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Use USB to connect that monitor

Cool Tools By , Network World
August 14, 2007 03:55 PM ET
Keith Shaw

Network World - The scoop: LG L206WU, by LG Electronics, pricing not yet announced.

What it is: This monitor looks like a standard widescreen, flat-panel monitor — until you notice it can connect to a computer via USB cable.

Why it’s cool: Yes, you read that correctly. The monitor is one of the first of its kind that includes USB as a connection option, in addition to VGA and DVI-D ports. Through a partnership with DisplayLink, the USB option lets IT departments connect multiple monitors to a system without having to buy additional video cards and cables. In addition, with a VGA-to-USB adapter, the DisplayLink software lets IT managers attach older monitors to the computer (also without needing a new video card).

The technology has three components — a virtual graphics card, the DisplayLink Protocol and a hardware-rendering ASIC. DisplayLink says the virtual graphics card communicates with and takes input from the PC’s graphics API, translating it into the DisplayLink Protocol for communicating across the USB cable.

The company says this eventually could work over Wi-Fi, Ethernet or WiMedia, opening up scenarios where the monitor doesn’t need to be next to the PC. The system supports resolutions of up to 1,680 by 1,200 pixels, 32-bit graphics, and DVD-quality video playback.

Installation was simple: I plugged the USB cable from the L206WU monitor into my test notebook, then installed the DisplayLink software. Another cool feature: Once the software is installed, you can attach as many as three screens simultaneously, as long as the monitors have the hardware-rendering ASIC. This means that five simultaneous displays are possible (three via USB, the notebook screen and one screen attached via the VGA or DVI-D port).

The 20.1-inch widescreen monitor itself is impressive even without the USB connection. It includes resolutions of up to 1,680 by 1,050 pixels, and has a 5,000:1 contrast ratio and a 2-msec response.

Some caveats: DisplayLink says its technology is geared for information workers and general consumers. High-end graphics applications and full-screen 3-D games may suffer, because these applications consume all of a PC’s processing power, leaving nothing for the virtual graphics card (the same goes for Blu-ray Disc video). For general-purpose applications such as Office and for Web browsing — and even for searching Google Earth or watching a regular DVD — the USB works well. Its support for Windows Vista is limited, but the company says its driver is undergoing testing at Microsoft to support the Vista Aero interface.

Bottom line: This is cool technology that gives IT departments a way to provide employees with multiple monitors without having to spring for expensive upgrades —because they can use older monitors that are just sitting in a closet.

Grade: 5 stars (out of five)

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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