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April 1996 Features

Twist and Shout!

Twist your perspective from landscape to portrait.
Put punch in your presentations. These monitors will
have you rockin' and rollin' through your work.

By John J. Yacono, Technical Editor

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ADI MicroScan 17X

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Here's the Pitch

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Win95's a Backseat Driver

New standards, broader applications, leaps in technology: Almost every category of computer peripherals has undergone tumultuous change and notable advancement. Not color monitors.
That's not to say monitors haven't changed at all. There have been technical improvements like Trinitron tubes, on-screen programming and DDC2. Video is smoother, designs sleeker and prices lower. But these changes didn't take monitors in a new direction, make them useful in new ways or endow them with any special purpose. Until recently, the only specialty use for monitors was desktop publishing.

That's all starting to change. Today, there are many single-purpose workstations, and even play stations, driving demand for special-purpose monitors. ADI Systems, Portrait Display Labs and KDS are three companies determined to fill these new niches with unique monitors at low prices.

ADI and Portrait Display Labs sell monitors with, quite literally, a twist: The main body rotates by 90 degrees, so you can look at the screen in both landscape and portrait orientation. The concept isn't new: Radius originally developed pivot monitors for desktop publishing applications. What is new is the price. For example, ADI's 17-inch model, the MicroScan 17X, costs around $850-about what you would pay for an ordinary 17-inch monitor.

Web Surfers Love the Pivot Monitor

New uses for pivot monitors have helped drive prices down. They're already popular with Web surfers and Web-site authors. They will probably be used for document scanning and management, as well as for faxing, as costs decline for peripherals like scanners and fax modems. Pivot monitors can also be employed for traditional business functions like spreadsheet viewing, data entry and form-based data retrieval.

Technology has also made these units more affordable. Driver technology is simpler under Windows 95, which has reduced the cost of developing drivers for pivot monitors. When you rotate an image from landscape to portrait, the resolution has to change to match the portrait-mode screen's width and height. Under Windows 3.1x, that transition was handled by a driver, which meant that the driver had to support every video chip set that the monitor might encounter. With Windows 95, resolution changes are handled by the operating system itself, which greatly simplifies the driver architecture.

However, even with Win95, the monitor still needs a driver for each chip set to perform the other functions necessary to rotate an image. (Fortunately, the supplied drivers support plenty of video cards.) That's perhaps the only weakness of this concept. We looked at the ADI MicroScan 17X portrait monitor in the WINDOWS Magazine labs, and the results were impressive. Considering MicroScan's prices, it's hard to imagine this product line won't do well.

Large Dot Pitch, Small Price

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Other special-use monitors are also starting to make some noise. KDS's budget-priced 17-inch Tympani monitor is a prime example. By increasing the dot pitch to a whopping 0.42 millimeters, KDS was able to reduce the price to less than $400. The Tympani uses Trinitron-like striped-pitch picture tubes manufactured by Philips. Their large dot pitch means they cost significantly less to produce than other 17-inch tubes. The tubes' support electronics are also less expensive, because less-precise focus is required.

This monitor clearly is not designed for hard-core, in-your-face use, such as word processing or desktop publishing. Instead, the Tympani is best suited for applications with graphics and very large fonts rather than Windows font-sized text. It's great for large-screen gaming on a budget. Like the pivot monitor, the Tympani is also suitable for Web browsing. Multimedia fans will appreciate the larger monitor, as AVI and MPEG files look particularly good on this screen. If you run a lot of presentations to small groups in your company conference room, you might also consider a Tympani.

How good can a monitor with a 0.42mm dot pitch possibly look? When I first heard about the Tympani I was very skeptical about its quality. Wrongly so. Reproduced charts and graphs look great, and its sweet spot is edge-of-your-seat gaming.

KDS has other plans for the Tympani as well. The company will target schools and computer users who focus solely on multimedia with a system called the Moniputer. It's a Tympani monitor (same electronics, same tube) in an all-in-one cabinet that includes a 75MHz Pentium processor. Available by the second half of this year, the Moniputer will include 8MB of RAM, a 560MB hard disk, a 14.4Kbps modem with voice mail, MPEG playback and capture, integrated stereo speakers, 32-bit wavetable sound, an infrared remote and a quad-speed CD-ROM drive. The price was not available at press time, but the company said it should be competitive with other multimedia desktop systems.

Whether this is the next trend in consumer electronics and computers remains to be seen. For now it's enough to know that monitor manufacturers are blazing some interesting new trails, instead of treading the same well-worn path.
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