IT Managers Should Keep an Eye on New Display Tech

Opinion: It may be time for enterprise buyers to reconsider the checklist for monitor purchases.

SAN FRANCISCO—Monitors are a commodity item for most enterprise desktops and few IT managers give their selection a second thought, other than for considerations of cost and size. However, the display management technologies being shown off at the SID (Society of Information Display) International Symposium—along with forthcoming hardware preferences for Windows Vista—may push enterprise buyers to look more closely at the spec sheets for monitors.

In its booth on the expo floor, Portrait Displays showed the latest version of its Display Tune OSD (on-screen display) platform for adjusting the settings of monitors via software instead of with hardware buttons. This OEM technology is licensed to display manufacturers and uses a plug-in architecture to provide a variety of features beyond the basic color, contrast and brightness settings of the OSD, including asset management support, theft protection and color calibration.

On June 6, Portrait Displays extended its control technology to the consumer market with TV Tune, a combination of software and TV-side firmware that will let owners (and service agents) adjust the color settings automatically for a compatible television and any attached DVD players, set-top boxes and game consoles.

In some ways, the Display Tune architecture expands the concept of an OSD, which has traditionally been about the user tweaking the performance of a single monitor. Of course, some of Display Tunes features, such as color calibration support, are about visual performance, but manufacturers can include management capabilities and even remote support over a network.

Displays that support Display Tune Asset Management can be configured and controlled remotely via a software console. The software lets IT managers track data such as the serial number of the displays, the status of displays, the names of connected computers and their location, the IP addresses, the age of an individual display (the cumulative hours the display has been used), the purchase date and other information.


"Its basically an opportunity to control the display assets of an enterprise, said Bob McQuillan, senior product manger with the Pleasanton, Calif., company. "If youre working a call center and you need to shut down at 5 oclock on a Friday, with a console you can shut down displays throughout the enterprise."

The operation statistics available from the Asset Management module also let managers know exactly which monitors have been used the most in a department. The firmware of many recent displays record the operating hours data, but the software also can read the older plug-and-play data stored on some displays. Although recent LCDs have improved life cycles, the aging of components such as backlights can be individual to a display. Its good to know the ones that should be checked first for replacement.

In addition, Display Tune Asset Management is scriptable and can be used with common enterprise management platforms such as Altiris or Hewlett Packards OpenView, McQuillan said.

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Also of interest to enterprise IT managers is the fact that Portrait Displays OEM anti-theft technology, Display Tune Theft Deterrence, is now offered with a number of displays from Gateway, HP, Hyundai and ViewSonic.

In the scheme, the display is virtually linked to a specific host computer with a password. If the monitor is moved (or stolen), it will ask for a password when its plugged into a different host machine. Users can set the time period in which a monitor will work after its connected to a different machine. No password and the monitor stops working.

Of course, Display Tune is an OEM technology, licensed to manufacturers, and it can appear on monitors with different skins and by other names. Display manufacturers can pick the bare-bones OSD (offering a virtual replacement for the hardware OSD), or they can mix and match modules depending on the target market for a display. There are modules for color calibration, for pivoting the display to landscape and portrait orientations, for defining areas of the screen with different color profiles, and more.

The Display Tune architecture is enabled by the DDC/CI (Display Data Channel Command Interface) standard ratified by VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association) in late 2004. DDC/CI describes a standard means for host computers and displays to talk with each other as well as how certain information relating to the display hardware is stored on the display.

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However, many monitor manufacturers have been slow to adopt the standard across product lines, admitted McQuillan. He expects that situation to change since the hardware requirements for Vistas "Designed for Windows" Program 3.0 logo mandates DDC/CI support.

This is a welcome development, since DDC/CIs bidirectional interface enables these useful features.

Perhaps its time to reconsider the checklist for display purchases in the enterprise. Certainly, screen size is important to some users, but cost is the usual factor for the purchasing department. The anti-theft and asset management features may be useful for many enterprises.

In addition, IT managers should also consider the individual clients visual needs. Unlike CRTs, LCD screens have a fixed optical resolution and dont handle interpolation gracefully.

Displays with a very high resolution may present problems for middle-aged eyes that suffer increasingly from presbyopia, the unfortunate and natural process that "hardens" the eyes. After 40, people cant as easily focus on near objects and must hold items farther away to bring them into focus. Small items get even smaller for these users.

Wearing computer glasses can help this situation, but often database applications or Web pages present a lot of information with very small text. And its often inconvenient to enlarge text in an application (and fixed elements such as menus and tools arent enlarged anyway).

This is one time IT managers can be farsighted on a growing ergonomic issue.

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