There are many ways of connecting a monitors to computers, the number of usual ports such as VGA, DVI or HDMI manufacturers can fit to their machines is limited. Whatever is your reason to connect one more display to your computer, a USB-to-DVI display adapter may the only solution.
Read on to find out more!
A multiple monitor setup is vital when one works in the screen real-estate challenging environment. It’s a must on any desk soaked with creative juices or coffee mixed with tears induced by tight deadlines whether it’s journalism, movie, music or DTP production. Of course, City folks, whom we now love to hate, love multiple displays to see how their bonuses are raising and how your pension fund is plummeting simultaneously.
If you’re like most computer stores’ staff and thus not familiar with the concept of multiple display setup, read on. If you’re computer savvy, scroll down to the “Out of necessity” part.
Additional monitor can be connected to pretty much any computer, laptop or desktop, and then used in various configurations depending on a particular task.
Let’s say you have a netbook or a small notebook. Fine for the road but when you use it at home as your main computer, small screen limits make themselves very visible. You can solve this problem by connecting an external monitor. You can use it as a standalone main display instead of the tiny one on your netbook. Then there’s the mirror mode in which the secondary monitor displays the same stuff as your laptop’s screen.
The most sensible use, however, is to extend the screen real-estate of your computer whether it’s a laptop or a desktop. In this configuration, the second monitor displays anything you want it to display. What you now have is a single screen spread across two (or more) monitors. The advantage is you can have more applications’ windows open AND visible at the same time without windows overlapping. You can navigate seamlessly across the space with your mouse or touchpad, move application windows between the screens as you would on a single monitor.
I consider the first two options rather pointless, after all, the main point of secondary display is to reduce the clutter of windows and increase productivity.
Again, to the uninitiated, the more monitors, the faster the work. You save incredible amount of time by not switching between windows of various programs.
I’m a dual monitor addict since the day I first hooked up my 12-inch PowerBook to an external display. I even bought and brought my own 19-inch Samsung monitor to work and hooked it up to a 14-inch Lenovo laptop. It was in 2006 and 1024×768 of the laptop screen just was not enough.
The USB-to-DVI adapter is about the size of two DVI connectors. Mini USB port is on the other end. Other than that it’s a neat little black box with a green LED on top.
The packaging is neat and impressive.
Accessories included. A rare thing these days.
The HP’s 1920×1080 pixels are joined by the Samsung’s 1440×900 on the left. The blank black space bellow the desktop picture on the smaller screen is “not there” as a screenshot always has the dimensions of the largest screen.
Using the adapter in a three-display scenario. From left to right – 22 inch Samsung (HDMI), 15 inch Sony Vaio and another 22 inch Samsung connected via the USB video adapter. All screens sport 1920×1080 pixels resolution.
The monitor on the right is in the portrait mode (1080×1920), hence the black space bellow the left and middle screen on the screenshot.
Out of necessity
One day I found an HP TouchSmart all-in-one sitting on my desk in the office. Now, the machine is perfectly fine for what I do in the office and sports a 1920×1080 screen which is, in all fairness, big enough in both the physical size and in resolution.
But since I had that above-mentioned Samsung left (it moves with me from work to work) I wanted to use it. But there’s no “monitor-out” port on the back of the TouchSmart. No DVI, no HDMI (only IN), no VGA. Funnily enough, HP still lists monitors as the computer’s accessories on its website.
A solution? USB to video adapter.
These devices have been around for a while but the computing power and USB limitations of the yesteryear reduced them to the well-it’s-better-than-Ebola category. If you managed to get them work, they did but, reportedly, only just.
Driven by the urge to get that second display working, I went on to comb the Internet . only to find out that USB-to-video adapters are pretty commonplace now and are reasonably priced. Now the problem was to choose one that would actually work, have some kind of support available and be more solid than a poppy flower.
I decided to go for the Winstar USB 2.0 to DVI adapter in the Full HD variety (WS-UG17D1). Reasons? Good reviews on both Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.de and a comprehensive manufacturer’s website (www.win-star.com) with all drivers available for download.
I must admit that I was quite impressed by the packaging. The box was neat and rather good looking and, to my surprise, it included a DVI-to-HDMI and DVI-to-VGA adapters as well as a USB cable.
Installation was straightforward. Actually, there was no user-induced installation. Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) identified the device as WS Tech USB-DVI and downloaded and installed Display Link Display Adapter driver. Few flickers and resolution resizings later, I was about to enjoy the dual screen setup.
The display settings window opened immediately.
The adapter integrates fully with the Windows environment and you have all usual display settings at your disposal. Essentially, the USB display behaves as any display connected via usual means, be it a VGA, DVI or HDMI on any computer.
The adapter also supports rotation of picture into a portrait mode.
The manufacturer claims that up to six USB-to-DVI can be used on a single system but I didn’t test the claim (for obvious reasons).
It would be unreasonable to expect a full-scale gaming performance from the universal serial bus, mark II, but in an office and “casual entertainment” environment it works perfectly.
The TouchSmart is powered by a basic 2.13 GHz Core 2 Duo so it’s no supercomputer but at least it sports 4 GB of RAM.
It turned out to be comfortably enough to use the adapter with the 1400×900 Samsung.
Depending on circumstances, I use it to display web pages, spreadsheets, documents, it serves as a Photoshop workspace for some light graphics work, etc. I often use it to display videos from BBC websites and I have yet to experience performance related problems.
There’s one occasional glitch, though. When I turn off the computer and leave the Samsung monitor on standby, the monitor does “wake up” when the computer is switched back on but then it searches for a signal between VGA and DVI inputs. Windows then fails to initiate the Video Link utility and the result is no picture on the external monitor.
To avoid this, I power off the monitor and I only power it on again after I type in the Windows login password. It works 99% of times and when it doesn’t a simple restart solves it all.
It may be down to display, it may be down to USB-to-DVI adapter but it also may be down to the computer which occasionally loses sight of the HP printer and does other weird things. Reinstalling the system didn’t help.
And, actually, I didn’t experience the issue with the next setup.
Going really big
I also tested the adapter with a Sony Vaio laptop with a more powerful i5 CPU, dedicated graphics and 4GB of RAM. The thing with this particular setup was that the laptop’s screen was already extended by a 1920×1080 monitor via HDMI-to-DVI cable.
Following a snappy installation, I was enjoying a ginormous resolution of 5760×1080 pixels on three screens. Needless to say, it was put to a very good use in an instant…
What you can see on the screenshots are three 1920×1080 screens (from left to right) – 22-inch Samsung connected via HDMI-DVI cable, 15.4 inch screen of Sony Vaio and another 22-inch Samsung connected via the USB-to-DVI adapter.
A VLC video is on the DVI screen, BBC News video stream is displayed on the USB screen. Not that I would enjoy watching a Czech movie classic and the 6 o’clock news simultaneously but it proves that there was enough CPU and memory resources to run the setup smoothly.
I also tried to play video on the USB connected screen. It worked. VLC played an *.avi file (624×352 px, 1219 kbps at 25 frames/second) in a full-screen window without glitches. The task manager figures, though, were telling. While playing the same file on a HDMI/DVI connected monitor, the CPU usage percentage moved within 5-8%. Moving the VLC window to the USB screen resulted in the usage increase to 23-25%. Running the movie in a 1:1 window via USB resulted in a drop to around 12% of CPU workload.
A Mac user
I also tested the adapter on a 2008 MacBook Pro (2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo and 4GB of RAM) running the latest Snow Leopard.
For that, I had to download the driver from the manufacturer’s website. The installation required a restart but the machine didn’t – it stayed in some kind of limbo. I pressed the power button and, since clicking Restart didn’t help, I clicked the Shut down button. That worked and after powering on the machine few seconds later, the adapter came to life.
Again, it integrated with my Mac’s System preferences and I could move the menu bar and dock across all three screens. I need to mention that the Mac already ran a 23-inch full HD display through the DVI port.
I admit none of the above amounts to a “proper”, computer magazine-like testing process with benchmarks and frames per second ratings. On the other hand, I have been using the adapter for several months in real-life situations and I have never regretted purchasing it.
It does the job it’s been designed for perfectly.
In all fairness, most computers have an extra video out port so you can enjoy space of two screens whether you have a desktop or a laptop. In that scenario, the USB-to-DVI adapter may appear a bit obsolete.
But say you need or you think you may need three screens or you just have an old 15-inch display collecting dust in the corner. Then the adapter can give it a new life and it would be just fine for having your Skype, iTunes, e-mail client windows displayed constantly on a side. While doing my research prior to buying the adapter, I came across people who bought it because the video-out on their computer stopped working and they couldn’t justify buying a new machine.
And I tell you what… When I disconnected the USB video adapter after about an hour of working with a three-monitor setup, I missed the extra screen.
This is a clever utility for desktop management that exists as a freeware and a Pro version. In the free version it essentially allows you to use different images for different screens or to use a single one across available pixels without deformation.
DisplayFusion allows you to use one panoramic photo across multiple screens. In this case, the photo of 5040×1050 pixels is used across 5760×1080 screen.
Another use of the DisplayFusion – different pictures on individual screens. All pictures are 1920×1080.
DisplayFusion’s settings (free version).
Review by: Kristian