, you need another selling point to make your tablet stand out among the competition.” Humphries said he is “pretty sure that 100ms average latency will start dropping as the next few waves of tablet appear.”

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User comments : 3

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Mayday
1.5 / 5 (2) Mar 13, 2012
The lagging technology in touch screens is not the latency, which, on the iPad, I find quite acceptable. The lag is in touch resolution. At the moment, it is still necessary to write far too large, like a first-grader, in order to take notes on glass. Now that visual resolution is catching up to real-world standards, when will the hardware manufacturers correct this glaring discrepancy in touch resolution? If they would improve the touch resolution by just 4x, the world would go touch very quickly.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Mar 13, 2012
when will the hardware manufacturers correct this glaring discrepancy in touch resolution?


Technically, for OLED screens it's perfectly possible to strobe the lights and take advantage of the fact that a LED is a reversed solar panel to measure light falling on the display. That allows one to track a finger actively or passively at exactly the same resolution as the display is.

For example, flashing every other pixel for a millisecond and using its neighbor to measure how much light is reflected back can quickly identify bright spots that correspond to where something is close enough to touch the panel. If one doesn't wish to disturb the image too much, ultraviolet emitters can be added here and there, while the pixels are used to measure the back-reflection when they're normally pulsed off.

It's a common trick in introduction to microcontrollers to program a LED to become brighter or dimmer according to ambient light, using the LED itself as the sensor.
Eikka
not rated yet Mar 13, 2012
Come to think of it, since every pixel has three sub-pixels, and the red LED can see the blue LED, but not the other way around because the wavelenghts and bandgaps don't fit, it's possible to stagger the pulsing of the subpixels in a way that whenever the blue light is on, the red is measuring it.

The LEDs are pulsed on and off anyways to control their apparent brightness, so if you set a minimum on-time for the blue color, and an equal minimum off-time for the red, you can do the measurement at the same time as you are displaying a picture, with minimal color distortion.

Suppose you have a black picture. If the blue light is on for 1/1000th of the frame period it won't be perfectly black, but it's so fast that you can't tell the difference, but the red subpixel can because it's measuring the flash of light at that very moment. Likewise, if the display is showing white, you won't be able to tell the difference even if the red subpixel is off for 1/1000th every frame.

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