Are old monochromatic displays, like the ones used on the original Gameboy (bad example, I know), much more power efficient than modern colour LCD/LED/OLED displays? If so, why are they so hard to find?

I was looking for a low-power display, either black and white or colour, but noticed that there aren't any. I thought that naturally, the monochromatic displays, like the kind seen on the original Gameboy or industrial devices, would be ideal.

But I couldn't find any, save for some smaller ones used in Arduino modules. Most of what I find are TFT colour displays and I'm afraid that these will drain out my batteries very quickly (e.g. based on my experience with my phone).

I'm looking for a display >= 160x144 that will use as little power as possible. This (hobby project) device of mine will be portable and I am hoping to have it last for months on regular AAA batteries, with the display/device being on for ~1 hour per day.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually the major consumer is the backlight. Field GPS devices use reflected sunlight to light the screen (during the day) and work in color for ~20hrs from 2AA batteries. I'm trying to remember how their type of screen is called... \$\endgroup\$ – Fizz Jan 11 '15 at 21:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Transflective displays. \$\endgroup\$ – Fizz Jan 11 '15 at 21:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RespawnedFluff Last I looked (a few years ago) color transreflective displays like the ones Garmin use were not very widely available. \$\endgroup\$ – Spehro Pefhany Jan 11 '15 at 21:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Spehro Pefhany: Oh well, I didn't know that. I never had to shop for them as parts. \$\endgroup\$ – Fizz Jan 11 '15 at 21:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't see why I was downvoted for a simple question about the power consumption of displays - could you explain please? \$\endgroup\$ – makhdumi Jan 11 '15 at 22:10

When looking for parts that have a particular specification, try Mouser or Digikey. Using Mouser, I searched for LCDs with the display resolution you specified, and found one with the following specifications:

  • monochromatic TFT-LCD display
  • Power consumption of 50uW at a 1Hz update rate
  • 15uW at a constant display
  • 1.26” screen has 144x 168 resolusion

Sharp LS013B7DH01 - See table 6-4 in this datasheet.

Steps taken to find this part:

  1. Go to the LCD Displays category of Mouser,
  2. Using the "Resolution" filter, select the resolutions which match your desired specifications,
  3. Look through the results; I typically sort by price and try to find the part of the minimum cost which exceeds my desired specifications, then compare it with a higher end part and see what features I might be missing, and make a judgment call based on this analysis.

This implies that the power consumption will vary with update frequency; e.g. if you plan on playing back a video at 30Hz, the power consumption will increase compared to simply displaying a static image.

Do you have the power consumption of the color display you are looking at available? I would recommend comparing the one you are familiar with to the result above, and trying out these search and filter features on your own.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, the above comment by Respawned Fluff about backlighting is important; and applies here as well. The power consumption numbers in this answer are (I believe) excluding any backlight power use. \$\endgroup\$ – jjmilburn Jan 11 '15 at 21:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did this on Digikey and found only colour displays. I haven't tried Mouser before, thank you for this find! The colour displays are the ones on the same search, and I am checking the power consumption now. This one is definitely ultra low though. Thanks again! \$\endgroup\$ – makhdumi Jan 11 '15 at 21:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Al-Muhandis: Depending on which continent you're on, the electronics distributors vary widely. edn.com/design/components-and-packaging/4413399/… has a list, but some don't sell directly to consumers (including the top 3 from there, I think). If the corporate landing page doesn't at least link to a store prominently, you should try another distributor. \$\endgroup\$ – Fizz Jan 11 '15 at 22:06

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