Toshiba has developed a special chip for flat-panel display backlights it claims will provide brighter displays and longer battery life for handheld electronics products and mobile phones.

The new chip is a driver for white LEDs (light-emitting diodes) commonly embedded around the edges of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) to form the panels' backlight. Toshiba says its new chip is 20 percent more efficient than current versions. That means device designers can either benefit from a 20 percent reduction in power while keeping brightness at current levels or boost display brightness by 20 percent while keeping battery life constant.

Toshiba says it was able to increase efficiency in the chip by using a new technology for driving electric current that increases the efficiency of light emission to 85 percent at minimum power. This means 85 percent of the power supplied to the backlight is converted into light.

Backlights in LCDs are one of the single largest power-guzzling parts of most portable electronic devices. Engineers are regularly announcing display innovations aimed at reducing power consumption, but most of the developments are centred on reducing or eliminating the need for a backlight — reflective LCDs are one example of this — or by reducing the intensity of the backlight or switching it off when not in use.

Some mobile phones, for example, include a light sensor that decides whether the backlight is needed depending on the surrounding light condition.