When Dr. Quentin Stafford-Fraser and Martin King founded DisplayLink back in 2003, they sought to “re-think the connection between monitors and PCs.” Almost 7 years later, DisplayLink launched its next generation, high performance DL-1×5 family of chips to bring “unparalleled integration with USB graphics devices.” In this era of mobility and demand for increased productivity it is even more important to find easy, high performance, low cost external display options. The ubiquity of USB ports on mobile devices, the phasing out of VGA connections and diminishing screen size, augment the feasibility and relevance of the “complete DisplayLink USB Graphics Solution.“ According to DisplayLink, this “unique ‘plug and display’ solution eliminates the hassle of opening up PCs to add discrete graphics card, while also saving time and energy use.” The DisplayLink solution incorporates the chip set and proprietary software, which is, installed on the host PC, notebook or netbook. The DL-1×5 chip set is already embedded in a number of peripherals including certain monitors, docks, adapters and projectors.
For this review, the peripheral device is a DisplayLink USB display adapter (USB to DVI-I), which uses the advanced DL-195 chip set from the DL-1×5 chip series.
Cute, light, rectangular shaped Adapter and standard USB/MiniB cable.
The DisplayLink branded, sturdy, light, rectangular shaped, plastic adapter, was nearly identical to the Fujitsu USB adapter model on the DisplayLink website. This measures 54 x 84.3 x17.8 mm. The adapter fit comfortably in the palm of my hand and came with a USB 2.0 A to mini-B cable (about 90+ cm long and resembled that used to sync older Blackberry phones). This attached easily to one side of the adapter. A video output DVI-I 24pin + 5pin Female Connector was present on the other side. (As a refresher, the DVI – Digital Video Interface standard– replaced VGA –video graphics array connection standard and can handle both digital and analogue data (with optional VGA adapter.)) Newer monitors have DVI and some may have both DVI and VGA.
Thankfully, no CD is required for installation, making it great for laptops and netbooks without integrated CD/DVD drive. Windows software was included in the adapter and software for other platforms could also be downloaded from the DisplayLink website.
Intuitive, automated software installation and intelligent configuration, seamlessly partnered with my OS.
Total set-up time (including a coffee sip during set up): 12 minutes.
Test system: 10.1 inch netbook connected to 32inch HD LCD TV
• Netbook: ASUS 1008HA running Windows 7 Home edition; 2GB RAM, 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280,
• HD TV: Sharp Aquos LC-32G4U 32-Inch Flat-Panel LCD TV
According to the manufacturer, the “DisplayLink software is designed to integrate seamlessly into Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac OS X to allow a USB connected device to appear to the operating system like a traditional graphics card.” That was indeed my experience with Windows 7: once plugged into my netbook via USB, the software auto-installed all necessary drivers (however, you need admin privileges to install.) Installation of software (3files 14.1MB) took about a minute. I located Fujitsu DisplayLink software and DisplayLink Core files in the Program Files folder. The software included a Graphic User Interface to adjust settings and I noticed a USB monitor icon in my task tray. After a few minutes, I was prompted that a software update was available. Update was quick without need to reboot.
Within seconds of successful install, it automatically detected my SHARP display. The desktop came to life in brilliant colour across the 32inch screen. Even when I accidentally unplugged the USB from my netbook it remembered all my settings and restored the display with no need for restart or re-boot; a feature otherwise known as “hot plugging.”
A single click on the new task tray icon revealed display configuration options. Although I could not access the DisplayLink Manager option, I was able to use my netbook system display configuration. In addition to adjusting screen resolutions, configuration options included ‘mirroring’ my native display, extending the display or selecting which monitor would be used to show the desktop. The software had automatically determined the optimal resolution for my system. I played around with the settings and indeed, the automated settings, at least for the desktop icons, seemed optimal. But the true test would come with video playback…
Video playback lived up to the DisplayLink technology promise “[To ensure] a highly interactive, ultra low latency user experience that is nearly indistinguishable from a traditional monitor connection. This allows smooth window and cursor movement as well as support for full-screen video playback.”
Agreed. The cursor was very responsive on the external display. Additionally, since the DL-195 chipset allows for “high definition resolution up to 2048×1152 Full HD (1080p),” I was able to get up to 1366×768 resolution for my setup. Video playback of episodes from Hulu, network website episodes in HD and iTunes video on the 32inch screen was shockingly clear, crisp and retained beautiful colour even as it was stretched across the full extent of the LCD screen. Adaptor specs say that it can support both standard and widescreen aspect ratio.
Next, I tested the extended desktop capabilities…
The ability to expand a virtual desktop with multiple-monitors unleashed my propensity for serial tasking. I opened up multiple application windows at once across this newly formed virtual playground; it felt liberating to keep all these windows open and visible across the multiple screens at the same time. But the benefits were much broader than I anticipated;” A USB graphics solution uses up to 80% less power than a discrete solution” In case you were interested in more ‘Green’ info, check out DisplayLink white paper on energy use with such fun facts as “ adding a display with a USB adapter incurred an average increase of only 4 Watts per display, or a 7 percent increase in power consumption.”
According to a recent Microsoft research survey, multiple monitors may also increase productivity: “People with multiple displays are more than 50% more productive than those using a single display.” The survey also suggests, that, once accustomed to the “spread out” work/play space, users do not want to part with these additional displays. (Sounds like they foster dependence?)
Aside from energy and productivity advantages, women in particular may glean a unique benefit. A 2003 Microsoft Research report found that “[a]ny one female can be just as good as or better than a man at spatial navigation tasks, but on average females are a little worse. So we need to support females with big displays, with wider fields of views when they’re doing intense navigation tasks. They’ve been at a disadvantage in any 3D system, but just give them a wider field of vision and smooth graphics, and they’re good to go.” Hmmm… Really? Could this DisplayLink adapter provide a performance boost to the female user?
This last benefit was difficult to ignore, so I spent a few hours contemplating the possibilities inherent in adding another display. My explorations validated the DisplayLink tagline “Expanding your view.” Apparently, you can add as many as 6 displays at a time in windows (fewer on Mac.) I remained skeptical about the utility of such a set up until I consulted the series of short video tutorials on the DisplayLink site. The creative possibilities surprised me.
Users of this adapter can encounter two main experiences:
– Complete immersion in one application such as a game, spreadsheet or video.
-Multi-tasking satisfaction resulting from multiple disparate inputs at once.
I was surprised at the good performance and usefulness of this nondescript little adapter. This low-cost graphic solution can help liberate its user from the confines of the native display so that their work and play can “breathe” easier across an expanded virtual landscape. For a better sense of who would benefit from use of multiple monitors, I navigated to the user profile section of the DisplayLink website. The case studies demonstrated how multiple displays can “make life better” for many user types including entertainment aficionados, social media junkies, news hounds and business types. Display Link USB 2.0 adapters can be found online for around $89 to $99 dollars.
• Useful concept
• Low hassle installation/disk free
• Ease of use
• Support on website
• Intuitive UI
• Compatible with variety of OSs
• Not wireless