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A touchscreen on your desktop: Three new displays

Getting Windows 8? You're going to want a touchscreen. We look at three of the latest monitors from Acer, Dell and ViewSonic.

March 12, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Your next touchscreen may not be on a phone, tablet or laptop, but part of your desktop system. The latest touch displays work well with Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system, but can tilt or fold flat on a desktop to make swiping, tapping and forming complex finger gestures a lot more natural than with a vertical orientation.

"The current touch monitors add a new dimension to Windows 8," says Linn Huang, senior research analyst at IDC. "They make interaction second nature and put the software at your fingertips, literally."

In this roundup, I look at three of the newest touch monitors: the Acer T232HL bmidz, the Dell S2340T and the ViewSonic TD2220.

While all three displays deliver a sharp HD image and have active viewing areas of between 21.5 in. and 23 in., they also differ in a couple of significant ways.

Number of individual inputs. While older touchscreens could handle only one finger input at a time, the latest multitouch capacitive displays can work with up to 32 separate inputs, although most are limited to 10 at a time. This allows software designers to create complex applications that allow for a wider array of gestures and accept input from more than one user at a time.

Of the monitors covered in this roundup, the Acer and Dell can work with up to 10 separate inputs at a time, while the ViewSonic can only work with two fingers at a time.

Display mount. The way the display is mounted makes a big difference as well. While the ability to adjust the height and angle of a traditional monitor can make viewing more comfortable, it is de rigueur with a touchscreen.

That's because the display has to have two personalities: It has to stand upright for displaying vertically but be able to quickly and easily tilt to make writing, drawing or interacting with the software easier.

While the ViewSonic and Acer displays can tilt moderately, only the Dell can smoothly transform itself from a traditional vertical posture to being fully horizontal -- and all angles in between. It is also the only one of the three displays to offer the ability to move up and down. A marvel of mechanical design, the Dell is also, by far, the most expensive of the three.

Finally, keep in mind that cost is still a major stumbling block for touch-capable monitors. While notebooks with touchscreens generally carry a price premium of about $100 vs. non-touch models, the cost difference for monitors can be a two- to threefold increase. For instance, the touch-based Acer T232HL display lists for $549 while a similar no-touch display, the Acer S235HL, has a list price of $200.

"At the moment, touchscreens are an expensive niche," says IDC's Huang. "But that will change over time as they become more popular [and] the volume increases and touch becomes more of a consumer technology."

However, if you don't want to wait to take advantage of this new technology, one of these three monitors may be right for you.

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3 touch displays: Features

Acer T232HL bmidz Dell S2340T ViewSonic TD2220
Dimensions (HWD) 16.8 x 22.6 x 12.4 in. 14.1 x 22.2 x 8.6 in. 14.4 x 20.1 x 9.5 in.
Screen size 23 in. 23 in. 21.5 in.
Resolution 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080
Response time 5ms 8ms 5ms
Brightness 187 Cd/m² 161 Cd/m² 201 Cd/m²
Individual inputs 10 10 2
Tilt range/Height adjustment 80°-30°/No 95°-0°/Yes 95°-70°/No
Ports DVI, VGA, HDMI, 3 USB, audio HDMI, DisplayPort, 4 USB, audio, Ethernet DVI, VGA, 2 USB, audio
Speakers/Microphone Yes/No Yes/Yes Yes/No
Power Use (On/Sleep) 24.6 watts/0 watts 23.5 watts/0 watts 16.2 watts/1 watt
Warranty 3 years 1 year 3 years
Price $549 $700 $313

Touchscreen displays: How I tested

To gauge how these touchscreen displays compare, I put them through a series of tests that included daily work, gaming and videos.

I started by testing their compatibility with three notebooks: Toshiba's Portege Z935, Sony's VAIO T13 and Dell's Inspiron 15z, all of which were equipped with Windows 8 and USB 3.0 ports. I used them in both simultaneous and extended display modes.

After examining the monitor's input and output ports, I measured each in its upright orientation and determined if the touch surface was flush with the monitor's frame. After seeing if the screen could be adjusted up and down, I tilted the screen forward and back, measuring the angle with an inclinometer.

Too see how much each display wobbled, I tapped each a few times at its four corners and looked at how much the display moved back and forth. Finally, I tried to put a notebook, keyboard and cellphone underneath.

To determine how many independent inputs each monitor can handle, I opened the Windows Paint app and touched the active surface with progressively more fingers until all 10 were in contact with the surface. After removing my hands, I noted how many dots the screen showed. This corresponds to how many independent inputs the display can accommodate.

I ran each display through a number of tests to see how accurate and responsive the surfaces are. These tasks include opening the Windows 8 Charms menu, entering Web addresses with the on-screen keyboard, tapping on icons, moving Excel cells, highlighting sentences in Word, zooming in on an image and moving an object around on the desktop. I used two- and three-finger gestures and played several rounds of GameHouse's Cut the Rope game. Finally, I tried a Wacom Bamboo stylus and finished by watching several HD videos on each display.

With the monitor configured to its default settings, I connected it to the Vaio T13 and measured its brightness using a Konica-Minolta CS-200 luminance and color meter, which records the screen's illuminance (intensity of light) in candelas per square meter (cd/m²).

Using a white image and with the meter set to measure a two-degree spot, I set the meter on a tripod 36 inches from the display. I aimed at nine test locations on the display's surface and recorded the illuminance reading at each location. I then averaged the nine readings for the average brightness. Lastly, I divided the center reading by the average of the four corners for the screen's uniformity rating. (I used each monitor's default setting, since most vendors create these settings to be a good balance between brightness and image quality.)

Finally, I connected a P3 International Kill a Watt GT power meter to the electrical line and measured how much electricity the display was drawing, both while in use and while asleep.

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