Back To School 09: Are you ready for some Old-school LCD goodness?
7/28/2009 by: Theo Valich
Did you ever dream about big LCD on front panel of your computer with all the important information about your system? And you never been satisfied with displays taking two 5.25" bays you can buy in every store? Welcome to the club.
Smart Display Company is a German company that recently began its charge on the market.
SDC teamed with Megtron and decided to launch a line-up of various LCD monitors, ranging from entry-level mono-chrome displays to 22" touch-screens. They sent us USB LC-Display, an external version of their entry-level model.
The USB LC-Display comes in a compact cardboard box that is completely recyclable, which is certainly a positive step from the manufacturer. However, we cannot give out the highest grades since the part didn't come in a recycled packaging, rather used one that can be recycled. Our drop'n'kick test passed with flying colors, and the box didn't dent at all - thus, contents are well protected.
The printed cover clearly shows what are you getting inside the box; contents are present on each side of the package, and the opening part was easy - after removing the plastic shrink-wrap, you just slide the box out and open it. Unlike some products we tested in the past, USB LC-Display comes with an easy-open box.
Inside, you'll find the USB-LC Display device itself, grey USB cable, CD with drivers and additional software and the base. Given the piano finish, we knew that USB-LC Display will get its first finger marks the second we remove it from the protective packaging - exactly what happened seconds after the removal. But unlike some shiny products, USB-LC didn't show its bad side and got scratches everywhere from the micro-fiber cloth. Nope, SDC-Megtron obviously put another coating of color-less paint, giving base scratch-protection. Don't expect miracles, though. Transport-wise, packaging here gives us enough confidence to conclude that you should be able to the device in its default state.
Design and Features
After the unraveling, it was time to get rolling. USB-LC Display is an external 5.11" mono-chromatic display with the blue background. The black mirror finish of the device is a magnet for fingerprints, but like we disclosed in the Packaging section, it comes with baseline protection from scratches - micro-fiber cloth should not damage the plastic.
The first disappointment of USB-LC Display was the fact that it comes with a grey USB cable. In our opinion, the manufacturer should have opted either for black or blue cable, in order to follow the design. Mirror-black finish with a blue stripe and aluminum frame looks quite stylish and looked really great next to our Lian-Li aluminum case. It also looked really good next to ancient Toshiba's Qosmio G20 notebook.
You can position the display either in a conventional landscape or in portrait mode in any direction you like - backside features mounting holes on all four sides. Based on the comments by several team members and the family, the USB-LC Display indeed lights up the working place. We like the fact that the display is very simple and besides the USB cable, you don't need anything to get it up and running.
When it comes to the technical specifications themselves, we're talking about a 5.11" LCD display with 240x128 pixel resolution, packed in a compact frame, weighing half a kilo [around one pound]. Brightness is adjustable only through bundled software, as the device itself has no keys on it.
Setup and use
In order to get USB-LC Display up and running, you have to install the appropriate software located on the CD itself. Given the overall size of the software package [2.4MB], a 32MB or a 64MB USB stick would be more appropriate, but what can you do.
Installing the software suite... as you can see, the size is massive ;)
Software support is really impressive - you can use this display in Windows 2000 [Service Pack 4 and beyond], Windows XP [SP2], Windows Vista and yet unreleased Windows 7 operating system. Both 32- and 64-bit versions of software are available. The device also supports Linux "out of the box", but it doesn't stop there. Smart Display Company also ships complete SDK [Software Development Kit] for Microsoft's Visual Studio, Delphi (Pascal) and C++ Builder.
All in all, this is without a doubt, the best software bundle to come with such a device. If you are a developer or an enthusiast, you can easily turn this display into anything you want.
Tested LCD model can natively show calendar, clock, countdown timer, Date/Time, processor usage, memory, mail monitoring, Media Player, slideshow, stopwatch and a WinAMP plug-in. While this is sufficient at first, advanced users will want to go and visit LCDStudio homepage http://www.lcdstudio.com/site20/home.php and download the software package. Applications such as LCD Studio enable custom build of various screens, such as your own design of CPU/RAM/HDD loads.
Changing the saved start up picture is a breeze... if you have the appropriate monochromatic image
After the installation you may want to change the startup picture. In order to do this - just start the utility and select "Settings". Picture must be resized to 240 x 128 pixels and the best results are achieved by using monochromatic pictures.
We played with the device for around four weeks, and in that time it was used by four people with very different interests in life, and we gathered feedback from more than a dozen people. Overall, feedback was quite positive, until they learned of the price.
SDC is currently selling two versions of this product: internal and external. Based on our experience, we would go and say that the tested external version is more for the business type of people whom may use it instead of table clock. The internal version comes with temperature sensors and that sounds more usable for the enthusiast crowd.
If you are interested in acquiring the displays, the tested version will set you back for 69 Euro w/o German VAT [85 EUR with German VAT], while the internal version goes for 52 Euro without German 19% VAT [EUR 65 with VAT].
At these prices, we feel that SDC might have missed the target. The old-school approach to a blue-white 5.11" LCD is interesting at first, but the competition in 7" and 8" arena offers a great deal at that price. By doing a simple check on Geizhals.at and on Newegg, we discovered color displays with multi-card readers, 2-4GB of internal memory and capability to output from 800x480 to 800x600 pixels, depending on the screen type.
Thus, we feel that USB LC-Display falls short in the value segment, and that SDC itself has more attractive products, such as the 8" touch-screen display.
With SDC-Megtron USB LC-Display, there isn't much middle ground to discuss. You will probably like the device and then receive a cold shower when you look at the selling price. In today's world of touch and multi-touch, we would feel a much "cooler" investment is SDC's touch display that would be more usable than a mono-chromatic display, for instance.
The best part of the product is without any doubt, the bundled softwarepackage - it just puts SDC above numerous Far Eastern manufacturersthat ship Windows-only devices. Supporting both Linux and Windows [andMac OSX isn't that far off] shows that SDC thinks forward.
If you're looking for a gift for an enthusiast or a gadget lover, USB LC-Display gains credible points on the account of rarity, especially if the person the gift is intended to have his own logo.
SDC, Smart Display Company, Megtron, USB, LCD, Liquid Crystal Display, USB display, USB monitor, 5.25", 5.11", 8", 7", 240x128, startup image, flash, flash memory, touch, multi-touch
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