ViewSonic VG1655 – an example of a portable monitor
Over the last six months, we are seeing a significant number of “portable monitors” being introduced to the personal and small-business IT market.
What are these portable monitors?
These portable monitors are 12” to 17” LCD screens that are designed primarily to be used with a laptop as a second screen. Most of these units are equipped with a USB-C port that takes advantage of power transfer and display data transfer over the one physical cable, a feature that most well-bred laptops issued over the last few years are equipped with. As well, all these displays have a built-in kickstand so that they can be free-standing.
These screens are even being pitched at people who use mobile platform devices for work or play so they can benefit from a larger screen. This is also expedited with the USB-C or Lightning connections supporting display output and power transfer at the same time on these devices.
What can they offer computer users?
A typical use case for a portable monitor – as a secondary screen for a laptop computer
A key selling feature with these screens for laptop users is to benefit from dual-screen productivity while on-the-go or where they want that minimalist desktop.
Even users who use a multiple-screen setup with their laptop or desktop computer and a larger monitor do stand to benefit from these portable monitors. For example, one of these displays set up in portrait mode could earn its keep with something like an email or instant messaging client. To the same extent, this arrangement could come in handy with a tall spreadsheet or document that you are referring to or a whole lot of source code that is important for that computer program you are working on. This can also come in to its own if the main monitor doesn’t support portrait-mode orientation or you want to have a dedicated portrait-mode display.
Most of these screens will also have at least a standard HDMI connection and / or , perhaps, a standard DisplayPort connection. This can work with computer and video equipment that isn’t equipped with a USB-C with DisplayPort alt connection.
For photographers and videographers, this connection comes in to its own with digital cameras and camcorders equipped with HDMI output connections. That means that the screen serves as a better larger preview screen than what your camera or camcorder offers whether that comes in handy while you compose your shot or review what you have taken.
These portable monitors even serve as small playback / presentation monitors when you want to show something to another person. In a one-to-one meeting, you could be setting the portable monitor to mirror you laptop’s display so that who you are meeting with can see what you are bringing up. Here, this would come in to its own when you are sitting face to face at a table and want to “drive” your computer without always swivelling it around.
Similarly, you could use portable monitors equipped with a standard HDMI input and HDCP support as personal video monitors for devices like DVD / Blu-Ray players or set-top boxes. For example, using one of these portable monitors along with a digital-TV set-top box could allow you to have the equivalent of that portable TV which you use or have previously used for monitoring a news or sports event while in the office, kitchen or garage.
In the same context, they can end up as a portable gaming display for games consoles like the Nintendo Switch, the Sony PlayStation or Microsoft XBox family. This may be for larger-screen personal gaming use. At the moment, most of the current issue of portable monitors aren’t rated for regular-computer gaming due to them being set for 60Hz “productivity-use” frame rates.
Let’s not forget that these screens could simply end up as a “fail-over” display if your laptop’s display doesn’t work. This would be more important for those of us who are pushing that old laptop out further.
It may also benefit mobile-platform device users, especially smartphone users, who want to use them with a large screen at least. Some companies like Samsung are even pushing this idea of using a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet as a full-on productivity device especially when you use one of these monitors and a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
What features to look for
The screen that your portable monitor should have is a Full-HD or equivalent resolution and a high-quality display.
The connectivity offered by these screens should be at least one USB-C port with DisplayPort Alt and PowerDelivery support; along with a standard HDMI port with HDCP support. It would be nice to have a second USB-C PD-compliant port as a bonus which means you could plug your laptop’s USB-C PD power supply in to the monitor to supply both the laptop and monitor with power. As well, having a standard DisplayPort connection can be nice to have if you have equipment that has this connection.
Some of these portable monitors will implement MicroHDMI connectors and / or will use the USB-C port as an audio output. Here, you will have to rely on adaptor cables that should be packaged with the monitor in its box.
Most of these screens will have audio support of some sort and most likely have an integrated speaker. But they should have a standard headphone jack so you can plug in a set of headphones or better powered speakers for improved sound. They also should have an easy-to-operate volume control so you can adjust the sound quickly and easily.
If you expect a lot of away-from-AC-power use out of a portable monitor, it should have its own battery with a preferred minimum capacity of 5000mAh. As well the monitor should be efficient on the battery life. As I have said before, I would look towards these monitors having two two USB-C ports with PowerDelivery operation where one can accept power and the other can share power to the host computer. This could allow you to power your laptop and the monitor at the same time.
A nice-to-have feature for a portable monitor is touchscreen input support. This effectively adds touchscreen abilities to computer setups that don’t have this function.
Something worth paying attention to with these portable monitors is that some manufacturers could combine a portable monitor with Android tablet functionality. This is something that Lenovo is lining up with their Yoga Tab 13 tablet that is expected to be launched some time this year.
As well, look out for any of these portable monitors that offer gaming features like 144Hz refresh rate because these could be coming that way as part of one or more manufacturers’ lineups. They would be important for people who have gaming-grade laptops and want to have the same kind of performance across all displays.
The portable monitor will earn its keep with those of us who want to have multiple-screen computing with our laptops in a portable setup. As well, they will be likely to be of use as an ancillary personal-use large screen for a range of activities.
Samsung is launching two computer-monitor models that have Smart TV capabilities. It is similar to the likes of LG offering some computer monitors with integrated broadcast-TV tuners.
Good enough for that personal space where you work and live in
This class of computer monitor addresses use cases where one would put one of these monitors to service not just with their computer for work or advanced gaming but also for ordinary entertainment purposes. The classic examples of this use case include a bedroom or den that serves as one’s office and personal space; or a person who moves in to a small apartment or bungalow where one large room serves as their living room, dining room and office. It also includes university students who live on campus in a student-accommodation facility like a dorm or residence hall or workers who live in employer-provided accommodation facilities as part of their job.
I did some previous coverage on this topic in an article about having a TV serve as a computer monitor or using a computer monitor as a TV and nowadays some TV manufacturers are offering large-screen TV models that are optimised for computer games with the video electronics equivalent to what is offered in a current-spec gaming monitor. This is due to a realisation that one could be bringing that Windows-based gaming rig or that current-spec games console in to the living room to play games on the big screen TV.
But the Samsung M7 (32” 4K UHD) and M5 (27” or 32” Full HD) monitors have Samsung’s Tizen-OS-based Smart Hub smart-TV platform. These include access to apps for locally-popular video-on-demand entertainment services delivered through that platform. Both sets connect to your home network via Wi-FI 5 technology and they support peripheral connectivity via Bluetooth 4.2 or USB. The Wi-Fi functionality even goes further to work with Wi-Fi-based mirroring technologies and allows the monitor to be part of your DLNA Home Media Network. As well you can stream audio and video from supported Apple devices using the AirPlay 2 protocol.
There is even support for Samsung’s Wireless DeX capability where your Samsung Galaxy S8 or newer Android phone uses the TV as a desktop-style interface. Add to this a virtual-machine which works with Microsoft Office so you can work with Office-based documents stored in the cloud.
The monitors have a remote control so you can manage the smart-TV interface in a “lean-back” manner. This even has the ability to work with the Samsung Bixby voice assistant thanks to a microphone integrated in the remote control. As well, they have two HDMI inputs that support HDR10 and HDMI-CEC. That means you have room to connect your computer and another video peripheral like a set-top box or games console. The M7 model also has USB-C with 65W Power Delivery, Display Port alt connectivity and USB-hub functionality to boot.
A question that will come up is whether the monitors will have an integrated broadcast-TV tuner of any sort. As far as I know, they don’t have that kind of feature although the initial models are being launched in to Canada, the USA and China. But this may be a feature considered of importance for customers in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. This is because these countries place significant importance on access to free-to-air TV especially from their national public-service broadcasters.
On the other hand, the DLNA ability that they offer may work hand in glove with broadcast-LAN boxes and PVRs that support this standard. Or Samsung could build SAT>IP client support in to these monitors where they are targeted to British and European markets at least. This is due to this standard being supported for satellite broadcast-LAN devices and, in some cases, terrestrial and cable TV within those markets.
But what I do see of Samsung’s effort with the M7 and M5 monitors is that they are maintaining interest in the market niche where a computer monitor is expected also to serve as a TV for entertainment purposes. This market niche can be further supported through having a wide range of these types of monitors including some game-ready variants and units that can work well with multi-display setups.
A regular TV may not serve well as the only computer monitor for your computing and video-entertainment needs
An issue that will crop up with home computing nowadays is whether to use a TV as the only display device for your computer as well as providing video entertainment.
This is an idea that tends to appeal to those of us who are living in small areas like college dorms or small apartments or simply have this kind of space as our own personal living space in a shared environment.
In this context, I am assuming that you are using the screen as part of a desktop computing setup whether by using a traditional desktop computer or by connecting your laptop computer to the display and having it serve as the primary display. I am not talking about running the display you want to use as part of a multiple-screen setup or for occasional group-viewing use.
There will be issues that will preclude this kind of use for a TV serving this role for your computer.
An issue you will need to pay attention to is the pixel density your display device offers especially if you are intending to use it as your only display device for your computing and entertainment needs.
A 15” Full HD laptop would offer a pixel density of 141.2 pixels per inch while a 32” Full HD TV would work at 68.84 pixels per inch. Apple’s iPhones that implement the Retina screen would work at 326ppi while their MacBook Pro Retina screen would work at 227ppi.
Here. the display that works at something like 141.2 pixels per inch or more would make text or graphics look sharp and clear especially if you are working close to the screen. It may not matter if you are playing video games or viewing multimedia content at a “lean-back” distance.
Here, if you are buying a TV or monitor with a screen size of 27” or less, make sure you are looking for a model that uses Full HD (1080p) resolution. Larger screen sizes can be served through the use of a value-priced 32”-55” 4K UHDTV device.
Your computer’s display infrastructure needs to have an HDMI 2.0 output, preferably HDMI 2.0a for HDR10-capable displays. This may be fulfilled by most recent discrete GPUs and some recent Intel integrated graphics setups may also support this specification. If your computer or external graphics module uses a DisplayPort video output, you may need to use a DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor. Beware some of these devices may require the use of an active DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor.
Input Lag and Display Responsiveness
This is an issue that will affect gameplay where you are expected to respond quickly to the situation that is taking place in a game you are playing. It is more of concern when you are playing any fast-paced game.
The input lag problem is the time between when you do something with your game controller, keyboard or mouse and when the effect of that is painted on the screen. Then there will be issues where the screen doesn’t appear with the latest activity or isn’t quick enough to represent all of the activity including what your opponents are up to.
This is brought about due to most domestic TVs being equipped with a lot of video-processing circuity logic that deals with the incoming signal before it is painted on the screen. The time it takes may be just enough for dealing with video content but not interactive gaming content.
Some sets will offer a “gaming mode” to minimise lag times and this typically reduces the use of video-processing circuitry or optimises it for fast response. Also be aware that a significant number of large-screen TVs are appearing with features and graphics performance very similar to gaming-class computer monitors with this as a growing trend. This is due to the fact that games consoles and “gaming-rig” computers including Thunderbolt-3-equipped laptops connected to gaming-class external-graphics-module setups are connected to the large screen TV for impressive multiplayer game play.
In a lot of cases, most TVs wouldn’t work well as a sole display device, with this applying more towards small cheap HDTVs. But they can work well as a secondary screen or for large-screen group-viewing use.
What about purposing a computer monitor for TV use
You could purpose a computer monitor with built-in speakers as a TV by adding a set-top box or similar peripheral
Another approach would be to use a suitably-sized monitor as your TV set, especially if it is equipped with integrated speakers. In most cases, the monitor won’t have a remote control for “lean-back” viewing because you intend to use it with your computer.
You may come across a “TV monitor” which is a computer monitor that has an integrated TV tuner and is pitched for desktop use. These are available in countries with strong support for free-to-air TV like UK, Europe, Asia and Oceania. Typically they will have a Full HD screen with a size of 32” or smaller but have display electronics optimised for computer use.
On the other hand, your computer monitor would need to be equipped with a spare HDMI input that has HDCP support. Here, you use a set-top box or PVR that has an HDMI output to receive TV broadcasts.
If you subscribe to traditional pay TV, your pay-TV provider will lease you a set-top box or PVR as part of the service and this can work well if free-to-air TV is provided via the pay-TV platform. On the other hand, your local consumer-electronics store will have set-top boxes or PVRs that work with free-to-air TV and these units will display high-definition channels at their proper resolution.
A broadcast-LAN setup like SAT>IP can work with your computer if it is running the appropriate client software. As well some platforms like SAT>IP are supported by set-top boxes that connect to your monitor’s HDMI input. You may also find that some Internet-based set-top-box platforms will offer access to real-time video streaming through the broadcasters’ video-on-demand platforms or a similar application.
You may find that some games consoles like the XBox One will have a TV-tuner module supplied as a first-party or third-party option. Similarly, you may be able to use a USB-based TV-tuner module or a TV-tuner card as a way to purpose your computer for TV-viewing.
On the other hand, if you are just content with Netflix and similar online services, you can just get by with using the service’s Website and viewing the video content on the monitor in a full-screen arrangement. As well, AirPlay (facilitated with Apple TV) or Chromecast can work when it comes to “throwing” the video content from your smartphone or tablet to the monitor.
You will find that using one display for your computing and video entertainment needs may cut it for some applications but not for others like full-on gaming.
A very dominant usage case being highlighted for laptops and 2-in-1 computers is the creation of a fully-fledged workstation at your main workspace or game-playing space. This involves connecting the portable computer to at least one larger-sized screen along with a desktop-grade full-size keyboard and mouse. Such workstations may even be the place where you connect extra non-portable storage devices like USB hard disks or optical drives or connect to your network via a blue Ethernet cable rather than the Wi-Fi wireless connection for improved reliability.
USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports will be seen as the way to connect expansion docks, peripherals and the like to your laptop
The USB-C connector and its higher-speed variant, the Thunderbolt 3 connector have been valued as a way to provide a single-cable connection option between your laptop and the normally-sessile peripherals once you used an expansion module, commonly known as a docking station or dock. Here, you would connect all the peripherals to this expansion module then connect your laptop computer to that same device via USB-C or Thunderbolt. This is also underscored by a significant number of these devices being equipped with USB Power Delivery to power the portable computer from that same device, underscoring that “one cable to connect” goal.
Let’s not forget that some manufacturers are integrating this “dock” functionality in to some of their display monitors so that these screens are where you can connect your keyboard, mouse and external hard disk.
Lenovo had pitched the ThinkVision P24h and P27h monitors which have a qHD (2560×1440) display resolution and an sRGB high colour gamut “out of the box”. These monitors, with the super-narrow bezel, implement a USB-C connection to the host computer facilitating a DisplayPort 1.2 connection, the data connection, and a Power Delivery connection with a power budget of 45W, along with a four-port self-powered USB hub.
LG’s 32″ 4K monitor with HDR10
LG had teased a 32” 4K monitor which has the narrow bezel and can handle HDR10 video but also offer this similar USB-C connectivity and USB hub. They also tweaked the monitor’s integral speakers for that bit of extra “kick” from the bass. They also are pleasing the gamer clans by offering the UltraFine 34” 5K and 4K UHD gaming monitors with features like AMD’s FreeSync technology and 1ms motion-blur reduction.
Dell had advanced a range of monitors including the UltraSharp 32” 8K UHD model and the 27” Ultrathin monitor which has its electronics housed in its base. This monitor implements USB-C connectivity to the host along with a QHD display.
It’s not 4K resolution in this Dell 32″ monitor, it is 8K resolution
They even advanced the 24” Touch monitor with an integral 10-point touchscreen along with the 24” Video Conferencing Monitor which has an integral Full-HD IR Webcam that has a privacy shutter. This monitor’s camera also adds on support for facial-recognition login under Windows Hello while the sound is catered for with a pair of 5-watt speakers and a noise-cancelling microphone built in.
Dell’s slimline 27″ monitor with its electronics in its base
Even households aren’t left out with a range of monitors from Dell that are designed with aesthetics and high-grade on-screen experiences. For example, the Dell 24 and 27 monitors (S2418HX / S2718HX) implement the ultra-narrow-bezel design being implemented in most of Dell’s laptops and all-in-ones plus the ability to support HDR along with Waves.Maxx sound tuning.
For those of us who have a screen that currently “ticks the boxes” for our computing experience at our desks, most of the manufacturers are offering highly-capable Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C docks. Remember that you can daisy-chain 6 Thunderbolt-3 peripherals from the same Thunderbolt-3 bus, which can open up a range of possibilities.
For example, Lenovo and Dell are offering these expansion modules as part of their official accessory lineups. Lenovo’s contribution is in the form of the ThinkPad Thunderbolt 3 dock (US279) with video connectivity in the form of 2 DisplayPort, HDMI and VGA ports; 5 USB 3.0 ports; audio jack for those speakers; a Gigabit Ethernet port; and USB Power Delivery for the host computer with a power budget of 60 watts. There is a USB-C variant that offers similar functionality for computers not equipped with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. But Belkin have previewed the Thunderbolt 3 version of their original Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock, which will have 3 USB-3 connections, 2 Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C connections, two audio connections, a DisplayPort video connection and a Gigabit Ethernet connection. This device can supply a USB Power Deliver power-demand of 85 watts, again reducing the need for extra power supplies for your computer.
In the last post I wrote about CES 2017, I had cited Zotac’s external “card-cage” graphics module which uses Thunderbolt 3 connectivity as a way to enhance their “midget PC” product. This isn’t the only product of its kind to appear at this show. MSI also premiered the GUS (Graphics Upgrade System) “card-cage” external GPU system. This is styled for gaming and is a refresh of their original GUS external graphics module that they launched in 2012, but implementing the Thunderbolt 3 standard. It has a 500W power supply and USB 3.0 Type-C and Type-A connections.
Beyond the docking stations or, should I say, expansion modules, there have been a few other computer accessories with one being of note in the form of a Kingston 2Tb USB thumb drive.
The home network
A key trend affecting the home network this year at the CES 2017 is the concept of distributed Wi-Fi wireless systems. This consists of kits that use multiple devices to spread the Wi-Fi network’s coverage over a large area. They have appeared because most householders have run in to issues with their home network’s Wi-Fi wireless segment not providing reliable wireless coverage everywhere in their house.
They are typically based on a single chipset and most of them implement a dedicated wireless backhaul between the slave devices and the master access point. A significant number of these devices implement a “mesh” topology where there is a “root” node that works as a router along with multiple access point “nodes” that connect with each other and the “root” node to provide Wi-Fi coverage, using multiple backhaul connections for load-balancing, fail-safe operation and increased bandwidth. Other systems implement the traditional router and range-extender method with a single upstream connection but have a simplified setup method and properly-simple roaming between the access points.
The problem with these systems is that you have to use equipment that is offered by the manufacturer as part of that same system. This means that there isn’t any of the interoperability available which, at the moment, is stifling innovation.
Qualcomm launched their Wi-Fi mesh chipsets which can implement Bluetooth, CSRMesh and Zigbee also to support the “Internet Of Things”. The software is based also around a dedicated software framework and cloud-services. But these systems also support wired backhauls and multiple-hop mesh setups.
D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package
D-Link had premiered the Covr distributed Wi-Fi system which consists of a router and a wireless extender that implements the automatic setup and simplified roaming. For those of us with existing home networks, they also offered a Covr HomePlug system consisting of two wireless access points linked by a HomePlug AV2 powerline backbone. Another example that purely uses a Wi-Fi backbone is the NETGEAR Orbi which implements a router and a satellite extender device.
On the other hand, Linksys provided a true-mesh setup in the form of the Velop Wi-Fi system that implements multiple nodes. The Velop system even is able to work with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant such as controlling the guest Wi-Fi network or asking Alexa to quote your network’s credentials. Click or tap on this link to see a Linksys YouTube video which explains what Velop is about if you can’t see it below.
As well, Linksys have launched the WRT32X Gaming Router which implements the Rivet Networks Killer Wi-Fi chipset similar to what is implemented in the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook. Here, it is optimised to work with client devices that implement the Rivet Networks Killer chipsets but is a 3×3 802.11ac MU-MIMO system that supports 160kHz bandwidth. There is also the EA8300 Max-Stream AC2200 Tri-band MU-MIMO Gigabit Router which is a more affordable device based on a 2×2 802.11ac three-radio design. Both these routers are equipped with Gigabit Ethernet for LAN and WAN (Internet) connections.
Linksys even offered a WUSB400M dual-band MU-MIMO 802.11ac USB wireless network adaptor as a way to retrofit your existing laptop or desktop computer for the new-spec Wi-Fi segments. This network adaptor connects to the host computer via USB 3.0 and can work at a 2×2 AC1200 setup.
What Linksys have been offering is a representative of another trend affecting the home network’s Wi-Fi segment where Wi-Fi network infrastructure hardware is working on a simultaneous three-band approach, operating on the 2.4GHz, 5.0GHz and 5.8GHz wavebands at the same time. As well, Wi-Fi repeaters are even being setup to implement the 5GHz bands as the preferred backhaul. Amped Wireless is another company also offering the three-band Wi-Fi network-infrastructure equipment in the form of a router and an extender.
NETGEAR Nighthawk S8000 Gaming And Media Switch – for the home network or home entertainment unit
NETGEAR’s not silent here with the Nighthawk S8000 Media Switch which is a media-optimised Ethernet switch implementing some of the quality-of-service technologies in their managed switches but optimised for household use. As well, this house-friendly switch can support functions like link-aggregation for increased throughput on supported devices like desktop computers and NAS units with two Gigabit Ethernet connections supporting this mode.
This is also intended to complement the Nighthawk X10 gaming and media router which has an integrated Plex Media Server for USB Mass-Storage devices connected to this router’s USB ports. It is also one of the first few home routers to offer 802.11ad WiGig (60GHz) same-room wireless network LAN segment capable of a throughput three times that of the fastest 802.11ac Wi-Fi network; along with the 802.11ac 4×4 MU-MIMO three-band Wi-Fi wireless LAN segment.
As well, there are 8 Gigabit Ethernet ports which can also support port-trunking for failover or high-throughput operation like the Nighthawk S8000 switch along with the WAN (Internet) side being looked after by a Gigabit Ethernet connection. The processing horsepower in this performance router is looked after by a 1.7GHz four-core CPU and it can support VLAN setups of the port or 802.1q tag variety.
Both these devices are pitched at “core” online and VR gaming enthusiasts with those hotted-up gaming rigs along with people who are in to streaming 4K ultra-high-definition TV content. But they can also earn their keep with those of us who run our businesses from home and want “big-business-grade” connectivity for IP-based communications or cloud computing.
Another trend that is surfacing is security-optimised broadband routers for the home network. These offer the “unified threat management” abilities associated with business-grade Internet setups but in a manner that appeals to the ordinary household. The latest from this class of network-Internet “edge” device is the Norton Core router. This device implements content-filtering and security software that is also focused towards the Internet-of-Things devices in your household due to the increased awareness of security risks and poor software maintenance practices associated with these devices.
The self-updating router works with Symantec’s DNS service to prevent DNS hijacks as well as implementing deep-packet inspection on unencrypted traffic to screen for malware and network intrusions. As for encrypted traffic, the Norton Core router will inspect packet headers for and connections of this traffic class. It also comes with Norton Core Security Plus endpoint-protection software which is a variant of the business-grade Security Premium endpoint software and can be run on 20 devices running either Windows, MacOS, iOS or Android but the router is dependent on this endpoint software for the full protection..
Lenovo Smart Storage home NAS
Most of the network-attached-storage units were focused on the “personal cloud” trend with the device being the centre of your data-storage universe while software and services work to locate these devices from afar. Similarly, some of them are using rich media servers which can do things like obtain further data about your media content. One of these devices is one that Lenovo launched called the Smart Storage 6Tb NAS which implements facial image recognition along with event-driven recognition to make it easier to identify and organise pictures of people just like what Facebook and Windows Photo Gallery were about. This unit has 802.11ac 2×2 Wi-Fi for portable use but can be connected to your home network via an Ethernet cable.
The next article about the 2017 CES will be highlighting the trends affecting home entertainment including the new smart TVs that will be showing up.
An Alienware gaming laptop that bridges performance and portability
Gaming on the big-screen TV isn’t just restricted to the likes of the XBox One or the PlayStation 4 consoles. You can engage in these games using your PC especially if you are using a laptop or dare to bring the tower-style gaming rig in to your lounge area. This is more so as the regular computer platforms i.e. Windows, OS X (Macintosh) and Linux still maintain a strong level of open-frame software deployment and become more the areas to try out gaming ideas.
This is brought on by the increase in the number of portable computers that have performance-computing chops whether in the form of mobile workstations or gaming laptops is making this kind of gaming more real. The manufacturers see this as a valuable niche for people who value performance and portability for work or play.
Dell Precision M2800 – a mobile workstation that also bridges performance and portability
This will apply to those of you who are at home or at a friend’s house because you could bring your gaming computer in to the living room or games room and play that game on the big screen from the comfort of your couch. Those of you who are staying at a college dorm (university residence hall) or similar location can use the big-screen TV in the common lounge area for playing that epic game on your gaming laptop.
What do you need?
TV and sound system
The TV or home-theatre system would need to have a spare HDMI connection for you to plug in another video peripheral.
Here, you are relying on HDMI as your audio and video connection and the equipment must be able to play the sound from an HDMI connection rather than just be a switcher. Recently-made home-theatre receivers will most likely be able to satisfy this requirement but beware of lower-end equipment that can’t achieve this goal.
One of the big-screen TVs that is worth playing games on
If you are buying a newer large-screen TV and you expect a regular computer to be connected to it, you should look for sets that have a high refresh rate like what would be expected for most well-bred monitors. As well, if your gaming setup is of a temporary nature, I would recommend that the equipment concerned has an HDMI connector on the front panel for a home-theatre receiver or similar device or on the side edge of a TV so that it is easily accessible without you needing to shift the equipment out or grope around the back whenever you want to play games.
In the case of an HDMI connection on the side of a TV, a short HDMI extension cord can come in handy if you find the side connections difficult to gain access to.
HDMI connection on a laptop
The HomePlug powerline adaptor – a no-new-wires network with gaming chops
The computer should have HDMI as a video output option and be capable of directing the sound through that output. This is to achieve the goal of one cable between the computer and the TV or home-theatre receiver rather than worrying about many cables, with this cable carrying a digital audio signal along with the high-resolution video signal.
When you set up the sound, make sure that you know what your equipment can handle at best. If you use a home-theatre system, make sure that you set the audio output for Dolby Digital 5.1 bitstream or a similar codec that your equipment handles so you can take advantage of games that implement surround sound.
As well, it may be worth paying attention to an article that I wrote about multiple sound devices in Windows. In this case, you have to make sure that the sound device you are using for your game is the “display audio” or “HDMI audio” device associated with the graphics infrastructure you are using. Here, it’s about preparing and passing the sound through the HDMI connection to the TV’s speakers or the home-theatre receiver in a manner these devices can handle.
Games that require frequent interactive activity would benefit form a console-type controller if you are leaning back on the couch. There are some wireless controllers out there but you can use an XBox 360 or XBox One controller that works with Windows courtesy of an adaptor that is sold for “pennies worth” by Microsoft.
For that matter, XBox One controllers are now able to work directly with your Windows-based computer via USB and the newest XBox One wireless controllers including the XBox Adaptive Controller can work via Bluetooth. This means you don’t need to buy a Microsoft adaptor to link your controller to your computer as explained in this article about achieving this setup.
These Bluetooth keyboards also earn their keep on the couch when gaming in the lounge
If you are needing to use a keyboard or mouse, it may be preferable to use wireless peripherals so you avoid cable clutter. Personally I would prefer to use Bluetooth equipment because you only need to use one transceiver dongle across them all and if the computer has integrated Bluetooth, you don’t need to worry about any of these transceiver devices. Sometimes a wireless keyboard or mouse pitched at tablet use can work as a wireless keyboard for gaming use.
It is preferable to have an Ethernet socket in the lounge area but this may not be a reality. For your home or a friend’s, you may find that setting up a HomePlug AV500 powerline-network segment may work well in these circumstances.
Some college dorms and similar places may have an Ethernet socket connected to the premises’ network and Internet service not far from the common lounge area HomePlug AV500 or HomePlug AV2 may work well in using a no-new-wires setup to bring the connection closer. In some cases, this connection may be locked down for specific devices and uses and it doesn’t hurt asking the staff about whether the connection is a “general-use” connection or can be set up as such.
At a pinch, you would need to use Wi-Fi wireless and make sure you have a reliable Wi-Fi connection at your computer. Wi-Fi networks that use Web-based login can be tricky to use and may require you to keep the “login successful” Web page minimised while you play that online game.This is best done with a Web browser that doesn’t take up much memory space.
Similarly, if you are playing against multiple computers across a public network, it may be difficult to discover the opponents’ computers because these networks are most likely set up to provide client isolation.
There are some things you will need to be sure of when you are setting up for gaming in the living room or other lounge area.
One would be to use a rug to cover long cables that travel between the computer and the TV or home theatre so as to avoid the situation of people tripping over the cables. This is important for situations where the area between the couch and the TV equipment is part of a thoroughfare.
A tray-table or bed desk is also a good place to position your gaming laptop or to use as a mouse mat. On the other hand, you may want to use the coffee table for that same purpose. This is to assure stability. Even those “Stable Table” trays with integrated cushions can come in handy as a mouse mat.
As for online game managers, Steam is the only such platform that provides a “big-screen” mode courtesy of their “Big Picture” mode. This will allow you to manage it while viewing the display from a distance. But when you are actually playing the game, this may not be a problem. It is due to a default approach by many games using the whole of the screen as their display canvas.
Once you know that you can game on with the big-screen TV and your gaming rig or laptop computer, you could be able to add that bit extra to your solo or group gaming experience.
This article will undergo continual revision as knowledge of newer technologies that can affect regular-computing gaming on the big-screen TV comes about.
12 September 2019 – Identified the “display audio” sound device that is used by your computer’s graphics infrastructure for passing your game’s soundtrack via the HDMI port.
9 September 2020 – Newer knowledge about connecting XBox One controllers to your Windows 10 computer,
14 September 2020 – Reference to a newer article about bed desks as a gift idea for laptop users
Windows 10 will play properly with these computers what way you fold them
A problem that was often echoed with Windows 8 was the Start Screen and the Modern user interface that was optimised just for touch interfaces. This is although there are computing setups that can work between a touch interface and / or a regular mouse / keyboard interface.
These range from the so-called “2-in-1” computers of the Microsoft Surface, HP x2 and Lenovo Yoga i which can be known as convertibles or detachables and change between a regular laptop and a tablet, through people connecting keyboards and mice to tablets, including the “Adaptive All-In-One” computers of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 ilk, to touchscreen-enabled regular laptops or regular desktop computers that are kitted out with touchscreen-capable monitors.
But Windows 8 didn’t perform well for the regular mouse / keyboard interface. Here, you didn’t have the “comfort zone” of the Start Menu or desktop interface elements most of us are used to for over the last 20 years of Windows-platform regular computing. Windows 8.1 performed a few upgrades to try to bridge the gap but Windows 10 has approached this more sincerely.
Here they have a new Start Menu that also has active Tiles for Windows Store apps and this can be “shoehorned” to suit your screen layout. It is also optimised for touch-enabled setups like a “2-in-1” set up as a laptop, a touch-screen-equipped regular laptop or a desktop computing setup equipped with a touch-enabled monitor. This is part of a desktop user experience optimised still for the keyboard and mouse.
But if you detach the keyboard from an HP x2 detachable, fold over a Lenovo Yoga or slide the keyboard under a Sony VAIO Duo, the display adapts to a full-screen-optimised “tablet” mode. The same thing happens if you turn off your Bluetooth keyboard and mouse that you have connected to your Windows tablet. This has a reduced clutter view and program selection is through the Start Screen “dashboard” that was par for the course on Windows 8. There is the ability to bring this on manually if you like to, at times, mouse around an uncluttered workspace or simply have that “dashboard view”.
At least the folks at Redmond have made the effort to cater for multiple-interface computer users, especially the 2-in-1 users or people who have touch-capable laptops. Let’s not forget that a touch-capable monitor for a desktop computer setup or a touch-enabled laptop doesn’t have to be considered an unnecessary luxury.
Philips was no further from the truth when they launched a pair of Android-powered Full-HD “smart monitors”. These monitors are able to work as primary or secondary displays for Windows computers but also work in their own right as the equivalent of a recent Android 4.2-powered tablet.
They are available as a 21” (S221C4AFD) or 23” (S231C4AFD) variant with full access to the Google Play store (and such goodies as Instagram, Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga and the like). Here they run this software using NVIDIA Tegra 1.6GHz horsepower and work with 2Gb RAM and 8Gb flash storage. They also can mount an SDHC card for your digital camera’s photos or other “offloading” storage requirements and connect to your home network using 802.11g/n Wi-Fi.
Some of us could see these as “toys” but they could be purposed not just as secondary monitors for your propped-up laptop. There is the ability to use these as task-focused computers like digital signage / electronic picture frames, kiosks, POS terminals and the like when it comes to work use or they could be used in the same vein as the Sony VAIO Tap 20 and its ilk where they end up on that ottoman so that two kids play air-hockey or similar multiplayer games.
At the moment. they are being sold in Europe for €440 (21” model) or €470 (23” model). This is a symptom of what will be happening with Windows and Android being the mainstream operating systems for both regular and mobile computing needs.
The second part of this series is about computing devices both for desktop use and for mobile use in all of the form factors along with the new equipment that you can use to buid out our home or other small network.
Computers and Mobile Devices
Previously, I used to see mobile computing devices like tablets and smartphones as their own device class but the situation is changing for this class of device.
This has been brought on with use of Windows 8.1 in smaller tablets that have lightweight and low-energy processors that implement the orthodox Intel microarchitecture used in regular-computers along with these regular computer products running the Android mobile operating system as a standalone operating system or in a dual-boot configuration.
This has caused us to blur the lines between the orthodox “regular” desktop or laptop computer that uses IA-32 or IA-64 microarchitecture rather than ARM RISC microarchitecture and running a desktop operating system like Windows or desktop Linux; and the primarily-battery-operated mobile computers like the smartphones and tablets that use ARM RISC microarchitecture and use a mobile operating system like Android.
Computer devices that boot between Windows 8.1 and Android
This class of computer may be either running Windows or Android very soon
Intel and AMD have established computer reference designs that allow for switching between Windows 8.1 or Android 4.4 operating systems even when they are fully operational. This is to capitalise on the 7”-10” tablets appearing on the market that are running Windows 8.1 along with the desire for us to run Android programs on our regular laptops and Ultrabooks.
A clear example of this is ASUS’s Transformer Book Duet detachable tablet which has a hardware switch that allows you to switch between Windows 8.1 and Android. Think of this – on a long journey, switch to Windows to make some headway on a document you are creating with Microsoft Word, then, to while the time away on that journey after that, switch to Android to play Plants Versus Zombies, Candy Crush Saga or whatever is the latest mobile time-waster game.
Android and Chrome OS gain a foothold on the regular computer
Previously, we thought of Windows as the only open-frame operating system that runs on a “regular computer” i.e. a desktop or laptop. Now Google have pushed forward Chrome OS which is a cloud-based operating system along with Android with these kind of computers.
Nearly every laptop vendor, save for Sony, Panasonic and a few others are putting forward at least one “Chromebook” which are notebooks that run the Chrome OS environment. LG even premiered a “Chromebase” which is an all-in-one desktop computer that runs the Google Chrome OS. This implements Intel Celeron horsepower along with the Chrome OS specification for RAM and secondary storage (2Gb RAM, 16Gb SSD). These may have limited appeal due to software only available through Google and an always-online operation and may just work as Web terminals.
For Android, HP put up the Slate 21 Pro 21” tablet that runs on this operating system thus bringing the adaptive all-in-one to this operating system especially in the workplace. Similarly, Lenovo had launched a 19” all-in-one PC that runs Android and has an appealing price of US$450 along with the ThinkVision 28 which is a 28” 4K monitor that is an Android all-in-one PC. This is alongside HP also running with a Slate Pro all-in-one that runs Android and appeals to the business. Some of these computers are being pitched as inexpensive kiosk computers or communications terminals that go hand in glove with Viber, Skype, Facebook and the like.
Business-grade computing appears at CES 2014
Not often have I seen any of the Consumer Electronics Shows or similar consumer-electronics trade fairs become a platform to launch computer hardware pitched at business users. This year, HP, Lenovo and a few others are launching smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops pitch at this user class with the expected features like security, management abilities and system durability.
Could this be a sign that “business-targeted” computing trade fairs like CEBit and Interop start to focus on a narrower class of “big-business” computing equipment like large-scale servers and networking equipment while small-business office and computing equipment ends up being exhibited at consumer-focused computing and electronics trade fairs? Or could this be answering a reality where business computing equipment are working also as home computing equipment as in the typical “work-home” laptop that is used for personal and business computing tasks? As well, could this be in response to the so-called “BYOD” trend where employees are buying their own devices, perhaps with their employer subsidising the purchase and running costs of these devices, and using them at work?
This is augmented with Samsung, Lenovo and HP launching business-grade tablets and smartphones and operating environments that cater to the business’s operating needs.
HP even used this show to launch the 300 series 14” and 15” laptops that have hardware credentials for a business laptop like spill-resistant keyboards, anti-glare displays and fingerprint readers but don’t come with business-tier manageability software. These machines start from US$399 upwards. This is more about offering appropriate computer hardware for small businesses and community organisations at a price they can afford without the hard-to-understand “big-business” security and manageability software that can daunt operators who are effectively their organisation’s “chief cook and bottle-washer”.
They also released the Pro One 400 and HP205 all-in-one desktops and issued the second generation of the Z1 all-in-one desktop workstation which can he shoehorned as you see fit.
Newer hardware technologies
One key hardware technology that is being put forward is the arrival of highly-powerful ARM-based chips that are pitched for mobile computing. One trend has been the arrival of the 64-bit ARM mobile processor which was augmented by Samsung with their Exynos range. The other was NVIDIA who were putting up the Tegra K1 processor family that had 192 cores and the VCM variant being targeted at vehicle applications. The graphics capacity is about achieving smooth realistic rendering which comes in thandy for games and similar graphics-intensive applications that will be expected of the Android platform. This is an example of a high-power ARM processor that is being pitched across the board not just for the tablets but for the Android-driven computers, the smart TVs as well as the cars.
Similarly, Intel premiered the Edison microcomputer which is the same size as the standard SD memory card. This has a two-core microprocessor with a 400MHz primary core and a 50-200MHz secondary core along with 500Mb RAM and integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interfaces. Here, they are pitching it at wearable application such as smartwatches but I would see a greater potential for this application.
As for memory, the magnetoresistive RAM and resistive RAM technologies have been premiered at this show. It s a non-volatile RAM technology that can lead to the creation of memory that isn’t just for primary on-hand storage or secondary long-term storage. The obvious applications that are being called include quick-start portable computers that don’t need to store their current state to secondary storage. But I see this likely to appear in devices like printers and faxes for power-safe job-queue handling.
As well, the IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless-network technology is appearing in a lot more as a client interface in this newly-released equipment. There has to be work on making sure that there are options for reduced-battery-load for smartphones and small tablets that are primarily battery-operated and these may stay on N technology at the moment.
Smartphones and Tablets
One major trend for smartphones and tablets is for the market to be full of affordable Android devices especially those that are positioned at the “value” segment where you gain best bang for your buck. Similarly, a lot more of these devices are being pitched at the business user with the necessary manageability features appearing.
Samsung have launched the Galaxy Note Pro range of Android tablets with some of these at 12”. Similarly, we are seeing Lenovo run a range of smartphones like the Vibe Z phablet along with a smartphone that has an 802.11ac wireless-network interface. They are even running an 8” business-grade tablet known as the ThinkPad 8 which runs Windows 8.1 and has Intel Bay Trail small-device horsepower.
Asus have previously run their Padfone range of smartphones which dock in to an accompanying tablet and are furthering this with the Padfone Mini 7 “coat-pocket” tablet / smartphone combo. They are also running the Zenfone range of standalone Android smartphones.They also premiered the VivoTAB Note 8 which is an 8” coat-pocket tablet with stylus that runs Win8.1 and uses Intel Atom horsepower.
Acer are even launching some more of the Iconia Windows and Android tablet range along with a budget-range phablet smartphone. At the same time, Polaroid have put their name to an affordable 8” Android tablet in the form of the Q8.
Panasonic is not left lying down when it comes to tablets with a ToughPad 7” tablet being premiered at this show.
Laptops, Ultrabooks and similar computers
This year has seen a great influx of detachable and convertible Ultrabooks with, for example HP bolstering their x2 family.This is brought in to affordable territory with the Pavilion x2 range being a “foot-in-the-door” and running on cheaper AMD or Intel Bay Trail horsepower. This is augmented with the Pro x2 which is pitched at business users and is powered by Intel Core i3 or i5 processors.
Lenovo have premiered their MIIX 2 detachable tablets which run Windows 8.1 with the 10” variant running an Intel Atom processor and the 11.6” variant running an Intel Core i5 processor. They also launched the latest iteration of the X1 Carbon Ultrabook which is finished in a carbon-fibre material.
LG has answered the slider convertible trend started with the Sony VAIO Duo 11 and released the Tab Book 2 slider convertible. Sony are still keeping on with their convertible notebooks with the new VAIO Fit 11a and Flip PC 13, 14 and 15 convertible notebooks and the latest iteration of the VAIO Duo 13 slider convertible along with the VAIO Tap 11 detachable tablet. Sony has also taken the time to refresh the VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one and sell it as the VAIO Tap 21.
Samsung have released the ATIV Book 9 which is a 15” Ultrabook that owes its small size to a very narrow screen bezel, making it look less like a regular 15” laptop. Toshiba has broken through the mould by offering the first laptop with a 4K resolution screen as well as a shape-shifting concept for a convertible portable computer.
The home or other small network
This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has become a time to show that 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking has matured ant to premiere the HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit powerline network technology. It also has been a chance for network hardware vendors to showcase some of the small business / contractor network hardware alongside consumer network hardware so as to expose this kind of hardware to the small-business and startup users.
802.11ac wireless network hardware
One major trend that is affecting equipment for the small network is the increased availability of 802.11ac Wi-Fi network connectivity equipment, especially now that the standard has been officially ratified and published by the IEEE. Here we are dealing with Wi-Fi wireless-network segments established in the 5GHz band and capable of operating at Gigabit speeds. Broadcom have come up with newer 802.11ac chipsets that improve wireless-network experience including one that has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and improved radio amplification in the same packaging.
The main class of devices offered here are routers or range extenders where some of the range extenders can work as client bridges for these networks. Examples of these include TrendNet’s newer AC1900 router and the ASUS RT-AC87U broadband router that has 1.7Gbps on 5GHz and 600Mbps on 2.4GHz using 4 x 4 MIMO and support for multiuser MIMO functionality. The old Linksys WRT54G with its distinctive style and user-evolvable open-source firmware has been released as a new iteration but equipped with 802.11ac wireless and Gigabit Ethernet network abilities and USB connectivity.
Even Engenius offered the ESR-2300 which is a 4 x 4 AC2300 wireless broadband router that is the first device of its type to offer “box-to-box” VPN endpoint functionality. NETGEAR also offered DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem routers with one of these having an 802.11ac 1700 wireless network segment.
Netgear’s latest 802.11ac wireless routers also have a firmware option for small businesses to turn their premises in to Wi-Fi hotspots using the Facebook Wi-Fi service. This is where clients who have Facebook presence can “check in” using Facebook to gain free Wi-Fi access but there is also an option to skip this requirement and use password-protected sign-up.
There are also the range extenders that perform their range-extending trick on an 802.11ac network and are available as wall-plugged or standalone units.
TrendNet amongst a few others are premiering business / contractor-grade wireless-networking hardware, especially access points for integrated installation. Some of these units also work with management software to allow you to have control over your Wi-Fi segment. TP-Link even offer the EAP-320 dual-band AC1750 Wi-Fi access point (enterprise grade) which has Power-Over-Ethernet, hotspot-style captive portal authentication and rogue access-point detection.
TrendNet also used this show to premiere a USB-connected high-gain 802.11ac wireless network adaptor so you can bridge existing computer equipment to a new 802.11ac wireless-network segment.
HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit power-line network hardware launched
This show also has seen TP-Link and TrendNet launch HomePlug adaptors that embody the latest iteration of the HomePlug AV2 specification. Initially there were plenty of the HomePlug AV2 devices that didn’t exploit the MIMO abilities of the specification allowing for Gigabit data-transfer speeds but the two latest devices do implement these speeds using all three AC wires.
As far as this standard is concerned, there haven’t been any other HomePlug AV2 devices in other form factors launched or premiered at this show. Of course, TrendNet and TP-Link have been able to premiere HomePlug AV500 Wi-Fi N300 access points as an alternative to using range extenders to build out 802.11n wireless-network segments.
IP-based video surveillance
Most of these manufacturers are offering IP-based video-surveillance cameras with some that even work on 802.11ac Wi-Fi. D-Link even issues one of these as a “baby monitor camera” which measures room temperature and plays soothing lullabies while TP-Link offers an N300 Wi-Fi cloud camera that also doubles as a range extender and can shoot at 720p.
D-Link and Buffalo both offer network video recorder devices that interlink with certain IP cameras and record on a stand-alone basis with these cameras.
QNAP and Synology have used the Consumer Electronics Shows to premiere their small-business network-attached storage devices and Synology has used this year’s show to launch the DiskStation Manager 5 operating system which is their latest iteration of the Linux-based operating system. This one has both home and business capabilities like the ability to link with online storage and social-network services along with centralised management and scaled-out storage for evolving businesses. Now Thecus are using this year’s show to premiere their small-business NAS devices.
Lenovo also made this show the chance to offer their first consumer network-attached storage device which can also serve as a USB external hard disk or show multimedia on TV using its HDMI output. This is although they have taken over Iomega and rebranded it as Lenovo EMC to cover this product class and focus on small-business NAS units.
Buffalo even offers a wireless mobile NAS which has the DLNA media-server functionality which can come in handy with Internet radios or other DLNA-capable media players. This is alongside some increasingly-capable DiskStation single-disk and duel-disk NAS units.
Next I will be looking at a major trend that is captivating the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 in the form of the “wearables”, brought on by the arrival of Bluetooth 4.0
Do you run Windows 8 on an existing or low-end laptop that doesn’t have integrated touchscreen abilities? If so, you may find that the experience is not all that enjoyable, even if you work the interface using the multi-touch trackpad.
Lenovo have answered this situation with a portable 15” monitor known as the LT-1423. It is available as a USB 3.0 DisplayLink variant that connects to your laptop via the USB 3.0 cable or as a Wi-Fi variant which exploits the WiDi technology. The Wi-Fi variant has its own battery and can run a continuous session for four hours but the USB version is known not to put much impact on the laptop’s battery runtime.
What can be an issue here is that you may find it hard to get used to the idea of a second screen being the main touchscreen for your laptop while you have the screen above your keyboard serving secondary duties such as a copy-entry screen. As well, you may find that some applications like hardcore real-time games may not work well with this screen as DisplayLink doesn’t implement a high refresh rate for these applications.
Even if your laptop has touchscreen abilities, this screen could work well as a “B screen” for managing a screenshow or having notes on display during that screenshow. You could even use this as the wide-work-area setup on the road when you work that extra-large spreadsheet.
This is another example of Lenovo offering methods of gaining more mileage out of existing computer equipment.
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