If you believe the marketing hype then we should all be working from multiple monitors. ATI and Nvidia have certainly been focusing on this lately, but what about laptop users? Eyefinity-equipped laptops may be on their way but we can’t see many IT departments forking out for that. There are other options though.
HIS has sent us its latest offering, the MultiView II USB display adaptor. Running from a standard USB 2.0 port, this offers multiple monitor support without trading in your laptop or upgrading your desktop. It also claims that you can plug up to six of these in at any one time, but as it has only sent us one, we can’t vouch for that.
In the box you get the multiview adaptor with USB on one side and a DVI port on the other, plus a retractable USB cable, DVI to VGA port adapter and software DVD. There’s also a mid-90s bum-bag-fashioned holder with a clip at the top to attach to you, something, someone… your enemies?
The technology powering all this is provided by DisplayLink. Once installed, its software adaptively compresses the video signal, utilizing the CPU and GPU of the computer. This signal is then sent through the USB cable to the Mulitiview II, which contains a DisplayLink DL2+ decompression engine that restores the data back into a graphic signal. All very clever.
Deciding how to test this product has caused us a few problems, since there’s not much else to test it against and nothing in the box shouts about possible usage. Saying that, as the device is portable and it’s hot pluggable, all the scenarios that come to mind are business related. As such, the test system is a Dell Latitude E4300, Core 2 Duo P9300, 4Gb Ram and Windows 7 Enterprise.
The software installed in a couple of minutes and after a bit of screen flicker everything went back to normal. Next up, to plug everything in – connecting the multiview to the laptop and a desktop monitor that runs at 1680×1050 native thorough DVI, resulted in the desktop extending instantly to the second monitor. Office applications and normal Windows’ functions worked without problems and nothing would make you think you were working through USB.
The next hurdle could be multimedia performance, but DVD playback on the second screen caused no problems there either. In an attempt to test the multiview further, a change was in order, switching from the desktop monitor to a 40-inch 1080p TV. The screen resolution was recognised and adjusted straight away, and although the Dell laptop doesn’t have a Blu-ray drive, we downloaded a couple of 1080p wmv to try. Playback was shockingly smooth but seemed of lower quality than the original 1080p version. During this whole test, CPU utilisation only mildly increased, so if you want, you could continue working on the main screen.
After 1080p video, gaming would be the next logical step, but following some initial testing this looks to be one step too far. A couple of pop cap games worked but there were already some latency problems that would rule out anything serious.
Gaming aside, the kit is impressive. Displaylink and HIS have done a great job at getting the kit to work without any configuration and the package as a whole feels polished. Our only grumble would be that we can’t think of many situations in which it would be useful, but like all good gadgets, now we know it exists, we’re trying hard to find some.